Wednesday, June 10, 2015

After a Year in Mosul, Time to Defeat Da'sh Once and for All

Elite Iraqi Army "Golden Force" units
On the one year anniversary of the so-called Islamic State (Da’sh to use its Arabic acronym) seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, it is time for Iraq and the United States to mobilize a comprehensive strategy to not only degrade the Da’sh, but to defeat it.  What should such a policy look like?

First, we need recognize that the fight against Da’sh is both a political as well as a military struggle.  As I noted today on NPR’s KPCC’s Air Talk in Los Angeles, pursuing one strategy without the other will result in failure (

What can be done?  Serious crises require bold responses.  When the Great Depression hit, FDR created the New Deal and put unemployed Americans back to work.  When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US took a small sleepy army and navy and built it into the best fighting force in the world leading to victory in WWII.   
When African-Americans were not only excluded from political participation and housing, but attacked by white segregationists, President Lyndon Johnson forced passage of major civil rights and voting rights acts in 1964 and 1965.  And when Saddam Husayn seized Kuwayt in August 1990, President George H. W. Bush organized an international coalition under the aegis of the United Nations to expel his forces from the country in January 1991.

A dramatic American military campaign in Iraq and Syria is not in the cards in June 2015, nor should it be.  However, there are important political acts that the Obama administration can employ to send an important message to the Iraqi political elite.  This message should be that there will be consequences for continued sectarian infighting and failure to address the threat posed by Da’sh.

President Obama could begin by requesting an invitation to address the Iraqi Council of Deputies (parliament). By delivering this message in the Iraqi parliament (or from the US Embassy in Baghdad), and insisting that it be televised so all Iraqis have the ability to watch his speech, Obama could pose some highly critical questions. He could ask whether the parliament wants to see continued bombings in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities or whether a path to national reconciliation would constitute a better alternative.  

He could ask Iraq's political elite whether it is better to tackle corruption and thus be able to provide Iraqi will needed services, such as job training, education and health care, or continue to see the government bureaucracy continue to degenerate and lose all confidence among Iraq’s citizenry.

During his televised address, President Obama could make clear that Iraq can only count on the US increasing its military support if it first gets its political house in order. The Obama administration remembers that, when it refused to support Iraq against Da’sh with increased military aid in June and July of 2014 unless Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was removed, it was victorious as the parliament elected Haydar al-Abadi instead.
The same tough stance needs to be adopted today.  The longer the Obama administration waits to take such a bold step, the more Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s authority is undermined, particularly by the supports of ex-PM Nuri al-Maliki who circles his erstwhile leader like a vulture waiting to regain power so he can reintroduce his sectarian, corrupt and highly destructive policies.

On the one hand, Maliki, and his hard line clique, try to torpedo any and all reforms that Abadi seeks to introduce.  Preventing him from arming anti-Da’sh Sunni tribes keeps the Iraqi army and its Popular Mobilization Units (al-Hashad al-Sha’bi) from winning any significant victories, further eroding the Prime Minister’s legitimacy. 

On the military front, President Obama could argue that the Council of Deputies has already agreed to established provincial National Guard units to fight Da’sh in the Sunni majority provinces,  al-Anbar, Ninawa and Salah al-Din.  However, few weapons have reached anti-Da’sh forces in al-Anbar Province and elsewhere. Thus Obama could state in no uncertain terms that, unless these units are established and armed by a certain date, the US will unilaterally establish them, and arm and train them itself.

The United States should also begin arming some of the most successful combat units that have defeated the Da’sh, namely the YPG (People’s Defense Units) and YPJ (female) forces organized by the Kurds in north-east Syria.  Pressure should be brought to bear on the KDP and PUK Pesh Merga to develop much greater coordination between the KRG’s forces and those of the YPG/YPJ.
YPJ (People's Defense Units)
The US should not only arm and train YPG/YPJ units but organize patrols by these forces along the Syrian-Turkish border designed to interdict economic contraband, destroy Da’sh oil smuggling routes, and prevent as much as possible new Da’sh recruits from crossing the border into Syria.  The YPG/YPJ’s non-sectarian and progressive gender policies, and democratic elections in the three cantons that it has established (one run by a women prime minister), represent the values of a strong and natural US ally in the fight against Da’sh.

The US should pressure the (now much less cocky after its recent loss of its parliamentary majority) government of President Recep Tayyep Erdogan to oil and gasoline prices along the Syrian-Turkish border to reduce the demand for Da'sh-produced oil in southern Turkey.   

As a NATO member, Turkey should be pressured by all Alliance members to more actively work to destroy smuggling groups and interdict would-be Da’sh terrorists who enter Turkey and then travel to the south to cross the border into Syria.  A bounty should be offered for Turks who capture these youth coming from abroad to wreak murder and mayhem for Da’sh.

Supposed US allies in the Arab world such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwayt, the United Arab  Amirates, Jordan and Morocco should be forceably asked to contribute trainers and other resources to help rebuild the Iraqi army.  Training, and the increased morale that it produces, are crucial if the Iraqi army is going to do its job and defeat Da'sh.

The army once again cut and ran during the recent attack on Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, by Da’sh forces – which  were outnumbered as much as 40 to 1. The army lacks the necessary logistical training and confidence of its troops in their officers to deal with such attack, which purposely took place during a sandstorm to prevent attacks by US fighter-bombers. That US MRAPs loaded with huge amounts of explosives slammed into Ramadi as the attack began demonstrates the sophistication of Da’sh and the need for an aggressive military response.    

Both the Iraqi Federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government need US military, diplomatic and economic support, especially with the decline in oil prices and the thereat Da’sh poses to oil exports and new oil exploration.  Iraq also needs US support for financial assistance from the IMF and infrastructure support from the World Bank.  The Obama administration has consider able leverage to force the Iraqi political elite to  finally confront its highly destructive sectarian policies.

Before someone raises the issue of the US interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs, let’s  not forget that the US spent $25 billion to build and train one of the most modern armies in the Arab world.  Under the über-sectarian regime of Nuri al-Maliki, officers’ posts were sold to totally unqualified individuals, troops were often forced to hand over part of their salaries to their officers, and soldiers were allowed to shake down the inhabitants of urban areas such as Mosul at numerous army-run checkpoints. Thus, it is no wonder that 800-1000 lightly armed Da’sh fighters were able to summarily defeat what technically were 2 divisions of Iraqi troops (30,000 men). 

Some analysts argue that the Obama administration is purposely withholding military support e.g., highly lethal Apache attack helicopters, to pressure the Iraqi government to introduce reforms and confront sectarianism within its ranks.  Waiting for Godot is not the same as developing a proactive strategic plan.  Time for new thinking and more vigorous, comprehensive and internationally-based policies in the Obama administration.

No comments: