The Mess in the Middle East
Has the Administration Found an Iraq Plan?

After months of embarrassments in the Middle East, from the Russian involvement in Syria and Iraq to the Syria training debacle, the Administration may be snapping out of its stupor. The Times of London reports that the U.S. has a new anti-ISIS plan:

The Pentagon’s plan, steered by General Joseph Dunford, America’s top military commander, would force Isis to fight on several fronts. It calls for co-ordinated offensives involving Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Iraqi army and Iranian-backed Shia militias — which the US refuses to endorse. Ash Carter, the US defence secretary, and senior officials are expected to outline the strategy to Congress next week.

Washington is dismayed at the deadlock in the battle to retake Ramadi and Mosul, the biggest Isis-held cities in Iraq. Amid reports that the Kremlin has requested permission from Baghdad to begin airstrikes inside Iraq, General Dunford is plotting a massive increase in US-led airstrikes and the deployment of substantially more anti-tank weapons to regain the initiative.

Yesterday General Dunford, who was appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff two weeks ago, flew to the Kurdish city of Arbil to formalise the new offensive. He arrived as government troops and militias recaptured the Iraqi town of Beiji after months of fighting.

It’s good to see us moving on from what obviously was not working. And the fall of Beiji is indeed welcome news after months of setbacks. The Department of Defense described the victory as the product of Iraqi ground efforts backed up by coalition air support. But as the Times article above notes, it’s not quite so simple:

Iraqi state-run television showed jubilant soldiers and members of Iranian-backed Shia militias waving flags from rooftops as smoke billowed into the sky. A force of 5,000 Iraqi soldiers and about 10,000 militiamen took the city, in the province of Salahuddin, after capturing the nearby oil refinery last week. Iraqi media reported that General Qasim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s clandestine Quds Force, which supports the controversial militias, was present during the operation.

The Administration is going to have to be on its toes to navigate this multipolar battle without becoming coopted by—or perhaps even more importantly, without being seen by the Sunnis to be coopted by—the Iranians. It’s a task at which we’ve only had mixed success in Syria so far; hopefully, with new plans and fresh attention, we can be more successful in Iraq.

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