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International military aid to Iraq may offer little help

July 13, 2014 at 4:17 PM EDT
What are Iraq's chances of displacing the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? And what impact can international aid, including military aid pledged by Iran, the United States and Russia have on the conflict? To unpack these questions, Anthony Cordesman of the Center of Strategic and International Studies joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now more about the situation in Iraq. Yesterday I interviewed Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He’s the former director of Intelligence Assessment in the office of the Secretary of Defense. I began by asking him about the offers of military aid from Iran, the United States and Russia.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: The problem right now is, military aid providing more equipment and more weapons can have a very limited effect. There’s all kinds of claims being made about air power but they’re really only flying a handful of sorties a day. Most of the claims of effects are by people who have no military background.

No capabilities to target and no ability to access the damage, and providing more weapons to an army that has basically a political structure tied to the prime minister that’s deeply corrupt. Often a hallow force with officers who aren’t doing their job or simply aren’t there.

The problem is not weapons the problem isn’t supply and there is very little that outside advisors can really do. To the extent that the Iraqi army has improved, it basically is, it’s now fallen back on some of the more effective units.

It has a friendly population in shiite areas and it has shiite volunteers. But that doesn’t make it an effective force or one that can defeat the Islamic State in the north and in the west.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the chances of displacing the Islamic State group?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well the Islamic State group presents a serious problem for itself. It isn’t simply that Iraq is fighting other Islamic groups in Syria at the same time. So it needs time to build up control over the areas that it has taken, if it can do so. Because it does face strong rivals and certainly a lot of tribal resistance.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the impending refugee crisis into neighboring countries?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well there already is a refugee crisis, you’ve seen at least a million Iraqis move out. Understand this adds to something like 20 percent of the population of Syria. Which has gone into Lebanon, into Turkey, into Jordan and other areas.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We also see troops amassing along the border of neighboring countries. Are they concerned that Iraq cannot stay together as a single country anymore?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well I think everyone is concerned that Iraq may not stay together as a single country but the more serious problem is that having a single country where you have sectarian and ethnic groups that hate each other. That drive people who are in the minority out of their homes or kill them, is not a form of unity.

It doesn’t really provide any basis for stability and development. There also is the fact this is not one war, its directly connected to the Syrian civil war and at least in terms in the Islamic Extremist movements you have volunteers coming in as extremist from places as far away as Britain and China and the United States. And that’s really why the Jordanian and Saudi forces and to a lesser extent the Lebanese forces in the north of Lebanon, Turkish forces have built up on the border.

It isn’t to try to unify the country, it’s to stop the flow of extremist and terrorist and any expansion of either the Islamic state or the fighting into other countries.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are these countries concerned that the Islamic State Group could spill over into Jordan or Saudi Arabia?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well it’s not just the Islamic State. It’s the Islamist and many other movements. At least two others in Iraq, something like eight different movements of different sizes in Syria and this is a key reason why countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia changed their terrorist laws, because they see this fear as very serious.

When you look at what is happening counter terrorism in Europe and the United States. You have a whole new focus on what happens to the volunteers that have been going into Iraq and Syria when they come back. And this is an issue virtually everywhere in the Middle East.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Anthony Cordesman joining us from Washington, thanks so much.