Vice President Joe Biden reassured Iraq’s government on Monday of U.S. support in the fight against the Islamic State group, telephoning Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with thanks for “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces” one day after Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned the Iraqi military commitment.
Biden’s call followed harsh criticism from Iraqi and Iranian quarters after Carter questioned Iraqi forces’ “will to fight” the surging Islamic State group.
A White House statement on Monday describing Biden’s call said the vice president welcomed an Iraqi decision to mobilize additional troops and “prepare for counterattack operations.” Biden also pledged full U.S. support to “these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from ISIL,” the statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
In reaction to Carter’s remarks, which were aired Sunday in a media interview, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister suggested the defense secretary had “incorrect information,” while Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, offered his own critical assessment of U.S. forces.
The heated exchanges came after the loss of Ramadi and amid other gains by the IS in recent days. The criticism from both Iraq and Iran began when Carter told CNN that Iraqi forces “vastly outnumbered” the Islamic State group, but still “showed no will to fight” and fled the IS advance on the capital of Anbar province.
On Monday, Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for al-Abadi, said his government was surprised by Carter’s comments. “We should not judge the whole army based on one incident,” al-Hadithi told The Associated Press.
In Iran, the daily newspaper Javan, which is seen as close to the Revolutionary Guard, quoted Soleimani as saying the U.S. didn’t do a thing to stop the extremists’ advance on Ramadi.
“Does it mean anything else than being an accomplice in the plot?” he reportedly asked, later saying the U.S. showed “no will” in fighting the Islamic State group. Soleimani said Iran and its allies are the only forces that can deal with the threat. “Today, there is nobody in confrontation with [the Islamic State group] except the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.