The fall of Ramadi and the outlook in Iraq

2015 ended on a high note when ISIS was defeated in Ramadi. The news seemed all the brighter because according to reports from U.S. commanders, Iraqi military forces retook the city without help from Shiite militias.

However, the distinction between Iraqi military forces and Shiite militias may not be as sharp as these reports assume. David French cites a Newsweek report that “the security forces of the Iran-backed regime in Baghdad largely consist of Shiite fighters in league with murderous militias that have slaughtered innocent Sunnis after ousting ISIS militants from Tikrit and other battlegrounds in the past year.” Newsweek adds that the Shiites are now “ready to pounce” in Ramadi and elsewhere in Anbar province.

Newsweek quotes David Harvey, a former aide to Gen. David Patraeus. Harvey’s sources on the ground say that Shiite militias and sectarian fighters are “very much involved” in the offensive at Ramadi. They are wearing government uniforms and patches, but their vehicles fly Shiite militia banners, and the people who are commanding them are Shiite militia leaders.

ISIS’s defeat in Ramadi is good news regardless of who fought them. But if American commanders are trying to air brush Shiites and Iranians out of the picture, that’s telling too.

Mosul is the next major ISIS-held target in Iraq. But French points to a story in the Daily Beast that suggests the Ramadi model may not carry over to Mosul.

According to the Daily Beast’s sources, the key in Ramadi was neither a rejuvenated Iraqi Army nor Shiite militias. Rather, it was a combination of Iraqi special forces and coalition air strikes.

The problem when it comes to Mosul is that the Iraqi special forces may not be large enough to liberate and hold multiple cities simultaneously. Thus, French is skeptical as to whether these forces can hold on to the gains in Anbar while simultaneously striking Mosul — all while limiting the involvement of Shiite militias.

On the other hand, there are credible reports that ISIS’s morale is eroding. If the retaking of Ramadi can be coupled with a victory in Mosul — accomplished by whatever combination of forces — ISIS will have suffered serious blows.

As French says, ISIS will be looking for a “wins” to offset its defeat in Ramadi and any future defeat in Mosul. This increases the danger of terrorist attacks in the West, since such attacks represent low cost wins for the terrorists.

However, the fall of Ramadi and Mosul, if coupled with increased pressure on Raqqa in Syria, might force ISIS to concentrate more on self-preservation and less on terrorizing Westerners.