Odierno: Iraqi Army Faces Leadership Issues

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

As the Iraqi army stumbles against the Islamic State, it is clear there is a leadership problem in its ranks, said the U.S. Army’s chief of staff May 28.

To win any battle, a military must have strong leaders, technical competence and the will to fight, said Gen. Ray Odierno.

“If you’re missing anyone of those three things, you’re not going to be successful,” he said during a meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C. “In my mind, as you look at this, there’s probably a problem with leadership [in Iraq].”

Odierno’s remarks echoed statements made earlier this week by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter who said the Iraqi army lacked the “will to fight” against the Islamic State during the fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and a key strategic location.

The U.S. military plays a critical part in the fight against ISIL by training Iraqi and coalition forces, but it is ultimately Iraq who must defeat the group, he noted. The answer cannot be in putting U.S. forces on the ground, Odierno said. “It would not be helpful at all. Until the Iraqis and those in the area want to defeat this threat, it will not be defeated,” he said.

Adding forward-deployed U.S. military advisors to the mix might help the situation, he noted. Right now, there are advisors in Iraq, but they remain at bases and are not embedded with Iraqi troops.

“Whenever there is U.S. capability on the ground helping them, there is a confidence that comes from that,” he said. “We all believe our advisors help. I think we believe that they do better when our advisors are there.”

However, embedding advisors is risky and U.S. leaders have not yet asked for it, he added. It could also accelerate the violence among various Iraqi sects and Islamic State forces, he said.

“Iraq is an incredibly complex situation and it’s not only ISIL,” he said. “That’s what makes it such a difficult, difficult environment. … I don’t want to put our soldiers in the middle of that.”

As for advisors who would remain at bases or camps, he said he would be in favor of increasing their numbers if the president ordered it. “It would make a difference,” he said.

The U.S. military recognizes that while it could stop ISIL by sending in thousands of troops, that is not necessarily the right thing to do, he said. “You could defeat someone militarily but unless you solve the political and economic problems, it might not be enough,” he noted.

Odierno said it has been troublesome to watch the Iraqi government falter since the U.S. military left the country several years ago. It has been plagued by corruption and violence, and has lost swaths of land to the Islamic State.

“I’ll be frank, it’s incredibly disappointing to me personally what I’ve watched happen,” he said. “I felt in September 2010 when I left that we were on the right track and I really believed that at that time in five years or so Iraq would be doing very, very well. But frankly, they’ve fallen apart.”

There is an inherent distrust of the Iraqi government because of the various bickering sects in the country including Sunni, Shiite, Kurds and more, he said. That continues to “degrade” the work the U.S. government put into the country.

“Until you get everyone supporting the [Iraqi] government … you’re always going to have this problem,” he said. “Until you solve that problem, it’s very difficult to be successful.”

Topics: Defense Department

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