Iraq's government announced today that it had launched an operation to retake its western province of Anbar, including its capital of Ramadi, from the Islamic State(IS). Iraqi media reported that both Shiite and Sunni paramilitary forces were being used in the operation.
While Iraq's declaration, on the surface, appears to be a brave undertaking by the Iraqi forces to retake its sovereign territory from the nemesis extremist group, questions as to the depth of the commitment of the Iraqi forces to fight the IS, will continue to surface during and after the operation.
Air power provided by the International Coalition to bomb IS positions will be crucial to the operation. And under the cover of this air power, Iraqi forces have the best opportunity to succeed in retaking Ramadi and all of Anbar province from the IS.
However, as has been the case throughout many Iraqi army campaigns, sectarian reality could end up playing a determining factor in the aftermath of retaking Anbar, thus creating another opportunity for the IS to return because of fractured governance.
Hence, as Sunni and Shiite forces band together to battle the IS; perhaps, a new and broad national unity would be displayed and sustained between the two sects, which could transcend Anbar to all of Iraq - leading to stable sands, towns, cities and oil fields, and a strong inclusive unified government in Baghdad.
But the stark reality confronting Iraqi forces is daunting. While Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi predicts that his forces would be back in Ramadi "in days", the history of the Iraqi army's struggle to fend off the IS, begs to differ from the prime minister's forecast and to suggests a long bloody battle as IS forces amass at Ramadi in expectation of the forthcoming retaking operation.