The Iraqi Military victory in Ramadi over ISIS, even if self-declared, is encouraging for troop morale and strategic reasons. The Iraqi troops needed a ‘win’ in a big way. And Ramadi’s geo-location is indeed a strategic milestone in heading off ISIS control. For the U.S. part in this, it is refreshing to see what appears to be some level of advisory work with Iraqi Forces which has been woefully absent since we departed in 2011. However, it is far too early to celebrate.
Having worked around insurgencies my entire life, this fight for Ramadi is far from over. The challenge now will be to hold this key ground as ISIS melds into the shadows into hiding and slithers through the Sunni population like an insurgent serpent.
Let’s not forget the deep rift between the large Sunni population (where ISIS draws its deepest support) and the Shia (who dominate the Iraqi government, their military, and even Iranian militias that operate in Iraq). This rift runs deep, is centuries old, and the wounds are still bleeding. It’s the rift that requires the deepest attention from the Iraqi government and the coalition. It’s also the thing they are most likely to ignore.
If all the Iraqi Forces do is blow through Ramadi and establish no meaningful connections with the marginalized Sunnis, then ISIS will just quietly backfill right in behind the sweeping Iraqi Military, wait for the right moment, and strike again. This is how ISIS gained control of much of Iraq in the first place.