ISIL forces threaten Baghdad from the west in Anbar province:
[Iraqis Brigadier General Saad] Maan also said that the Islamic State doesn’t have the capacity to seriously penetrate the capital. But maintaining a buffer zone is essential in protecting Baghdad from longer-range attacks like those on the Green Zone. And there are worries that the Islamic State will find sympathizers in the Sunni-majority belt that rings the capital, including Abu Ghraib.
Shia militias who commit violence against the Sunni Arabs who live there threaten to undermine Iraqi efforts to secure the western approaches to Baghdad
Even if ISIL can't take Baghdad, by taking positions on the outskirts, ISIL could send in terrorists to launch attacks that will shake the Iraqi government and make it look weaker.
Winning hearts and minds is often portrayed as a way of making the people like you and so not support insurgents or terrorists who operate among them (and with their help).
Yes, getting people to like the counter-insurgent side is good. That's the "heart" part of "hearts and minds." That's only part of it.
A government that looks like it will win and that it will keep going until it does win can get the "minds," too. People can decide that it is futile to fight and that it is wiser to get on with life rather than die for a lost cause.
Do you really think that the 2006-2007 Awakening was a victory of the Sunni Arab "hearts?" The Sunni Arabs didn't suddenly love the Shia majority and the Kurds. Nor did they suddenly love the American troops who had destroyed their privileged position in Iraq under Saddam.
So while we should definitely try to rein in the Shia militias, because they affect both the hearts and minds part of the equation, we should make visible efforts to show that the Iraqi government will win the fight.
Unfortunately, Iraq is not demonstrating the ability to win. Especially when you remember that much of Anbar fell in January 2014, well before the fall of Mosul and other points north got our attention:
The Islamic State’s advances in Anbar Province, which is largely Sunni, have been a central concern for the Iraqi authorities since the beginning of the year. The militants first established a major foothold there in January when they seized the city of Falluja. They have expanded their authority throughout the province, sometimes by force, but also by taking advantage of the profound disenchantment among Sunnis alienated by the government in Baghdad.
The most recent string of Islamic State victories in Anbar Province began with the onslaught last month of the Saqlawiya military garrison, followed closely by the defeat of a detachment of Iraqi troops based in the village of Albu Aitha. The Islamic State also gained control of Hit, a town on the main east-west road between the Haditha Dam and the provincial capital of Ramadi, both of which the militants have sought to take.
Just saying that our plan to win which will eventually deliver victory is not enough. We need to start visibly achieving victories. Anbar would be a good place to start.
UPDATE: While Syria is still the secondary front in the war on ISIL, it is (or should be) a war on Assad.
Syrians opposed to Assad and ISIL need to be supported or by the time Syria is the main front for the fight against ISIL, Assad might be the only other force in Syria:
The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.
By the time the killing stopped, 700 people were dead, activists and survivors say, making this the bloodiest single atrocity committed by the Islamic State in Syria since it declared its existence 18 months ago.
The little-publicized story of this failed tribal revolt in Abu Hamam, in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province, illuminates the challenges that will confront efforts to persuade those living under Islamic State rule — in Iraq as well as Syria — to join the fight against the jihadist group, something U.S. officials say is essential if the campaign against the militants is to succeed.
We intervened in Libya in 2011 for less of a humanitarian reason than this.
How do we get non-American boots on the ground if we don't support those local boots?
Worse, how do we do it when it looks like we are effectively on Assad's side?
As U.S. and allied jets swoop freely over towns and cities under control of extremists in northern Syria, the Syrian army has scaled back its air activity over areas of IS control, doing as little as possible there to avoid confrontation. Instead, Assad's troops are now focusing their energies on the country's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo. ...
While few people think the American and Syrian militaries are actively cooperating or coordinating their operations, there appears to be a tacit alliance, ensuring at the very least that Syrian military operations would not come into conflict or friction with any American or allied aircraft.
We intervened against such a dictator in Libya in 2011 for far less than this level of killing.
R2P (Responsibility to Protect) had a short but exciting Obama administration policy life, I guess.