The fall of Ramadi to the Islamic state (IS) has a stark sense of déjà-vu. It is almost a year since IS first stormed into Mosul and large swathes of Iraq.
A reluctant US only intervened when IS threatened the doorsteps of Erbil and Baghdad. However, it was under the firm proviso that new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will avoid the errors of the past and will work to bridge the deep ethno-sectarian divide.
A year later and the same core issues plague the Iraqi state. The Sunnis have not been sufficiently enticed or armed to take the fight to IS, the Peshmerga, as the most capable fighting force, have seen little of coalition weapons dispatched to Baghdad and Shia militias remain the most effective tool at the disposal of Baghdad.
Over the years, Iraq has lost numerous opportunities to appease disenfranchised Sunnis. After driving out al-Qaeda in the Sunni heartlands with the Sunni Sahwa Awakening forces, Baghdad was too slow to capitalize and even feared long-term empowerment of the Sunni tribal forces.
IS have taken advantage today much in the same that al-Qaeda did all those years ago. Without addressing the root causes, even if IS defeated then a similar force will simply come to the fore with the same end result.
The fall of Mosul and now Ramadi was more to do with the weakness and low morale of Iraq’s security forces than the real might and numbers of IS.
But what does it state about the US-led coalition if a year on IS is actually increasing areas under their control, including control of roughly 50% of Syrian territory.
Thousands of air strikes later and IS has prevailed. The finger can be pointed at US with US policy coming under much scrutiny, but ultimately US President Barrack Obama is correct – if Iraqis are unwilling to bridge their differences, if Baghdad is unable to delivery true national reconciliation and if the Iraqi are not willing to fight for their own country, then why should the US be expected to do it for them.
Even today, with the country deep in bloodshed, Baghdad has failed to reconcile with the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Peshmerga have not been sufficiently reinforced with key weapons let alone funding, with Baghdad wary of strengthening Kurdish security forces.
The only solution that can glue the fracturing Iraqi state together is a loose federation which must include a Sunni autonomous region with its own Sunni force.
The Sunni tribes, whilst many against the ideology and conduct of IS, will not bow to Shia forces or Baghdad influence in their neighborhoods.
The effective Shia militias were held back at the insistence of US for fearing of stoking further sectarian fires, but with thousands of Shia militias summoned to the Ramadi frontlines with Baghdad urging volunteers to join the fight, there is an ironic feel as Iranian back Shia militias are supported from the air by US forces in a traditional Sunni heartland.
The focus has turned to rebuilding, training and equipping the Iraqi army. This was a common theme under US occupation and there is no guarantee that the new army will outlast the old one. As IS has demonstrated, sheer determination and motivation is much more important than sheer numbers.
This means that certainly in the short-term, Baghdad will lean ever-heavily on Iran.
But Baghdad needs the support of Sunni tribes and Kurdish Peshmerga forces more than ever. If Baghdad cannot wrestle control of Ramadi, then how will it ever succeed in Mosul? The Peshmerga are certainly capable to take Mosul but after years of animosity and tension, the Kurds are not about to race into Mosul to aid Baghdad.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc