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Obama's Iraq Options
ISIS Is More Fragile Than It Looks

As of Monday, it appears that the ISIS drive to Baghdad had been slowed if not halted, due in large part to the surge of Iraqi Shiite militiamen streaming into Iraq from Syria in response to a top Iraqi cleric’s summons late last week. And as ISIS’s thrust denatures into a stalemate, some analysts are now predicting that the Sunni militant coalition is likely to fracture. The Financial Times:

“It’s not going to work,” says Michael W Hanna, a Middle East expert at the Century Foundation, a think-tank based in New York. “It’s going to produce violence. I’d be shocked if we didn’t see this alliance break down, particularly with regard to who these actors are, how they operate and how they conceive themselves.” […]

“Daish [Arabic name for ISIS] and Ba’athists are not going to mix,” says Mr Hanna. “One can imagine very soon infighting happening between anti-government forces. The seeds of conflict within the anti-government forces are there. This moment of convergence can’t last. Because Daish is Daish and they’re not going to be able to be pragmatic.”

The success of ISIS across northern Iraq is really the success of a coalition. Hatred and fear of the corrupt, violent and incompetent Maliki government has united Iraqi Sunni Arabs and the well-armed and well-financed (but vicious, fanatical and delusional) ISIS, but the alliance is fragile.

The Obama administration does not need to jump in right away, and it should if possible avoid the situation in which it is fighting a Sunni alliance in Iraq and supporting it in Syria. Promoting the emergence of non-fanatical, pragmatic Sunni leaders in both Syria and Sunni Iraq is the key here; that should be the strategic consideration most prominent in the U.S. government’s thinking as it wrestles with a dangerous and complicated situation it failed to foresee.

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  • Andrew Allison

    What are the implications for the Syrian conflict of “the surge of Iraqi Shiite militiamen streaming into Iraq from Syria?
    Isn’t the fact that the Kurds have taken over Kirkuk (and may well be eying Mosul), and will not give it up without a fight at least as important as wishful thinking about Sunni infighting (my enemy’s enemy and all that)?

  • Thirdsyphon

    I think the “dangerous and complicated” nature of this interminable and wildly unpredictable sectarian conflict is precisely what the Administration did foresee when it declined to involve our armed forces in the Syrian uprising.

    • Andrew Allison

      What’s complicated about a sectarian conflict which has been going on for 1400 years between Sunni and Shia, several thousand if to throw in antisemitism? Western democracies keep falling into the trap of thinking that such differences can, and should, be resolved amicably. The reality is that, as most recently demonstrated in the former Yugoslavia, under Saddam in Iraq and Assad in Syria, in most of the world it requires an iron fist to keep sectarians from each other’s throats.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    With the Islamic world expending all its resources and attention killing each other, we here in the West are all much safer. I hope this conflict continues to rage for years, until even the blood thirsty Jihadists are sick of the killing.

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