About three months into the start of military operations in Iraq and Syria by the United States and the allied countries against Daaesh or the Islamic State, the U.S. administration started to show more interest in the Iraqi front, despite the continuation of airstrikes on the Islamic State group’s strongholds in Syria.
There are a number of factors which push the Obama administration into believing that the chances of winning the war in Iraq are greater than the chances of winning the war in Syria. At the forefront of these factors is the presence of a central government which the U.S. can work with to accomplish the mission, in addition to the preparedness of some Sunni tribes to cooperate with the U.S. and the Iraq to fight the Islamic State group in its regions, along with the pesh merga forces, which are considered the United States’ main ally.
The latest plans announced by the White House clearly reveal that the U.S. administration has a complete vision of “how-to” defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq, but a minimum vision on how to accomplish the same target in Syria is nonexistent.
The White House announced on Nov. 7 that the U.S. president has ordered the deployment of around 1,500 additional military troops in Iraq, in order to train the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. The administration will also ask Congress to allocate around $5 billion for operations in Iraq and Syria. But when the aspects of spending are examined, it is clear that most of it will be spent on training the Iraqi army battalions; for the sake of this mission, training centers will be established in many areas in Iraq, including al-Anbar, in order to aid “Iraqi capabilities and capacity building.”
It should be kept in mind that the main and first target of U.S. military intervention was the preventing Iraq from falling into the hands of the Islamic State group. The U.S. administration didn’t think of launching any military operations in Syria. After the Islamic State group’s swift progress in northern and central Iraq, and their fighters’ control over the city of Mosul, in addition to threatening Kurdish areas, the U.S. administration made a decision — if a hasty one — to intervene through airstrikes and the aid of boots on the ground to stop the Islamic State group’s progress toward the Kurdistan region from one side and Baghdad from the other. However, it had been clear to the U.S. that victory cannot be achieved over the Islamic State group in Iraq without forwarding a blow to its rear bases in Riqa and Deir al-Zoor; before the emergence of Kobani as an urgent challenge.
In this sense, Syria is just a secondary target, not a main target in the war against the Islamic State group. The strategic objective is mainly Iraq, because the fall of Iraq would have necessarily meant the failure of the policy pursued by the Obama administration toward a country occupied and toppled by U.S. forces, which departed from the country 10 years later leaving it in a pitiful state. The main reason making Syria a secondary target in the war is the absence of serious allies on the ground; the moderate Syrian opposition is weak and torn. The militant organizations, which no one can work with, and the regime of Bashar al-Assad, from which Washington removed the cover of legitimacy around two years ago, have the upper hand.
But despite there being “winning the war in Iraq” factors, success is not certain and is engulfed with dangers. Military action alone will not be enough if not accompanied by an internal political approach, which falls under the responsibility of Haider al-Abadi’s government. The latter is committed to building an Iraqi national consensus, assimilating the Sunnis in the political process and looking into an assortment of demands put forward by the tribes’ leaders; but up to now he hasn’t taken the steps required to transform the national consensus into a plausible reality in Iraq. Success in Iraq, even if possible, requires years of work. As for Syria, it is most likely that international forces will leave it to face an unknown destiny.