While most of the commentary on the recent ISIS push in Fallujah and Ramadi has focused on Obama’s culpability and how all the men who died there died for nothing, a lot has gotten lost in the noise. Nothing in warfare, least of all 4GW, is that simple.
ISIS has had a rocky year. From its formation in April, and Abu Dua’s announcement that it is one and the same with Al Nusra, it has clashed with its Syrian counterpart. When Abu Dua attempted to claim operational command over all Al Qaeda forces in Iraq and Syria, he got told to stand down by Zawahiri. More and more clashes between ISIS and Al Nusra have turned bloody in recent months, and ISIS has been left out of the major Islamist alliances in Syria lately. Now, the newest umbrella organization of Islamist fighters in Syria, Jabhaat al Islamiya, has actively gone to war with ISIS in Syria.
With the Syria theater going badly, ISIS needed a win. So they pushed on their home turf, which has always been Fallujah and Ramadi. Remember, this organization came out of Zarqawi’s AQI. Many of them know the turf intimately. That puts them at an advantage, especially with the manifest weakness of the Iraqi security forces.
Anyone who worked with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police can tell you that while there were exceptions to the rule (there always are), the overall quality of the security forces was pretty low. A lot of this is cultural. Another part of it can of course be placed at the feet of the political decision to completely disband the Iraqi Army at the close of official hostilities in 2003. The material has all been pretty amateur, and it shows. It was revealed most graphically leading up to the provincial elections in April. Violence steadily increased throughout 2013, as the ISF found itself without major US support, and unable to handle the resurgence of the insurgency.
Radical Islam isn’t just at war with the West; it is at war with itself. The Syrian civil war, and a lot of the violence that went on in Iraq even while we were there, have been or become primarily continuations of a centuries-long blood feud between Sunni and Shi’a. While there are all kinds of other geopolitical factors at work, at its base, that is what it boils down to. The Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam has gone so far as to label the Shi’a “idolaters” and say they are even worse than those of us infidels in Dar al Harb. Add in the oppression of the Shi’a majority in Iraq by the Sunni Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, and it gets even more volatile.
While many of us who fought in and around Fallujah may find current events there disheartening, it is disingenuous to say that Obama caused it, or even that it would not have happened if not for our withdrawal. Eight years of occupation, and in many cases providing these groups with a common enemy (Zarqawi was working out of Tehran for a while), will not end a blood feud that has lasted over 1300 years. Long wars often see the same ground fought over repeatedly; our own Civil War saw two battles of Manassas.
If anything we did or didn’t do could be pointed to as culpable in the recent meltdown in Iraq, it would be this:
1. We tried to do too much ourselves, letting the IA and IP tag along and treating them like children. While in many cases it might have been justifiable (the IPs seemed to be especially susceptible to corruption and turning their coats), it was a short-term solution that shot the entire endeavor in the foot in the long run.
2. We destroyed any military professionalism in the Iraqi Army in 2003. It takes longer than 8 years to rebuild that.
3. We allowed the insurgents safe havens we would not touch, namely in Iran and Syria, thus ensuring that the entire counterinsurgency campaign would fail. It happened in Vietnam with Laos and Cambodia (though we did more against the VC and NVA there than we really did against AQI and Qods Force), and it happened here. Instead of accepting the cost of winning, we tried to do it on the cheap, and this chaos is the result.