Mid East Matters Online
After Mosul, Raqqa will fall surely and with it many other pockets of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. This is a blessed piece of good news for the Middle East region that has been under a black cloud of terror and horror since the city of Mosul was first invaded almost 3 years ago day-for-day, by the hordes of Islamic radicals brandishing their black flags and black beards and destroying all signs of civility and civilization in a war-torn Iraq.
We will hear countless tails of heroism by the Shia militias and Iran for a battle that was truly won by the Iraqi Army, supported by US air and superior firepower, and assisted by the Kurds. But in the Middle East, like sometimes on Wall Street, those who rush to claim credit for a deal on which they have labored albeit marginally, tend to cling on to the idea, and spread it too, that they were the true fathers of such success. However, the ‘bonus pool’ so to speak in 2017 Iraq might be differently allocated now that a Trump administration is in place, and with it, an assertive Iraqi Prime Minister who revels in an image of a national (not only Shia) leader, and who is not –so far- branded as an Iranian puppet. Let’s hope he lasts that way.
What may be different this time around from the disastrous and failed policies of the Obama admiration is the so-called gang of ‘adults’ of the Trump administration. The new National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. HR McMaster has actually fought in Iraq and is an expert in counter-insurgency. He is also very wary of the expansionist drive of Iran in Middle Eastern affairs and especially in Iraq. In a WJS article, Lt. Gen. McMaster was critical of the roles of Russia and Iran. He is expected to be more surgical than tactical in his advice to the President on how to solidify the Iraqi Army, unify the country and tribal structures, and eliminate any loopholes that could give Iran a false sense of victory. Lt. Gen MacMaster, at a talk delivered at Policy Exchange earlier in the year, emphasized the ‘forward positioning of forces’ because ‘deterrence by denial is what is effective’. Someone should translate that in Farsi ASAP. The Secretary of Defense John Mattis’ animosity towards Iran is so intense that it led former Pres. Obama to replace him from Centcom. He is a Marine, and as it has been said in many circles, the US Marines are the closest thing to a military tribe. The Marines –and Mattis chief among them- holds a grudge against Iran since the bombing of the Marines’ barracks in Beirut in 1983. In 2012, he repeated that the three greatest threats facing the US were ‘Iran, Iran, and Iran’. Quite an obsession some would say, others would argue for a legitimate enmity. Mattis has linked Iran to the rise of ISIS. “I consider ISIS nothing more than an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief,” he said. “Iran is not an enemy of ISIS; they have a lot to gain from the turmoil that ISIS creates.” To make my point shorter and crispier when evoking the third adult in the current administration, Secretary Tillerson, when responding to a question from a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the U.S. position regarding regime change in Iran, said, “Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.”
Could such collective thinking form the future US policy in the Middle East especially as it relates to ISIS and Iran? Time will tell, but one should remain hopeful that it will.
Raqqa will fall next, and as a result, ISIS will be denied a physical territory of its own. That is ‘actual’ ISIS whereas ‘virtual’ ISIS, the one that lives in the hearts and minds of thousands of followers, those sleeper and non-sleeper cells, in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Asia and elsewhere,