Pentagon pushes back against Israeli critique of Iraq

Senior US defense official says Israeli criticism of security training fundamentally misread the threats facing Iraq.

Shi'ite volunteers who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the ISIS, southwest of Baghdad, June 24, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shi'ite volunteers who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the ISIS, southwest of Baghdad, June 24, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon and State Department rejected criticism from Israeli officials on Monday that the US had inadequate security training programs, which was ostensibly demonstrated by this month’s breakdown of the US-trained army in northern Iraq.
In a news report published Monday night, multiple Israeli officials – speaking on condition of anonymity to maintain relationships with their American counterparts – said that Israel had internalized the fall of the Iraqi security forces, which were funded by billions of US dollars, to the Sunni terrorist militia known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Those officials said ISIS’s territorial gains across the region reinforced Israel’s position to maintain an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley – and undermined a US security plan for that natural borderland, proposed as part of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
The plan, which would replace the IDF with an international force, was the work of US General John Allen, who earned his stripes on counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Responding to the report, one senior US defense official told The Jerusalem Post that the criticism fundamentally misread the security threats facing Iraq – and the contingencies facing the Jordan Valley, should peace come to pass between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“The [Iraqi Security Forces] is an army – a legitimate army,” the official said, calling the Jordan Valley force a “gendarmerie.”
“The PA faces completely different threats altogether, and it’s a completely inappropriate comparison to make,” the official said.
Israeli government officials making the comparison are “simply selecting facts to support their predetermined position” and cherry-picking, the official continued, adding that ISIS posed a regional threat that the Obama administration acknowledged.
“I would ask them to look at the Iraqi security forces in and around Baghdad,” he said.
In a statement, Pentagon press secretary R.-Adm. John Kirby told the Post that “without getting into the details of the work General Allen has been doing on the peace process, I can tell you there is no other officer – active or retired – in whom Secretary [of Defense Chuck] Hagel places more trust or more confidence when it comes to understanding this part of the world and the dynamics of counter-terrorism.”
Kirby added that “from Iraq to Afghanistan, General Allen has not only lived it, he has led it. The results of his hard-won success speak for themselves.”
Israel has relayed its concerns to the Obama administration through several channels. In addition to its security concerns, Israel expressed fears over the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as ISIS continues its advancement.
ISIS seeks an Islamist caliphate across the region, with the aim of reestablishing Sharia law and reshuffling a map that the United Kingdom drew just a century ago. The group took control of a border crossing with Jordan this past weekend.
State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez called the comparison between the security threats to Iraq and the Jordan Valley “simplistic and not relevant to the ideas that General Allen is developing in the security dialogue with his Israeli counterparts.”
Vasquez added that “we fully appreciate the security challenges that Israel faces. We’ve long said that the result of any peace negotiation needs to leave Israel more secure, not less. This is the principle under which General Allen and his team are operating.”
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged leaders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday to stand with Baghdad in the face of the Sunni insurgent onslaught threatening to dismember the country.
Security forces fought Sunni armed factions for control of the country’s biggest oil refinery on Tuesday, and insurgents launched an attack on one of its largest air bases less than 100 km. from the capital.
More than 1,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed in less than three weeks, the United Nations said on Tuesday, calling the figure “very much a minimum.”
The figure includes unarmed government troops machine-gunned in mass graves by insurgents, as well as several reported incidents of prisoners killed in their cells by retreating government forces.
Kerry flew to the Kurdish region on a trip through the Middle East to rescue Iraq following a lightning advance by the Sunni fighters led by the ISIS jihadis.
US officials believe that persuading the Kurds to stick with the political process in Baghdad is vital to keeping Iraq from splitting apart.
“If they decide to withdraw from the Baghdad political process, it will accelerate a lot of the negative trends,” said a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Kurdish leaders have made clear that the settlement keeping Iraq together as a state is now in jeopardy.
“We are facing a new reality and a new Iraq,” Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said at the start of his meeting with Kerry.
Reuters contributed to this report.