How to Respond to the ISIS Threat in Iraq

A new CAP issue brief discusses how the Obama administration should manage the threat of a new terrorist group in Iraq.

Part of a Series

idea light bulb

In 2005, the Center for American Progress called for the strategic redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq. This comprehensive strategy combined the withdrawal of combat troops by a certain date with a deeper regional, diplomatic, and security engagement strategy to address the increased sectarian divisions in Iraq and across the region that threatened U.S. interests. The withdrawal of U.S. combat troops was necessary to create an incentive for Iraqis to take control of their own affairs: Iraq had become dependent on an endless supply of American ground troops for its security. The way forward for Iraq was and continues to be an inclusive democracy that fully respects the rights of all Iraqi communities, providing a voice for Sunnis and Kurds in the political process and in government.

The failure of Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to build an inclusive political system has enabled the current startling advances of militants across Iraq led by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. The jihadi militant group is so brutal that even Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri disowned it. ISIS has exploited discontent with the Shia-led national government among Iraq’s Sunni population and has been able to rally some elements of Iraq’s Sunni tribes, as well as Sunni armed groups linked to the former regime of Saddam Hussein. As a result, ISIS was able to quickly seize towns across northern and central Iraq while the U.S.-trained and equipped security forces, weakened by Maliki’s politicization of their leadership and exclusion of Sunnis, melted away. Iraq is back on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war.

For more on this topic, please see:

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Explore The Series