WASHINGTON – There is finally some good news from Iraq that the Obama administration ought to celebrate. Unfortunately, the “O-Team” at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (and their fellow travelers in the so-called mainstream media) appears to be oblivious to what’s really happening “on the ground” in Mesopotamia.
For the potentates of the press, the gruesome struggle for Kobani, just a few hundred yards from the Syria-Turkey border, is all that matters. The “visuals” of less than 200 Iraqi Kurds transiting Turkish territory to reinforce their kinsmen in a desperate house-to-house battle against 5,000 ISIS fighters and the occasional detonation of air-dropped munitions in the frontier city have become “The Story.” According to “Official Spokesmen” and unnamed “Senior Officials” at the White House and the Pentagon, these events are signs of “important progress” in the effort to “destroy ISIS.”
Hogwash. The sanguinary contest in Kobani is a distraction – in military parlance, a diversion – created by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Sunni “Caliph of the Islamic State” and his military planners – once officers in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards. The real fight for the future of the entire region is taking place within the ethnically diverse provinces of Nineveh and Anbar in northern and western Iraq.
The population centers in these provinces, Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city), Fallujah, Ramadi, Haditha and al-Qaim were all targeted by ISIS. They are not only places where U.S. Marines, Soldiers and SEALs won vicious battles; they are also where we found our best allies during “The Awakening” in 2006-07 that led to victory in 2008.
That’s not political “spin.” I know. Our Fox News "War Stories" team was there for all of it. Regrettably, the sacrifice of so much American blood and treasure was squandered during what our troops call, “The Obama Bug Out” – when our commander-in-chief ordered all U.S. forces out of Iraq in December 2011.
Do not despair. Here’s the good news – all but ignored by the international press corps and those who are comatose in “official” Washington: The Sunni tribes in northern and western Iraq – our friends in the middle of the last decade – can once again be the lynchpin for defeating ISIS in this decade.
A new “Awakening” is now under way that may well be far more effective than pin prick “coalition airstrikes.” Militarily it will have to be different than the campaign in 2006-2007 when small cells of Al Qaeda in Iraq were defeated by superior firepower and well coordinated operations by U.S. forces and our allies.
Today the situation is reversed. There are no U.S. “boots on the ground” and ISIS is better organized, supplied and led than the Iraqi Army or the Sunni tribal militias. Last month the Albu Namir tribe tried to fight back against ISIS. When they ran out of ammunition, ISIS slaughtered more than 250 fighters and an untold number of civilians. Simply arming the tribes in Anbar to fight ISIS separately would condemn them to extinction.
At this very moment, however, while “news” and “diplomatic” elites are diverted by what’s happening in Kobani, a conference of reasonable, moderate, anti-ISIS Sunnis is being organized in Irbil, Iraq. Instigated by Mudhar Shawkat, a successful Sunni businessman and a leader of the anti-Saddam “Iraqi National Movement,” the conference, to be convened later this year, will aim to create an umbrella organization of Iraqi Sunnis to defeat ISIS.
In view of the fact that ISIS (in Iraq) is a Sunni reaction to persecution and economic deprivation under the Iranian-controlled Baghdad government, Shawkat argues that the Sunnis need to create their own institutions to give voice to their grievances and to protect the alienated Sunni populations in northern and western Iraq. In short, the solution to ISIS in Iraq should be a Sunni responsibility.
To some this seems like mission impossible. Shawkat and his allies working on the conference in Irbil today are well aware that moderate Iraqi Sunnis – by 2008, U.S. allies – are now deeply demoralized and alienated. Conference attendees already know the Obama administration is “wedded at the hip” with the new Shiite dominated, pro-Iranian government of Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad. They are cognizant that ISIS (known as “Da’esh” – “to crush” or “the destroyer” – in Arabic) propaganda promotes al-Baghdadi as the “messiah” who will save Sunni Islam from Shiite domination by the Ayatollahs in Tehran, the Alawite al-Assad dynasty in Damascus, and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.
None of this has deterred the willingness of those who come at great personal risk to Irbil to discuss Sunni action against ISIS. The principal goal for the conference is to re-ignite Sunni loyalty among the young and prompt a willingness to fight for a realistic future instead of martyrdom in the ISIS jihad.
The question now is whether the U.S. will do anything to help the Sunnis who were once our friends. At the very least the Obama administration needs to get out of the way and let Shawkat and his allies devise a course of action against ISIS. At the very best, they should send General John Allen, the administration’s newly appointed “Czar for destroying ISIS” to Irbil to meet with Shawkat and fellow Sunni leaders with the mission of determining how we can help their cause. It is after all in our national interest. That would indeed be the best news of all. But don’t count on it.
Lt. Col. Oliver L. North (ret.) serves as host of the Fox News Channel documentary series "War Stories with Oliver North." From 1983 to 1986, he served as the U.S. government's counterterrorism coordinator on the National Security Council staff. "Counterfeit Lies," is his novel about how Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. Click here for more information on Oliver North.