To hear officials in Washington tell it, after two years of often sluggish offensives, Iraqi forces are finally starting turn the tide in the fight against Islamic State. In particular, the Pentagon has focused on the exploits of the elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service during efforts to retake important cites such as Ramadi and Fallujah.

“We are seeing the Iraqi army step up,” U.S. Army colonel Steve Warren, then the top spokesperson for the American-led coalition battling Islamic State, told reporters on April 13, referring to recent operations in Iraq’s Anbar province. “We have actually been very satisfied with the conduct of both the [Counter Terrorism Service] and the Iraqi army through the course of this operation.”

As it seeks to keep the momentum against Islamic State going, the United States is trying to keep military aid away from Iranian proxies with sectarian ambitions. On top of that, American commanders are looking for ways to reform the Iraqi army and police to prevent the kind of human rights abuses that could incite an all-out civil war.

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