Thursday, June 04, 2015

Anbar Demands Attention

Our military may prefer a Mosul-first strategy, but Anbar is demanding attention. Anbar is getting it, but is it enough?

I've long been in the Anbar-first camp, arguing that the need to protect Baghdad and the need to support Anbar Sunni Arab tribes who we hope to flip back to the government's side make this the priority front.

After the recent debacle at Ramadi, it seems like Anbar is getting more attention if not top billing:

Iraq's allies Tuesday pledged support for Baghdad's plan to retake the city of Ramadi from Islamic State jihadists, whose advance Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described as a "failure" for the global community. ...

But despite a series of battlefield wins by IS, the coalition maintained it had a "winning strategy" and gave its seal of approval to Iraqi plans to claw back territory at crunch talks in Paris.

We'll see if our interest is just a short-term effort to regain Ramadi before returning to our Mosul-first strategy or if it reflects a change in overall effort.

And this attention is needed since Anbar Sunni Arabs seem to be following the "strong horse" out there:

A number of Sunni tribal sheikhs and tribes in Iraq's Anbar province have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

The sheikhs and tribal leaders made the pledge in a statement read out by influential Sheikh Ahmed Dara al-Jumaili, after meeting in Fallujah on Wednesday.

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said it was not yet clear if the tribes had been forced to pledge allegiance by ISIL fighters, who control Fallujah and most of Anbar province.

Even if the pledges are under duress, it demonstrates the need to focus on Anbar to give the Sunni Arab tribes the opportunity to re-Awaken.

On the bright side, we achieved something that will help Iraqis on the battlefield:

An air strike in the Iraqi town of Hawijah completely levelled one of the Islamic State group's largest car bomb factories, causing heavy casualties and extensive destruction, officials said.

The blast caused by the strike and the destruction of explosive material was heard as far as Kirkuk, a city under Kurdish control that lies 55 kilometres (34 miles) away.

This is far from Ramadi, so I don't know if this facility supplied those attackers. But I did complain about the failure to do this:

What I find most horrible about this more than the Iraqi rout is that ISIL was left unmolested and allowed to build this phalanx of truck bombs and then move them to the front and use them on the Iraqi defenders despite our absolute aerial supremacy.

Mind you, I still think our overall focus on Iraq while striking ISIL targets in Syria for the purpose of limiting cross-border support for the Iraq front is the way to go.

I can't get too upset that one set of enemies (al Qaeda and ISIL) are ripping apart another enemy--Assad's forces. Especially when Assad is clearly trying to Jedi mind trick the Obama administration into thinking Assad is an ally against jihadis. I personally do not forget that the Assad regime happily funneled jihadis into Iraq to kill our troops (and Iraqis) during the Iraq War.

So watching Assad ride the tiger to the end gives me some satisfaction.

However, I'm not happy with our lack of a sense of urgency to get on with the counter-offensive in Iraq, as I've repeated.

Nor am I happy that we have not tried to build up non-jihadi rebels to have a local alternative to the jihadis if they do dethrone Assad.

But we have a safety net because Turkey and Israel are two powerful forces that could cope with a jihadi win in western Syria until we can focus on them.

Iraq is our priority over Syria; and in Iraq, Anbar should be our priority over Mosul.