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ISIS Crisis
Sewing Up the Sunni Heartlands

ISIS is not squandering its momentum after its capture of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria. Reports are emerging that Syrian government forces withdrew from the town of al-Tanf ahead of an ISIS advance, giving up their control of the final border crossing point with Iraq. The fall of al-Tanf allows ISIS to more easily link up its holdings in Iraq’s Al Anbar province with its holdings in Syria’s Homs province. By some measures, ISIS now controls 50% of Syria. And although much of the territory under its control is strategically insignificant, nevertheless the scenario many have feared since the rise of ISIS—that the group would be able to carve a geographically coherent, Sunni-majority state out of the wreck of Iraq and Syria—has grown much closer this week.

Meanwhile, while ISIS is consolidating the Sunni heartlands in Iraq and Syria, it’s fomenting religious division in Saudi Arabia, where it claimed responsibility this afternoon for the suicide bombing of a Shi’a mosque in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province during midday prayers that killed as many as 10 people. An attack like this both strengthens ISIS’ claim to be a pan-Sunni, anti-Shi’a “defense” force and sows division within what ISIS would see as a rival for the leadership of the Sunni world, Saudi Arabia. ISIS last struck in that region in November.

President Obama, who is still insisting that American boots on the ground are out of the question, is facing increasingly widespread criticism of his strategy to confront ISIS, with the normally cautious Financial Times publishing an editorial this morning lambasting the events of the week that the President called “a tactical setback” as actually “potentially a disaster”.

Could this all have been avoided, and what are some better options for combating ISIS, you ask? Well, dear readers, our next issue, heading to the printers early next week, takes a crack at some answers. Stay tuned!

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  • Arkeygeezer

    When the U.S. withdrew its ground troops from Iraq, it lost all control over the people of Iraq. The situation degenerated into sectarian violence. This would have happened no matter who was President of the U.S. The only way to gain control over the situation, is for the U.S. to recommit ground troops into Iraq and sacrifice some more American lives. The American people will not support that. We must contain the violence to the area and let the people of the area resolve their own differences their own way. I see no other alternative.

    • Kevin

      The U.S. has been supplying arms and aid to the wrong institutions. Here and in Afghanistan the plan to create a modern national army was flawed as was the idea of creating a unified state. It did it take into account the factional natures of these countries and by focusing the military capability in the national government upped the political stakes for seizing control of the central state. Further we became more focused on building institutions than supporting friends. A much more clientelistic approach in these societies would have served us better – find local notables who we would support in their region where thy would create order and keep our foes at bay and use these as a building blocks in a very loose federal structure. Such people would have fought in large part to secure their local power base and build up support among the populace for their continued rule. In the background there would always be the threat that if they opposed U.S. we could support their local competitors.

    • johngbarker

      How can ISIS be contained in the “area” without destroying its army and who will do that? Will the US stand by if ISIS threatens to seize the oil wealth of the Arab world?

      • Arkeygeezer

        That is an Arab problem for the Arabs to resolve. What are you going to tell the troops that have to risk their lives to protect the oil wealth of the Arab world to inspire them to fight? Die for Arab wealth?
        We contained the Soviet Union for years without destroying their Army.

        • Tom

          If the only issue was protecting the oil wealth of the Arabs I would say to let them swing.
          Unfortunately, the reasons for our involvement in Gulf War I still remain valid–we are not utterly insulated from world oil prices, and letting this band of maniacs get their hands on Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Saudi oil would end badly for everyone.

          • Arkeygeezer

            For oil to be valuable, it has to be sold on the world market. Whether its controlled by ISIS, who chop off heads, or Saudi Arabia, who also chop off heads, is immaterial.
            How about this, “Uncle Sam wants you to fight and die for one side of the Suni/Sha’it civil war to sell you their oil”?

          • Tom

            You are assuming that they wish to sell.

      • GS

        It is of no use destroying the ISIS “army”, for it would regenerate. The ease of ISIS advances in the sunni areas indicates a very significant level of on-the-ground support for it there. And therefore, unless that support [i.e. the ISIS supporters, both active and passive] is eliminated – which would take an epic bloodbath, be it said in passing – holding these areas once they are recaptured would require a very serious occupation force, ad infinitum. Judging by its collapse in the face of ISIS, the iraqi army is dreck, and not such a force. The costs of providing that occupation force from outside are astronomical, the benefits of it are non-existent.
        So, the best one can hope for is for them to continue akbaring each other to the uttermost and doing the aforementioned epic bloodbath themselves, as there is no taste for such solutions here.

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