Eleven years ago George W. Bush sounded a hopeful note on the increasingly (by mid-2005) unpopular war in Iraq, noting that the American role would decline as Iraqi institutions became capable of functioning without direct U.S. support. "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," he said rather famously, despite not the slightest hint two full years into that conflict that the Iraqi Army was capable of doing anything other than being infiltrated by terrorists, deserting by the thousands, and showing no particular inclination to do anything that resembled real fighting.
One could reasonably ask if two years (roughly beginning with the summer of 2003 when most of Iraq was essentially reduced to rubble) is enough for a fighting force to become effective. Perhaps some time was needed. While U.S. forces continued to complain that Iraq's military was useless, we were repeatedly urged to grant them more time. And more money – tens of billions of dollars were flushed down the toilet that was and is the Iraqi Army including literal shipping pallets full of cash (reportedly $12 billion) that simply vanished without a trace in 2007. The effectiveness of U.S. and some coalition forces brought Baghdad into some semblance of stability, which is to say that Baghdad is still insanely violent but most of the organized terrorist and militant groups have withdrawn from the city to avoid directly confronting its enemies at their point of greatest military strength.
By the time Obama brought combat forces home a few years ago we appeared willing to accept a status quo of a violent, semi-governed Baghdad (and a few other major cities in Iraq's east) with most rural areas of the country outside of the control of its central government. Once they could sort of handle Baghdad on their own, we peaced out. That worked for a while until ISIS happened, and eyes turned to the Iraqi Army to see how it would react to whole cities and territories within the borders of Iraq being put under ISIS control. As it turns out, they didn't much seem to mind. We're several years into the proliferation of ISIS as an organized fighting force and the Iraqi Army hasn't so much as farted in their general direction. Whether they are incapable of confronting ISIS or merely unwilling to do it, all doubts about their competence have been erased.
Enter the Kurds. They straddle the border of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and as inhabitants of that largely rural area they have borne the brunt of ISIS inhumanity. But the Kurdish "state" and people – people who have been the whipping boys of that region for longer than anyone can remember – decided to fight back. Organized into a 5000-strong military force called Peshmerga and with the assistance of an allied but less organized militia force, they recently advanced on Fallujah and Mosul, major cities held by ISIS. And here's the thing – with US/Coalition air assistance, they've kind of kicked ISIS's ass. No one should mistake Peshmerga for a military juggernaut, yet they have taken the fight to ISIS and outfought them.
The point is not to laud the Kurds but to use this example to underscore just how utterly useless the Iraqi Army has been, 13 years into Bush-Cheney's grand experiment. The Kurds are certainly brave, but this is a relatively small fighting force not terribly well equipped or led. The Iraqi Army is on paper a numerically large force that has been inundated with expensive, high tech US weapons and training. It has had its hand held for more than a decade. If 5000-some Peshmerga fighters could dislodge ISIS from a major city, how is it humanly possible that an Iraqi Army with 1,800,000 enlisted men supposedly in uniform and Abrams tanks at the ready could not simply roll in Mosul with 100,000 people and sweep ISIS aside?
There are three possible answers. One is that the Army is so utterly inept that even with 100-1 numerical superiority they can't outfight ISIS. Another is that they simply have no motivation to fight for territory within borders largely defined by Western mapmakers but of no particular significance to people of the region. A third is that they are infiltrated by terrorist elements and sidelined by factional, regional, and ethnic rivalries within their own ranks to the point that they can't be considered anything like an effective fighting force.
If anyone needed a reminder of what a comprehensive and unqualified failure Iraq and the neocon plan to "liberate" it have been, this is it.