May 21, 2015 | Forbes

Ramadi Falls–And Iran Will Come To The Rescue?

Experts most everywhere agree that the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State is a disaster. It solidifies IS control over a major east-west route from Ramadi (75-100 miles from Baghdad) to deep into Syria. American military and intelligence officials know all about this route, since anti-American jihadis used it against our military forces for years. The killers flowed into Syria, trained there, and then entered Iraq to attack us.

This strategic triumph for Islamic State came at the expense of the Iraqi Army, and showed the limitations of the U.S. bombing campaign, such as it was. The battle for Ramadi had been waged for many months, so the Iraqi government and American strategists had plenty of time to plan their moves. The outcome suggests two grim conclusions: First, the Iraqi armed forces aren’t up to the mission, and second, that the U.S. was unable to crush the IS advance.

Early reports from Baghdad and Washington indicate that the Iraqis and Americans are going to mount an assault on Ramadi, lest IS use it as a base from which to stage attacks against the Iraqi capital. However, this inevitably brings yet another country—Iran—onto the battlefield. It seems as if the only ground forces capable of defeating IS are Iranian (Shi’te) proxies, who proved their mettle a few months ago when they, supported by an active US bombing campaign, drove IS out of Tikrit, in the Sunni heartland. The militias were reportedly massing for the Ramadi assault within hours of the army’s retreat from Ramadi.

All of which leaves us with some tricky questions:

1. Can Iranian-supported ground troops cope with Islamic State fighters? They certainly have numbers, but then so did the Iraqi Army. At least a thousand Iraqi troops ran helter-skelter from a few hundred IS jihadis.

2. Is the Obama administration prepared to order a massive air campaign to retake Ramadi? It wasn’t during the last few weeks. On doomsday we unleashed all of eight air strikes to save the city.

3. What if we “win”? If Ramadi is retaken by Iranian proxies, it will constitute a dramatic increase in Iranian control over Anbar, the biggest province in the country. That might make Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei happy, but it shouldn’t raise our morale. On the contrary, it’s seriously misguided to empower a country whose slogan is “death to America.” The Washington Post editorialists have it right: We have failed to match means to our strategy. Worse yet, we may be in a box—damned if we win (Iran is the big winner, thereby further subverting any hope of a really independent Iraq), and damned if we lose (nobody loves a loser, especially in the violent Middle East).

Or have we? Perhaps the president wants to support Iranian ambitions, regardless of the consequences for the Iraqis. Obama’s overriding dream is a strategic alliance with Tehran. Compare Tikrit with Ramadi. In Tikrit we were Khamanei’s Air Force, and we did a lot of bombing. It produced a victory for the Iranians and a defeat for the IS Sunni forces. In Ramadi, our air war was at best demonstrative, but certainly not anything like the earlier effort. The result? Humiliation of the Iraqi government, and an open door for the mullahs’ proxies.

The pattern is significant: We’re prepared to take more serious action on behalf of Iranian interests than for those fighting Iran. We can see that in Yemen, where our support for our longtime close ally, Saudi Arabia, was more rhetorical than real. We can also see it in Syria and Iraq, where our most vigorous military action is invariably directed against the enemies of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose survival and success is Iran’s most urgent regional objective.

In other words, the best way to understand the Ramadi catastrophe is to see it in the context of President Obama’s avid pursuit of a partnership with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Just ask yourself “What would Khamenei do?” and the odds are excellent that Obama will do just that.

Therefore, we can expect a considerable increase in American bombing of IS in and around Ramadi. We wouldn’t do it for the Iraqi government, but we will for Iranian-backed forces.

What happens when Obama’s pursuit of the Iran partnership runs headlong into the interests of our regional friends and allies? That question may get an answer in a couple of days, when an Iranian cargo ship—accompanied by warships—arrives in Yemeni waters, where they are awaited by the air and sea forces of the Saudis and their allies who are fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis. A few weeks ago, an Iranian military convoy turned back from Yemen when they encountered US ships. What will they do this time? If they challenge the Arab forces, what will Washington do?

If the Ramadi model holds, our forces will make minimal gestures in support of the Saudis, but do nothing dramatic to defeat or even embarrass the Iranians.

Michael Ledeen

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Iran