‘Failure of Iraqi government allowed ISIL to flourish’: Powell
ABU DHABI // Iraq’s army collapsed against ISIL because its soldiers had no faith in the country’s political leaders, former US secretary of state Colin Powell said on Sunday.
“Baghdad’s problem was not fighting ISIL — it was the lack of a political leadership that could bring the country together,” Mr Powell told delegates at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.
The failures of the Iraqi government under then prime minister Nouri Al Maliki allowed ISIL to make inroads into Mosul in June last year, he said.
The US spent around US$25 billion (Dh91.8bn) on rebuilding the Iraqi army up to 2007, after initially disbanding the country’s armed forces in 2003, according to the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction report in 2013.
Criticisms of Mr Al Maliki include claims that he appointed political clients to senior positions in the Iraqi army, and used branches of the security forces to crush political opponents.
Graft was endemic, with more than 50,000 fictional soldiers on military payrolls, according to Iraq’s new government under prime minister Haider Al Abadi.
“We made terrible strategic mistakes” in Iraq, including disbanding the army and purging the government of Baath party members, Mr Powell said, but it was the failure of Mr Al Maliki’s government that allowed ISIL to flourish.
The Iraqi army failed “because [soldiers] did not have confidence in the leadership. They were not willing to put their lives on the line for the system they were a part of”.
Iraq’s “political leaders did not take the opportunity” provided by the relative stability that followed the 2007 troop surge to resolve conflicts between the country’s ethnic and religious groups, Mr Powell said.
“To defeat a movement you need military strength, of course. But you also need political strength.”
“What’s unique about [organisations like ISIL] is that they’re not an easy enemy to go after,” Mr Powell said. “ISIL is as much a movement as it is a military threat.”
Mr Powell, who was a platoon leader in the US Army’s 48th Infantry, said he knew how to “take a hill” or how to defeat an enemy on the battlefield.
“But ask me how to defeat a movement — that’s a lot more difficult,” he said.
“Don’t think [that] it’s a simple military task, that we’ve kicked them out of Kobani,” Mr Powell said.
“We have kicked them out of the city, but they’re still around the city. They don’t have to hold a piece of ground to say that they are winning, they just have to influence a wider region.”
Mr Powell said ISIL could only be fought with troops on the ground, preferably from the region, and especially from Iraq.
Mr Powell, a four-star general, was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior position in the US armed forces, during the first Gulf war.
The US Central Command announced last month that Iraqi forces will launch an attack to take back control of Mosul from ISIL inspring.
But a senior member of the US Defence Intelligence Agency recently acknowledged that the coalition of Iraqi and Kurdish forces may not be able to mount an offensive against Mosul for at least “six to nine months”.
Updated: March 1, 2015 04:00 AM