U.S. and Iraq take the fight to ISIS in Mosul
Iraqi government forces and Kurdish fighters encountered often-fierce resistance as they pushed toward the ISIS-held city of Mosul this week, following the launch of a long-awaited offensive to retake the jihadist group’s last major stronghold in the country. ISIS seized Mosul in a lightning attack in June 2014, when 1,500 of its fighters overwhelmed 20,000 Iraqi soldiers. (See Briefing.) In the wake of that defeat, the Pentagon helped retrain and rebuild the country’s military into a credible fighting force, and U.S.-led coalition air strikes and ground attacks by Iraqi troops and paramilitary fighters have slowly rolled back ISIS’s self-declared caliphate. The group today controls about 10 percent of Iraq, down from 40 percent in 2014. Backed by American warplanes and U.S. special operations advisers, more than 30,000 Iraqi government troops and assorted allies are now moving toward Sunni-majority Mosul. “The time has come for the greatest victory,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
As coalition forces cleared ISIS-held villages outside Mosul, they were hit with small-arms fire, mortar rounds, IEDs, and suicide truck bombs. The offensive is expected to reach Mosul—where there are some 5,000 ISIS fighters among the 1 million remaining residents— by early November. “It’s going to be a tough fight and a difficult fight,” President Obama said. “But my expectation is that ultimately it will be successful.”
What the columnists said
America “has a second chance to do the right thing in Iraq,” said David French in NationalReview.com. The country unraveled after Obama foolishly pulled out our troops in 2011, and ISIS took advantage of the chaos. Now the extremist group has almost been eliminated from Iraq, but America’s role won’t end with a military victory in Mosul. We’ll need to keep sufficient forces on the ground to not only guard against a jihadist counterattack but also “limit Iranian influence and help mediate the country’s unceasing sectarian rivalries.”
Still, the burden is on Baghdad, said Max Boot in CommentaryMagazine.com. If the Shiitedominated government there “cannot forge a lasting peace that meets the basic needs of the Sunni minority,” then another Sunni terrorist group will simply replace ISIS. Recall that after the 2011 withdrawal, then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursued a pro-Iranian, pro-Shiite agenda, which led oppressed Sunnis to welcome ISIS as an apparent champion. Maliki is out of office, but because he and other hard-line Shiite politicians remain influential, there is “a risk of history repeating itself.”
ISIS’s end times “are upon it,” said Joshua Keating in Slate.com. It’s fast losing ground in Iraq and recently lost the northern Syrian village of Dabiq—which plays a key role in the group’s apocalyptic ideology—to Western-backed rebels. But ISIS won’t disappear in defeat. Already, the group’s propaganda suggests it’s transitioning from a “pseudo-state to a more traditional terrorist network,” and it is likely to lash out against the West. Obama famously declared ISIS to be “contained” in November 2015, the day before ISIS-led terrorists went on a rampage in Paris, killing 130 people. “He, or his successor, shouldn’t make the same mistake once Mosul finally falls.”