‘Winning strategy’ achieves little in fight against Islamic State

Coalition of 24 nations against Islamic State puts brave face on divisions in Paris

US deputy secretary of state Antony J Blinken gives a joint press conference following a meeting with foreign affairs members of the anti-Islamic State coalition in Paris on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP Photo/ Stephane De Sakutin

US deputy secretary of state Antony J Blinken gives a joint press conference following a meeting with foreign affairs members of the anti-Islamic State coalition in Paris on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP Photo/ Stephane De Sakutin

 

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Washington continues to insist that the coalition fighting Islamic State is pursuing what US deputy secretary of state Anthony Blinken has called a “winning strategy”.

Blinken spoke yesterday at the end of a conference of 24 countries and organisations that have joined the coalition. It was their third such meeting since last September.

US president Barack Obama called the May 17th fall of Ramadi, the Iraqi city that commands the strategic highway between Iraq, Syria and Jordan, a mere “tactical setback”.

On May 20, IS seized the Syrian town of Palmyra. According to the journalist and former hostage Nicolas Hénin, author of Jihad Academy, IS is poised to conquer Deir ez-Zor, where Bashar al-Assad’s regime has its last oil wells; the coastal city of Lattakia; and the half of Aleppo still held by Assad’s troops.

Until it seized the Iraqi city of Mosul one year ago, the group was little known outside the region. It now holds one-third of Iraq and half of Syria. Its “caliphate” covers 300,000km.

Participants at yesterday’s conference vowed to retake Ramadi quickly. A similar pledge to retake Mosul was never fulfilled.

Washington maintains 3,000 military advisers in Iraq and has carried out 4,100 airstrikes against IS since last August. “This will be a long campaign, but we will succeed if we remain united, determined and focused,” Blinken said.

Divided coalition

In fact, the coalition against IS is deeply divided and suffers from the absence of a coherent strategy.

French officials still reproach Washington for backing down on the threat to bomb Assad’s regime after it used chemical weapons in 2013. Had the West attacked Assad then, Paris believes, the “moderate” Islamist opposition could have defeated Assad. The “Free Syrian Army” were subsequently sidelined by IS and al-Nosra Front, which is part of al-Qaeda.

Washington believes the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi army, which it has spent billions of dollars training, is the fault of Iraq’s last two Shia Muslim prime ministers, who denied Sunnis a role in government and the security forces.

The inhabitants of Sunni regions often tacitly or overtly support IS. The government has refused to allow Sunni refugees from the fighting to enter Baghdad, or to return to their homes in towns such as Tikrit when they were retaken from IS.

The US, France and others maintain the fiction that Iraq and Syria remain nation-states, and that their warring Shia, Sunni, Alawite and Kurdish factions can be brought together. Western governments have utterly failed to address what is in essence a world war between Shia Islam, led by Iran, and Sunni Islam, represented by Saudi Arabia.

After the fall of Ramadi, US defence secretary Ashton Carter complained that Shia Iraqi troops “just showed no will to fight” for the Sunni city. “The fall of Ramadi confirms a reality that the West refuses to accept: the Iraqi army is a myth,” Hénin wrote in Le Monde.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi claims the US has provided inadequate intelligence, air support and weapons. Blinken promised yesterday that the US will supply anti-tank missiles to counter the suicide truck bombs used with deadly effect by IS.

On Monday, a suicide attack on a police base in Anbar province killed at least 45 people. Fifteen Iranian military advisers may have been among the dead, the BBC reported.

Jihadists for IS

Abadi says the rest of the world is at fault for allowing jihadists to travel to Iraq and Syria to join IS. A recent UN report said that 25,000 fighters from 100 countries have done so.

The Iraqi leader said he received commitments at the conference that foreign countries will do more to stop the fighters, and to staunch the trade in petrol and antiquities which IS uses to finance itself.

Iran, which has committed revolutionary guards on the side of the Iraqi army, was not invited to the conference. Some members of the coalition see Iran as an enemy; others believe its support is essential if IS is to be vanquished.