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The Sunni-Shi'a War
Iraqi Troops Retake Ramadi

The Iraqi army announced yesterday that it had successfully driven ISIS out of Ramadi, the same city where it experienced an embarrassing rout at the hands of Islamic militants only 18 months ago. Aided by U.S. air strikes, Iraqi special forces had surrounded a final set of government buildings that were being held by a handful of holdout ISIS fighters, and were clearing the area of booby traps.

The Iraqi forces successfully coordinated with coalition air power, and also showed that they had internalized months of training by U.S. advisors: The army crossed the Euphrates using pontoon bridges, and then surprised ISIS with a flanking maneuver rather than driving headlong into the city. “The enemy never thought we would do it this way,” an Iraqi army spokesman told reporters. “The enemy couldn’t contain their surprise and fell in complete confusion.”

This story shows that the American-assisted war of attrition against ISIS is showing results. Good.

But the real target in the campaign against ISIS isn’t the geographical territory the group controls—it’s the power of the myth of the caliphate and the radical jihadi ideology that needs to be broken. Hammering away at ISIS on the ground helps to diminish its appeal and undermines the myth at its core, but the jihadis have been beaten before and bounced back. This is going to be a long process, and there’s a lot more fight ahead.

The most serious challenge ISIS may present in the future may be what happens as the “caliphate” shrinks and then ultimately, one hopes, falls—and tens of thousands of trained fighters scurry away to continue the struggle in other places. The time to be thinking about the endgame is now. The defeat of ISIS needs to be total and crushing, and its fighters need to be captured and dealt with. Fanatical hate-crazed rapists, looters, and murderers cannot be unleashed on the world when this is done. Guantanamo isn’t big enough to hold them: What’s the plan?

Additionally, the core strategic dilemma isn’t resolved. The fall of Ramadi strengthens the Shi’a government in Iraq and the Russia-Iran-Assad axis whose growing strength is the root cause of the current sectarian war. The fall of Ramadi is a setback for ISIS, but unless the U.S. and the West more generally develop a coherent regional strategy, this development makes a deepening of the sectarian war more, not less, likely.

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  • Anthony

    Iraq in the Balance: to understand questions about Iraq’s future, we have to understand its past. csis.org/iraq-in-the-balance

  • TheCynical1

    The Russia-Iran-Assad axis whose growing strength is the “root cause” of the current sectarian war?

    • Andrew Allison

      A war which has been going on for five centuries!

  • Jim__L

    This is a bit like arguing that the fall of Berlin to the Soviets (aided by US air strikes) made the Iron Curtain and Cold War more likely. Should we have taken Patton’s approach and kept our tanks rolling until we reached Moscow? Well, maybe we should have. Is that where the subject this post is leading?

    As an aside, “Iraqi army spokesman” is not (thanks to Baghdad Bob) an appellation that conveys a good deal of credibility. Do we have independent confirmation that, say, Baghdad hasn’t fallen?

  • GS

    And what is so bad about “this development makes a deepening of the sectarian war more, not less, likely.”?
    I’d say it is by far the best thing which could happen in the situation. Let them akbar each other, even to the uttermost.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “But the real target in the campaign against ISIS isn’t the geographical territory the group controls—it’s the power of the myth of the caliphate and the radical jihadi ideology that needs to be broken.”

    No, the real problem is the “Continuous Spawning of Jihadists by the Islamic Culture”, and any Strategy that fails to address this problem isn’t a Strategy at all. We are talking about putting in place forces which will change or kill Islamic Culture while at the same time protecting the innocents living in the modern civilized west from the Jihadists. Breaking ISIS is a waste of time, as the continuously spawning Jihadists will just found a new group, just as they did after the Muslim Brotherhood was whacked, and after Al Qaeda was whacked. The suggestion that if we just beat ISIS we will win is Wrong, as this is really just an unwinnable exercise like “Whack-a-Mole”.

    The “Best Strategy” is a 3 fold one of 1st:”Containment”: Where Muslims are confined to their own nations, and where the ambitious who want a better life, will be forced to do the hard work of fixing things in their own countries, rather than seeking a new life in a country with a Modern Civilization. This combined with 2nd: “Divide and Conquer”: Which would encourage the Sunni Jihadists to use all their resources killing the Shiite Jihadists, and vice-a-versa, should make everyone safer by killing off Islam’s continuously spawning Jihadists and using up all their resources. And 3rd: “Probation” The President declares “Islam to be a criminal organization”, by reason that Sharia Law legalizes Murder, Rape, Robbery, and Enslavement (Yes, Slavery!) and all Muslims are required to honor Sharia Law above any national laws by the Quran. Anyone declaring themselves to be a Muslim therefore confesses to belonging to a criminal organization, and placing them all on probation where they are monitored for sedition, sabotage, treason, and other crimes, would go a long way towards securing America from the backward and inferior Islamic Culture’s spawning of Jihadists domestically.
    The Advantages of using these 3 “Strategies” are many:
    1. It forces those most desiring change to stay and fix things in their own country,
    2. It forces the Jihadists to use all their resources in killing each other,
    3. It absorbs, exterminates, or catches the Islamic Culture’s continuously spawning Jihadists,
    4. It is cost effective, as it doesn’t put expensive infidel troops and planes into the quagmire,
    5. Making the internecine fight between the Sunnis and Shiites as hot and bitter as possible can be done mostly with words,
    6. Selling weapons to the losing side can keep the fight going for decades, which is what will need to happen because “Cultures change at Glacial Speeds”.
    7. By absorbing all the Jihadist’s resources in killing each other, there will be little left for Murdering, Raping, Robbing, and Enslaving the innocents of the West.
    8. The Objective is to “Change Islamic Culture” so that it stops spawning Jihadists and can join the rest of mankind in modern civilization, not just get revenge on Muslims for Murdering our people.

  • iconoclast

    “What’s the plan?”

    Kill them wherever they are found. Hunt down their shamans and execute them as well. Make a desert and call it peace.

  • Angel Martin

    “Guantanamo isn’t big enough to hold them: What’s the plan?”

    I recommend Second Kings 10 for inspiration.

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