by Jamal Hashim
Tough battles against the Islamic State (IS) militants loom in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province, as Iraqi government under growing pressure to reach out to the disenfranchised Sunni community.
Abadi on Monday paid his first official visit to Washington as a prime minister at a pivotal moment after Iraqi forces and allied militias retook control of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, with the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
Observers here see that Abadi is going to ask for more support from the international coalition to fight the IS militant group which seize large parts of the country, but he is also going to face important questions about offensive against the extremist group and theIranian role in training and advising the Shiite militias.
"In my opinion, arming Iraqi forces is not an essential issue to the United States, what is more important for the U.S. is producing common U.S.-Iraqi strategy of about how to fight Daash (IS militant group)," Najib al-Jubouri, a political commentator, told Xinhua.
Jubouri insisted that both Iraqi and the U.S. governments have different strategies as the Iraqi side has blurry and fragmented views about how to defeat IS group.
"There are Shiite militias backed by Iran which have their own point of view about running the battles with IS. They don't want U.S. air support and prefer Iran role in the battles," Jubouri said, referring to Asa'ib Ahl-Haq, Badr Organization, Kharasani Brigades and Hezbullah Brigades, etc..
In recent months, the Iranian-backed Shiite militias have aided in fight against the Sunni extremist militants in Iraq, most notably in effort to retake control of Salahudin province.
However, Americans insist that they are not coordinating or cooperating directly with Shiite militias, though they frequently expressed their concerns about the potential that Iran might gain too much influence in Iraq.
"The American administration is expected to submit its own strategy to Abadi during his visit to Washington, in particular the part of political approach together with the military approach in fighting IS in Iraq," Jubouri said.
Americans apparently are ready to coordinate through the Iraqi government with Shiite militias in the Popular Mobilization, as they did in Tikrit, but not with the Iranian-backed militias, which largely stayed with Iranian advisors out of Tikrit battles after the U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes.
"Although the presence of Americans in Iraq's battles is sensitive for most Iraqi factions, but the Americans can play a positive role through accelerating the combat effectiveness of the Iraqi military brigades by providing military advisors, close support coordinators and possibly combat engineer experts to deal with mines and booby traps," Jubouri said.
"Such support could reduce the need for at least Shiite irregulars, but the Sunni paramilitaries are absolutely necessary in Sunni areas," Jubouri added.
The presence of Sunni paramilitaries is necessary to reduce the fears of the Sunni residents of possible burning and looting to their homes by the Shiite militias based on sectarian and revenge motives.
SIGNIFICANCE AND OPTIONS IN ANBAR AND MOSUL
Anbar and Mosul have long been hotbeds of Sunni insurgency, including IS' predecessoral-Qaida organization, since 2003 against U.S. forces and the Shiite dominated security forces.
Hassan al-Dulaimi, a military expert, illustrated that both Anbar and Mosul are powerful strongholds for IS group and are of a great vital for the extremist group.
"IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi selected Mosul for his (caliphate) speech last summer, and that was dramatically symbolic," Dulaimi told Xinhua.
"Anbar also has long been a hub for powerful Sunni insurgency. Its geographic complexity, expansive deserts and multiple borders made its security task the most difficult," Dulaimi said.
The loss of any of IS citadels of Mosul or Anbar would be catastrophic for the IS, even more than Tikrit or the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane. It will be widely interpreted as a sign of the group's dwindling, and possibly could accelerate a gradual dry up of foreign recruits, according to Dulaimi.
Liberation of Anbar province will be more complex and difficult than the recapture of Tikrit, as the offensive will step deep into IS territory.
Such complexity would entail the development an effective configuration of Iraqi forces, from the security forces, Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization, and Sunni tribes in the province.
Dulaimi described the military situation in Anbar as "difficult but not impossible," as the cities of Anbar lie in a line along the Euphrates River, which will allow a distribution of roles among Iraqi government forces, Shiite militias and allied Sunni tribes.
The IS controls most of Anbar's cities, while the Iraqi forces and allied Sunni tribesmen control al-Baghdadi, Haditha and some areas of Ameriyat al-Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital city of Ramadi.
"The strongest Anbar (pro-government) tribes are in Ramadi, and this is vital for the battle. The tribes can play major role in securing their areas which will be turned into launching pads for the liberation of Fallujah in southeast of Ramadi from Daash, and the town of al-Qaim, northwest of Ramadi, near Syrian border," Dulaimi said.
Anbar province is the largest province in Iraq, it constitutes about one-third of Iraq territory and borders the provinces of Babil, Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Salahudin and Nineveh. It also stretches to the borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.
On March 18, the Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said that the next move of the Iraqi security forces would be the Sunni heartland of Anbar province in western Iraq, before heading to Mosul in the north.
"We won't launch the operation to liberate Mosul (capital of northern province of Nineveh) unless securing Anbar (province)," Obeidi told reporters in March, highlighting the priorities of the Iraqi security forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
Although Obeidi pointed out that the timing for Mosul battle is "very delicate and sensitive, because it is very important for the history of the Iraqi army and for all Iraqis as well."
In addition, he revealed that some intelligence reports said the IS militants fortified their defensive lines around Mosul, about 400 km north of Baghdad, and intensified their security measures preparing for the fierce battles in the city.