Posted by Annie-Marie Gergi on June 08, 2015 in Blog

ISIL_hearing.pngOn June 3, 2015 a subcommittee hearing was held on U.S. policy towards ISIL following the group's capture of Ramadi, in Iraq and Palmyra, in Syria . Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) chaired the hearing.

There was a general consensus across party lines of the failure of U.S. strategy in both Syria and Iraq, which seems to be rooted in a lack of transparency and inefficiency. All the members of the Congressional committee emphasized the need to treat Syria and Iraq as joint conflicts with added emphasis to be placed specifically on U.S. strategy towards the Assad regime in Syria.

The nature of Iran's involvement in the struggle against the ISIL was heavily contested and although ISIL was described as a common enemy to Iran and the U.S., committee witnesses argued that Iran was not fully committed to the stabilization of the region. Emphasis was placed on the necessity of focusing on a long-term solution in Iraq, and an inclusive Iraqi government that protects the rights and freedoms of all groups across sectarian lines. In terms of Syria, strategy was defined through the training and equipping of Syrian opposition forces, in order to prepare for the future. Both Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) spoke passionately about the growing refugee and humanitarian crisis and the effects on neighboring countries. 

The three witnesses in attendance, Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute, Anthony H. Cordesman from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and Mattew Spence the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Middle East Policy and the U.S. Department of Defense advocated arming the Sunni tribal population as a potentially winning strategy. There was unanimity about the need for accountability and detailed progress reports on Iraqi ground troop operations in order to provide the U.S. strategy with a sense of direction and to ensure credibility. The U.S’s lack of direction in this struggle is eerily reminiscent of U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003.

There is a growing need to avoid over-securitization and militarization as a response to ISIL, because this plays into the terror group's narrative of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria as persecuted communities that are targeted by the U.S. The U.S. must commit to a complex strategy in the region that is designed to address the specific challenges of both Iraq and Syria. Not only should the U.S. push for a genuine national unity government in Iraq, but attempts must be made to unify local forces in Iraq and Syria in a systematic fight against ISIL. The strength of ISIL lies in exploiting the contradictions and weak links in both countries.

In addition to this, the U.S. should focus on promoting dialogue with Arab civilian populations in order to foster a strategy that blends the objectives of the U.S. and the needs of the Iraqi and Syrian people. The U.S. can learn from the region and construct not only a response to current crises, but build the foundation of sustainable solutions to challenges in the Middle East. 

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