Without doubt the Iraq Army ran away from Ramadi.
Without doubt they faced an astonishingly ferocious onslaught.
Without doubt the USA could have done more, but has tied its own hands, and the Obama administration has sought to cover its own shortcomings by further humiliating the Iraqi army.
The army was numerically superior and in defensive positions. Normally an attacking force requires at least double the number of troops the enemy has. However, Daesh (Islamic State) fighters had a key advantage – a willingness to die.
Reports suggest they launched 30 vehicle borne suicide bombs as they advanced through the town. Ten of these, some carried by bulldozers, are said to have had the explosive power of the Oklahoma City bomb and each took out almost an entire street and everyone in it.
Outflanked, and then outgunned by Daesh fighters armed with looted American military equipment, the Iraqi army fled. Even the Golden Division of Special Forces turned tail. This unit should not have been in the front line, acting as infantry, but was one of the few remaining units with the willingness to stand and fight.
The Iraqis repeatedly called in air strikes, but few were forthcoming. The US pilots, subject to strict rules of engagement which are not shared by their Iraqi counterparts, did not have US forward air controllers on the ground and were frequently unsure of their targets most of which were in urban areas.
It was a humiliating rout, plain to see, but then Washington DC, which last month was arguing its Iraq strategy was working, stuck the knife in.
US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was unleashed and in a statement which made headlines around the world said ‘What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight… and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”
To so publicly criticise an ally, and in such terms, is unusual and all of the Gulf States have noticed. Whatever the truth in his remarks, he has humiliated a government, large sections of its population, and all of its military. Baghdad will respond by throwing everything it has at Ramadi which means including the Shia militias against what is a Sunni town.
The Iraqi Government pushed back against the comments saying Carter had ‘incorrect information’. The Iranians went much further. In remarks deliberately echoing those of Carter, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force said it was the Americans who had ‘no will to fight ISIL’
General Ghasem Soleimani said the US had taken no action to stop ISIL’s advance and this was ‘Nothing but complicity in a conspiracy’.
The fightback has now begun. The Iranians are partially orchestrating the battle plan which is already making some headway.
The army, now backed by about 3,000 Shia militiamen, some assisted by officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have firmed up their lines about 7 miles east of the city and blocked a road used to supply ISIS fighters. It holds the Al Habbaniyah military base on the outskirts of the Ramadi, and, aided by limited US airstrikes, they have also retaken parts of a small town called al-Tash 14 miles south of Ramadi.
However, Daesh has had 10 days to bring in re-enforcements and prepare its defences.
Because Baghdad is fighting on two front in the country’s river valleys – the Tigris and the Euphrates – its forces are stretched, and every time it diverts forces from one front to the other it risks losing territory on the one left depleted. It simply does not have enough trained and motivated soldiers to make major advances, hence, for example, the retaking of Mosul looks as if it will have to wait for next year.
To make up for its deficiencies the Shia led Baghdad government is again bringing the Shia militia into the fight. This risks re-igniting the sectarian war in Iraq and thus losing the support of any Sunni tribal leaders prepared to join with Baghdad to defeat Daesh. The forces arrayed against Daesh in Ramadi need to treat cautiously, which is not something they are known for.
The jihadists have their own problems. They too are fighting on two front in Iraq, as well as in Syria, and their leadership and rank and file are being seriously depleted by ground fighting and American air strikes when they can be caught out in the open.
Deash has ceded ground to other groups in Syria to allow it to take and defend Ramadi. It will probably be pushed out of the city eventually, but the cost will be enormous and the city will be in ruins.