AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now a point of view we haven't heard much when it comes to the fight against the so-called Islamic State - what Iraqi soldiers think. They've been criticized widely by the U.S., blamed for running away and letting ISIS take over large areas of Iraq with little resistance. NPR's Alice Fordham has been talking to some of those soldiers and filed this report.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: When the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to ISIS last month, it was a big defeat. Ramadi's a provincial capital, pretty close to Baghdad. To find out why it happened, I speak with a regular soldier who was there - Walid Abdelhassan.
WALID ABDELHASSAN: (Through interpreter) We were under heavy attack for four days - severe attacks by ISIS - artillery, mortar rounds, different types of car bombs.
FORDHAM: Abdelhassan's a compact man, tense and twitchy when he meets us during a two-day break from the front lines. He's been fighting in and around Ramadi 15 months. This assault was bad, he tells me, but they'd fought off worse, so he was surprised to get an abrupt order to withdraw with half an hour's notice.
ABDELHASSAN: (Through interpreter) In half an hour, we couldn't do anything, couldn't take our cars, ammunition or even the corpses of dead soldiers with us.
FORDHAM: The commander who gave that order is no longer leading operations. An investigation is ongoing, but Abdelhassan says this wasn't unique. He gets a lot of orders that make no sense to him.
ABDELHASSAN: (Through interpreter) They don't think properly. They had us as a defensive line, never attacking.
FORDHAM: He says they didn't have enough ammunition. They were sitting ducks, and a lot of men were killed. But he insists they didn't lack the will to fight. His unit is still near Ramadi.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FORDHAM: To meet some of the kind of senior officers Abdelhassan's talking about, I head to the Iraqi army 6th Division headquarters in Baghdad. A minibus playing patriotic music carries me inside the wire.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
FORDHAM: The commander's bodyguard unit practices marching in formation outside. And when I sit with the beefy deputy commander, Staff Gen. Hussein Mashi, he says he doesn't appreciate American criticism.
STAFF GENERAL HUSSEIN MASHI: (Through interpreter) The Iraqi army is a good and old army. We don't need anyone to evaluate us. We can evaluate ourselves.
FORDHAM: But the general concedes since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011, they've struggled.
MASHI: (Through interpreter) We have a shortage in intelligence, training and arming, and delays in supplying the Iraqi army with what they need.
FORDHAM: I point out that when they were here, before 2011, Americans trained a hundred Iraqi trainers for this division alone. Why aren't they training?
MASHI: (Speaking Arabic).
FORDHAM: He says they don't have enough weapons - can't train without weapons. For another view on the state of Iraq's military, I sit down with the head of the air force, Gen. Anwar Amin, who says there's another problem - creeping corruption in the leadership.
GENERAL ANWAR AMIN: If you not take care, if you not control the corruption in the beginning, in the final, it will be like the cancer.
FORDHAM: Like the cancer?
FORDHAM: He makes the point that organizing training is harder for the Iraqi army than for most. It's basically been fighting a hot war against insurgents for 10 years. He also says the army must teach soldiers loyalty to Iraq rather than to their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Remember the soldier Abdelhassan we spoke with earlier? He says he's only fighting because his religious leader said he should, not because he believes in the army. Air force Gen. Amin says getting men like him to be loyal to Iraq won't happen immediately.
AMIN: This is not easy to control all thing immediately. It will take time.
FORDHAM: It will take time. But, I say, the Iraqi army's been trying to rebuild for more than a decade. Right now, ISIS is 30 miles away from Baghdad. And so the army's getting help from a motley group of militias. They also oppose ISIS, but some of them are on the U.S. terror list. That's fine with Gen. Amin,
AMIN: In reality, they are like one team. They are working together.
FORDHAM: His air force supports both the army and the militias. Iraq's regular forces need all the help they can get. Alice Fordham, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.