MESOP TODAY’S OPINION : Counterinsurgency Requires More than Guns: Refocusing on the Political Strategy to Defeat Islamic State in Iraq

 by Nussaibah Younis (POMED) – 22 Jan 2015 – The Obama administration reacted with maturity and restraint to the fall of the major Iraqi city of Mosul to Islamic State (IS) in June 2014. Despite intense pressure to respond with the immediate use of military force, the administration took time to analyze the political realities in Iraq that had made such a catastrophe possible. They concluded that the governance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had become so toxic that supporting his counterinsurgency efforts would risk strengthening support for IS and undermining the coalition against it. American envoys instead engaged in intense diplomatic efforts to bring about a new Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Working with Iraq’s politicians to bring this relatively conciliatory leader to the fore was a huge achievement, but since then progress on the political side of the war against IS has stalled. American strategy now appears to be dominated by the military side of the engagement, through conducting airstrikes and training, supplying, and supporting the Iraqi Security Forces. Although these elements are extremely important, the United States needs to rebalance this military effort with a renewed focus on the crucial political work that must take place in order for IS to be thoroughly defeated in Iraq.


Political counterinsurgency was initially the centerpiece of U.S. efforts against IS, but the political war has been increasingly overshadowed by U.S. military engagement. Although Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has reached out to Iraq’s Sunni community and has begun to address corruption in the military and judiciary, much more needs to be done.

It is widely agreed that a Sunni “National Guard” force must be established to retake and hold territory from IS, but political quagmire in the Iraqi parliament is holding this up. The U.S. should heavily engage in brokering agreements to help the “National Guard” and other concessions to Sunnis through the Iraqi political process. The U.S. could aid this process by addressing the neglect of Shi’a Iraq and arranging a substantial budget transfer to support investment in Southern Iraq. Read full txt: