After a major Iraqi city near Baghdad fell to Islamic State terrorists over the weekend, several pundits and experts called into questionPresident Barack Obama’s strategy in the Middle East and in Iraq specifically.
Now it appears Obama is adjusting his strategy in the country to focus more on training and equipping Sunnis to fight the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), according to The Wall Street Journal. He reportedly met with top national security advisers on Tuesday.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the White House is now looking at “some areas where the strategy isn’t working as intended and needs to be upgraded.” Part of the strategy going forward will be “training and equipping” Sunni tribal fighters through an existing military program, according to the Journal.
But officials stressed that the US will not be completely overhauling its strategy. Obama still does not appear to be considering committing any US combat troops to the anti-ISIS fight.
Empowering Sunnis is considered crucial to defeating ISIS, which itself is a Sunni extremist group. Ramadi is in a majority Sunni region, meaning that Sunni fighters would be far more effective against the group than Shi’ite militias, which would only amplify the sectarian aspects of Iraq’s conflict.
Over the weekend, Iraqi army troops fled ISIS militants who overran Ramadi, abandoning US-supplied military equipment and giving ISIS its latest territorial gains in the fight for control of Iraq. In light of the Iraqi army’s repeated failures, the Iraqi government has been relying increasingly on Shia militias backed by Iran to drive out ISIS in certain areas.
The use of Shia militias creates its own set of problems. Shia militias have been accused of committing atrocities against Sunni civilians. Overreliance on these militias also extends Iran’s influence in Iraq and could further inflame sectarian tensions.
But the Baghdad government has been hesitant to train and arm Sunni fighters, fearing that they could turn against Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government. At the same time, the Iraqi army hasn’t proven capable of preventing ISIS’s advances.
The Washington Post outlined the many problems facing the Iraqi army this week. In addition to rampant corruption throughout the forces, the Iraqi military is poorly equipped compared to ISIS and has much less of a “fighting spirit” than its more committed jihadist foes.
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