Breitbart News had the opportunity to speak with Bill Roggio, managing editor of The Long War Journal, about terrorist group ISIS’s advances through Iraq, Iran’s involvement, and what the US should do about it.
Breitbart News: Was the ISIS blitzkrieg through Iraq a planned or largely spontaneous operation?
Bill Roggio: It was absolutely a planned operation. They claim they’ve been planning the operation for years. Given the level of coordination and the reach of the operation, I don’t think that it is a stretch. We saw the operation to openly seize territory begin in Anbar Province in January. ISIS consolidated their gains in Anbar and continued onward. It is absolutely an operation that was planned over a period of time, and they are executing their operation relatively flawlessly.
Breitbart News: Why are Iraqi security forces seemingly not willing to fight back?
Bill Roggio: It’s difficult to determine exactly why. Some say they were ordered to do so but ultimately, there is a failure of leadership somewhere along the lines in the Iraqi military, and the actual reasons for this are unknown. The explanations found are largely just unconfirmed rumors at this time. There are even rumors that senior government officials ordered the military to retreat. This is a society where rumors and conspiracies abound. Ultimately, it seemed the military felt that it couldn’t hold its own in the field against an organized jihadist group like ISIS, and it melted away in the face of their advance.
Breitbart News: Has ISIS become a threat to US national interests?
Bill Roggio: ISIS is definitely a threat to the United States. It’s already threatened the United States. It’s the successor to Al Qaeda in Iraq under Zarqawi. While most of its operations are directed at Syria and Iraq, it will at some point turn its guns outward us as these jihadist groups so often do. Its actively operating training camps to teach prospective jihadists. You look at the propaganda videos, and it resembles Al Qaeda. It also has a massive influx of foreign fighters, and these fighters often go home and establish cells, or they go ahead and conduct attacks on their own.
Breitbart News: What role should the United States play?
Bill Roggio: The United States needs to determine if securing Iraq from ISIS is in its interests, but it should definitely recognize ISIS as a legitimate threat to the United States. The US needs to take action. America needs to do what it has to in order to halt the advances of ISIS. That should be done firstly with air power. I don’t necessarily think it can effectively be accomplished with air power over the horizon, with B-52 bombers flying from bases in Europe or smaller aircraft flying off aircraft carriers. We are going to have to get in the trenches. Work with Iraqis with ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and use close air support platforms in order to hit the ISIS convoys as they are moving across the country. They often travel across open spaces of desert unscathed. If the US wants to eject ISIS from its newly found strongholds in Iraq, then we are going to have to do more than just casually lob a few missiles at them.
Breitbart News: If Iraq falls, where is ISIS off to next?
Bill Roggio: It will continue to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. It has also sought to expand into the greater Levant. That’s what the ‘S’ in ISIS means: the Sham, the Levant. That would include Jordan and Israel. It could certainly threaten Saudi Arabia. ISIS has also threatened to pick up attacks in Iran. It is a regional terrorist group, and it seeks to establish a greater Sunni caliphate. It does not just want to conquer Iraq or Syria. The Kingdom of Jordan seems to be a very clear candidate for ISIS’s next move.
Breitbart News: What are Iran’s motives in possibly getting involved in the conflict?
Bill Roggio: Iran benefits by having a weak Iraq, but does not benefit from having a chaotic Iraq. It would like to see the Maliki government in power but weakened so it doesn’t pose a threat to Iran. They would like to expand their soft power influence throughout the region. Iraq in a state of full civil war would be sure to have problems that can bleed into Iran’s territory. Iran also wants to keep a Shia government in Baghdad. It also wants to keep its supply lines to Syria and Hezbollah open through Iraq.
Breitbart News: Is Prime Minister Maliki partly to blame for the rise of ISIS?
Bill Roggio: Maliki certainly has not been an inclusive prime minister. He had issued an executive order demanding the US to leave Iraq. But there’s also the factor that when we left, he had no one seemingly to turn to but the Iranians. There’s a lot of blame to go around. Ultimately, the US disengaging from the region was not the answer. More engagement is required to have an outcome favorable to both the Iraqi people and the American public.
Breitbart News: What are we missing in the overall coverage of Iraq?
Bill Roggio: I don’t think people are looking close enough at the alliances that ISIS has developed in order to conduct its offensive. Some reports have mentioned that there’s Baathists siding with ISIS. But there’s instances of groups that have been in conflict with ISIS in the past that are now operating in concert with them. Given ISIS’s dispute with Al Qaeda Central and its problems with the Al Nusra front, its alliance structure is an issue we need to acquire more knowledge about.
Breitbart News: Are the pundits in the mainstream media correct, along with folks such as Senator Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Secretary Kerry, when they say it is necessary to involve Iran in helping to subdue ISIS?
Bill Roggio: We would be involving a country that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers. The Iranians built EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator) mines that were placed by Shia terror groups all throughout Baghdad and areas south during OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom). If the US thinks it’s going to have the Iranians do the heavy-lifting, and it’s going to have an outcome that’s beneficial to America, then I’d say our politicians are sorely mistaken.