Progress slow, but Obama still bet­ting on Iraq ‘awak­en­ing’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­mits its push for a “Sunni Awak­en­ing 2.0” to break the Is­lamic State’s grip on Iraq’s western An­bar prov­ince has gone more slowly than hoped, but of­fi­cials say they’re not giv­ing up on the ef­fort.

Crit­ics say the strat­egy so far hasn’t come close to repli­cat­ing the suc­cess of the first awak­en­ing, which roughly co­in­cided with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s “surge” in early 2007.

Un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, there were no U.S. com­bat troops bol­ster­ing the cur­rent drive, while many tribal lead­ers key to the first awak­en­ing were as­sas­si­nated when the Amer­i­can forces left Iraq be­tween 2008 and 2011.

“It has been a very slow and painful process, and ev­ery­body would like to see this move more quickly,” one U.S. of­fi­cial in­volved in the cur­rent ef­fort ac­knowl­edged Tues­day. “But we’re also re­al­is­tic about it — we knew this was go­ing to be a mul­ti­year cam­paign when we started it.”

U.S. of­fi­cials say the An­bar cam­paign is more fo­cused on try­ing to es­tab­lish a long-term Sunni tribal force that is paid by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and can hold ter­ri­tory once it is fi­nally seized back from the ex­trem­ists.

But there is no clear in­di­ca­tion of when that might be, leav­ing some to won­der whether the over­all “Awak­en­ing 2.0” strat­egy has fallen so flat over the past year that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ef­fec­tively aban­doned it.

While the Pen­tagon claims “thou­sands” of Sunni tribal fight­ers have come on­line and are now op­er­at­ing in con­cert with Iraqi gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity forces, the goal of lur­ing An­bar’s sheiks into a new “awak­en­ing” may well have been doomed from the start.

The Is­lamic State “sur­gi­cally killed nearly all of the awak­en­ing’s key lead­ers,” said Craig White­side, a for­mer U.S. Army of­fi­cer who worked with tribes in An­bar dur­ing the mid-2000s and now teaches at the U.S. Naval War Col­lege in Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia.

Op­er­a­tives from the Is­lamic State in Iraq, also known as ISIS and ISIL, “col­lected in­tel­li­gence on the tribes in An­bar, fig­ured out who was hold­ing the awak­en­ing to­gether and then mur­dered them,” Mr. White­side said in an in­ter­view.

Mr. White­side said his re­search found that Is­lamic State op­er­a­tives killed some 1,345 awak­en­ing mem­bers and lead­ers be­tween 2009 and 2014.

“I’m guess­ing we fig­ured out pretty quickly that the Is­lamic State had been tak­ing steady mea­sures since 2008 to in­oc­u­late against this ‘redo the awak­en­ing’ strat­egy,” he said. “In a per­fect world, the Sun­nis would prob­a­bly say, ‘Yes, we’d rather work with the Amer­i­cans and rec­on­cile with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment than be aligned with ISIS,’ but they can’t be­cause the Is­lamic State has es­tab­lished con­trol not only over their ar­eas but also over their fam­i­lies.”

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