MESOP : ISIS MOVING FORWARD – ISIS likely to attack Baghdad before end of Ramadan

22.07.2014 – Laura Kokotailo – BasNews, Washington – Baghdad is under a real and impending threat from forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and it would be wise to expect an assault on the capital city before the end of Ramadan, said Jessica Lewis, a former American military intelligence officer with several years of service in Iraq. She also predicted the continued aggression of ISIS both within Iraq and externally, arguing that ISIS poses a real threat to Jordan, Lebanon and other states in the region and is not limited to Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has been on the offensive since its takeover of Mosul on June 10th, claiming a number of other cities such as Tikrit since then. The US has countered these offensive gestures by sending 700 military advisers, several Apache attack helicopters, and drones to Iraq. The Iraqi army has recently embarked on a counter-offensive in Tikrit and Samarra.

With regard to Baghdad, Lewis said, “I think ISIS is going to go for bases. There are 3 bases that I think are vulnerable…On the northern side of Baghdad we have Balad and Taji, on the immediate southwest of Baghdad we have the international airport.” The US has thus far used the Baghdad Airport as a main lifeline to supply the Iraqi government with military equipment. Lewis added that she expected ISIS to target places that “represent the seat of government in Baghdad”, especially the Green Zone.

A substantial ISIS force is “in reserve” near Baghdad, said Lewis, and it has not yet seen combat. The presence of this force signals that the terrorist group has plans to attack the capital that have not yet taken place. Thus, we have not yet seen the culmination of ISIS’s offensive. Moreover, ISIS is no longer just another terrorist group. It is now more accurate to think of it as an army. “This organization is capable of guerilla style warfare and conventional warfare. Having that range means that they can prosecute hybridized warfare,” Lewis argued at an event focused on the threat of ISIS, organized by the Institute for the Study of War in Washington last Friday.

ISIS’s versatility makes it seem invincible and it will be difficult to develop a coherent counterstrategy against the group. However, Lewis said that the US could begin to think about what to do in order to prevent further expansion by paying attention to vulnerabilities within the organization. These include a potential for leadership cleavages and a need for internal and external lines of communication.Lt. Gen. James Dubik, Senior Fellow at ISW, speaking at the same event, addressed what the US can do to implement a counterstrategy. He advocated for further US assistance to the weakened Iraqi security forces, as well as the establishment of new partnerships in Iraq with Sunni tribes and the Kurdish Peshmerga army.He presented his strategy in four parts: “The first is to assist the Iraqi special operations forces, which are pretty capable still, in conducting direct action raids against ISIS networks, facilities and personnel. Second, our objective should be assisting Iraqi security forces, primarily Iraqi army and federal police, in planning and executing counter-offensives to reestablish the Iraqi border. Third, we must protect and sustain US personnel. Last, we should support Iraqis who are resisting and want to resist ISIS control.”

A balanced approach in which the US supports all factions in Iraq is the best way to not only defeat ISIS, but also ensure long-term stability in Iraq, avoiding further sectarian conflict, said Dubik. He not only expressed his support for providing assistance to Sunni tribal leaders, but also insisted that a strategy in Iraq would be incomplete if it did not assist the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, acknowledging their strength and regional influence.

Ultimately, the biggest interests of the US at stake at the moment are: to stop ISIS from solidifying, to prevent Iraq from becoming a “client state of Iran”, and to help Iraq create a more stable political system, said Dubik. “This effort has to be within the context of a determined diplomatic engagement.”