The Iraqi army soldiers smoked nervously as they described their ordeal. Sent to clear a village of Islamic State fighters, they found themselves pinned down by sniper fire. A few hours later, after 10 comrades were wounded, they withdrew.

“We need to get new uniforms,” soldier Ali Basra, 22, said, pointing to torn and blood-spattered fatigues. “But we’ll return to take the village.”

Last Thursday’s mission was supposed to be a simple operation to harden untested Iraqi army soldiers: clear villages held by Islamic State fighters before crossing theTigris River to retake the larger town of Qayyara, home to an airfield and oil fields. Their longer-term goal is to clear the way for a future push to reclaim the extremist group’s stronghold of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. […]