Brits have joined the fight but do we know what we're doing?
Excellent analysis of the strategic situation in Iraq from the Independent that quotes a British general who questions whether the coalition knows what it's doing.
Concerns over the House of Commons's overwhelming vote on Friday to join the United States in carrying out air strikes on the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq reflect the complications of fighting an oil-rich terrorist group that operates either side of the border with Syria. The vagaries of international law and yet another war in Iraq only compound a situation that even supporters of the strikes acknowledge is both tense and fluid.
Chief among the concerns is the strategy itself. Writing exclusively in The Independent on Sunday today, former SAS commanding officer Richard Williams said: "Friday's debate lacked any meaningful reference to the political solution that must be considered in Iraq if these bombs are to mean anything. Bombing that is not geared to an Iraqi political purpose will only create propaganda opportunities for Isis, as they seek to legitimise their hold over Western Iraq."
Mr Williams, who served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, said that bombing raids would see Isis hurt militarily and cede ground. But he added that they would gain support among civilians if ordinary Iraqis saw only bombing and no Western attempts at forging a political deal. The current plan, he added, "risks looking fearful and half-cock".
Nadhim Zahawi, the Baghdad-born Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon, said that while it was right to join a coalition of Arab Sunni states, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and the US, "we have to be realistic about what that can achieve".
Mr Zahawi said that Western forces must learn from their mistakes in 2007, when US General David Petraeus forged alliances between US forces and Sunni tribes to help drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister from 2006 until earlier this month, has been accused of sectarianism that resulted in a Sunni uprising.
Mr Zahawi said: "We convinced them to do all this stuff in 2007, they did it and then we abandoned them to Maliki who then holed them out. That was the Petraeus doctrine.
"That process will only work [this time] if the end result is a political settlement, that that community feels happy with, satisfied with, ie they have skin in the political game, they've got some say in governing themselves and that didn't happen because Maliki chose a different path. The other lesson we need to learn is that we can't do nation-building, it has to be up to the local community to decide who they want to govern themselves."
The bottom line: One week we didn't have a strategy to deal with ISIS, and the next, President Obama said we did. But we don't. No one has thought through all the subtle permutations of the impact that our strategy will have on the politics of Iraq, the perception of Sunni tribes, or even the impact of our air war on ISIS military forces. They are already trying to blend into the population, daring us to kill civilians to get at them. Might our bombing campaign alienate more Sunnis than it brings to our side?
It appears that we are doing what we are doing in Iraq and Syria not to achieve a particular end, but rather to simply give the appearance that we are doing something. This kind of "strategy" could easily lead to disaster when you have civilians in Washington who don't have a clue of what they are doing.