Modest Increase in Iraq Training Mission shows Obama still Uninterested & Maybe he’s Right

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

The Obama administration got itself some headlines on Wednesday morning by pledging to send a few hundred more military trainers to Iraq and to create a new base in al-Anbar Province.

But there is less to this announcement than meets the eye. The US has some 3000 military trainers and advisers in Iraq in bases only an hour’s drive from al-Anbar, who have only trained nearly 9,000 Iraqi troops in the past year, roughly three brigades or half a small division. US generals say they do see increased effectiveness among the newly US-trained troops. Increasing the number of US trainers 10 percent is a little unlikely to speed up the training process very much. At this rate it will take another two years for there to be as many newly-trained Iraqi troops as there are Daesh fighters in Iraq That is a pretty leisurely pace.

Ironically, the video from the G7 meeting where Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi couldn’t get the time of day from him probably symbolizes the president’s impatience with the slow pace of political reform, the real key to defeating Daesh.

Daily Telegraph: “The Awkward Moment Between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister”

The administration came under a great deal of pressure after the fall of Ramadi in the middle of May to Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) forces. The rogue so-called caliphate was now only 78 miles from Baghdad and was also in a position to menace the Shiite shrine city of Karbala. Ramadi is the capital of the huge western al-Anbar Province, which, however, is much less important than it looks on the map. The province probably only has a population of about 2 million, or 6% of Iraq’s 32 million population. The advance spurred Washington hawks and interventionists to demand a more muscular intervention, even though during the 8 years of the US occupation of Iraq it seldom actually controlled Ramadi itself.

Tuesday’s announcement appears to be Obama’s way of batting away the critics, who cannot say he hasn’t escalated US involvement or planned a strategy that would begin recovering territory from Daesh. But he’s attempting to deflect the complaints of the hawks without actually doing very much.

In the meantime, the major Obama contribution to the war effort against Daesh is probably not troop training but aerial bombardment by the US and its coalition allies. The refinery city of Beiji, which the government claims to have recovered this weekend, could not have been taken without repeated bombing strikes on the part of the British Royal Air Force. Arguably, taking and holding Beiji is far more important than taking and holding Ramadi, which has virtually no resources. Crude oil is worthless for smuggling, but refined products such as kerosene and gasoline are easily moved. Keeping these valuable commodities out of the hands of Daesh has to be the logical goal of any Iraqi government. Obama has also sent equipment and munitions to the Iraqi military, with more on its way.

Obama has repeatedly said that defeating Daesh has to be the work of local Middle Eastern forces. Despite having spoken of rolling it back and annihilating it, Obama’s actual policy appears to be containment until such time as local anti-Daesh forces can get their act together. Containment is probably the best that can be achieved under these circumstances, unfortunately, though it is desirable that Daesh be humiliated and taken down a notch as quickly as possible. That won’t happen until Iraqi PM al-Abadi cultivates significant Sunni Arab allies. Actually, he is now losing the Sunni clans of al-Anbar because they’re tired of waiting for him to arm them and support them.

related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit World: “Obama Weighs Sending Several Hundred U.S. Troops to Iraq”

23 Responses

  1. There are parallels to the Syrian side of the war, where the feckless and deranged government of Assad — absoutely guaranteed to lose power, no question about it, but intent on making as much of a mess as it can by refusing to resign — is the main thing giving ISIS/ISIL power.

    • I’m not sure you’ve thought this through, so consider this question. If the Assad government were to suddenly disappear, which organisation, given the present situation, would be most likely to take over?
      Da’esh is easily top of the list. Is a Da’esh-ruled Syria what you want?

      • I’m quite sure you have NOT thought this through. I have.

        If Assad had left early, the government would have been replaced with a nice, peaceful opposition government.

        If he’d left shortly after the massacres, he would have been replaced with moderate militants.

        If he’d left later in the war, he would have been replaced with Islamic Brotherhood types.

        If he’d left later, it would have been al-Qaeda types.

        Now, he would be replaced with Daesh.

        If he hangs on any longer, he’ll be replaced with something even *worse*. If you can imagine that, and I can.

        This is the pattern. If a hated dictator who is past his sell-by date refuses to leave, people will join more and more extreme violent resistance groups in order to get rid of him. The longer he hangs on, the worse the people who initially replace him will be.

        He’s doomed period — there is precisely zero chance that he comes out of this on top. He’s already surviving solely as a Russian puppet, and he hasn’t managed to gain territory even with the Russian backing — so there’s no point in him hanging on. His “army” is already full of angry, unpaid conscripts. It’s only a matter of time before he’s overthrown.

        Assad is only hanging on in order to make things worse after he leaves, a sort of “if I can’t rule, I will break the country” tactic.

        A lot of people are really dumb about geopolitics, but this pattern should have been obvious; it’s happened in numerous countries.

