Op-Ed: Battle of Baiji: The Turning Point Iraq Needs
Iraqi forces driving the Islamic State (IS) fighters from the city of Baiji north of Baghdad may prove to be the decisive victory the demoralized Iraqi Army badly needs.
Islamic State had held on to Baiji since last June when after it rapidly conquered large swaths of Northern Iraq including the entire city of Mosul, Iraq's second city. Iraq's Army dispersed and fled south in the wake of that assault. An action which inevitably saw generals retired and the stepping down of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.Islamic State have been very apt in exploiting sectarian and social fissures in Iraqi society to their advantage. Which is why they retain hold over large chunks of Iraqi territory.Yesterday's counteroffensive on the city Baiji, however, may help reinvigorate a hitherto demoralized Iraqi Army. An army who feared its commanders were set to flee and abandon them at the first sign of trouble. An army that was given billions worth of training and equipment but could not hold its own against a few thousand jihadis.In other words, an army badly in need of a victory to reinvigorate severely damaged and undermined morale. Baiji may prove to be that victory.It is far too early to gauge whether or not the Iraqi military retaking this important strategic urban center – it has an important oil refinery and is situated on the main road between Baghdad and Mosul – will have this affect but it's doubtlessly a step in the right direction.While the U.S. and its European and Arab coalition partners are engaged against Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria ground forces are essential when it comes to combating and rooting out a force like Islamic State. U.S. General Martin Dempsey said as much when he said the U.S. may need to consider inserting a “modest” ground contingent to fight Islamic State if the Iraqi government didn't substantially reform and the Iraqi military continues to fail to take the fight to Islamic State.Baiji may be that all important first step in retaking the initiative, and seeing to it that Iraq has an army whereby the foot soldier knows he is fighting for his country and under the command of generals who know what is at stake and are committed entirely to defeating the adversary. That coupled with a government which is inclusive to both Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds and sympathetic to their legitimate aspirations, within the parameters of a federal multi-denominational Iraq, is of paramount importance when it comes to thoroughly defeating Islamic State and bringing Iraq back together again.