Home to hundreds of thousands, the Iraqi city of Ramadi may soon fall to the Islamic State.
Not wanting to become minions of the death state that is ISIS, families are trying to escape their homes and flee the capital of the country’s vast Anbar province. Tribal leaders and government officials warn that the situation is truly dire.
Still, Ramadi’s looming collapse has long been predictable. After all, it’s not exactly a secret that ISIS wants to control the arterial roads that connect central Syria with central Iraq (if you want to see the strategic importance of those highways, just look on Google maps). Neither is it a secret that ISIS wants to dominate the Euphrates river from northern Syria into central Iraq. Or that it wants to dismember the governance structures in Anbar province. Its strategy is vested in the domination of territory and the appropriation of Sunni populations under its banner.
The simple fact is that if Ramadi collapses, the Islamic State will symbolically and physically crown itself the ruler of Anbar. Propaganda being central to its strategic narrative — that which it uses to gain resources and recruits — the seizure of Ramadi would be an extraordinary victory. It would also be an extraordinary defeat for the struggling Iraqi government. Without Ramadi, the Iraqi government’s legitimacy as a counter-balancing force against the Islamic State would be annihilated. For months, the Sunni tribes in Anbar have been pursuing tentative relationships with the central government in Baghdad.
The problem here is that trust between the tribes in Baghdad is, to put it mildly, weak. Were Ramadi to fall, any confidence in the Iraqi government’s credibility as an ally would dissipate. Such a development would give the Islamic State another avenue through which to either co-opt or further destabilize the tribes. Most catastrophically, the Islamic State’s domination of Ramadi would restrain perceivable Sunni resistance to ISIS. The city’s fall would thus encourage the ultimatum that ISIS seeks to give Sunni citizens: Either join us or yield to Shia militias and Army of Iran.
#related#Again, this politicization of sectarianism is at the heart of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. With Iran transforming Iraq into Ayatollah Khamenei’s newest province, and elements of the Iraqi security forces de-legitimizing their credibility in Sunni towns — by abuses, looting, etc. — Iraq’s government has little credibility with its Sunni citizens. This is toxic. Wiping out the opportunities for cross-sectarian consensus (for which there is potential), the Islamic State is empowered and Iraq’s collapse into civil war becomes ever more likely.
It is for these reasons that the administration’s downplaying of Ramadi’s significance is so galling. While General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has long been advising President Obama for more comprehensive action against the Islamic State, he’s wrong to suggest that Ramadi isn’t that important. It most certainly is. We should have been supporting (as I explained here) the Anbar tribes with military support and political empowerment for months now.
But there’s also an American moral issue at stake here. A better future for Ramadi — that which it had before the Islamic State’s rise — was built with American sweat and blood. It was in Anbar that Marines fought so valiantly and so successfully to win the Sunni tribes to their side, and together crush al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Instead, today, Ramadi is a miserable result of our failing strategy.
— Tom Rogan is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and holds the Tony Blankley chair at the Steamboat Institute.