America’s Rocky Road to Raqqa

Daniel Lazare,
Information Clearing House.

Though the U.S. has no legal right to operate inside Syria, Official Washington is boasting about its plans to liberate Raqqa from ISIS. But another problem: the battle plan makes no sense.

In her final debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton promised that the United States and its allies would follow up the offensive against ISIS-occupied Mosul with an assault on ISIS headquarters in Raqqa in neighboring Syria. Last week, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter assured the press that an offensive was on the way.

“It starts in the next few weeks,” Carter said. “That has long been our plan and we will be capable of resourcing both,” i.e. dual assaults on Mosul and Raqqa.

“We think this is the right moment to begin pushing in Raqqa,” a Pentagon spokesman added on Monday. “There is a plan in place to begin this.”

Except that the more the administration assures the public that an assault is just around the corner, the more distant it seems to become. In fact, it looks more and more like an assault on Raqqa won’t occur at all. The reason is simple. The strategy is half-baked even by U.S. standards.

The effort to take back Mosul is off to a dangerous enough start as it is. The problem is not the military campaign, which seems to be making good progress as Iraqi troops enter the city for the first time in two years. Rather, it is the larger political setting.

Powerful cross-currents are at work involving the Iraqi army, Turkey, Iranian-backed Shi‘ite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces, or Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, and the Kurdish Peshmerga. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s neo-Ottoman president, has unsettled the Iraqis by claiming that Mosul lies within his country’s traditional sphere of influence and by vowing to protect the city’s Sunni population against revenge by Al-Hashd for anti-Shi‘ite atrocities committed by ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh).

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