Stopping Islamic State in Iraq: parallels with Vietnam

The ongoing disaster that is Iraq continues. When the Americans (with British help) invaded Iraq in 2003 I must confess to feeling it has the potential to become another Vietnam. As time has gone on that appearance has strengthened centrally in that like Vietnam the Americans would have been wiser not to invade and having made that error the best way to compound it was to leave.

The spectacle in Vietnam involved refugees and poor treatment of the old South Vietnamese regime supporters by the conquering North. The full horror of the debacle in Southeast Asia was of course in Cambodia with the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge.

Although history does not really repeat itself the parallels with Iraq are becoming progressively more accurate.

The beginnings of a new collation against the Islamic State militants may be developing but until now the Iraqi army have been notably powerless against Islamic State. Most of the militant’s heavy weapons are modern US ones left behind by the fleeing Iraqi army.

The west seems to be pinning much of their hopes in stopping Islamic State on the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and its forces. Britain has suggested a willingness to arm them as both the USA and France already have done so. Whether the Kurdish forces can stop the Islamic State fighters is open to some debate: much of their current weaponry is fairly old. In addition they are more used to guerrilla operations than retaking and holding territory in a classic military fashion. Although not the most conventional news source Vice News analyses the problems well here.

The one group in the region that has demonstrated an ability to fight and defeat militant Islamists has been the Syrian Army along with their allies in Hezbollah. The Syrian government has not fought ISIS that much and something of a Mexican standoff has developed between the two groups fuelling some conspiracy theorists claims that Assad is allowing them to defeat his other opponents. That may well be partly true but the simple fact is that the most effective regional military force capable of taking on Islamic State is the Syrian army. The Syrian government has already made this point and rejected any suggestion of its support for Islamic State.

Hilary Clinton’s claim that more proactive American involvement in the Syrian civil war to defeat Assad’s forces would have prevented the development of ISIS seems highly unlikely. It is maybe time for the west to realise (as is seems have many Syrians) that the devil you know is in this case much better than the devil you don’t (or now know only too well).

In light of the slow, incremental but progressive ability of the Syrian army to defeat its opponents over the last two years of the civil war they are probably the West’s best option to defeat Islamic State; if they are not willing to send in troops themselves. Again the analogy with Vietnam is haunting. It was the Vietnamese who finally ended the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.

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  • Michael Henry

    It was on SKY news that the British are to give the Kurds AK47s captured by them over the years in other conflicts-looks like IRA guns are going to a new home to fight ISIS-

  • Zig70

    Why meddle in this war and not others? Why not Somalia or Nigeria. Wasn’t the disastrous effects of the recent middle east charges a sign for the European crusaders to stop. Better the devil you know, the greater good? A killers charter. A lovely intellectual debate but the hardest thing may be to acknowledge you are powerless to step in and possibly your help isn’t wanted. Tainted as it is.

  • Gopher

    Lets start with the known, knowns before heading out into whacky conspiracy theories. The west will not arm Syria period! Israel is overjoyed that Hezbollah and Syria are up to their necks in Jihadi’s. So Syria will just have to rely on cheap and cheerful Russian equipment which will kill Jihadis no matter which hats they wear

    Lets be clear about one thing ISIS are not the NVA, the same NVA that put 60,000
    Americans beneath the boonies. ISIS are the classic military opportunists that moved from Iraq to Syrian because it was too hot for them there and wanted to get rich on the pots of gold Arab nations were throwing around to Jihadi groups to overthrow Syria. They also wanted to control border areas in Syria to control that
    lucrative and age old profession of smuggling (ring a bell). Unfortunately the local “Jihadi’s” weren’t keen to be taken over by a host of foreigners and kicked back at them.

    A few probes back into Iraq found once the Americans left found the Iraqi army was a chocolate fire guard in Sunni areas and back into Iraq they went. My
    historical parrallel is older, when Hannibal arrived in Italy towns
    like Capua and Tarantum threw off the Roman yolk and opened their
    gates to the Carthaginian’s in Iraq, Fallujah and Mosul threw off the
    Shia yolk. Whether they will suffer these “foreigners”
    indefinitely is another question. Infact now that I think about it
    ISIS resembles the Carthaginian Army, you can substitute the hardcore
    of African infantry and Numidian horse for the Chechen fighters, the
    polyglot of other fighters that made up both is and was of various
    quality a lot of it dubious.

    It will be interesting to see how the ISIS field army copes with air strikes in
    open country and how coherent they will remain when the hardcore that
    actually do the fighting become martyrs because like Hannibal’s
    Carthaginian’s that number is finite and I see no Hannibal. Victory
    has a thousand fathers (and recruits) but defeat after defeat after
    impending defeat is an orphan. ISIS like movements of this nature
    need to keep expanding or face defeat, culmination point is the technical term for it. Stopped heading south by Iran stiffening the Shia’s, they have headed against the Kurds who with a couple of air strikes have stopped them in their tracks. Like
    I said ISIS aren’t the NVA.

    Nope from my armchair what we have here is the Middle Eastern 30 Years Wars with these Landsknechte Jihadi groups, orginizations, states and factions in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria trying to establish Cuius regio, eius religio

  • npbinni

    The parallel that strikes me is the fact that it was not lack of military might, but the lack of political foresight and courage in too hastily withdrawing troops that led to the Vietnam and Iraq disasters; one disaster being the unfortunate Vietnamese having to suffer under communist rule for decades, the other, Iraqis now suffering under the weight of extreme Islamic rule.