Iran to the rescue as Obama’s moribund ISIS “strategy” stalls

Back in September last year, Barack Obama first admitted he had no strategy “yet” for ISIS and then announced his “hands-off” air-strike strategy

“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy,”

But what his strategy has achieved so far is an ISIS which hunkers down during air-strikes and then rolls over new strategic targets whenever the opposition is the Iraqi army or other Sunni opponents. Resistance and attrition only occurs when ISIS faces Assad or Iran-backed Shiite groups. If and when ISIS is stopped it may be enabled by US led air-strikes, but it will actually be achieved only by Iranian-supported boots on the ground. ISIS will not be stopped by a Sunni force. And that does not make Saudi Arabia very happy. I have a hypothesis that Barack Obama’s strategies both in domestic and foreign policy are driven primarily by the avoiding of his fears. In Iraq and Syria his strategy plays into Iran’s hands.

Foreign Policy: To date, the Obama administration’s claims of progress in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) have been accompanied by qualifications and caveats. In January, the Pentagon claimed to have killed 6,000 IS fighters since the September start of “Operation Inherent Resolve,” a statistic that became less impressive when later that month it was reported that roughly 5,000 foreign fighters had joined IS since October. At the Munich Security Conference in February, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the anti-IS coalition had “taken out half” of the terrorist pseudo-state’s senior leadership, a boast that was subsequently discredited as inexact at best. In early April — a month before the Islamic State captured Ramadi — Vice President Joe Biden declared: “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed. Thousands of ISIL fighters have been removed from the battlefield. Their ability to mass and maneuver has been greatly degraded. Leaders have been eliminated.” Add to this the analytical disputes over the Pentagon’s claim that the Islamic State has lost 25 percent of its territory since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, and it is easy to see why skeptics believe the current strategy is insufficient to achieve the president’s stated goals of degrading and defeating the terrorist proto-state.

Now Ramadi has fallen to ISIS after it was abandoned without resistance by Iraqi Sunni forces. The US has been sending very confused messages with, on the one hand, increased air sorties against Ramadi while, on the other, sending diplomats (including John Kerry) to spin the story that Ramadi was not very important anyway. In the meanwhile Iran, through its Shiite Prime Minister, has called in the Shiite militia to retake Ramadi. The Shiite militias will now probably succeed in retaking Ramadi – as ISIS melts away to open another front, somewhere else, against the Iraqi Army.

Reuters:

Thousands of Shi’ite militiamen on Monday prepared to fight Islamic State insurgents who seized the Iraqi provincial capital Ramadi at the weekend in the biggest defeat for government forces in nearly a year.

A column of 3,000 Shi’ite militia fighters assembled at a military base near Ramadi, preparing to take on Islamic State militants advancing in armored vehicles from the captured city northwest of Baghdad, witnesses and a military officer said.

The decision by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is a Shi’ite, to send in the militias to try to retake the predominantly Sunni city could add to sectarian hostility in one of the most violent parts of Iraq.

Washington, which is leading a campaign of air strikes to roll back Islamic State advances and struggling to rebuild Baghdad’s shattered army, played down the significance of the loss of Ramadi, the capital of the vast western Anbar province.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was a “target of opportunity,” that could be retaken in a matter of days, and U.S. officials insisted there would be no change in strategy despite a failure to make major advances against Islamic State.

Warplanes in the U.S.-led coalition had conducted 19 strikes near Ramadi over the past 72 hours at the request of the Iraqi security forces, a coalition spokesman said.

The Shi’ite militia, known as Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilization, “reached the Habbaniya base and are now on standby,” said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout.

It may only be a temporary alliance between the US and Iran for retaking Ramadi, but it will only reinforce my view that Iranian strategy is a relatively low-cost, proxy strategy which has succeeded in absorbing and diverting Obama’s strategy to its own advantage.

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