  2. Sending 500 airborne now and 500 later…to do hit and run raids on Isis …from Baghdad and the Kurdish Capitol ..then delay and choose and slowly pick the attacks to stay safe is the likely strategy …a kind of show and tell..

    • first,
      Rangers, Army SF (Green Berets) or Navy SF (SEALS) are better suited to these sorts of raids than the 82nd Abn Div (our only Airborne Division.)

      More to the point,
      after a bunch or raids, it is likely that a US soldier is taken captive,
      then beheaded on film.

      That would lead to further escalation.


  3. Juan: political reform in Iraq is the only way to defeat ISIL?? It’s done Juan. Another state similar to S. Arabia in the Middle East is the result. Biden was right: divide them in federations, Shia, Sunny and Kurdistan or Independent States INCLUDING Pakestine at the same time I would have added!

    • Iraq is nothing like S. Arabia. The Saudis support the salafi ideology upon which Al Queda and ISIS are founded. The Shiites in Iraq are exclusionary but they are not opening a global network of schools (propaganda) that teaches an extreme, backward interpretation of Islam

  4. Dr. Cole,

    I dont know if you read Kate Gould’s article in about Ramadi, but she essentially says that the best way to unify Iraq isn’t by continuous fighting, but political reconciliation witht the Sunnis. I think that would have been the best plan to begin with since the invasion, but it seems that is a lost cause now. Do you think it’s still possible to win back Sunni support so that they have a unified front against Isis?

  5. This is like the moment where the supervisor at a business sits down at an event next to the VP and expects attention. It just doesn’t work that way. Obama doesn’t want snapshots of him looking chummy with an Arab unless it’s on his terms. Just unprofessional of Al-Abadi to assume he’d get an audience.

    • I found the video elsewhere.
      I don’t think the US President even knew al-Abadi was there.

  6. What Obama did may have symbolized his impatience with the slow pace of political reform, but he was also showing some real bad manners. Not only did he ignore al-Abadi, Obama stood up and turned his back to him. No one with class acts that way. I was shocked at Obama’s behavior. So was the Iraqi P.M. geez…

  7. I think the big dilemma is not defeating Daesh, but replacing it with something better.

    At the rate Daesh is metastasizing, defeating it will take a GWOD (Global War on Daesh). The GWAD is winnable if the US goes all in and throws everything it has at the enemy, disregards the extent of collateral damage, and assumes unilateral control, sort of a combination of Desert Storm and the 2003 invasion and occupation. And add another trillion or two to the national debt.

    When Daesh finally waves the white flag (and goes guerrilla) what might be left is a colossus version of Libya. Maybe that is what’s on Obama’s mind.

  8. It’s fait accomple if my French is remembered well. Who will defeat Daesh? On the USA could with thousands of troops, thousands of USA troops dead, millions of covilians either dead or refugees, again another IRAQ consequence of Bush that now includes Syria. Would the USA INVADE Syria? Don’t think so. The Sunnis could become good “friends” with Shia but a majority can’t because they are “allied” with Daesh and killed, controlled by the same. It’s done as the pope is Argentinian!!

    • The US keeps dumping weapons into the region and they keep ending up in the hands of the Taliban, Daesh, or other bad actors. Maybe we should stop that.

      Daesh does not control genuinely valuable regions. It seems that most of their resources are from one-time looting, not sustainable production. This leads to an “expand or die” pattern. But they have no chance of actually taking over Turkey or Iran, which means that their only source of reliable funding is oil. Which gets us back to priority one: make oil valueless.

  9. Last year, Obama pledged that the US wouldn’t take sides in a sectarian civil war, yet Obama has taken sides (nominally) in a sectarian civil war, particularly since Abadi has done next to nothing to include Sunnis. Obama would be in the right if he sent our “advisors” home and stopped being a drone shooter. Degrading one bad actor only strengthens the other two. He would be in the right if he supported the governments worthy of our support, namely Iraqi Kurdistan and Jordan. Let Allah sort out the rest.

  10. The U.S, needs to sit this out. I heard today that the U.S. is spending $9 million a day for fighting Daesh. (Meanwhile, the media is exclaiming that Daesh has an apparently eye-popping, mind boggling, revenue of $1 million a day!)
    This is another unwinnable war. What happens if Daesh is gone? You still have some offshoot of al Qaeda running around. You still want Assad’s gov’t out. You still have a dysfunctional Iraq. More weird rebels will surface in Syria, Iraq and environs. Tell me again: what are we fighting for? We can’t nation build there. Nation building should start home in the U.S.

  11. Seems like the end result of our interventions, coups, and arms deals in the Middle East is something worse.

    Including Libya.

  12. Dear Juan,

    In the video, Daily Telegraph: “The Awkward Moment Between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister”, President Obama is having an animated discussion with a man and probably his wife. Who are they? They obviously like Obama.


    Wayne Wayenberg

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