The New York Times reports: After six weeks of American airstrikes, the Iraqi government’s forces have scarcely budged Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country, in part because many critical Sunni tribes remain on the sidelines.
Although the airstrikes appear to have stopped the extremists’ march toward Baghdad, the Islamic State is still dealing humiliating blows to the Iraq government forces. On Monday, the government acknowledged that it had lost control of the northern town of Sijr and lost contact with several hundred of its soldiers who had been trapped for several days at a camp north of the Islamic State stronghold of Falluja, in Anbar Province.
By midday, there were reports that hundreds of soldiers had been killed in battle or mass executions. Ali Bedairi, a lawmaker from the governing alliance, said more than 300 soldiers had died after the loss of the base, Camp Saqlawiya, although his count could not be confirmed.
“They did not have any food and they were starving for four days,” a soldier who said he was one of 200 who managed to escape said in a videotaped statement that he circulated online. “We drank salty water, we could not even run.”
Behind the government’s struggles on the battlefield is the absence or resistance of many of the Sunni Muslim tribes that all sides say will play the decisive role in the course of the fight — presenting a slow start for the centerpiece of President Obama’s plan to drive out the militants. [Continue reading…]