April 16, 2015 | Quoted by Nancy A. Youssef - The Daily Beast

ISIS’ Attack on Ramadi Just Upended U.S. War Plans

ISIS is reportedly marching on key Iraqi city of Ramadi—upending the momentum that the U.S.-led military coalition seemed to have just days ago, and threatening to shatter an already delicate recent power shift that both the U.S. and Iraq hoped to exploit.

Until Wednesday’s reports about Ramadi both U.S. and Iraqi officials were examining what effects ISIS’ recent losses could have in future battles. The officials were even talking about where they would take down ISIS next. During his visit to Washington, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi suggested in an interview Wednesday with reporters that his troops could move on both Anbar province—where Ramadi in the local capital—and the oil-rich city of Baiji. 


The loss of territory also increased the chances of internal fracturing within ISIS’ leadership, said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies—presenting the coalition with a chance to turn ISIS against itself.

But Gartenstein-Ross also noted a series of challenges that came with ISIS’ setbacks. 

ISIS’ defeat in Tikrit could not have happened without thousands of Shiite militias, many trained, advised and armed by Iranian Quds force members. When Iraqi and militas forces faltered, the U.S.-led coalition began air strikes on the condition that Iranian advisors on the ground leave.

But in Ramadi, which sits 70 miles northwest of Baghdad, there is no significant Shiite militia presence. Rather, there’s an Iraqi Security forces that is struggling to fend off the ISIS threat on its own.

Should Iraqi forces appear to only be able to win with the help of militiamen that reportedly looted their communities, it could exacerbate the very same sectarian tensions that led to the rise of ISIS.

“It can increase Sunni resentment and can set the stage of future Sunni resistance against Shiite advancement,” Gartenstein-Ross said. Given that the groups were also backed in some way by Iran “creates risks of perception of regional Shite war.”

And with less territory to control, there could be more ISIS fighters available to move to other areas to “surge them somewhere else or try to capture new territory.”


U.S. defense officials told The Daily Beast that Iraqi forces confronted little resistance and that few fighters left Tikrit. It suggested that remnants of Saddam Husein’s regime—Baathist party members—were as strong a presence in Tikrit as ISIS. (After all, Tikrit is Saddam’s hometown and a Baathist stronghold. )Baathists and ISIS have increasingly worked together in Iraq even as they have varied goals: while Baathists are Iraqi secular nationalists seeking a return to power, ISIS wants a regional, ultra-religious caliphate.

What remains unclear is whether the loss of territory will create a stronger or weaker alliance between the two groups.

As government opponents, like ISIS and Baathists, lose ground, they could find themselves increasingly working together, said Christopher Harmer, a Senior Naval Analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Institute of the Study of War.

“As ISIS starts to lose territory, they will need top end military strategic campaigning that the Baathists will bring and ISIS doesn’t have,” Harmer said.

But Gartenstein-Ross said it could also weaken the relationship.

“It might create stronger alliance or it might cause them to ditch ISIS,” he said.


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