The fall of Ramadi has proven that the Islamic State is evolving, and has adopted a level of tactical awareness that led to them outmaneuvering Iraqi government forces. Moreover, the sectarian division between Shiite and Sunni Iraqis continues to plague the government’s efforts in mobilizing the country against ISIS. More disconcertingly, we now know, or at least the Obama administration should realize, that airstrikes aren’t working. ISIS has learned to evade detection, both in the real world and in the digital realm when it comes to launching their offensives (via WSJ):
Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq. The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge.
The group also churned out dozens of formidable new weapons by converting captured U.S. military armored vehicles designed to be impervious to small-arms fire into megabombs with payloads equal to the force of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Over the three-day surge in Ramadi, Islamic State fighters launched at least 27 such vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or Vbieds, that destroyed Iraq security forces’ defensive perimeters and crumbled multistory buildings.
Military analysts said the new formidable weapon was the latest development showing how the group appears to be learning from battlefield defeats like the one in Kobani, Syria, last summer in pursuit of its goal to control the Sunni-majority areas of Syria and Iraq.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Defense of Democracies think tank and managing editor of the Long War Journal, which chronicles the U.S. war on terror. “These guys are showing a good degree of tactical awareness.”
As for the incorporating Sunnis into their defense strategy, the Ramadi fiasco has seemingly torpedoed that effort. Many Sunnis have been politically isolated by the Shiite majority, their representatives in government virtually have no influence, and their displacement is creating a humanitarian crisis, as reported by the New York Times:
The government’s effort to foster Sunni fighters, always a seemingly halfhearted program, now feels almost incidental as thousands of Shiite militiamen flood into Anbar to take up the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
A ceremony for a group of Sunni tribal fighters stationed at a base in Habbaniya, a lakeside town in Anbar, to receive new American-supplied weapons had been scheduled for Monday but was canceled because of the Ramadi crisis. Instead, nearly 3,000 Shiite militiamen arrived at the outpost.
The collapse of Anbar has also set in sharp relief the continuing tragedy of Iraq’s Sunnis, beginning with the American invasion in 2003, which almost instantly upended the old social order of Sunni prominence. With the majority Shiites thrust into power, the Sunnis were sidelined, many banished from public life for good because of their ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
Some of those Sunnis joined the insurgency, and many fight today for the Islamic State. Other Sunnis boycotted elections. A great number even deny the demographic fact that they are a minority in Iraq.
Most, though, wanted to get on with their lives and find a place within the new order.
Now, with the rise of the Islamic State, that has become nearly impossible. The Sunni militants of the Islamic State have declared war on those they consider apostates — Shiites, Christians, Yazidis — but it is Iraq’s Sunni Arabs who have arguably suffered the most.
The failure of Mr. Abadi to marshal a Sunni-led force to save the city has deepened the grievances of some Sunnis toward the central government that began with the leadership of the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
“Abadi is a liar just like Maliki,” said Subhi al-Khaliani, a retiree in Diyala Province. “He won’t arm the Sunnis, but will weaken them instead.”
Nearly three million Iraqis are now displaced, according to the United Nations, a level not seen since the height of Iraq’s sectarian civil war in 2006 and 2007. Then, many Iraqis fled to Syria. But with Syria convulsed by its own civil war, Iraqis on the run from the Islamic State have few safe places to go. Nearly 85 percent of the displaced are Sunnis, according to a United Nations official.
The displacement crisis has been made worse by Iraq’s sectarian divisions. Civilians fleeing Anbar have often been treated almost as foreign citizens when they arrive at the gates of Baghdad. Many are denied entry, especially young men, because the government considers them a security threat. After an influx of Ramadi residents several weeks ago, several car bombs struck Baghdad — a common occurrence at any time — and government officials blamed the displaced people.
The Sunni leaders who have remained in Baghdad are openly mocked as “Green Zone politicians,” with only a tenuous connection to any constituency and little influence that extends beyond their offices and homes in the fortified government center of the capital.
So, it’s a mess, and one that will likely fester into the 2016 election season. We know the airstrikes aren’t working. Building a Sunni-Shiite coalition to defend the rest of the country against ISIS’ advances is not feasible at present. If a significant part of the population does not view the government as legitimate, which is one of the reasons why the 2007 Surge worked, then the United States and her allies will have to look for other solutions to curb the rise of ISIS in Iraq. It may take ground troops; 57 percent of Americans supported the use of American troops on the ground to fight ISIS in a CBS News poll in February. It should at least be put on the table, or considered to be an option of last resort.
Oh, and as for ISIS’ finances, they’re pretty solid. They keep their operations lean and mean; oil isn’t their primary source of revenue; and the terrorist organization “invests in people, not infrastructure.” The Times noted that the reason for this is because ISIS knows such projects will be targeted, and territory they hold today could be lost tomorrow. Hence, why their biggest expenditure is salaries. ISIS is an evolving creature, and it’s quite terrifying. We're certainly not dealing with the JV team.