On Dec. 9, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. is willing to assist the Iraqi army with more personnel and attack helicopters to help it fight Islamic State militants, especially in the battle to retake a key city in Iraq.
In recent days, Iraqi forces have advanced on Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province. Islamic State fighters captured the city in May in a major setback for Iraqi troops.
«The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi army with additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers», Carter said. He predicted tough fighting ahead.
By the end of November, two senior senators called on Washington to nearly triple military force levels in Iraq to 10,000 and send an equal number of troops to Syria as part of a multinational ground force to counter Islamic State in both countries. Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham criticized Barack Obama’s strategy, which relies on airstrikes and modest support to local ground forces in Iraq and Syria, and said there was a need for greater US involvement.
On Nov. 29, McCain and Graham told reporters during a visit to Baghdad that US personnel could provide logistical and intelligence support to a proposed 100,000-strong force from Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The senators stressed that removing Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, was key to getting Arab Sunni states to back the proposed ground force.
President Obama last month ordered the deployment of dozens of special operations troops to northern Syria to advise opposition forces in their fight against Islamic State, adding to an increasingly volatile conflict in Syria.
On December 10, Iraq Press Agency quoted politician Hanan Al Faltawi as saying around 100,000 foreign military, including 90,000 from Arab countries, may be deployed to Iraq to fight against the Islamic State. She said the information was received from reliable sources after talks between US Senator John McCain and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The meeting took place on November 27 in the joint American-Iraqi operational headquarters in Baghdad that coordinates military actions against Islamic State. «Foreign forces of 100,000 - 90,000 from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan and 10,000 from the United States - will be stationed in Iraq’s western parts», Al Fatlawi noted.
The politician added that «the Iraqi Prime Minister openly expressed bewilderment over McCain’s statement but was told that everything had already been decided. Mr. McCain heads the Senate Armed Forces Committee, he knows what he is talking about.
In late November, John Bolton, a diplomat who has serves in several Republican administrations and former US ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an article that it is time to transform the Obama’s «ineffective efforts into a vigorous military campaign to destroy the Islamic State».
«We need a clear view, shared with NATO allies and others, about what will replace it. It is critical to resolve this issue before considering any operational plans. This «Sunnistan» has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiation with the Kurds, to be sure), and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states, who should by now have learned the risk to their own security of funding Islamist extremism, could provide significant financing. And Turkey — still a NATO ally, don’t forget — would enjoy greater stability on its southern border, making the existence of a new state at least tolerable», Bolton wrote. He also added that «The functional independence of Kurdistan reinforces this approach».
The Bolton’s views dovetail with what General Raymond Odierno, former Chief of-Staff, US Army, said this August. He did not mince words saying the partition of Iraq into separate administrative regions «might be the only solution» to the country’s crisis, although the outgoing US Army Chief of Staff was careful to soften his position.
«Partition is something that could happen and might be the only solution, but I am not ready to say that», he said.
According to Odierno, if no progress made in the coming months, the US should consider embedding US troops as direct advisors with Iraqi units. «If we find in the next several months we’re not making the progress that we have, we should probably absolutely consider embedding some soldiers and see if that will make a difference», said the General, who was commander of US troops in Iraq from 2008 to 2010. He suggested a partition of Iraq «is something that could happen», adding it «might be the only solution, but I'm not ready to say that yet».
Turkish and US troops are in Iraq. An international military operation is in works. The idea of «Sunnistan» is floated. At that, the leading actors are not paying much attention on what the Iraqi government has to say. Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has said on a number of occasions he has not invited foreign troops to make their presence on Iraqi territory legal. Will Iraqi Shia forces keep silent? On December 1, a powerful Iraqi Shiite Muslim armed groups rejected and pledged to fight any deployment of U.S. forces to the country. «We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq», said Jafaar Hussaini, a spokesman for one of the groups, Kata’ib Hezbollah. «Any such American force will become a primary target for our group. We fought them before and we are ready to resume fighting». Spokesmen for the Iranian-backed Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq made similar statements, expressing their distrust of American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the subsequent occupation.
The operation in Iraq is being prepared as fierce fight is escalating in the neighboring Syria. The US-led coalition and Russia-Syria-Iran coalition still have a long way to go to effectively coordinate their efforts and define aims of the missions. It all makes the Middle East a very busy place. Without coordination of efforts and respect for the UN decisions and what legitimate governments say, the actors walk a tight rope running the risk of getting mired in a quagmire of perpetual conflict without prospects for settlement in sight.