We have been looking in the wrong direction. While the West was hoping temporarily to check Iran’s nuclear aspirations, Iran was making plans to advance on the ground and in the water — and the plans are unfolding nicely. For Iran.
After the U.S. withdrew from Iraq in 2011, large swaths of Iraqi territory were easily brought under Islamic State (ISIS) control, culminating in the proclamation in 2014 of “The Caliphate” with its seat in Mosul. Having denigrated its capabilities as “the JV team,” the Obama administration was desperate to get rid of ISIS, but the Iraqi army (trained and armed at a cost of $26 billion between 2006 and 2015 with another $1.6 billion spent in 2016) was unable to handle the job, even with American air power and Kurdish fighters as allies.
The Iraqi army has since been improved, but in the Sunni heartland of Iraq, Shiite “militias” have become America’s ally in the battle for Mosul. Some militias are Iraqi Arab Shiites and some are sponsored and commanded by Persian Shiite Iran. There is no love between the two, and certainly no love between any of the Shiite militias and the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi military. But the battle has largely gone against ISIS. Militias on one side and Iraqi forces on the other are recapturing territory amid evidence of outrageous human rights abuses against Iraqi civilians by all sides. At some point soon, Iraqis (army and militias), Iranians, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Americans will be eyeball-to-eyeball in Mosul. This run-in raises two questions:
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