Once again, we see the Iraq Army (IA) bogged down in fighting ISIS, this time in Anbar. And once again we see the emergence of Iranian lead militias being called on to fill the gap left by an incompetent (IA)which does not seem to have the capacity or desire to take on ISIS. The call to deploy the Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces can be heard coming from a few Sunni tribes but it is likely the louder voices are coming from Tehran. The problem with this move is that the Iranian led Shi’a militias, while larger than the IA, would likely inflame the situation by taking retribution on the Sunni population as they did in Tikrit. The Anbar region holds no significance to Tehran but is of strategic importance to a unified Iraq. The arterial roads that connect central Syria with central Iraq, as well as control the Euphrates River makes the region of strategic importance. That is of course unless Baghdad or Tehran is not interested in securing the Sunni heartland and has other targets in mind.
Should the militias succeed in inflaming the Sunni tribes and driving them into the arms of ISIS. Then the Iranians will be there to support and protect and move on targets that make sense to them. What target meets the criteria of a Shi’a area, of value to Baghdad and Tehran, not currently under Baghdad’s control. The only answer is the Governorate and city of Kirkuk. Kirkuk has been in dispute since the fall of Saddam and currently under control of the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Full control of Kirkuk was not a fact for the KRG until the collapse of the Iraqi army following attacks by ISIS. The KRG while having de facto control of the city but limited control of the governorate now claims the prize of full control. The thing to also remember is that the only area of Anbar that the IA is fighting for is Baiji, which has the largest oil refinery in Iraq. Kirkuk by the way sits on top of one of the largest oil fields in Iraq.
So will the US retain any leverage over Baghdad and will Iraq remain a unified nation when all is said and done. Stay tuned and we will see.