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The Red Lines of U.S. Strategy Towards ISIS


THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – By Dr. Saif Nusrat Al-hermezi* – Translator: Hadi Nehme — 


This article evokes an important problematic dilemma regarding the link between ISIS’ protraction in the region and the boundaries the United States has set before the organization.

The term “red lines”, frequently mentioned in official and unofficial media outlets in the framework of strategic trending of the ongoing crisis; refers to what is prohibited and thus entailing retribution that varies in intensity according to the importance of the goals defined—crucial, average or complementary.

Thus we ask: has there been set any red lines for ISIS’s expansion in Iraq, through a defined map by the US, and why?

Among the major red lines witnessed through ground experience; are:


  • The first red line is the Iraqi capital (Baghdad); for it is the Iraqi government’s base and the center for decision-making. Thus; its falling means the fall of Iraq. On the other hand; Baghdad harbors the largest US embassy in the Middle East, regarding its size and personnel—more than 15 thousand employees and contracted.



  • The strip enclosing Kurdistan Erbil- Sulaymaniyah-Dahuk; excluding the embattled regions, for reasons that I will clarify later.



  • The Karkuk area, as it is known that Karkuk was divided into two parts; one controlled by ISIS (comprising of Huwaijah, Al-Riyadh and Al-Rashad—mostly Arab residents), and the other controlled by the Peshmerga, protracting from the water project located before the Turkish village of Turklan, straight directly to TozKhurmato and the dividing boundary where the now-called Khaled control.


  • Amiriyat Al-Flluja area; which is the first defense line around Baghdad, as it is the key to the capital and its crumbling would devastate the already weak low-spirited and mal-armed Iraqi security forces against ISIS.


  • The dams area; comprising of the Mosul and the Hudaytha dams which represent a strategic importance on the ground. Thus; ISIS’s control over this area threatens the surrounding regions with being drowned under water, and also poses a threat to ground forces.


  • Military bases area;where the US forces lodge: we see America slating a red line to a group of bases holding consultants or contracted; such as “camp Speicher” base north of Tikrit, Balad airbase south of Tikrit and ‘Ayn Al-Asad base in Nahiyat Al-Baghdadi of the Hudaytha district in the Al-Anbar province; for harboring more than 1000 American contracted to train the Iraqi forces and support the National Guard project.


  • The Shia mausoleums, which are regarded as the most crucial areas for achieving stability, especially that the 2006 bombing of the two Samurra’ shrines had a huge impact on stoking sectarian war. The US has indirectly referred this issue to Iran and the Quds Crops leadership.


And the most important US arcane reasons and incentives behind American lagging in the response against ISIS and to keep it at bay from the punishing red lines; are:


  • The US is pressuring the Baghdad government to enact the National Guard law; which is part of the plan to disintegrate the army based in sect and ethnicity, under the alibi of protecting the regions against its own people.


  • This path is evoked by the US, orienting to regionalization (from the Balkan model to Lebanon model). This is what Joseph Nye asserted as he described this path as “the new tribalism”; as it is a theoretical establishment for disintegrating the world and entrenching divisions, dispute, sects, ethnicities and religions among communities within the same region.



  • These red lines were drawn in 1991 in terms to divide Iraq.


  • The disintegrating signs came about with the occupation of Iraq in 2003, and the introduction of all types of sectarianism and ethnicity, and establishing them officially along the introduction of the first Iraqi government (under the occupation), and through the governing council led by Paul Bremer who set the governance loop into sectarian cycling among Sunni+Shia+Kurdish for each governing post, and for one month.



  • The divisiveness further inoculated within the whole region via change management, in what was called “The Arab Spring”; executed through the new democracy that enclosed an undertone of “Creative Chaos” introduced by pulpit Condoleezza Rice, so to establish that sectarianism and ethnicity be the norm of embattlement and tension.


  • The red lines in Iraq constitute a new division:
  • The establishment of the Mosul strip; which the American intelligence agenda refers to as “the red strip” after freeing it from the control of ISIS, baring a security exception for the district of Talafar of Shia majority.
  • Al-Saraya strip, as the Americans has named it; is where the Christian, Ayzidi, Shabak and even Jewish minorities reside, in a marked geographic span known as “Ninawa plain”; and would be guarded by its residents in cooperation with the Peshmerga.
  • Dividing Karkuk into Arabic (now controlled by ISIS), and includes Huwayjah, Al-Riyadh and Al-Rashad and some Qasabat; and Kurdish (controlled by the Peshmerga), where a special Kurdish governance prevails, also maintaining the rights of other factions like the Turks. The district of TozKhurmato is annexed to Karkuk’s geography.
  • Salahiddeen strip; extending from Al-Sharqat to Samurra’. The strip excludes the latter region along with Balad and Ad-Dujayl (all of Shia majority). Samurra’ would be granted special governance because of its Sunni element. Its guarding is linked to that of the mausoleums, for what it possesses of importance to achieving stability versus turmoil.
  • The great Al-Anbar strip; also called “the Dulaym brigade strip”, by the Americans and the British even beforehand. It would be governed by its own residents, and is dubbed with tribalism, according to the size of each tribe, beginning with Al-Bufahd tribe and ending with Al-Bu Mhammad tribe.
  • Baghdad remains of variety, and is where the government is based. It is the capital, through which all the aforementioned plans would be implemented; and especially that it harbors the largest US embassy in the Middle East (as mentioned earlier in this piece).
  • In the near term, if not the long term; there would be a “middle strip”, excluding An-Najaf and Karbala’ (for their religious exception). There also would be “south strip”, Al-Basra being its center. It is the richest of all strips with oil, which feeds Iraq with more than 70% of its exports.


And perhaps the most important resulting outcomes is disintegrating Iraq’s army, since its strength poses a threat to the American interests and to Israel’s security; even though in the long term it would still be a fledgedarmy, yet in the form of contingents as follows:

  • The popular mobilization forces would be an army for the Shias.
  • The National Guard would be the Sunnis army.
  • The Peshmerga; army of the Kurds.
  • Al-Saraya (“the brigades”); army of the minorities.


After comprehending the American strategic tactics and techniques in setting red lines for ISIS; worth asserting that the actual American intervention to support the Iraqi government won’t come unconditionally:

  • The first condition is to enact the law of “The National Guard” in the Iraqi parliament, and implementing it; especially that the trainers and contracted train this faction in the military bases of: Speicher (Tikrit); Al-Taji (Baghdad); Ayn Al-Asad (Al-Anbar) and Delta (Irbil).
  • The secong condition is to enact the districts law, according to sectarian and ethnic terms; that has become a necessity after June 10, 2014, in the regions outside the central authority area.


In the end; it should be asserted that the US is still playing it safe; so to maintain its status of moderator of conflicts and the savior against all terrorism that it strew in the region. Thus putting end to festering ISIS is bound to the implementation of the aforementioned terms mandatory to Iraqis now. And my personal view of the matter, after extensive examination; is that all the regions would be red lines, which ultimately would lead to the killing of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, which probably would take place before the 2016 American presidential elections; thus would be reflected as a triumph to the Americans in general, and the Democrats of the Obama administration, in specific, who surely know the whereabouts of Al-Baghdadi, for many CIA members are moles inside the structure if ISIS. This view transcends the conspiracy theory, for we seem to live even on the margins of the world in this century; on the backdrop of this game of “3D” chess with one player contested by other countries seeking to put a hand on a portion of the prey, or maintaining the jackpot.


*Iraqi researcher and analyst.





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