Wednesday, May 27, 2015

With friends like these, Iraq doesn't need enemies

Vox's Zach Beauchamp declares that Iraq 2003 Original Gangsta Ken Pollack has a point about Obama's anti-ISIS strategy --

Unlike some sky-is-falling rhetoric you hear from Republicans and some pundits, Pollack isn't warning that ISIS is about to sweep the rest of Iraq. He recognizes, correctly, that ISIS taking over Ramadi (the provincial capital of the heavily Sunni Anbar province) wasn't about cowardly Iraqi fighters running from the battlefield. Rather, it was the result of a 16-month heavy ISIS siege against an under-resourced Iraqi contingent. "it is highly unlikely," Pollack writes, "that the fall of Ramadi will lead to massive additional gains by [ISIS]." And yet Pollack still thinks the administration is bungling the job. That's because he sees a huge mismatch between the administration's stated goal — defeating ISIS — and the resources it's actually put out. Pollack believes Iraqi forces really could roll back ISIS. But without more aggressive American military aid, troop deployments, and political efforts to support the smart but beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, he thinks the campaign to root out ISIS will take too long, and will very likely fail to create a stable political solution that prevents Iraq from once again sliding into chaos and civil war.

In-depth Wall Street Journal report on the ISIS takeover of Ramadi (which Beauchamp actually cites in a separate article) --

An examination of how Ramadi fell indicates that Islamic State commanders executed a complex battle plan that outwitted a greater force of Iraqi troops as well as the much-lauded, U.S.-trained special-operations force known as the Golden Division, which had been fighting for months to defend the city. Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq. The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge. The group also churned out dozens of formidable new weapons by converting captured U.S. military armored vehicles designed to be impervious to small-arms fire into megabombs with payloads equal to the force of the Oklahoma City bombing. Over the three-day surge in Ramadi, Islamic State fighters launched at least 27 such vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or Vbieds, that destroyed Iraq security forces’ defensive perimeters and crumbled multistory buildings.  

In other words, ISIS was underestimated from the start (especially not realized was its base of deeply experienced foreign fighters including products of the Vlad Putin school of counterinsurgency), its learning by doing from previous attempts to take it on, and its ability to capture US-supplied weapons long before the final contingent of Iraqis left their posts. The specifics of who left where in the last days doesn't validate a hypothesis that Iraq needs more US intervention.

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