National Security Desk / September 5, 2016

Iraq Isn’t Lost Yet

Another crucial battle for Mosul looms.

In 2011, having let expire the Bush administration’s status of forces agreement (SOFA) that helped secure our hard-won gains in Iraq and the region, Barack Obama declared, “Everything Americans have done in Iraq, all the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding, the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has led to this moment of success. … We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” We all know how well that turned out. Obama left a vacuum that allowed for the rise of the Islamic State.

Fortunately, there’s a glimmer of hope. Obama doesn’t want us to know it, but there are American boots on the ground (and in the air) in Iraq again, and together with Iraqi forces they’re making gains. Specifically, as Islamic State territory shrinks, another crucial battle for Mosul looms.

“Obama’s decision to abandon Iraq in 2011 ranks as one of the worst strategic blunders of modern times,” writes Mosul veteran David French. However, he says, “[I]t is to Obama’s credit … that he reversed course in time to save Baghdad and Kurdistan and reverse enemy momentum. The level of force hasn’t been sufficient to prevent ISIS from consolidating its gains, providing a home for jihadists worldwide, and beginning the process of educating a new generation of terrorists, but a prior generation of American politicians behaved much worse than Obama when they allowed South Vietnam to fall. There was no helicopter on the roof moment in Baghdad, and instead the enemy is now in retreat.”

The recent gains against the Islamic State could mean Iraq still has a chance — if this and the next administration are willing to hold those gains this time.

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