In the war against the infamously notorious Islamic State (referred to herein by the Arab acronym Daesh) we are seeing what many are concluding is the collapse of the Sykes-Picot order. Daesh’s men now walk over the border which used to separate the polities of Iraq and Syria with complete impunity. It’s going to be hard work protecting that border even if Daesh are successfully pushed from all of Iraq.
One has wondered since Mosul fell last June whether or not the Iraqi armed forces – and the increasingly more powerful militias fighting alongside it – can effectively guard Iraq’s border with Syria considering how porous it is and how effective Daesh can be at hit-and-run attacks.
Without getting too far ahead of oneself, Mosul is after all still, unfortunately, under Daesh’s rule, will it eventually prove feasible for Iraq’s armed forces and/or the Shia militia’s to expand their anti-Daesh campaign into northeastern Syria?
Mosul will be a blow for Daesh if they lose it quickly militarily. And while it may be possible for them to attempt to make a deal with the Iraqis by withdrawing unilaterally, in order to fortify their other positions in Syria, and suddenly reminding Baghdad that the border which it so gleefully dismantled is still a legal obstacle, of sorts, for it.
Okay it’s a doubtful scenario considering it would lose that group face in front of its members and supporters, many of whom are earnest Islamists who are traveling from afar to partake in what they see as a tremendously successful enterprise. Especially so soon after losing Tikrit. But even if they are forced from Mosul soon and back over that invisible line which demarcates the boundaries of Iraq and Syria it will take quite a large logistical effort to prevent that group from re-consolidating its control over the vast swaths of Syria it is still dominating (not to mention Iraq’s own Anbar province which will also take substantial political outreach, military, and militant, efforts to pry from Daesh’s grip over the coming weeks and months) from which to launch attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish targets. So perhaps an extended operation into Syrian territory controlled by Daesh to at least continue to pressure that group on the ground there may very well prove to be a necessity for Baghdad.
Yes in Syria there are the Syrian Kurds who have been very brave and valiant in their fight against Daesh. But the United States doesn’t completely trust them given their connections with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) group which it still holds to be a terrorist organization. And at a time when it is working closely with Turkey to train a new Syrian fighting force in exile, to uproot Daesh from northeast Syria, it is doubtful that their coordination with Syria’s Kurds will amount to anything more than giving them some air support when they can.
In other words there is no fighting force on the ground at present which can take the fight against Daesh to Raqqa. Don’t expect Turkey to do it, unless they are convinced that the U.S. is ready to start targeting the Syrian military and the regime of Bashar al-Assad as well. Also don’t expect this new Syrian fighting force (fittingly enough many detractors of this admittedly questionable strategy point out that after the Iraqi Army acquired billions in both training and hardware they crumbled immediately upon the onset of Daesh’s seizure of Mosul last June) to amount to anything substantial for at least another good year, or possibly even two.
We could possible even see a scenario unfold whereby Iraq, and/or these Shia Popular Mobilization Units, will at least contemplate intervening in Daesh-held Syrian territory to further weaken that group and hinder its ability to endanger Iraq and its people. It can legally do this under the United Nations Charter’s Article 51 given the fact that Syria’s territory is being, and has been, used by this group to attack Iraq.
Two mildly comparable historical precedents both emanate from the tumultuous years of 1978-79. During that period Tanzania invaded Uganda and brought an end to the brutal rule of the Idi Amin regime and Vietnam intervened militarily in Cambodia against the Khmer Rouge.
In both instances those respective states reasoned that it wasn’t feasible to merely try and secure or seal their frontiers but to actually transcend them and confront those regimes directly on their home turf. That’s not of course to say that both were necessarily success stories. Far from it, especially Vietnam’s intervention which quickly devolved into a decade-long occupation.
If the Iraqis are successful in their planned offensive to liberate Mosul, and re-consolidate their control over all of Nineveh, they may deem it fundamentally important to ensure Daesh is forcibly denied its haven in northeastern Syria.