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Sinjar should play example for US-led coalition to support Sunnis in Iraq

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In the battle against ISIS in northern Iraq Kurdish and Yazidi fighters have retaken the town of Sinjar in the second day of their offensive, and the Iraqi Kurdish President Massud Barizani is declaring victory. In barely over 24 hours large numbers of Kurdish fighters, backed by intense U.S.-led airstrikes, forced ISIS to flee the city, not having the numbers to take on the huge forces and left the remaining booby traps in the city to do what they can. The local ground troops changed the balance of power on the ground and made fruit of the massive coalition airstrikes. This has made possible Sinjar to be taken out of ISIS control and may pave the ground for Yazidi families to return to what is left of their hometown.

Sinjar has been a swift victory that many are hoping heralds further swift victories, particularly Mosul, being Iraq’s second largest city that ISIS took over back in the summer of 2014 in their blitzkrieg attack. As Sinjar sits strategically between Mosul and ISIS’ self-declared capital of the caliphate being Raqqa deep into Syria, it can act as a major springboard for future gains.

This recent feat proves that local ground forces are essential for U.S.-led coalition air strikes to be of any use against ISIS. In the campaign against ISIS the Iraqi Kurds have proven to be worthy allies of the air coalition, in contrast to the Iran-backed militias that have participated in different battlefields south of Baghdad and the restive al-Anbar and Salahadin provinces. Many American officials had warned that the U.S. airpower should not be providing support for Shiite militias, known by all to be supported by Iran, in attacking ISIS positions in Sunni provinces. Many, especially former CIA Director David Petraeus, had made strong calls on Washington to seriously begin arming and providing air support for local Sunni tribes to convincingly retake the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in al-Anbar, and Tikrit and Baiji in Salahadin.

Unfortunately, Washington did not listen as usual and Iran’s terrorist Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani was literally allowed to launch a campaign of recruiting tens of thousands of Shiites from the south, form the so-called Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) and launch a major offensive to retake Tikrit, the capital city of Salahadin Province north of Baghdad. The U.S. initially did not participate and the PMF suffered many casualties as they tried to make their way into Tikrit. As the Iran-backed PMF was forced to retreat, the Iraqi government begged America for air support, which Washington initially conditioned on Shiite militias to back off from Tikrit, and only the Iraqi army and other government forces to take part. After ISIS was forced to flee Tikrit due to the intensity of U.S. airstrikes, left unleashed the PMF and other Shiite militias began entering Tikrit, looting people’s property and setting many homes and mosques ablaze.

To this day, intense fighting continues for Baiji, Ramadi and Fallujah where the PMF and other Iranian proxy militia groups have suffered severe casualties at the hands of ISIS and many of their ranks and files have fled the fronts.

All said and done, the experience in Salahadin and al-Anbar, and now the swift retake of the town of Sinjar by local Kurdish and Yazidi fighters should have senior Obama administration officials finally wake up and smell the coffee. To retake al-Anbar and Salahadin province from ISIS, America needs to make a pivotal decision in arming and providing air support for local Sunni tribes that are very capable and more than willing to rout ISIS from their lands. They proved themselves once before during the famous ‘surge’ when the Awakening Council that worked with U.S. forces to turn their communities against violent jihadist extremism and routing al-Qaeda from the deadly battlefronts of al-Anbar back in 2006-07.

Charles Krauthhammer wrote wisely in an article back in June: “We should be giving similar direct aid to friendly Sunni tribesmen in Iraq whose Anbar Awakening, brilliantly joined by Gen. David Petraeus’ surge, utterly defeated the Islamic State progenitor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Follow Keyvan Salami on @SalamiKeyvan

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