The U.S. has launched 68 airstrikes against ISIS militants over the past 10 days, about half of which were targeted around a strategically critical dam outside of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Iraqi and Kurdish forces are now largely in charge of the dam, and they want to retake Mosul next.
The renewed push against what is also known as the Islamic State (IS) makes a lot of sense considering that the country of Iraq is at stake (and Syria has already broken apart).
As Army Col. Joel Rayburn, a historian and senior research fellow at the National Defence University, wrote in The Washington Post recently: “The stunning collapse of the Iraqi state in its vast northern and western provinces may be [former Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki’s most significant legacy. After nine decades as the capital of a unitary, centralized state, Baghdad no longer rules Kurdistan, nor Fallujah, nor Mosul, and might never rule them again.”
ISIS militants overran parts of Fallujah in December and took Mosul on June 10 after months of running extortion and smuggling rings in the city. The shady practices brought in nearly $US12 million per month in revenues.
“Mosul seems to have acquired a very central role in terms of making money,” Charles Lister of the Brookings Institution told NPR in April. “Certainly since late 2012, early 2013, I’ve seen a number of reports to suggest that ISIS’s activities in extortion and acquiring levies on transport and real estate having increased fairly dramatically.”
ISIS also makes more than a million dollars a day selling oil illegally, and it controls territory from Syria’s largest city of Aleppo to Mosul and down near the border between Iraq and Jordan.
Basically, the burgeoning terror group is running a military petrostate as it recruits from across the region and around the world. And its base of power in Iraq, bolstered and secured by two years of military gains in neighbouring Syria, has many experts arguing that the U.S. has to do even more to combat the group.
“The sooner we begin [a sustained campaign against ISIS], the less complicated our involvement will be, the greater our chances of success, and the more likely IS’s forces can be defeated before they tear apart the region completely — and directly threaten America,” James J. Jeffrey, the American ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012 and a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute, writes in Foreign Policy.
The U.S. seems to recognise the threat, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk told NBC over the weekend that there was “no political solution to the ISIS problem. ISIS has to be squeezed, it has to be deprived of Oxygen, and it has to be confronted.”
How the Obama administration would go about that is an open question given its reluctance to get involved in Syria and the president’s promise to “not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq.”
What’s clear is that there is a war going on for Iraq. The Islamic State has been very formidable during the conflict so far — and U.S. allies in the Kurds and the Iraqi security forces are going to need all the help they can get to stop it.
“Iraqis have entered into a civil war whose logical conclusion is the breakup of the country,” Col. Rayburn wrote. “What we are witnessing in Iraq today is the beginning of a process that could become at least as destructive and bloody as the breakup of Yugoslavia. The longer it is allowed to unfold, the less likely it will be stopped, and the more likely it will spill over on a large scale to destabilize the surrounding region.”
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