BAGHDAD – As Iraqi army forces try to rally on the outskirts of Baghdad after two weeks of retreat, it has become increasingly clear to Western officials that the army will continue to suffer losses in its fight with Sunni militants and will not soon retake the ground it has lost.
Recent assessments by Western officials and military experts indicate that about a quarter of Iraq’s military forces are “combat ineffective,” its air force is minuscule, morale among troops is low and its leadership suffers from widespread corruption.
As other nations consider whether to support military action in Iraq, where the situation continued to deteriorate Sunday, their decision will hinge on the quality of Iraqi forces, which have proved far more ragged than expected given years of U.S. training. Even now, fighters with the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are methodically consolidating their gains, extending their hold on Euphrates River valley towns, securing access routes between their bases in Syria and the front lines in Iraq, and pressuring other Sunni groups to fight with them.
Efforts to persuade the Iraqi government to be more inclusive to Sunnis and provide a counterweight to the militants are making little headway. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has turned to tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen and volunteers that Sunnis see as a threat, and so far has not reached out in any meaningful way to Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
Taken together, the picture that emerges is of an Iraq where the lines on the map mean little. The north and west have become a haven for Sunni extremists who have largely succeeded in erasing the border between their territory in Syria and Iraq. On Saturday, the militants took Qaim, a checkpoint on the border with Syria, giving them the ability to move large quantities of weapons and men into Iraq.
With a newly expanded Kurdistan in the north, Baghdad and the south remain under government control.
new york times