The seemingly sudden collapse of the Iraqi army this week in the face of an Islamic militant insurgence was years in the making and a direct result of the full withdrawal of American advisers from the country in 2011 under President Barack Obama, The New York Times
reported, citing American military and intelligence officials.
Four of Iraq's 14 army divisions deserted their posts and fled when confronted in the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. According to the Times, the takeover of two Sunni-dominated cities by an al-Qaida inspired group was made easier because Iraqi forces had been in chronic decline, with poor leadership, low morale, and broken equipment.
Lt. Gen. John Bednarek, head of the office of security cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, told a closed hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that some of the Iraqi soldiers on duty in the capital were wearing civilian clothing under their uniforms in the event they needed to flee under heavy attack, according to the Times.
"That was a surprise to everybody, to have four major divisions fold as quickly as they did without even fighting," said West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a member of the committee, according to the Times.
The United States had spent about $25 billion from the beginning of the war until September 2012 to build up Iraq's security forces while Iraq also invested billions of dollars to acquire weapons.
Nevertheless, ISIS insurgents had been making inroads in Mosul and other regions for months, aided by a consistent supply of suicide bombers from Syria, Eric Schmitt and Michael R. Gordon of the Times wrote.
Many of the army's weapons were damaged during clashes with extremists. Six helicopters were shot down, 60 were damaged, and dozens of tanks were also damaged or experiencing maintenance problems, the Times reported.
"They are crumbling," James Dubik, a retired American lieutenant general who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces during the 2007 U.S. "surge," told the Times.
"There are pockets of proficiency, but in general, they have been made fragile over the past three to four years, mostly because of the government of Iraq's policies," he said. "They're losing confidence in themselves and in the government's ability to win. And the government is losing confidence in them."
Another former senior American officer who served in Iraq told the Times that the most recent events reflect weakness and a lack of resistance by the Iraqi army, not the strength of the insurgents.
"This is not about ISIS strength, but the Iraqi security forces' weakness," said the officer, who was not identified by the Times. "Since the U.S. left in 2011, the training and readiness of the Iraqi security forces has plummeted precipitously."
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