By Sal Bommarito
Looking medium to long-term, two things must transpire before there can be a lasting peace in the Middle East: ISIS hostilities need to end, and inevitable civil wars will have to run their course. Peace will not be easy to sustain given the volatility of the region and the conflicting elements that that pit Arab nations against each other.
Defeating ISIS is not possible without some sort of ground support provided by a well-trained and enthusiastic force. ISIS fighters need to be rooted out of their comfort zones, primarily urban areas among noncombatants. The best protection for ISIS insurgents is a human shield. The specter of collateral damage is completely anathema to the U.S. Only with ground forces, as opposed to air strikes, can ISIS be killed without significant innocent casualties.
The U.S. could put well-qualified soldiers on the ground, but the president has ruled out this option publicly. Yet, ground troops must confront ISIS and expose them to air strikes to make any significant headway in this war. Alternatively, Arab nations could provide foot soldiers. Few are optimistic that Iraqi forces are up to the task. Early battles with ISIS were lost, Iraqi soldiers fled and the enemy’s confidence surged.
Supposedly, Iraqi Shiites and militias are being trained to conduct offensives throughout country. From my vantage point, these initiatives will be anything but successful. For one thing, Shiites will be fighting in Sunni territory. The support of local groups will not be great, and the enthusiasm and dedication of Iraqi troops is questionable to say the least.
A spirit of patriotism and nationalism is not evident among the Iraqi fighters. Frankly, they are probably unwilling to fight in close quarters with the more aggressive ISIS insurgents. Kurdish forces are another story. They are anxious to engage with the enemy and have proven they can win battles. Unfortunately, there are not that many Kurdish soldiers in total, and certain Arab nations such as Turkey are concerned about Kurdish aspiration for independence.
The defeat of ISIS is not a sure bet even in the long run without ground support. Nevertheless, chances are the phenomenon known as ISIS will dissipate over time as fighters become war-weary. The caliphate will not come together as there is little chance that ISIS has the resources or the governing acumen to sustain a new nation. But, ISIS combatants will still be armed, dangerous and aggressive towards Shiites and non-Arabs. They will linger and likely form tribal arrangements in rural areas of Iraq and Syria.
The aforementioned is important because former ISIS fighters could become the backbone of the Sunni opposition in Iraq. Even after ISIS hostilities end, former insurgents would surely be supportive of their Sunni brothers and sisters. Conversely, Shiites will continue to oppress Sunnis inflaming an all-out civil war. There will be no lasting peace unless a Shiite tyrant takes control and beats down Sunni and ISIS rebels. It is highly improbable that the U.S. will be willing to assist in another nation-building adventure.
In Syria, the situation after the ISIS phenomenon fizzles out is much different. Nearly every interested party, with the exception of Iran and Russia will work towards the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. Unseating the despot will be the highest priority of Syrian rebels (including ISIS holdovers), Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and the balance of the Sunni world.
The forecast is grim. It is worse than it should be because defeating ISIS, or at least neutralizing it is far down the road based upon the current battle plan. And, after ISIS is neutralized, Middle East hotspots, Iraq and Syria, will need to fight a civil war.