Is it the US that isn’t stepping up to fight Daesh/ ISIL?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s blunt remarks on Sunday about the Iraqi army not having the will to fight have ruffled feathers in Baghdad and Tehran, and Vice President Joe Biden was constrained to call Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and reassure him that the US was standing with him.

Carter was referring to the Iraqi army’s ignominious retreat from Ramadi over a week ago.

Iranian Brig. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of the Jerusalem (Qods) Brigades of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, fired back at Washington, maintaining that the US is the problem.

Soleimani said that only Iran had stepped up to help Iraq fight Daesh (ISIL, ISIS). He added, “Obama has not done a damn thing so far to confront Daesh: doesn’t that show that there is no will in America to confront it? . . . How is it that America claims to be protecting the Iraqi government, when a few kilometres away in Ramadi killings and war crimes are taking place and they are doing nothing?”

Iraqi forces in al-Anbar Province, unlike those in Salahuddin and Ninewa Provinces, have frequently complained of the lack of close air support from the US and its coalition. Even in Salahuddin, the US had declined to fly air force missions to help the campaign to take Tikrit, until the campaign stalled out and looked like it would fail. At that point PM al-Abadi pleaded with President Obama to intervene. Obama initially appears to have wanted to avoid giving close air support to pro-Iranian Shiite militiamen, the bulk of the effective fighting force around Tikrit, insisting it would only help the regular Iraqi army.

It is a bit mysterious why the US allows Daesh armored convoys to move around al-Anbar freely, a point made on Twitter by a Dr. Mohammed Hammudi:

The US seems to be using its air strikes not just to contain Daesh but as a bargaining chip with the al-Abadi government. Al-Abadi has an army that doesn’t amount to much, but has a set of Shiite militias that fight just fine. He had asked the militias to stay away from solidly Sunni al-Anbar, because he feared that the image of Shiite militias attacking Daesh would anger Sunni Arabs. The militias in turn are getting training and advice from Iran.

The US doesn’t want to appear to be flying close air support missions for these Shiite militias, and, essentially, for Iran, against a Sunni population. Obama probably is withholding some air support to encourage al-Abadi to break with the Shiite militias or at least to induct them into the regular army.

But letting Ramadi fall in order to punish al-Abadi for not being inclusive enough in his policies (if that is what happened) was a major policy error on Obama’s part.

Soleimani is exaggerating when he says that the US has done nothing. But it is true that the US air force seems to be leaving a lot of pieces on the board for Daesh, and it is hard to imagine why that should be.

16 Responses

  1. Isn’t “letting Ramadi fall in order to punish al-Abadi for not being inclusive …was a major policy error” in conflict with the conclusion that non-inclusiveness is the primary obstacle to a unified Iraq, and the primary cause of US failure there? Why should we support one non-inclusive state against another, although the second is more violent because of that prior support?

    If the rise of Daesh was the inevitable result of the US foolishness, why not accept the consequences, let them have Anbar, and wait two generations for them to moderate?

    • We’ve entertained super-abundant foolishness in the region since early in the first Cheney-Bush Presidency. It could even date back to the famous suitcase with $2,000,000 in cash and the sentimental reluctance to listen to General Marshall, the State Department and the Pentagon.

      Today, as if in a dream state, we seem to be reduced to evaluating each microcosmic move made by the parties and western politicians in hopes that they might lead somewhere or add up to something. In the end when we emerge from the forest it will no doubt appear to have been elementary and we will be able to speak of it with some confidence.

      So, the first step in sorting it out is to follow something, right? Domestic pressure? No, we simply can’t face THAT, so we have to turn to something else. The money? Not that either. It’s greatest potential is to cause artificial political problems which conflict, for example, with the mundane, our laws and Constitution. How about the roots of the decisions to renovate Afghan and Iraqi cultures? Could there have been anything so ridiculous? All it should have taken is a little reading about the UK in Iraq in the 1920s and the same Imperial apparat in Afghanistan in the 19th Century. What is it? Is it standing right in our faces yet invisible? What went wrong and why is it that we can’t right the wrong? Could it be something as elementary as a failure of courage? Then why can’t we articulate it? The point at which we right it will be remembered as another Fourth of July. But we can’t get out of it until we face it and nothing else until we’ve resolved it.

