We will, we will Raqqa
Though much hard fighting remains the Battle for Mosul is drawing to a close. After an extended period of bombardment, encirclement and painful reduction the last ISIS diehards are now compressed into an ever shrinking pocket by converging coalition armies. Each night as the noose tightens ever closer around their dwindling subterranean redoubts the airwaves come to life with voices of tomorrow's suicide bombers laughingly proclaiming their departure for paradise. Suicide among the doomed is less a choice than an attempt to go out in style.
But just as the fall of Berlin in 1945 was immediately succeeded by a new Cold War between the victors, analysts are worried that the fall of Mosul will mark not only the end of ISIS on Iraqi territory but also the demise of the coalition which expelled them. "Every major faction involved in fighting ISIS has its own priorities and conflicting goals. The former Sunni governor of Ninewa—the province of which Mosul is part—wants to make it an Arab Sunni enclave. The Kurds—which are divided against each other—have their own ambitions and talk about independence. The Iraqi Army remains weak and uncertain, and the police are all too ineffective and divided along sectarian and tribal lines. Some of the Shi’ite militias have mistreated Sunni Arab civilians in past operations and are extremists in their own right."
The fall of Mosul may raise the curtain on a new struggle over the future of Iraq. It will not settle the fate of ISIS since large part of their remaining territory including its capital of Raqqa lies across the border in Syria. There is no way to march on Raqqa unless the coalition of Kurds, Turks, Shi'ite militias and Iraqi government forces -- or yet another proxy force -- crosses the frontier in pursuit after them. That could be a problem. As Benny Avni noted in the New York Post, sending an army into Syria could potentially put America in conflict with Russia.
In Iraq, for now, the United States is mostly drawing on the existing strategy left behind by President Barack Obama, which is finally showing some good results: There’ll be more blood, but ISIS will soon be out of Mosul ... but Trump’s promise was more ambitious, and since the election he instructed the Pentagon to draw new plans to “totally obliterate ISIS.”
And to do that, a deeper US involvement in Syria is needed. As long as the self-declared Islamic State controls Raqqa, Syria, its capital, declaring victory over the terrorist group will sound hollow.
And beating ISIS in Syria’s a bit more complicated, diplomatically and strategically, than doing so in Iraq.
Obama’s refusal to enforce his infamous Syrian “red line” in effect announced the United States would sit out the half-decade civil war there. Others rushed in to fill the vacuum.
Start with Russia. Obama’s balk made President Vladimir Putin Syria’s kingmaker. Russia became our supposed “partner” in the war on terror, and took the lead in the Syrian theater, even though defeating ISIS never really was the Kremlin’s top goal.