Havens in Iraq &  Syria?


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U.S. Congressman Paul Cook calls to our attention____  We’re approaching a turning point in the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. With Mosul back in Iraqi control and the fight for Raqqa ramping up, we must determine our role in the region when ISIS no longer controls large cities or swaths of land.

ISIS and other radical Islamic groups will continue to remain threats that we must be able to counter and defeat, but what is the best way to accomplish that considering the other political, economic, and military issues in that region?  

While the ISIS caliphate took a major hit when Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul, smaller radical terrorist groups could remain entrenched within the minority Sunni communities. The presence of Shia Iranian militias in Iraq is causing some distrust among moderate Sunni areas, making it easier for extremists to find support among those same Sunnis. There is also a Kurdish minority that has fought hard against ISIS and extremism, but theirplace in a future Iraqi government is still unclear. 


For Syria, the fight against ISIS continues, but that’s just one battle in a long lasting civil war involving a number of factions and outside powers. The domestic list of players include the Syrian regime, Kurdish groups, ISIS and other extremist groups, as well as vetted and unvetted moderate rebels. The external players include the U.S. and coalition forces, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah, and on occasion Israel. When Raqqa falls, the fight with ISIS will be closer to an end, but all the other chess pieces remain. 

These are simplified overviews of the dynamic situations in Iraq and Syria, but they highlight the need to discuss the future of the region. 

Specifically, we should ask: “What can America do to prevent allowing safe havens for terrorists?” 

While these discussions take place, it’s critical that we not set an arbitrary military pullout date or limit our options based on political considerations, such as we did under the previous presidential administration.  


We must show we’re serious about security while not giving our enemies a timeframe to wait us out, and we should find ways to help Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure so they can utilize their natural resources. We should also push to stabilize Syria using diplomatic and economic efforts wherever possible and military power where we must, so that the bloodshed ends and the region is safe for millions to return to their homeland.  

These are incredibly challenging problems that won’t be solved overnight, but our military successes there require that we begin the discussion.


This op-ed was published in American Military News. 


U.S. Congressman Paul Cook is a member of the House Armed Services, Natural Resources, and Foreign Affairs Committees, Cook served as an infantry officer and retired after 26 years as a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his time in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.