Unrest erupted in Iraq last week as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS, launched their most recent jihadist invasion. Despite the confusing chaos in Iraq, if the Obama administration has any hope of containing the situation, there are some “major trajectories that must be identified now,” says Buck Sexton, in his article for the Blaze, where he makes four major predictions concerning Iraq.
1. BAGHDAD WILL HOLD, BUT IT WILL BE UGLY
“The Iraqi government knows that Baghdad must be held at all costs, and it has the capability to do so…Of course, the best Iraqi troops are in and around the capital city of Baghdad (a common arrangement in countries at particular risk for a coup or civil war). The majority Shia population there will fight tooth and nail to keep control of the largest and most important urban center in the country. There is also the prospect of renewed sectarian violence as a motivator.
“In addition to its anti-Coalition attacks, the Jaysh al-Mahdi, a Shia militant group, engaged in ethnic cleansing of Sunnis starting in 2006 in response to targeting of Shia civilians. While JAM disarmed years ago, that same tit-for-tat sectarian ferocity is fresh in the minds of the Iraqi population, which is why throngs of civilians young and old have volunteered to fight for the Iraqi government this past week,” says Sexton.
Sexton says that it is all but certain that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will not be completely evacuated. “The Embassy facility is a massive fortress containing thousands of personnel and specifically intended to withstand attacks like car bombings and Indirect Fire (IDF) from mortars and rockets. Embassy Baghdad cost Uncle Sam an estimated $750 million. There is almost no circumstance under which we would abandon our largest diplomatic post in the world,” according to Sexton.
However, Sexton said that ISIS will conduct suicide bombings and other attacks in and around Baghdad as it keeps the government off-balance and makes Maliki look weak, and with a population of 8 million in Baghdad, there is little the government can do to prevent the daily carnage and misery, which Sexton predicts.
2. IRAQI ARMY WILL SLOWLY RETAKE LOST TERRITORY, WITH U.S. HELP
“Holding the line at Baghdad is just a start to the anti-ISIS campaign. Once the advance of the Sunni Jihadists is stopped, the next step will be taking back Tikrit, Mosul,Tal Afar, Fallujah, and other towns and areas where the black banners of jihad currently fly. This will not be easy. It will take weeks at best, probably more like months, possibly years,” says Sexton.
According to Sexton, the most probable response to the Iraq army’s counteroffensive, will be to blend into society and continue both guerrilla and terrorist attacks. A slow and bloody campaign to reestablish Baghdad’s control of the north is all but certain.
3. SUNNI JIHADIST INSURGENCY WILL RAGE ON
“The Iraqi government has to both defend the population and go on the offensive against the insurgency. This is a difficult task for even the most capable military, as history has shown time and again…Even if the Iraqi army manages to exceed all expectations, eradicating ISIS will be essentially impossible. The terrorist group currently spans the Iraq-Syria border, which means that even if it is pushed out of all sovereign Iraqi territory, it can find safe haven on the Syrian side.”
Sexton compares the situation in Iraq to the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation, where U.S. troops have been fighting the Taliban, there will always be more Taliban fighters.
In short: Syria is now to Iraq as Pakistan is to Afghanistan when it comes to harboring terrorist groups.
4. SECTARIAN SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE WILL WORSEN
“If the Jihadists are pushed out of the areas they have recently taken, they will switch from trying to set up a Caliphate to igniting an all out Sunni-Shia civil war. If they are successful, the whole Middle East could be brought into the conflagration in some capacity,” says Sexton
It is impossible to predict the long-term costs of such a conflict, beyond the massive loss of life and “the realization that the Middle East would have been lost under President Obama’s watch,” says Sexton.
According to Sexton, the bottom line is, even the best-case scenarios for Iraq, look pretty deplorable. I encourage you to read the entirety of Sexton’s article on the Blaze.
Follow Katherine Zehnder on Twitter at @KathZeh.