Abadi criticizes ‘slow’ support for Iraqi army

While Abadi acknowledged that there was some ‘acceleration,’ the international coalition is ‘very slow’ in assisting the Iraqi army

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The U.S.-led international coalition, whose main task is to launch airstrikes against Islamic militants, is “slow” in providing military support to Iraq’s army, the country’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said Sunday during his visit to Egypt.

“The international coalition is very slow in its support and training of the army” in Iraq, Abadi said at a meeting with a group of journalists during an official visit to Cairo.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group last year took control of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S.-led international coalition is currently conducting air raids against ISIS positions in both countries and is providing military support to Iraqi forces.

“This support is very slow, but in the last two weeks there has been an acceleration,” he acknowledged, however, calling for a “further acceleration” in the assistance provided to the Iraqi army.

U.S. officials say the Iraqi government army is being trained and armed to stage a major counter-offensive later in 2015, but in the meantime the international coalition is using air raids to pile pressure on ISIS supply lines.

In an interview with Reuters, Abadi, who is planning in less than a month to launch a new offensive against ISIS in Tikrit, said on Sunday that Iraq may need three years to rebuild and restructure its military.

Corruption is widely blamed for the near collapse of the army, which received billions of dollars in support from the United States during the American occupation but has failed to stabilize Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer.

Abadi admitted that creating a more effective army could be challenging while he fights ISIS, seen as far more dangerous than al-Qaeda, its predecessor in Iraq.

“The most difficult thing is to restructure and build the army while you are in a state of war,” Abadi told Reuters.

“Our aim is to create a balance between both, restructuring the army in a way that will not impact the fighting,” added Abadi, a British-educated engineer.

Abadi has sacked army officers accused of corruption in his drive to reform the institution and stabilize a country that has suffered from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, numerous wars and United Nations sanctions. He has told the defence minister to lead a probe into corruption within the military.

“The core issue for us is fighting corruption in the military and civil institutions because this will raise the efficiency of our military troops," said Abadi.

“After taking some simple steps towards restructuring our army the ability of our troops to control and retake territory improved. We will continue this.”

Meanwhile, Abadi said that in less than a month Iraqi government forces will launch an offensive against ISIS in an attempt to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, 160 km (100 miles) north of Baghdad.

In July, Iraqi forces withdrew from the militant-held city after meeting heavy resistance. Abadi was less specific about Mosul.

“Mosul. I can’t specify. Maybe the operation will be launched soon, faster than imagined. We don’t want to advance to Mosul without planning. But Tikrit will be less than a month.”

Abadi also faces the challenge of easing sectarian violence: kidnappings and executions are common.

One of the toughest issues will be dealing with Shiite militias who have helped the government fight Islamic State but are accused by human rights groups of abuses.

Abadi said he discussed with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi Iraqi “proposals” for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria.

He said the proposals “fill the void” that would appear in areas taken back from ISIS, ensuing “a joint administration between the government and the opposition during a period of transition.”

The objective was to prevent the emergence of “new terrorist groups” in areas freed from ISIS yoke, he added.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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