“It is not in doubt. ISIS is almost finished. They are weak. If only America would stop supporting them, we could defeat them in days.”
That’s a quote from Mustafa Saadi, a Shiite commander who participated in the fight to retake the ISIS-controlled Baiji refinery near Siniya, Iraq in October.
Saadi’s comments underscore the pervasive distrust among Iraqis when it comes to the US military presence in the country. For many, it makes no sense that the US military – which rolled up Saddam’s 400,000+ troop army in the space of just three weeks in 2003 – has been unable to rout Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces. After all, Islamic State has just 30,000 fighters and the US has been bombing the group for 15 months. As firebrand Shiite politician Hanan Fatlawi put it earlier this year, “I can’t believe that the United States, with all of its weaponry, military intelligence and international sway, would have this much trouble taking out ISIS. It just doesn’t add up.”
(“This over here just doesn’t add up”)
To be sure, The Pentagon would say it’s no surprise that the likes of Fatlawi would make those kind of allegations. After all, Fatlawi and other Shiite lawmakers in Baghdad are widely viewed as puppets of Iran. The Iranians do not recognize the legitimacy of any foreign troops in Iraq unless the fighters are loyal to the Ayatollah. Furthermore, the US has proven ineffective at battling Sunni extremists so Iran has nothing to lose by seeking to undermine support for the American presence in Iraq.
Of course it also doesn’t help that the US invaded and occupied the country and so, at the end of the day, a palpable sense of suspicion will always pervade relations between American troops and Iraqis.
Note also that Iran’s Shiite militias which fight alongside, and in some cases command, the Iraqi regular army have criticized US air support for being too little and very often too late when it comes to assisting in the ground fight against Islamic State.
Well to whatever degree Iraqis distrusted the American military on Thursday, they distrust it even more now because on Friday, the US “accidentally” blew up 10 Iraqi soldiers who called in an airstrike near Fallujah (which is held by ISIS).
“Ten Iraqi soldiers have been killed in what may have been the first friendly fire incident of the war against ISIS,” CBS reports, adding that “Central Command said it had acted on requests and information provided by Iraqi security forces on the ground near Fallujah.”
“Coalition air forces had carried out two strikes, enabling Iraqi soldiers to advance rapidly and engage jihadists in close combat,” BBC recounts. Apparently, the strikes were necessary because bad weather had inhibited the Iraqi army’s ability to operate attack helicopters. “A third coalition strike carried out without taking into account the distance that had been covered resulted in casualties among our forces too,” Iraqi officials said.
Here’s what Defense Secretary Ash Carter had to say:
“It’s regrettable [but] these kinds of things happen when you’re fighting side by side as we are. The airstrike Friday has all the indications of being a mistake of the kind that can happen on a dynamic battlefield. I hope Iraqis will understand that this is a reflection of things that happen in combat. But it’s also a reflection of how closely we are working with the government.”
See there Iraqis? Your suspicions are clearly unfounded.
You thought the US might not be committed to helping you fight ISIS, but as Ash Carter will patiently explain to you, The Pentagon is willing to prove how “closely the US is working” with your government by killing ten of your troops.