Middle East

Iraq must own difficult fight to reclaim Ramadi: US officials

Iraqi families, who fled the city of Ramadi after it was seized by ISIS militants, talk to journalists at a camp housing displaced families on May 18, 2015 in Bzeibez, on the southwestern frontier of Baghdad with Anbar province. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

WASHINGTON: The United States will support Iraq's difficult fight to reclaim lost territory in Ramadi and elsewhere, but the battlefield setback has not prompted consideration of deploying U.S. ground combat forces, U.S. military and civilian officials told Reuters on Monday.

"Having American troops drawn into this fight... (would come) with a host of problems," said one U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second U.S. military official also said the option was not under consideration.

A civilian U.S. official told Reuters: "What we need is for everybody who is in Iraq to defend Iraq, and in the end, it's got to be Iraqis."

"Remember whose country it is and who's got to take responsibility for it. It's not the United States, in this case. It's the Iraqis," the civilian U.S. official said.

A column of 3,000 Shiite militia fighters arrived on Monday at a military base near Ramadi as Baghdad moved to retake the western Iraqi city, which has recently fallen to ISIS militants in the biggest defeat for the government since mid-2014.

Setting the stage for renewed fighting over the city, ISIS advanced in armored vehicles from Ramadi towards the base where the Shiite paramilitaries were amassing for a counter-offensive, witnesses and a military officer said.

One U.S. official said he did not expect the fall of Ramadi to change U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy of conducting airstrikes and boosting U.S. equipment and training for Iraq but not sending U.S. troops back to fight.

Asked if Obama was likely to change strategy, which was effectively set when he decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 and leave the country's defense to local forces, the official replied: "I don't think so."

"The full power of Iraq, including the Shiite militias, wasn't included in this battle. They need to be. I don't see why the president's strategy has to change, but clearly something has to change," the official said, suggesting a greater Iraqi effort to defend its territory.

 

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