5 Key Implications if Baghdad Falls to ISIS
3) What of U.S. personnel in Iraq?
The US Embassy in Baghdad is the largest embassy on the planet. And after Obama sent 350 more U.S. military personnel to guard the U.S. Embassy last month, there are now more than 1,100 US service members in Baghdad protecting the embassy and the airport. That doesn't include embassy personnel, American aid workers, and reporters also in Baghdad. ISIS doesn't have to capture the airport to prevent flights from taking off there (remember Hamas rockets from Gaza prompting the temporary closure of Israel's Ben Gurion Airport this past summer). If flights can't get out of Baghdad, how will the State Department and Pentagon evacuate U.S. personnel? An image like the last helicopter out of Saigon would be of considerable propaganda value to ISIS and other jihadist groups. Former CNN reporter Peter Arnett, who witnessed the fall of Saigon in April 1975, raised this possibility back in June. It's not like the U.S. has prestige to spare internationally, and the fall of Baghdad will mark the beginning of the end of American influence in the Middle East, much like the case in Southest Asia in 1975.
4) If ISIS captures Baghdad, it will be with weapons provided by the U.S. to the Iraqi army and "vetted moderate" Syrian rebel groups
Since their push back into Iraq this summer, ISIS has regularly paraded captured weapons and vehicles that have been provided by the U.S. to the Iraqi army, which rapidly collapsed in the face of the ISIS advance. ISIS has subsequently used these U.S.-provided weapons to repel attacks by Iraqi forces. A report published last month by the UK-based Conflict Armament Research documented the use of U.S.-provided Humvees, armored personnel carriers, and firearms by ISIS. In addition, ISIS has at least 52 U.S.-made M198 howitzers with GPS aiming systems that have a 20 mile range that will undoubtedly be used in their assault on Baghdad. Yesterday, Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute tweeted out recent images of ISIS fighters equipped with M79 Osa anti-tank weapons that had been provided by Saudi Arabia to the "vetted moderate" Free Syrian Army. The potential propaganda value of ISIS capturing Baghdad with U.S. weapons will be enormous.