Date :Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 | Time : 17:12 |ID: 16511 | Print

US sends an army headquarters to Iraq for the first time in three years

SHAFAQNA – The United States is to send an army headquarters to Iraq for the first time in three years as part of an urgent push to help the struggling Iraqi security forces in the fight against Islamic State. The decision to establish a divisional headquarters in Baghdad came as President Obama held crisis talks in Maryland with defence chiefs from 21 nations last night — and as Isis fighters surged towards the Iraqi capital.

The deployment will involve about 500 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, though not all will be based in Iraq. Local leaders have said that Iraq’s army, plagued by low morale, desertions and incompetence, is incapable of stopping Isis on its own.

Yesterday’s meeting at Andrews Airforce­ Base included Britain and the eight other countries that have joined coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

Speaking after he met the military chiefs, including Britain’s chief of the ­defence staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Mr Obama thanked allies in “an operation that involves the world”.

He warned “there are going to be ­periods of progress and setbacks” but said the coalition was united in the goal of defeating Isis.

However, the ineffectiveness of allied airstrikes was sharply illustrated by the continuing collapse of the Iraqi military in the strategically vital province of Anbar, with local officials saying that Baghdad could come within range of Isis mortar and artillery fire within days.

They fear that the capital will be next in the jihadists’ sights after they conquer the city of Ramadi, from which government troops are expected to withdraw in the coming days. Some 180,000 people have fled fierce fighting as Isis forces have continued to push towards a complete takeover of Anbar.

The allied campaign of airstrikes was intensified elsewhere last night, with 21 sorties near Isis positions at Kobani, on the Syrian-Turkish border. The strikes were aimed at preventing Isis bringing up reinforcements and resupplying its fighters.

The Pentagon has already prepared the ground for defeat, saying that some towns will inevitably fall to Isis, and that Kobani — home to tens of thousands of Kurds, most of whom have fled to Turkey — is not strategically vital. However, with no evidence that Isis is losing ground — anywhere — Mr Obama and his military commanders are facing criticism.

“The problem is that this conflict is moving much faster than our ability to identify, train, equip and place in the field these rebel elements, or anybody for that matter. Isis is not going to sit around and wait for us to train the rebels. By the time they’re ready to go, it may be too late,” Marco Rubio, a Republican senator, said.

The fight against Isis has been further hampered by the refusal of Turkey, a Nato member, to allow its southern airbase to be used for attacks into Syria.

Yesterday’s meeting also aimed to ensure­ that arms supplies to the Iraqis, Kurds and the Syrian opposition were co-ordinated, along with intelligence-sharing and humanitarian aid. US officials believe that militants are using the fleeing refugees as cover to move sleeper cells into Baghdad, with the long-term aim of destabilising the capital.

There has been a surge in the number of car bombings in the Iraqi capital, with more than 50 people killed on Saturday­ in four separate attacks in greater Baghdad, and another 22 on Monday in three bombings in Shia districts­. Yesterday, a Shia MP, Ahmed al-Khafaji, died when he was caught by a huge explosion at a checkpoint which killed at least 23 people.

Iraqi troops in Anbar lost the third military base in three weeks, despite a number of coalition airstrikes carried out against the Isis militants surrounding it. Commanders said they had ordered their troops to beat a “tactical retreat” to stop equipment from falling into the hands of the militants. However, some of the troops complained of a lack of leadership, saying the base, near Heet, could have been held with reinforcements and supplies.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the Iraqi army collapse had left Isis with “a straight shot to [Baghdad] airport. So, we’re not going to allow that to happen”.

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Williams, who led the British SAS Task Force Black in operations to drive al-Qaeda from Baghdad between 2006 and 2007, said that the push for the capital was now the principal focus for Isis.

“Their core strength is the ability to use terror and  shock on their enemy and on their own people. Their main ‘offensive’ capability now is the suicide attacks into Baghdad, which could get much worse and more frequent over time,” he said.

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