As it happens, this morning the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, just made a big show of announcing that Iraq doesn’t want or need foreign troops to fight ISIS. Of course, you’re not going to see him shooing the Iranians out, and he’s probably not going to refuse close American support of the special-forces variety. But as you said, they don’t want this to look like an infidel-led mission… which means ISIS isn’t going anywhere.
It’s very difficult to overcome all these internecine squabbles and sectarian grudges in the Middle East. More than once, Western planners have been astonished to find Muslim allies acting in ways that seem contrary to their best interest, due to sectarian concerns, or a decision that the nominal common enemy is something the West’s allies decide they can live with. That’s what will happen in Iraq. The Kurds will get to Mosul and call it day. The Iraqis will probably do better against ISIS in Round Two – it would be hard to do worse than they did in Round One, and this time they’ll have more carefully-prepared forces with fewer ISIS sympathizers ready to turn coat, plus American logistical and air support. They’ll probably make the Islamic State smaller, but they won’t get rid of it, and the Syrian front in this operation – where something like two-thirds of the Islamic State is located – is a ridiculous fantasy about al-Qaeda affiliates deciding to abandon their long, bloody struggle against Bashar Assad to serve as American footsoldiers against ISIS.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, just made the remarkable observation that half of the Iraqi military is “too heavily populated with Shiites to be part of a credible force against the Sunni ISIS.” You’d think the Shiite brigades with be most eager to fight ISIS, but I think what he’s saying is that the Shiites can’t be trusted to fight alongside Sunni brigades or accept American command-and-control, plus they’d have trouble with the native population of Sunni northern Iraq. There’s still a far better chance this will all end with Iraq breaking into three nations than ISIS ending up with zero nations. One of those three, independent Kurdistan, will make a fine American regional ally; one of them will become part of greater Iran, a deadly enemy on the verge of having nuclear weapons; and it’s anyone’s guess what the Sunni third of Iraq will do, but it probably won’t be terribly good news for American interests.
Everyone involved will remember that the United States of America is always one election away from having another Barack Obama, so it’s not surprising that they view American invitations to spill their blood in the name of nebulous long-term pseudo-strategies with reluctance.