Pentagon chief holds talks in Baghdad on anti-IS fight

BAGHDAD, IRAQ, Thomas Watkins- Pentagon chief Ashton Carter held talks Monday in Baghdad on the fight against the Islamic State group and the strategy to recapture Iraq's second city Mosul from the jihadists.
Carter went into a meeting with Defence Minister Khalid al-Obeidi, two days after Iraq announced the recapture of a base south of Mosul seen as an important step toward the eventual battle for the city.

Mosul has been under IS control since June 2014, when the jihadists overran large parts of Iraq, carrying out atrocities including summary execution-style killings, mass kidnappings and rape.
IS also holds territory in neighbouring Syria, but has lost significant ground in both countries, and Carter wants to highlight successes, even as the jihadists have struck back with devastating attacks in Iraq and abroad.
IS has carried out bloody attacks against civilians as it lost ground, including a bombing in Baghdad earlier this month that killed 292 people, one of the deadliest to ever hit the country.
"I want to congratulate you all, all of you, for the success in Ramadi, Heet, Rutba, Fallujah, Makhmur and now Qayyarah, one after another," Carter told Obeidi.
The Qayyarah airbase, which Abadi announced Saturday had been recaptured, is located 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Mosul and can serve as a launchpad for future operations to recapture the city.
Carter also is set to meet Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the unannounced visit -- his fourth to Iraq since beginning his job in February 2015.
"What I'll be discussing with Prime Minister Abadi and our commanders there are the next plays in the campaign, which involve the collapse and control over Mosul," Carter told reporters aboard a military plane ahead of his visit.
The ultimate goal, he added, was "the recapture of all of Iraqi territory by the Iraqi security forces, but of course Mosul is the biggest part of that."
- IS losing ground -
US defence officials say the campaign's first "10 plays" have been successfully completed in the US-led counter-IS campaign in Iraq and Syria.
These steps include the recapture of several important areas across the two countries, including Ramadi in Iraq and Al-Shadadi, a town in northeastern Syria previously considered a strategic IS stronghold.
Carter and President Barack Obama have been criticised for the pace of the campaign, which began in autumn 2014 and got off to a slow start, particularly in war-torn Syria, where the United States had few assets on the ground to provide targeting information.
The Pentagon has announced a series of measures to speed up the war, including a revised mission to train anti-IS rebels in northern Syria and extra advisers for Iraqi forces.
Coupled with coalition air support, the results have seen the IS group losing roughly half its territory in Iraq and about 20 percent of its Syria claim, the Pentagon said.
But the jihadists have struck back against civilians as they lost ground.
On July 3, IS carried out the devastating bombing targeting shoppers in Baghdad that killed 292, many of whom were burned alive, sparking widespread anger among Iraqis, some of whom have accused the government of not doing enough to protect them.
Four days later, the jihadists struck a Shiite shrine north the capital, leaving another 40 dead.
At the meeting with Obeidi, Carter offered "condolences for the bombings that have occurred here in the Baghdad area in recent weeks."
"You have suffered greatly," he said.
Carter was also to meet with US troops, of whom there are now about 4,000 in Iraq, mainly to train local forces.
The Pentagon chief will also phone Massud Barzani, the de facto president of Iraq's Kurdistan region.
The United States has pledged $415 million to help Kurdish peshmerga fighters as they join the fight for Mosul, moving in from the north.

Monday, July 11th 2016
Thomas Watkins

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