The U.S. must be prepared to maintain a presence in Iraq for the immediate future, according to the Washington Post editorial board, which recalls a decision President Obama made that resulted in quite the opposite five years ago.
The Post’s posturing statement comes as the battle for Mosul is well underway. The fight for Iraq’s second largest city, and ISIS’s de facto capital in Iraq, has been a long time coming. A feeling exists within the Department of Defense (DOD) and national security community that the seizure of Mosul will be a rather large nail in ISIS’s coffin. While victory in Mosul is necessary for the stabilization of Iraq, it is hardly sufficient, according to the Post. Instead, the U.S. must be prepared to maintain a lasting civilian and military presence in Iraq for any lasting progress to result, essentially the opposite of what Obama chose to do when he withdrew U.S. forces in 2011.
“Ultimately, victory over terrorist forces in Iraq will require a sustained American presence, both military and civilian, extending well beyond the liberation of Mosul,” wrote the Post’s editorial board Saturday.
Obama’s decision to remove U.S. forces from Iraq was hardly a surprise; in fact it was a major campaign promise during his 2008 run. His view was that continued U.S. presence in Iraq only exacerbated the problems in the region. By the end of 2011, U.S. forces left Iraq; the following year, Obama used the supposed success in Iraq in his 2012 re-election campaign. ISIS was firmly in control of Mosul, as of June, 2014, in addition to vast swaths of territory in northern Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Internal disputes between Iraq’s Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite populations must be addressed if a “post-Islamic State war” is to be avoided, according to the the Post. Sectarian division between Iraq’s minority Sunnis and majority Shiites helped spur on ISIS, which identifies as Sunni, during its rise from 2013 to 2014.
The after-ISIS plan for Iraq is still in the works, despite the fact that the fight for Mosul is ongoing. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spent the weekend in Iraq in an attempt to secure a stabilization plan.
“We talked about our next steps … in the stabilization of Iraq and our continued willingness to lead a coalition in support of the consolidation of Iraqi government control over Iraqi territory,” Carter told reporters Saturday.
With the Obama administration closing in on its final months, it remains unclear if a clear plan for the future of Iraq will arrive in time.
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