US Defence Secretary Ash Carter has criticised Iraqi forces for showing no will to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group during the fall of Ramadi, in comments dismissed as “baseless” by a senior Iraqi legislator.
Carter told CNN’s State of the Union programme on Sunday that the Iraqi army failed to take on ISIL despite having a numerical advantage.
“The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight … they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they withdrew from the site,” Carter said.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the Iraqi capital, said Carter’s comments illicited anger in Baghdad.
“Iraqi officials are blaming the US for not delivering crucial weapons well before ISIL mounted their offensive. According to them, the US could have stopped the fall of Mosul,” he said.
Carter’s comments were rejected by a senior Iraqi lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, who said the Pentagon chief’s comments were “unrealistic and baseless”.
Zamili, who heads the Iraqi parliamentary defence and security committee, said the US should bear much of the blame for Ramadi’s fall for its failure to provide “good equipment, weapons and aerial support” to the soldiers.
He said the US military was seeking to “throw the blame on somebody else”, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Carter said that the US was continuing to provide air strikes and supply Iraqi forces with training and equipment, but Washington was keeping a close watch on the situation.
“Air strikes are effective, but neither they nor anything we can do can substitute for the Iraqis’ will to fight,” Carter said.
“They’re the ones who have to beat ISIL and then keep them beat.
“If there comes a time when we need to change the kinds of support we’re giving to the Iraqi forces, we’ll make that recommendation.”
The spat between the allies comes as Iraqi government forces backed by thousands of Shia militias mobilised in Anbar province in a bid to counter the offensive by ISIL.
Kareem al-Nouri, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella organisation of Shia militiamen, told Al Jazeera it was “hard to predict the timetable” for the battle.
“There’s no doubt it will be difficult but it will be easier than the fight in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces. In Anbar, there’s open terrain and it’s easier to spot the enemy. For now our focus is setting up defensive lines,” he said.
Iraqi security forces said they had retaken the town of Husaybah, about 10km east of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province.
However, sources told Al Jazeera that ISIL fighters were still able to mount attacks on the town, and killed 27 people, including army soldiers and Shia militiamen, in two suicide attacks.
Husaybah is part of the Khaldiya district, which is strategic in the government’s offensive against ISIL.