By Sal Bommarito
The New York Times reported that the impending assault on Tikrit in a Sunni-dominated area of Iraq could be coming to a dramatic conclusion in the next few days. During this encounter, Iran has become a powerful benefactor of Iraq providing soldiers, intelligence and, most recently, rockets that may be deployed in the battle with ISIS.
The current standoff at Tikrit is a saga that will likely be repeated time and again as the 30,000 man Iraqi army continues to recapture land absconded by ISIS. Important issues are that the force consists almost exclusively of Shiites that are attacking ISIS in areas dominated by Sunnis, and the use of rockets to liberate Tikrit could result in many civilian casualties and massive property damage.
These controversies relate to the ongoing debate about what methods Iraq will employ to root out ISIS. The cost of this process could be very high depending upon the amount of force Iraq (and Iran) utilizes, and the determination of ISIS as they fortify their positions among innocent bystanders.
Ground forces are finally in play and resulting in some success; the U.S is providing none. These fighters will need to enter the city and engage the enemy door-to-door. Alternatively, the Shiite government fighting force may opt to use rockets and heavy artillery, which will kill ISIS insurgents and decrease its own casualties. But, this tactic will result in the destruction of Tikrit and the deaths of many Sunnis living in it.
President Obama does not want to engage ISIS with U.S. ground forces, nor does he wish to conduct bombing sorties that result in collateral damage. These decisions have enabled ISIS to survive to this point. The Iraqis and Iranians could change the state of play, but it may be at a huge cost.
Sectarian violence will increase if innocent Sunnis are slaughtered. A backlash is probable in Iraq and from neighboring Sunni-Arab nations. Collateral damage could be interpreted as a form of genocide to increase Shiite control in Iraq in the post-ISIS era. Moreover, the influence of Iran in Iraqi affairs will grow exponentially. It will be the ultimate cost of Iran’s aid in the fight with ISIS, a role that most people believed the U.S. would play.
This dilemma is symptomatic of the complexity of the ISIS imbroglio. The U.S. wants to defeat ISIS but is unwilling to deliver the firepower necessary to accomplish this end. Iran also wants to kill off ISIS and has joined Iraq on the ground while providing rocket armaments.
The response to the Iraq/Iran battle tactics could have a lasting impact on the sectarian rift in Iraq. It appears that the U.S. will be sitting on the sidelines as this all plays out.