Politics & Policy

Sowing a Civil War

Aftermath of a car-bomb attack in Baghdad, October 12, 2014 (Getty Images)
The Islamic State’s strategy: destroy Iraq by blowing up its fragile political unions

Last year, before its territorial conquests shot it onto the front pages, the Islamic State of Iraq (as it was then called) was laying its groundwork by blowing up Iraqi civilians with car bombs. It was in this rubble of broken lives that the Islamic State was born.

But today, using President Obama’s strategic hesitation and the Iraqi government’s ineptitude, the Islamic State has its black flag flying from Kobani, Syria, down the Euphrates, to just outside Baghdad. Denied assistance, Iraq’s key strategic province of Anbar may soon fall. And if that happens, Iraq’s prime minister will probably make a deal with the Middle East’s other sectarian mafia: Iran.

It gets worse. Now the Islamic State has decided to throw its suicide-bombing cells back into action.

On Saturday, three separate attacks killed 50 civilians in Baghdad. Most of the murdered were targeted for their Shiite religious affiliation. On Sunday, further attacks killed at least 29 members of the Kurdish security forces and Anbar’s police chief. On Friday, the Islamic State also decided to hang police officers from Fallujah overpasses. As I explained yesterday, the Islamic State, via these acts, intends to force Sunnis into quiet acquiescence to its rule.

None of this is surprising. It’s just the Islamic State’s evolving strategy. Aware that Iraq’s elite military units protect Baghdad, the Islamic State knows it won’t be able to capture the city. Instead, the group is pursuing a classic urban terrorist campaign: controlling the periphery and destabilizing the center.

In the Islamic State’s case, “the center” is Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurdish and Shiite heartlands. Using its territory as a launch pad for attacks, the Islamic State wants to fracture the tenuous political unions between Iraq’s various political sects. Just as the Islamic State’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, tried to destroy Iraq by defining Sunni-vs.-Shiite identity politics within sectarian bloodletting, the Islamic State hopes to do the same. Correspondingly, in the days ahead, we should expect sustained Islamic State attacks against Shiite civilians and their religious institutions and leaders. That’s because, while the Islamic State claims to defend Sunni interests, it desperately wants Shiite terrorist groups (also brutal murderers) to respond to its atrocities with their own. Then, it hopes, Iraq’s cross-sectarian democracy will burn in a maelstrom of civil war.

Regardless, the Islamic State’s advance puts the U.S. coalition in a very bad place. As I noted last week, the U.S. military can barely contain its frustration with President Obama’s patently defective strategy. General Dempsey’s latest comments on ground forces prove he knows that the Islamic State won’t be defeated by the present reliance on air power alone.

Still, absent the president’s acceptance of this reality, the Islamic State will continue its push toward catastrophe. Led by a psychopath, defined by massacres and sexual slavery, and driven to purge the world of individual freedom, these zealots will not rest until they are dead or victorious.

With urgent expediency, America must narrow their options to the former.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and a contributor to The McLaughlin Group. He holds the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute, is based in Washington, D.C., and tweets @TomRtweets.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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