Iraqi Forces Retaking Ramadi, a blow to Tehran’s meddling and aspirations in Iraq By: Keyvan Salami

| 04.02,16. 02:09 PM |

Iraqi Forces Retaking Ramadi, a blow to Tehran’s meddling and aspirations in Iraq

By: Keyvan Salami

Iraqi forces have now taken over the city of Ramadi in the restive province of Anbar, located west of Baghdad in Sunni heartland. However, the question is who will fill the void of ISIS and successfully engage with the native Sunni population? This is a very significant opportunity for Iraq, and the international coalition backing this military campaign in Ramadi, to deliver a significant blow to Iran as the main force and threat behind extremism and terrorism in the region.

Baghdad made the right decision in not involving the notorious Golden Division, a unit of mercenaries loyal to Iran and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and relied on the classic Iraqi army. This was a wise move and rendered the support and alliance of a number of local Sunni tribes in the battle for Ramadi.

ISIS has recently suffered major blows in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Kurdish Peshmarga fighters took over the town of Sinjar and gained control over a strategic route in northern Iraq linking Raqqa and Mosul. In Syria, while Iran continues its secret war, the U.S. backed Syrian democratic forces are inching closer to Raqqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate that ISIS has been working to establish in the region. Put all this together one is left to wonder what ISIS continues to hold and the actual strength of its forces.

Experts believe there is definitely going to be continued fighting in Ramadi considering the sheer size of the city, probably being the second largest population center controlled by ISIS. There are going to be continued clashes, even in the best case scenarios for the Iraqi forces in the coming days.

Iraqi security forces and some militia-type fighting units have in the past gone into areas claimed to be liberated, only to see fierce ISIS counterattacks in the next days and weeks to retake that same area. Adapting to a new almost occupation of Ramadi is going to be the long term concern for the Iraqi government.

For those living in Anbar Province of Iraq, where can they actually find support? The arrival of the Iraqis could suggest the suppression of a minority again, anyway. This has always been the Gordian knot while dealing with getting rid of ISIS. Unfortunately, many say that possibly the loneliest individual in Iraq is the Iraqi Sunni who doesn’t support ISIS but is actually terrified of a relatively sectarian-orientated Baghdad government that has been very oppressive in the past. There have been reprisal attacks by Iran-backed Shiite militias against Sunni civilians in the past. Will they be able to bring services, security and a fair rule of law to the people of Anbar Province is a very legitimate question, as the population on the ground is very much on the fence on who to trust.

The major issue of course is that experts say a major element behind the rise of ISIS the way in which in the government under al-Maliki, backed by Iran, suppressed the Sunni minority. Has the current government in Iraq learned from that and will the central government realize the necessary changes?

Improvements have been made. Getting rid of al-Maliki was one major step that delivered a strategic blow to Iran’s plots in Iraq. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has certainly shown more willingness to work with the Sunnis. However, he is under tremendous pressure from Shiite militias, again supported and provoked by Iran, known to launch massacres against the Sunnis.

The Iraqi government under al-Abadi now is supporting the idea of returning Sunnis into the battle against ISIS, and this is key. Iraqi forces are now commanded by trusted individuals. This is a key shift in policy and procedures in comparison to al-Maliki’s tenure. A similar policy shift is needed vis-à-vis Iran.

The Iraqi army should follow through with its victory in Ramadi and place the city under local Sunni leaders’ control. This would be a very good start, and the necessary launch pad for the Iraqi army to regain control over Anbar’s second major city of Fallujah. With Anbar under their control and the crucial support of the Sunni minority, Iraq can then head north and begin targeting Mosul. For this campaign the unity of Iraq as a country will be very important.

Involving the Sunni community in retaking control over all of Iraq would be a nightmare for Iran as it has thrived over sectarian conflicts across the Mesopotamia. Supporting moderate Muslims is the best policy against Iran. It is high time to bring an end to such dreams for Iran and deliver a serious blow to Tehran’s meddling and aspirations in Iraq.

Follow Keyvan on @SalamiKeyvan


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