The fog of war lies thick over the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. Deliberate enemy deception, willful self-deception, and the complexity of large-scale combat ensure that the truth about war is almost always obscured by a kind of fog. Occasionally a major event parts the clouds and reveals a few fragments of truth, only to have the fog close in again. The collapse of Iraqi defenses in Ramadi is one such event. But we must look quickly to learn anything at all.
The most important fact revealed by ISIS’s victory is that the “Iraqi Army” no longer exists. This is a different observation from that of Secretary of Defense Carter, who avers that they lost the will to fight. Some people did lose the will to fight in Ramadi. But, we should ask a more fundamental question. Ramadi was under siege for months. How is it that few if any reinforcements were sent to defend a city deemed critical to the defense of Baghdad itself? Public sources reported some fourteen divisions in the Iraqi Army in 2014. Between three and five were destroyed in Mosul, leaving nine. At most one was defending Ramadi. Where were the rest? Indeed, where are they now? How is it that Shiite militias must be called upon to liberate Ramadi? If the Iraqi Army has evaporated, or perhaps more accurately deteriorated into a collection of local militias and palace guards, then theU.S.“re-training” mission in Iraq is vastly more difficult than we have been led to believe. Having claimed to build an Iraqi Army, which seems not to exist, and which one doubts ever really existed, the U.S. military is now trying to build another one, from the ground up. Why will things turn out better this time?