This seems pretty clear:
Iraq's armed forces will move to retake the major northern city of Mosul from Islamic State once they capture the western city of Ramadi, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Friday.
I've long been an Anbar-first proponent.
But that isn't going to happen, it seems. Perhaps because one of the factors I've hoped existed--a Jordanian commitment to attack ISIL in Anbar from the west with our support--does not exist.
I seem to have connected dots that don't exist.
And with rebels and Kurds in eastern Syria active with our support, the Kurds moving in northern Iraq with our support, and with Tikrit and Baiji in Iraqi hands to serve as a jumping off for a northern drive, a new factor enters my calculations.
At this point, even if I am right that Anbar should be cleared first, we've apparently expended so much effort preparing for a Mosul attack that changing the plan would be a mistake.
What's the saying? Better to carry out an adequate plan with full vigor than to keep abandoning plans in search of the perfect plan.
Although if Ramadi is secured (will the jihadis make a hard stand in the city center or will they succeed in scattering and escaping?), and if Fallujah is secured too, perhaps there are too few people in the rest of Anbar under ISIL control to worry about. My desire to focus on Anbar was based on getting a new Sunni Arab Awakening to back the Iraqi government against ISIL and to push the defense perimeter of Baghdad out to protect the city. Perhaps both objectives are achieved with Ramadi and Fallujah and other population centers already in the Iraqi perimeter.
So perhaps this spring the offensive begins. Recall that last spring was the initial estimate for when the operation would begin.
And looking ahead, do we include the destruction of the Bashar Assad regime as part of our plan?
Or do we once again find this dictator with American blood on his hands to be a man we can do business with?
UPDATE: The Iraqis claim they are poised for a final assault on the city center. But are the ISIL defenders still there?
The militants "seem to have fled the complex, we're not encountering any resistance," said Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the counter-terrorism units that are leading the fight on the government side. "We're seeing lots of Daesh bodies, killed in the air strikes on the compound," he told Reuters.
Which begs the question of whether the jihadis were ever really surrounded. Are there enough people still in Ramadi to allow the jihadis to disperse into the population?
If so, the city needs to be sealed off from the outside world to allow Iraqi government forces to sift the people to find the jihadis.
And if the jihadis fled Ramadi, why weren't some of them captured? I know that isolating Ramadi just means cutting off the major avenues in and out. And I know that the defenders who survived the last several months number only in the hundreds. But still, you'd think that persistent drone surveillance would identify some of them fleeing.
Or are the jihadis still holed up somewhere waiting to die--while taking out as many Iraqi security forces as possible?
UPDATE: So where did the jihadis go?
"The complex is under our complete control, there is no presence whatsoever of Daesh fighters in the complex," he told Reuters, using a derogatory Arabic acronym of Islamic State.
This article is actually an update of the link in the first update.
Where are the last ISIL defenders?
UPDATE: And I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the possibility that we intend to continue to clear Anbar despite the loud talk of turning on Mosul which will require shifting American-trained units from the Ramadi region and sending them north.