US Air Strikes Increasingly Likely

BMI View: Risks that the US will carry out military air strikes in Iraq have increased significantly following attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Iran is also expected to further aid the Iraqi government by supporting Shi'a militias and conducting special operations. While foreign support could contain the ISIS's offensive, it will do little to stop the Jihadist group from consolidating power in northern Iraq.

Risks that the United States will intervene militarily in the political crisis in Iraq through air strikes have increased significantly since militias linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) advanced south after occupying Mosul on June 10. ISIS occupied the city of Tikrit in central Iraq on June 11, which was partly retaken by Iraqi forces, and the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawla in the eastern province of Diyala fell to the insurgents on June 13.

Drone Strikes The Most Likely Option

US Air Strikes Increasingly Likely

BMI View: Risks that the US will carry out military air strikes in Iraq have increased significantly following attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Iran is also expected to further aid the Iraqi government by supporting Shi'a militias and conducting special operations. While foreign support could contain the ISIS's offensive, it will do little to stop the Jihadist group from consolidating power in northern Iraq.

Risks that the United States will intervene militarily in the political crisis in Iraq through air strikes have increased significantly since militias linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) advanced south after occupying Mosul on June 10. ISIS occupied the city of Tikrit in central Iraq on June 11, which was partly retaken by Iraqi forces, and the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawla in the eastern province of Diyala fell to the insurgents on June 13.

Drone Strikes The Most Likely Option

US President Barack Obama on June 13 threatened military action against ISIS. Should the US decide on intervention, we believe the most likely option would be drone strikes, as this action would serve the purpose of supporting the Iraqi military while limiting American involvement in the country. We believe the use of warplanes is less likely given that there would be a risk of casualties should aircrafts be shot down. That said, given that ISIS lacks air defence equipment, the risks that a fighter jet could be shot down are low.

Air strikes will have to be accompanied by increased logistical and advisory support to Iraqi forces on the ground. A US Defense Department official said that about USD15bn in equipment, training and other services has already been sent to Iraq, not including USD1bn worth of arms currently in a 30-day review period in Congress. We believe that the mere provision of weaponry will not be enough given the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi military forces and risks that Jihadist militants could confiscate weaponry and vehicles from the army.

Even so, the White House insisted that it has no intention of sending ground troops. We believe that this possibility is off the cards given the extremely low appetite in the US to commit once again to a military campaign in Iraq after the high number of casualties sustained during the eight-year occupation of Iraq (2003-2011).

Iranian Involvement Underscores Regional Dimensions Of Conflict

According to reports, Iran sent two battalions of Iranian Revolutionary Guards to aid the Iraqi government in countering ISIS. The forces were dispatched to support the Iraqi military in its fight against ISIS and associated militias operating in former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Tehran has an enormous stake in Iraq's stability and in ensuring the continuity of the Shi'a-led Iraqi government, and a senior Iranian official told Reuters on June 13 that Iran may be willing to cooperate with Washington in helping Baghdad fight the militants. Barring the emergence of risks to the safety of the two Shi'a sacred cities of Karbala and Najaf in southern Iraq, the prospect of a large-scale Iranian deployment remains unlikely at this stage. However, the contribution of Iranian special forces and Tehran's support to Shi'a militias in Iraq will continue, underscoring the increasingly international dimensions of the Iraqi crisis.

Fighting Protracted Regardless Of External Intervention

External support to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could serve to contain ISIS's offensive, particularly if the group attacks Baghdad. However, the ongoing conflict in Iraq will be a protracted one regardless of outside military intervention. US strikes and, especially, Iranian deployments could further intensify sectarian tensions between the Sunni minority and the Shi'a majority, increasing Sunni support for radical Islamist groups. In addition, air strikes would do little to stop ISIS from consolidating power in Mosul and other urban centres, as taking back these cities would require ground forces to engage in urban warfare.

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