Iraq, U.S. are divided on what’s next in battle against ISIS

The Wall Street Journal reports: Neither Iraq’s government nor the militias have released a comprehensive assessment of the casualties they suffered in Tikrit. But U.S. officials say thousands of Iraqis were killed and that the bulk of the suffering could have been avoided had the Iraqis coordinated with the U.S. in advance.

After two weeks of fighting that inflicted heavy casualties on the militias, Baghdad asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes. Iran’s militia allies withdrew partly in anger, and partly at the U.S. insistence that they step aside. But smaller Shiite militias more closely aligned with Baghdad’s government played a central role in seizing central Tikrit.

U.S. military officials recognize that they will have to work with the irregular militia forces, even if they do not want to, military officials in Washington said.

Iraqi militia leaders agree that the confusion of Tikrit should have been avoided.

“The government is trying to avoid the problem that happened in Tikrit,” said Mr. Hussaini. The militias, Sunni tribal fighters and Iraqi military have established a joint operations command so that Iraq’s sundry anti-Islamic State forces can communicate their needs to the U.S. with a unified voice.

Yet Iraqi Shiite militias still appear determined to fight alone without U.S. support. Their focus on Tikrit appears in part to be aimed at securing a morale-boosting victory without the help of foreign airstrikes.

It’s a question of pride that U.S. officials worry is interfering with tactical considerations.

“Of course, everything depends on the nature of the battle,” said Mr. Hussaini. “But the leadership, they prefer the fight to be purely Iraqi because it tastes better, it has a better impact for the future. It’s a national thing for Iraqis.” [Continue reading…]

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