Iraqi commander says it was harder to fight ISIS now than Israel in ’73

Lt.-Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, who is considered a candidate for defense minister of Iraq, made his comments in an interview with Iraq’s Asia TV Network.

December 16, 2018 16:20
2 minute read.
A Syrian tank from the 1973 war on the Golan Heights.

A Syrian tank from the 1973 war on the Golan Heights.. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)


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The commander of the elite Iraqi Special Operations Forces said fighting Islamic State was more difficult than battling Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, because the fight against ISIS took place within Iraq.

Lt.-Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, who is considered a candidate for defense minister of Iraq, made his comments in an interview with Iraq’s Asia TV Network.

In the interview, which was posted online on December 10, the host asked Asadi to discuss his 50 years in the defense forces. “I graduated from the military academy in 1973. Right after that I joined a tank squad,” he said. He was sent for training at the Ghozlani Army Base near Mosul.

“Three months after my graduation I fought in the 1973... October war.” Asadi was part of an Iraqi Army expeditionary force sent to Syria to fight against Israel in the Yom Kippur War.  The force included the 3rd Armored Division and tens of thousands of men, which Asadi refers to as the 4th Corps. The unit was badly mauled in fighting between October 7 and 13, 1973. It is estimated that several hundred Iraqis were killed in the conflict.

When Asadi was asked about his service in 1973 and whether it was more difficult than the war on ISIS, he said, “The war against ISIS.”

The host was surprised and responded, “I mean, the enemy back then was Israel with its allies who supported it, the US, Britain, France.” But the Iraqi general noted that the war against Israel was one state against another. “In such wars you are able to use all the weapons and the military technology that you have against your enemy. But with ISIS, the story was different. We were fighting ISIS while our own civilian people were under ISIS control.”

Asadi said Iraqi security forces had to be very careful during the war against ISIS and take into consideration the safety of civilians. It also meant fighting in Iraqi cities and damaging the country’s own infrastructure. “This means that our mission is so difficult here because we want to defeat the enemy and take care of our own people at the same time.”

Asadi played a key role commanding the elite Counter-Terrorism Forces that Iraq used to defeat ISIS. His fighters liberated Mosul, a city he was intimately familiar with from his years training there in the 1970s. Asadi has sought in the past to downplay the role of foreign support Iraq received in the war on ISIS.

Iran, he said, received too much coverage, asserting the Popular Mobilization Units, a group of Shi’ite militias linked to Iran, were under the command of the Iraqi security forces and not an independent group operating as they pleased. He said he sought to assure the public during the battle of Mosul that civilians in the city would be dealt with “as we deal with our own families,” to allay fears of collateral damage or reprisals after ISIS was defeated.

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