On Friday, July 11, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) held a discussion on security developments in Iraq. The presentation “ISIS vs. the Iraqi Security Forces: Can the State of Iraq Survive?” focused on the capabilities and strategy of ISIS and the potential military actions of the United States and Iraqi state. With Ahmed Ali moderating, panelists Jessica Lewis and LTG James M. Dubik gave presentations before answering questions.
While footage of the event can be found online, we wanted to highlight a few points made during the presentation.
Jessica Lewis, a former intelligence officer in the U.S. army and current research director of ISW, noted that:
- The success of ISIS in Mosul and the Nineveh province was not a flash, but part of a controlled campaign based on the group’s grand strategy.
- The group is capable of combined arms and hybridized warfare. In the past two years the group has used terrorist, conventional, and unconventional tactics in pursuing its objectives.
- ISIS is capable and likely to launch a planned assault on Baghdad before the end of Ramadan. Its current control of territory, past presence in places like Abu Ghraib and the existence of uncommitted forces point to the group’s potential to take such action.
- In spite of the group’s capabilities, the United States can identify key vulnerabilities of the group, for example, interior and exterior lines of communication, potential leadership cleavages, etc.
- The ambition of ISIS is not locally bound and poses a threat across the region and the international community.
LTG James M. Dubik, offered his analysis of the Iraqi Security Forces and the potential US response to the crisis. The Lieutenant General noted that:
- The United States has three interests in the current crisis; preventing ISIS from solidifying, preventing Iraq from becoming a client state of Iran and helping Iraq create a stable political arrangement.
- The Iraqi military has been undermined in two ways. First, Maliki’s policies eroded the chain of command, undermined ministerial development, and established a system based on loyalty over proficiency. Secondly, through bombings, assassinations and infiltration ISIS has also played a role in undermining the military.
- In addition to robust diplomatic action, the United States should provide special operation forces, planning cells, intelligence assistance, a join marine-ground task force, support for unconventional warfare entities and a task force to expedite equipment delivery to the minister of defense and minister of the interior.
- Recovery of the Iraqi military can only come with a sustained commitment and improved leadership.