Iraqi general tries to hold ground against ISIS

SOUTHERN BAGHDAD PROVINCE, Iraq - Baghdad is close to being encircled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Much of Anbar province to the west and part of Diyala to the northeast have fallen. The U.S. is hitting ISIS from the air, but it's up to the Iraqis to win on the ground.

CBS News met one of the generals.

U.S. Humvees on patrol in a landscape that's hot, hostile and dangerous. But it's 2014, now the soldiers here are Iraqi and the enemy calls itself ISIS.

General Jabbar Naeemal says the militants are local men with a huge advantage over his troops, drawn from across the country.

"They know everything about their area and the soldiers know nothing," said Naeemal.

It's a bad time for the Iraqi miltary. Every soldier here knows the army is being routed by ISIS time and again. But General Jabbar is one of a select group of commanders the U.S. and Iraqi governments hope will turn things around.

He studied at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania and he's learned a thing or two about morale in a climate of defeat.

"I should be very close to my soldiers," he explained regarding what he tells his troops. "My soldiers should be very close to each other. They should know their enemy."

They all have to stay close to the local people, who know better than anyone who's planting IEDs or hiding guns. The strategy is working.

After five months of heavy fighting, the Iraqi forces south of Baghdad managed to push ISIS out. But only with backup from U.S. airstrikes three weeks ago, which forced the militants to retreat over the bridge, blowing it behind them.

Now they trade pot shots with the Iraqi forces left on guard.

But no one here is relaxing. General Jabbar and his men may have taken this ground, now they have to hold it.

But there was more bad news for the military tonight. The army unit in the town of Heet about 90 miles west of the capital was under attack from ISIS today. They pulled out, abandoned their bases and retreated.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."