The Washington Post reports: Ammar, an Iraqi Shiite Muslim, was so eager as a teenager to join his country’s army that he considered lying about his age. Three years after he finally joined, he found himself defending an oil refinery as it came under attack in late June by Sunni militants.
What happened next left him convinced that the Iraqi army was broken: His brigade commanders fled, leaving their men behind.
And with that, Ammar and about 400 fellow soldiers also decided that night to leave the refinery, joining the thousands of Iraqi troops who have deserted since the Islamic State began capturing territory across northern Iraq last month.
Over the past three weeks, nearly one-tenth of Iraq’s 700,000 active soldiers have shed their uniforms, according to Michael Knights of the Washington Institute, who has extensive contacts in the Iraqi military. Iraqi officials have estimated that the number might be as high as 90,000.
The Iraqi government is now rushing tens of thousands of new recruits through basic training, and it has solidified alliances with Iran-backed Shiite militias and enlisted their help in joint operations. But experts and Iraqi soldiers say additional manpower is unlikely to remedy a weakness that contributed to the army’s collapse and is highlighted by Ammar’s account of the chaos that unfolded at the Baiji refinery: poor leadership. [Continue reading…]