Can the U.S. defeat ISIS?

What is the U.S. plan if the Shiite parties reject the main demands of Sunni Arabs?

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
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Through the latest official American statements, it has become clear that Obama’s administration could adopt a long-term strategy to deal with ISIS. This strategy may include several key elements: First, to broaden the support of the Iraqi forces, especially after the formation of the government in Iraq led by Haider al-Abad. Secondly, to arm and train the Kurdish Peshmerga forces so that they can stand up in the face of attacks by ISIS fighters. Thirdly, expand the aerial bombardment to include ISIS positions in Syria. But most importantly of all, regional cooperation that includes Iran, the Gulf states, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, is needed to tighten the noose on the logistical support for jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria.

This American strategy may succeed in the short and medium term to make the Iraqi government regain the military initiative, through the transition to offensive missions, which may culminate in regaining control of some cities that they previously lost. However, this matter is easier said than done as the expulsion of the jihadist groups from the cities is quite different eradicating them. Indeed, the loss of the cities will push these groups to return to their favorite tactics of guerrilla warfare and suicide attacks.

To be sure, the strategy that is being promoted by Washington, if it is to be implemented in light of the prevailing current circumstances in the Middle East, may be doomed to failure. In this context, there are some indications to demonstrate that the influence of jihadist movements is on the rise.

The United States does not have magical solutions to Iraq’s problems

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi

Over the past three years, Israel has tried hard to convince international public opinion that the “Arab Spring” has nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. However, the developments that have occurred in the so-called Arab Spring countries, as well as the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza, have represented a major blow to the so-called Arab peace camp. It does seem that the resistance shown by Hamas has increased the popularity of Islamic organizations in Palestine. The faltering of the peace process that coincides with the growing influence of jihadist groups in the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt-Sinai, Libya and Iraq, is like a powder keg that could explode in everyone’s face.

Iranian interference

The other important issue is the Iranian interference in Iraq. Western countries seek to increase cooperation with Tehran to promote stability in Iraq. Nevertheless, the growing Iranian role may exacerbate the already high sectarian polarization in Iraq and the region. On the other hand, if the American air strikes target of only Sunni groups, it may seem like a war on Sunnis, something which will represent an embarrassment for many of the Arab countries because they may face the risk of growing internal opposition and domestic backlash, especially in countries like Jordan and Lebanon.

In the context of talking about Iran, it is clear that Tehran is not enthusiastic about the idea of federalism in Iraq, which is one of the key points demanded by the Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. Therefore, Iran may urge its Shiite allies in Baghdad to reject the idea. Most importantly, accepting the demands of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq means changing the political system in the country in a dramatic way; so far there are no indications that these demands are on their way to being implemented. This situation will complicate the already complex situation.

This may lead us to ask very important questions: What is the U.S. plan if the Shiite parties reject the main demands of Sunni Arabs? Does the U.S. have the leverage to put pressure on Baghdad to implement these demands? Is Obama’s administration really serious about reforming the Iraqi political system? Perhaps most importantly, in case of Sunni Arabs’ insistences to implement their demands first, will Washington continue its war against ISIS regardless of the Sunnis’ position? Answering these questions may determine the fate of the war against ISIS, and perhaps the fate of Iraq as a whole.

Let us not forget that the United States does not have magical solutions to Iraq’s problems. It launched two wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and fought al-Qaeda for more than a decade, only to end up creating new “Afghanistan” in the heart of the Middle East. Recent events in several Arab countries, Iraq and Syria in particular, proved that the problems of the region are tied together; ultimately, they need to be addressed comprehensively. Otherwise, the region may face a group more terrible than ISIS.


Dr. Naser al-Tamimi is a UK-based Middle East analyst, and author of the forthcoming book “China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Alliance?” He is a regular contributor to Al Arabiya News, with a particular interest in energy politics, the political economy of the Gulf, and Middle East-Asia relations. The writer can be reached at: Twitter: nasertamimi and email: [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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