July 15, 2017
Washington, D.C.- Emerald Robinson, Political Correspondent
The past week has seen both victories and set backs in the Middle East. Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may not have been able to broker a negotiation between Qatar and other Arab states, the Trump administration foreign policy scored a “win” with the victory in Mosul-the last urban stronghold of the terrorist group ISIL in Iraq. President Trump has promised Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi a stable Mosul. However, it’s been proven many times that stability in this region is fragile. Heritage Foundation Fellow and Middle East expert Jim Phillips says that any chance of real stability relies on Al-Abadi and the Iraqi government.
“I think it’s possible to stabilize Mosul but that will take tremendous outreach from the Baghdad government to reassure Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority that they have a good future within an integrated Iraq,” explains Phillips. A future free of sectarian policies according to him. Policies such as those exhibited by former Prime Minister Maliki under which Mosul succumbed to ISIS back in 2014. Phillips likened the spread of ISIS in Iraq to a cancer which the Iraqi government could not defeat. A cancer that ultimately took a big chunk out of Northern and Western Iraq.
However, some people question Al-Abadi’s allegiances insinuating that he could potentially be strongly influenced by neighboring Iran who has sponsored and supported terrorism within Iraq. Particularly some Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arabs feel he may even be an Iranian plant. Phillips says that although Al-Abadi is understandably not free of Iranian influence due to the country’s proximity and regional power, he believes that the current Prime Minister is a nationalist who desires an independent identity for Iraq. According to Phillips, he is a tremendous improvement to his predecessor.
“He’s a huge improvement over Maliki who was much more open to Iranian influence. But there is no doubt that Iran is the most influential foreign power in Iraq today and it’s influence is much greater than the U.S.’s influence,” says Phillips.
The Heritage fellow also added that the role of the U.S. in Iraq would be less than what is was pre-2011 after the Obama Administration made an abrupt exit from the country and broke several promises of continued support. He says that leaves the job of stabilization up to the Iraqi’s themselves and that it will require the government to reach out to Sunni Arabs to create a unified Iraq.
Phillips warns that the U.S. must be careful this time not leave a vacuum that could again result in radical islamist terror influence infiltrating the region. He says the U.S. must walk a fine line of not having such a strong military presence as to create resentment, yet provide enough training and anti-terrorism support to keep Iraq strong enough to resist such destabilizers. “Nature may abhor a vacuum but terrorist love them,” says Phillips.
In regards to neighboring Syria, Phillips says that the country is even more complicated than Iraq and that he does not see the U.S. maintaining a military presence in Syria post-ISIS. He believes the Trump Administration is trying to reach some kind of political settlement through Russia that would stabilize Eastern Syria without a U.S. military presence. Phillips doesn’t expect to see peace in the Middle East anytime soon suggesting that perhaps a decrease in fighting is the most that can be achieved. As for Mosul, he’s more hopeful in that he says the Al-Abadi and a few other political figures within Iraq do see a future for Iraq as a stable and independent country.