Speed Reads

Crisis in Iraq

Iraq's army probably isn't strong enough to defeat ISIS

Given the speed and apparent ease with which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces have captured territory and military and financial assets in Iraq, it will come as no surprise that U.S. military officials and other experts don't think very highly of Iraq's armed forces.

Now, we have some numbers to quantify their skepticism, The New York Times reports: Five of Iraq's 14 divisions are "combat ineffective," according to official U.S. assessments. Or, in the estimation of Michael Knights at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, about 60 or Iraq's 243 Army combat battalions "cannot be accounted for, and all of their equipment is lost." It will be an uphill battle to keep ISIS from advancing, much less drive the insurgents back. "Now we are just in the position of protecting what we have left of our territory," one Iraqi Army commander tells The Times.

Iframe Code

Morale is low, Iraq has only two aircraft capable of firing a dwindling supply of U.S. Hellfire missiles, Iraq's forces are being supplemented by ill-trained volunteers, and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isn't trying to reach out to Sunnis or Kurds to find a political solution to a conflict his forces don't appear able to solve militarily. On Sunday, ISIS captured a major border crossing between Iraq and Syria, opening a free path for weapons, fighters, and other reinforcements to flow into Iraq.

Is there any good news? U.S. officials say Iraq's elite counterterrorism force is well-trained, as are some of the Shiite militias gearing up to battle Sunni ISIS. They don't expect Baghdad to fall. Two of the 14 "combat ineffective" divisions were already routed in Mosul. And it's not clear ISIS knows how to use the Howitzers Iraq's army abandoned in that city.