By: Lander Michel
LLM in International Law / Leiden Universiteit
When the United States left Iraq some in Washington thought that the United States would no longer be engaged on the ground in Iraq. The truth of the matter is that Iraq was very weak although, and on paper, it had a formidable security apparatus.
Iraq, since the invasion by ISIS, can be considered a, at least, partially failed state. The poor state of the economy, the lack of an inclusive government (as regards the Sunni minority), significant underinvestment in critical infrastructure which would create jobs, lack of oversight and transparency as well as accountability by members in government are some of the ingredients which have allowed ISIS to expand so, quickly.
Despite significant assistance from both Iran and the West, it is unlikely that Iraq retake all of the terrain it has lost to ISIS as this would require a long term commitment of an economic and social nature which western governments and Iran will by no means guarantee as there are other significant and emerging threats they will need to respond to and which will be given priority.
Iran, for its part, is weakening owing to its sustained commitments on a two-front war; both in Syria and Iraq. Thus the lifting of sanctions will significantly assist Iran both domestically and, abroad, as it will be able to sustain and increase its operations both in their scope and size without negatively influencing its domestic economy which this author views as its Aquilles Tendon. That said, the rate at which its volunteer forces in Iraq and Syria (Military advisers and Hezbollah allies) are being lost is detrimental to its short term force projection and guerilla warfare capability even though its troops are obtaining significant combat experience in complex operations. Sanctions being lifted on Iran may reverse the overall gains of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq provided additional funding and troops are made available for operations in both Iraq and Syria. Victory against ISIS will prove elusive in so much that it has already expanded beyond the original location of its inception with the newest fronts in Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.
Iraq will likely continue to gradually slide towards Iran, especially if sanctions are lifted against Iran for it would no longer be considered a Pariah State. If Iraqi diplomacy is very skilled they will be able to obtain the best of both Iran, the West and, even, Saudi Arabia at present this does not seem to be the case.
Saudi Arabia is by no means happy of the increased influence of Iran in Iraq although it is most likely happy with the fact that Iran is being slowly bled of its resources and human resources owing to the drawn out struggle both in Iraq as well as in Syria.
The unlikely beneficiary of a weakened Iran is, possibly, Israel although the instability of its border with Syria likely poses a continued and increased security threat. Unfortunately for Israel, significant donors and nation states continue to support activities against Israel whereby Iran has been substituted by other donor nations thus the reprieve for Israel is limited in time.
It is the view of this author that only by securing and expanding social and economic well-being in Iraq with a more inclusive government which allows a higher degree of self-rule by local populations that, at present, feel excluded, will it be possible to counter ISIS and then, of course, Iraq will require more airpower focused on COIN which ISIS lacks this without disregarding the quality of life of the security forces and morale opposing ISIS must be improved which is the reason why ISIS was able to take over so much of Iraq.