The beginning of the end for ISIS or just wishful thinking?
The United States and Iraq’s prime minister are celebrating the retaking of Ramadi from the Islamic State (ISIS), citing the blow to the jihadists as the beginning of the end of ISIS and the brutal reign of terror the jihadist group imposed on areas under its control.
While Iraqi and US jubilation is understandable it would be wrong — and dangerous — to claim final victory prematurely. It would also be wrong and dangerous for the US military to repeat errors of the past.
Pentagon brass is once again playing the numbers game by counting how many enemy combatants were killed. The US military has the tendency to regard numbers as an indication of success or failure. Yet, as US military involvement in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq has shown, it takes much more than piling up bodies to break an enemy’s resolve.
What Pentagon briefings and morbid mathematics fail to reveal — because it is impossible to forecast such statistics — is the number of jihadi recruits that each enemy death motivates.
In a communiqué following the retaking of Ramadi, US-led forces claim to have killed several ISIS leaders, including individuals linked to the November 13th Paris attacks, in air strikes. A US spokesman called it a double blow to the militant group as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi planted the national flag in Ramadi’s city centre.
A Pentagon spokesman recently stated that, over the previous month, the United States has killed ten ISIS leadership figures, including several external attack planners, with targeted air strikes. The United States attributes its recent success to the fact that ISIS is losing its top leadership but warned that the Islamist terror group has “still got fangs”.
What the Pentagon briefing fails to reveal, however, are the numbers of civilians caught in the bombings — the “collateral damage” as the military refers to civilians caught in crossfire — or yet how many jihadis are recruited as a reaction to allied bombings.
The liberation of Ramadi by the Iraqi Army marks an important step in the rebuilding and restructuring of the military which was disbanded when the United States invaded the country. Victories such as the one in Ramadi are badly needed to give the Iraqi people trust in the new military, particularly in view of the defeats of 2014.
This marks the first major victory against the Sunni Islamists and presented a major risk for Abadi, who gambled by keeping pro-Iranian Shia militia from the fighting.
Final victory in this instance cannot be based purely on battlefield success. If the victories gained on the front lines are intended to be permanent in any way — as they should be, lest the sacrifices of all those who died fighting to overthrow the jihadis would have died in vain — there needs to be more than just military action to regain those lost territories and their inhabitants.
To avoid repeating mistakes of the past, three things need to happen:
First, the United States and the Iraqi government must realise that the only way forward in the Middle East is to ensure that such campaigns as the current one waged against ISIS must be followed up with a comprehensive economic recovery programme that will raise the standard of living for the people of the region.
Second, much emphasis must be given to changing the education system. The “free-lance” madrassas that preach hate and bigotry must adapt to the new government requests or they must be closed.
And third, the concept of national reconciliation must be undertaken and applied. Short of that, there can be no prospects for a lasting peace in the region.