The Washington Post reports that Iraq’s Shiite militias have launched an offensive intended to put a stranglehold on ISIS fighters in Ramadi by cutting off ISIS supply lines and besieging the city.
The Shiite militias in question are heavily influenced, if not dominated by Iran. The Badr Organization mentioned in the Post’s report, with its close ties to Iran’s elite Quds Force, is a good example.
Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi held the Shiite militias out of the recent battle for Ramadi because the Sunnis of Anbar province don’t trust them, and with good cause. He hoped that the regular army and loyal Sunni tribesmen would defeat ISIS. But without serious U.S. backing — e.g., American advisers on the ground during combat and American spotters to guide air strikes — they were unable to do so.
Thus, Iranian-dominated militias have been called in to succeed where Obama’s strategy failed.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter blames the fall of Ramadi on the Iraqi army’s lack of “will to fight.” The Iranian-backed militias are exploiting Carter’s impolitic statement. Their spokesman said this:
This is the army that you have trained for eight years. You worked for eight years and made them weak, through policies that were adopted by you. I say that the Iraqi army, supported by the popular mobilizations, do have the will to fight.
But implicit in this statement, and in comments by members of the Iraqi army who fought in Ramadi, is the idea that the army does, in fact, come up a little short in the “will” department. Hence the need for the “popular mobilizations,” i.e., the militias. As one soldier put it, the militiamen “fight with faith; we need their energy.”
This problem — call it the “fervor gap” — is inherent in President Obama’s strategy of defeating Islamic extremists through the use of more secular proxy armies. Other things being roughly equal, religious fanatics have the advantage.
To counter that advantage, the U.S. needs to ensure that other things aren’t roughly equal. We can do this by providing boots on the ground during the battle. If we don’t, then the armies we insufficiently support will look to religious fanatics for help — or else simply give up.
Either way, the U.S. will be the loser.
President Obama and his top advisers should have recognized the advantage that ISIS’s fanaticism gives it. He never has — not when he dubbed ISIS “the jayvee” and not when he concluded that it can be defeated by a less committed adversary aided by U.S. air strikes.
As a result, ISIS, far from destroyed or degraded, is advancing. And Iran, not America, is viewed by Iraqis as the one force that may be able to thwart it.
The most likely outcome is an Iraq controlled in some big parts by ISIS terrorists interested in attacking the U.S. and dominated in other big parts by Iran. That’s a very different Iraq from the one that existed when Barack Obama took office.