  2. “Obama has not done a damn thing to confront Daesh: doesn’t that show in America that there is no will to confront it?” Iranian Brig. Gen Qasem Soleimani

    Soleimani agrees with John McCain. Perhaps he should also criticize Obama for worrying too much about climate change.

    “The climate in Iraq and U.S. Sen. John McCain’s Arizona are VERY similar. Both places are in the desert. U.S. Senator McCain is right, Obama should spend less time making speeches about the weather and give more thought to stopping ISIS. I also like The Beach Boys.”

  3. I dunno. From the system of logic I deduced from observing our ME foreign policy, there is no problem here whatsoever with a purely Iran vs IS battle.

    2 currently real power centers fight each other and create chaos, eliminating each other and preparing a fertile ground for {your dream of the future goes here}.

  4. I should add, it’s a very good thing the US isn’t getting more involved. Every time we get more involved things get worse.

    From the looks of it, the dysfunction in US foreign policy decision-making system will take decades to heal (i.e., we have to wait until all the senior people who got to their current positions in the last 15 years retire).

    Until then, the minimum-ruin-things path for US policy would be to do absolutely nothing.

    • I agree totally. Our Middle East policy is in even more of a shambles than it has been for years, and neither party seems to have a remotely constructive plan. Withdraw militarily and use diplomatic and economic incentives to damp down the conflict. If they don’t work, we’ll just have to live with it.

  5. Maybe the strategy is to let the Iranian backed militias and the ISIS destroy themselves in a long conflict.
    Anyway the growth of Isis is scaring.
    Whay if Damascus or Bagdad fall in their hands?

  6. Obama has the same problem in Iraq that he has in Syria, namely that the only effective forces who can fight the human-rights abusing Sunni jihadist groups are human-rights abusing Shia groups aligned with US bete noir Iran. I hold the US/UK responsibly for a lot of bad things in the ME (including; directly creating al-Qaeda & IS, indirectly creating the Tehran regime, backing states which spread Wahhabism etc) but this is a real dog’s breakfast for Obama. If he does nothing IS spreads and causes misery. If he backs the Shia militants in Syria or Iraq and they conduct reprisals the Sunni community will hold the US responsible. The US has managed to alienate most communities in that part of the world apart from the Kurds. It is noticeable that the effectiveness of the US anti-IS campaign dropped off as soon as the militants were driven from Kobane.

  7. It’s plain that US military intervention is both unwanted and counterproductive. None of the elements fighting in Iraq share our values or value us except as tools to use in their own internecine conflicts. The axiom will prove true: the less we do the better and the best course is to stay out of this conflict. Our involvement will make things worse, not better.

  8. “The US doesn’t want to appear to be flying close air support missions for these Shiite militias, and, essentially, for Iran, against a Sunni population. Obama probably is withholding some air support to encourage al-Abadi to break with the Shiite militias or at least to induct them into the regular army.
    But letting Ramadi fall in order to punish al-Abadi for not being inclusive enough in his policies (if that is what happened) was a major policy error on Obama’s part.
    Soleimani is exaggerating when he says that the US has done nothing. But it is true that the US air force seems to be leaving a lot of pieces on the board for Daesh, and it is hard to imagine why that should be.”

    The US does not want to be seen supporting the Shiite militias with air strikes but the “Popular Mobilization” forces didn’t tuck their tails and flee from Ramadi, it was the Golden Division (the so-called pride of the Iraqi Special Forces) that the US Army helped to rebuild after Saddam. A question that has not been adequately answered is whether the remaining units of the Iraqi Army are loyal to the Abadi government? Or are they still under the sway of al-Maliki and his cronies?

    One of the problems with the US airstrikes, from what I’ve read elsewhere, seems to be heavy layers of bureaucracy that keep US military assets in the area from reacting quickly enough to events on the ground. In essence, it appears that every target is being vetted from Washington. By the time a decision comes down, it is sometimes to late to act.

    If ISIS is the threat that the US claims it to be and the Obama administration is clearly interested in maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq as your previous posting this week indicates, then it would seem that the prosecution of the war from Washington is at odds with these goals.

