“What Would an Actual Battle for Baghdad Look Like?”
The Christian Science Monitor, October 16, 2014
“There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and armchair quarterbacking lately over whether Baghdad is in imminent danger from the forces of the so-called Islamic State. … As it stands, Baghdad is far from a safe place. On Thursday IS fighters carried out at least four car-bombings and a mortar attack across the city that claimed at least 36 lives. The car-bombings of Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad obviously have value to IS in instilling fear and fueling the impression that the central government can’t keep civilians safe. But they also serve to enrage Shiite soldiers and the Shiite militias along with them, something that has frequently led to atrocities targeting Sunni Arabs during Iraq’s 11-year-old war. And that can lead to more sympathy and recruits for the IS army of Sunni jihadists. … The Washington Post reports Thursday from Abu Ghraib, in Anbar Province about 14 miles west of the edge of Baghdad, that ‘sympathy for the radical fighters is growing here, residents say, because of the actions of heavy-handed Shiite militias.’ Forces loyal to Baghdad and IS have fought intermittently around Abu Ghraib for weeks. … Abu Ghraib, if it falls, would be the logical place to coordinate any attempt on Baghdad west of the Tigris. It’s hard to believe the militants aren’t dreaming of an assault on Baghdad International Airport, which lies on the city’s western edge. The airport is surrounded by Sunni suburbs, many containing homes of favored officers from Saddam’s-era. Alarm at their proximity is one reason US Army Apaches took on IS forces west of Baghdad last week. … Could the whole city fall? That seems less likely. A decade of sectarian cleansing has turned most of Baghdad east of the Tigris into Shiite majority ones. Shiite militias and the Iraqi army would be fighting for their homes and families, and would enjoy overwhelming public support in these areas.”
Quickie Analysis: An interesting look at how Iraq’s decade of civil war, and the sectarian segregation it brought, could make it easier for ISIS to seize at least part of Baghdad.