• Is Obama Slow-Walking ‘Critical’ Battle Against ISIS?

    Though Iraq’s leaders say one particular long-running battle against Islamic State is “critical,” they seem content to send most of their fighting power elsewhere.

    Baiji is a city built around an oil refinery in northern Iraq. Islamic State fighters stormed the city last summer. In November, Iraqi troops took back part of the city, and they have intermittently fought to win it completely ever since.

    Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has made the improvement of Iraq’s military a key priority. But despite claiming that “victory in this battle is critical” to exterminating the Islamic State group, Abadi’s troops are focusing some 100 miles to the south of Baiji.

    Instead of Baiji, the Iraqi army is dedicating most of its resources to winning back Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, which Islamic State captured earlier this summer. Ramadi is much closer to Baghdad and other population centers than Baiji, whose value to Iraq’s oil economy has declined after a year of disuse.

    The ground war in Baiji these days, as reported by The Washington Post, has become an “attack and counterattack” operation. While the fight is “hotly contested,” coalition airstrikes have made minimal progress because even when Islamic State retreats, it leaves behind hard-to-clear improvised explosives and land mines.

    Like the city of Mosul, whose recapture Abadi continuously announces and then postpones, Baiji may linger closer to the bottom of Iraq’s priority list. Given the reluctance of the U.S.-led coalition to escalate its commitment to Iraq, Baiji’s long and slow grind may become typical of the war against the jihadi group.

     


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