ISIS’s conquest on Sunday of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, was the result of choices made by the Iraqi government interested in preserving Shiite political power and maintaining ties with Iran, Jacob Siegel and Michael Pregent wrote today in The Daily Beast.
“Ramadi is predominantly Sunni, and powerful elements of Baghdad’s Shia ruling class fear empowering Iraq’s Sunnis more than they fear allowing ISIS to continue attacking and bleeding the country’s Sunni regions,” they wrote.
They explained in greater detail:
Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has made overtures to Iraq’s Sunnis, exposing himself to some political risk in the process. In early April, Abadi visited Anbar, showcasing his effort to bring Sunni tribesman into the volunteer military units known as the Hashd, which have become the backbone of Iraq’s army. One photo taken during the Anbar visit showed Abadi handing out rifles to Sunni volunteers.
But the prime minister faces a powerful opposition led by Iraq’s former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is closely aligned with Iran and with Iraq’s powerful Iranian-backed militias. Even if Abadi’s gestures to Iraq’s Sunnis are entirely sincere, and many in the country doubt that, carrying the policies through could cost him his own power….
The main obstacle to creating a Sunni resistance to ISIS is not vetting forces in Anbar, a task Baghdad has had more than a year to carry out. Nor is it the kind of logistical problems that are common in Iraq’s military but have not prevented weapons from reaching the Shia militias. It is the Iraqi government’s unwillingness to allow the creation of a capable Sunni force to fight ISIS out of fears that that force may one day turn their weapons on Baghdad.
Siegel and Pregent observed that while American airstrikes have slowed the progress of ISIS in portions of Iraq, ground troops are needed to defeat ISIS. However, they quoted an American official who worked in Anbar during the surge from 2006 to 2008, who said that Abadi can’t be seen as being too supportive of the Sunnis without losing power, and thus hasn’t armed the Sunni forces who may be positioned to retake Ramadi. This reluctance, they pointed out, is self-defeating. With control of Ramadi, ISIS is in striking range of Baghdad. While ISIS doesn’t have the manpower to capture Baghdad, it could still attack and destabilize the Iraqi capital leading to greater sectarian strife there.
“The strategic goals of Baghdad are currently aligned with Iran’s: to secure infrastructure and negate Sunni threats along the Shia-sectarian fault lines in and around Baghdad, Diyala, and Salah-ad-Din,” they wrote.
Pregent observed earlier this month that Iran, which supports elements in the Iraqi government and controls many Shiite militias involved in the fighting in Iraq, has avoided defeating ISIS. Pregent concluded from his observation that “Iran needs the threat of ISIS and Sunni jihadist groups to stay in Syria and Iraq in order to become further entrenched in Damascus and Baghdad.”
In February, Pregent co-wrote an article with Michael Weiss showing that Iran made it “impossible” to defeat ISIS. Pregent and Weiss wrote that many Sunni Iraqis who had previously fought alongside the United States found themselves choosing allegiance to ISIS as a means to protect themselves from the brutality of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
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