BY ADEYEMI OSHUNRINADE
September 17, 2014
President Obama’s top military adviser signaled on Tuesday that he would recommend boots on the ground against ISIS in Iraq if airstrikes proved insufficient, a view many believed would expand America’s role beyond what the President is willing to commit. Gen. Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that though, he believed a U.S. led coalition would defeat ISIS, he would leave open the possibility of asking the President to engage U.S. forces against ISIS in Iraq.
The latest developments have outraged some members of Congress and anti-war groups that have long said the U.S. must desist from involving American boots in Syria and Iraq. Nationwide opinion polls revealed that majority of Americans are against having American forces on the ground in Iraq, the reason for the strong opposition is the war in Iraq and Afghanistan that led to deaths of more than 6,344 American soldiers, with many traumatized and families devastated and unable to recover from the effects of both wars.
Emergence of ISIS and failure of the Iraqi government to hold the country together after a decade of U.S. investment and boots on the ground is making some members of Congress skeptical and unconvinced that sending U.S. forces to the trouble region for the second time would do the job. There are reasons to believe engaging U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq will not only lead to deaths of American soldiers and more body bags, such move will also drag the U.S. into unnecessary and unwinnable war.
Any decision by the United States to use boots on the ground in Iraq will elevate ISIS and make it a more powerful group globally. The terror group had often said it would rather engage American forces on the ground than be threatened with drones and airstrikes. Involvement of U.S. forces on the ground, would give ISIS the leverage to recruit and afford it undeserved recognition among jihadists, who have long waited for the opportunity to engage in face to face combat with American soldiers.
The moment American forces enter Iraq ISIS will melt away but return to engage U.S. forces in urban warfare. Urban combat is different from combat in the open at both operational and tactical level. Complicating factors would be deaths of civilians and difficulty of the urban terrain, which could make the war difficult for the U.S. to win. ISIS members will mix with civilians and turn public opinion against the U.S. when civilians begin to die.
If U.S. forces are successful in degrading ISIS in a ground combat, remnants of the group will create havoc in Iraqi cities. Daily suicide bombs and IED attacks will return and once again the U.S. must pick the pieces and begin a new process of peacemaking and rebuilding Iraq. Civilian deaths will increase and Arab/ISIS sympathizers will blame U.S. forces for returning to Iraq after a decade of what many in the region considered a war of opportunity that only achieved the removal of a dictator but left a troubled and devastated nation.
Besides foreign recruits of the Islāmic State, majority of those fighting for ISIS are Sunnis. Sunni belief is that leadership is a birthright, the notion that Sunnis must rule throughout the Middle East a reason Sunnis in Iraq refused to accept a Shiite control. Any American involvement would be considered war against Sunnis since many in the religious sect believed the Shiite led government in Iraq was part of U.S. conspiracy to give control to Shiites after deposing Saddam, a Sunni. The result would be a Sunni uprising not only in Iraq but all over the Middle East, recruits will follow and a new wave of jihadists will emerge in Iraq.
No room for change
Return of American boots to Iraq will leave no room for change. A decade of presence in Iraq did not achieve anticipated change and it is unlikely a return would transform the nation. There is a power struggle in Iraq and current crisis has its roots in the political structure left after U.S. forces withdrew in 2012. Maliki established a non-inclusive Shiite led government and ignored calls by the Obama administration to share power with other groups. The fact is, American forces cannot stay in perpetuity and leaving a residual force after U.S. withdrawal would not have achieved peace as long as sectarian divide exists in Iraq.
The United States must not make this a unilateral war on ISIS. Move by the Obama administration to seek global support is a step in the right direction. ISIS is a global threat and must be dealt with by a global consensus. Any counterterrorism approach must include Arab nations to remove perception of the West versus Arabs or war against Islam.
To avoid dragging the U.S. into unwinnable war, the Obama administration with cooperation of other nations must use airstrikes to degrade ISIS. America has the most advanced technology and precision weapons of war that could target ISIS and limit civilian casualties, using such and resources from interested nations would prove more effective than U.S. forces on the ground.
Arab Ground Forces
Airstrikes alone will not do the job without ground forces to help direct the operation. Instead of U.S. forces, Iraqi forces and troops from other Arab nations must take the fight to ISIS, while foreign forces conduct airstrikes from the sky. Arab forces will likely gain support and have the legitimacy a foreign force won’t have, since they understand the language and terrain and share same religious beliefs with the people. America must not commit ground troops in Syria, support the opposition to fight ISIS and then, begin a process to peacefully depose Assad.
A successful counterterrorism strategy in Iraq will not bring peace without a power sharing government and a new political structure. Ending ISIS threat in Syria and Iraq is a long shot achievable through global coöperation and establishment of the right political apparatus in the Middle East. The world must find a way to peacefully remove Assad without angering Russia and Iran, and then, begin a process of bridging the sectarian divide in Iraq through a government that equally includes Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment,’ ‘Criminal Law-Homicide’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ available at http://www.amazon.com/author/adeyemioshunrinade. Follow on Twitter @san0670.