The Pentagon doubled down Tuesday on Defense Secretary Ash Carter's criticism of Iraqi forces, saying that local troops "chose to withdraw" from the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Ramadi.
"Iraqi security forces vastly outnumbered their enemy. Yet they chose to withdraw,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren.
"In this case, the Iraqi Security Forces had ... a substantial combat power advantage over their enemy,” he added.
Carter struck a similar chord over the weekend, blaming the fall of Ramadi to ISIS on Iraqi forces lacking the "will to fight."
Iraqi officials fired back at Carter, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi saying he was "surprised."
"I am sure he was fed with the wrong information," Abadi told BBC.
Hakim al-Zamili, the head of Iraq’s parliamentary defense and security committee, called Carter’s remarks “unrealistic and baseless.”
Carter was attempting to “throw the blame on somebody else,” al-Zamili was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
Al-Zamili cast blame on the U.S., saying it had failed to provide “good equipment, weapons and aerial support” for the Iraqi forces at Ramadi.
Vice President Biden was forced to call Baghdad on Monday to smooth over tensions.
Biden in his call praised the "enormous sacrifice and bravery" of the Iraqi forces in Ramadi.
However, the Pentagon on Tuesday stuck by the secretary’s comments.
“In this case of Ramadi, there was a problem of both low morale amongst the troops and there was a problem with the command structure,” Warren said. “The command and control structure does not appear to have been fully up to the task."
Warren suggested that the fault could lie with the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, which is responsible for training the Sunni tribal fighters and policemen in Ramadi.
“The Iraqi Security Forces there did not feel that they were as supported as they could have been. They did not feel that they had the resources that they wanted. They did not feel that they were in a position to win,” he said.
Sunni police and tribal fighters had not received pay or weapons from Baghdad, according to some local reports after the fall of Ramadi.
“We've long said, and we'll continue to say, that we want the central government to move arms and equipment to the Sunnis and to the Kurds as rapidly as possible,” Warren said. Sunnis make up about a third of the Muslims in Iraq, the other two-thirds being Shiites. Kurds make up about 15 percent of the Iraqi population, which is 95 percent Muslim.
“We're just going to continue to encourage and to ask the Iraqi government to get these arms and equipment out as rapidly as possible,” he said.