    ISIS has no shortage of advanced weaponry to face its enemies. In fact, they likely outgun the Shiite militias. Without US air support, this war with ISIS is an Iran-Iraq War-style stalemate at best.

  9. Perhaps it has slipped everyone’s attention that the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are working together here to remove Assad and make that part of the world a Sunni stronghold as a buffer against the Shiites and of course Iran. That is why the PKK and the Kurds are not getting help either. It’s part of the “controlled chaos” doctrine that JSOC and the US have been putting into practice since they were forced out of Iraq. The CC doctrine gives them free reign to initiate conflicts that pitch locals against locals, allowing the US to limit the number of soldiers it has to use. The Romans used a similar strategy in their conquests north of the Alps, pitching one tribe against the other until both were so exhausted that the Romans only had to march in and set up camp. The US doesn’t want to necessarily occupy these places, but they want to set up camps to be able to have their rapid-deployment JSOC forces within easy striking distance of Iran and Russia. It’s a strategic game of GO, with the end-game being a stranglehold on Russia, Iran and China so that they can be coerced into cooperation.

    It has worked very well so far because there doesn’t seem to be any counter-force ready to challenge the US. But the US is of course making the same mistake the Romans made, outsourcing critical services to mercenaries. The dysfunction at home is so bad now that it’s only a matter of time until McRaven decides that he must cross the Rubicon and sweep those useless Senators from power in order to insure the plan of conquest remains in full function.

    It would be nice to be looking back from the year 2100 to see how this story unfolds.

    By the way: Does anybody really believe that Daesh was responsible for bombing Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia?

  10. CAS isn’t Hollywood magic. It takes a team to coordinate air attacks including forward observers of the ground to call targets. Now that we have a pres who seems to want to aim before he fires it makes sense to exclude militias. CAS implies imbedded special forces (boots on the ground..shhhh!!!) within the regular ground forces. Kinda hard to do with militias.

    • CAS is just that – close air support. It is bombing someone 100 yards away from your own troops (which did fit the bill at the end of the day in Tikrit). But bombing supply columns like those pictured isn’t CAS. It’s air interdiction. And doesn’t need forward air controllers; you just see a convoy (which can be detected through airborne radar platforms and drones) and destroy it. That we did not implies either no loitering strike fighters in the air or eyes in the air watching the main roads…but flying a lot of soirtes is expensive. And I don’t think the US has a plan to ensure nothing can move without getting blown up.
      /pedant

  11. The Americans and Canadians need to get out of the middle east. the west going in is what created the problem and our staying there simply continues the problem.

    Our war mongering P.M. Harper loves war. He tries to sell himself as the “great warrior” P.M. but hid in a closet when there was gun fire last year in Ottawa.

    The middle east needs to settle this themselves. What other countries can do is, instead of sending military equipment, is help settle refugees, whether its in camps or in other countries.

    I don’t like ISIS. I don’t like the killing, etc. But when I sit back and look at the big picture more people have been killed by this war and the fighting which started as the result of the war, than ISIS has killed. Its rather gruesome when ISIS shoots and kills several hundred military people and civilians, but all the fighting has killed a couple of hundred Canadian soldiers, 4 thousand American soldiers and 100s of thousands of civilians.

    The Kurds are doing fine in their area. Iran is doing fine in their country. Since the west’s invasion of Iraq nothing has gone well for the people there. If ISIS brings stability, then so be it. If people don’t want to live under their authority, then they can go to other countries. Of course that is the problem. Lots of the other countries won’t take them, and that includes countries in the middle east.

    The problem, as I see it, is Iraq was a divided country, kept together by one President. Once he was gone the country fell apart. the current army is not up to the task and neither are the politicians. When you think Iraq and Iran fought a war for years and did not suffer this type of destruction, you really have to wonder about the Iraq military these days.

    If Iraq can’t hold it together than let it fall apart and let people start over again. this fighting is solving nothing and just making arms dealers rich, along with those who control the oil

  12. ‘ if ISIL has convoys of this size in Iraq without fear of attack, how serious is our air campaign? ”
    THAT has been my question all along. Why, with our high level of spying capacity (from the air and on the ground) aren’t we UNWILLING to target ISIS when it moves troupes and equipment? It isn’t that they are hiding in the jungle is it?

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