Hassan Hassan writes: The tortuous war against Isis is taking a treacherous turn. Two years after the militant Sunni group declared its brutal caliphate, the US and its allies in Iraq and Syria have begun a two-front offensive to dislodge the militant group from its strongholds in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and Raqqa in Syria. But, while the campaign has made progress, the composition of the forces leading the battles in the two Arab Sunni cities is intensifying sectarian and ethnic tensions in the bitterly divided nations and beyond. The danger is that the US-led action will, ultimately, help Isis gain legitimacy as a defender of Sunnis — even if it cedes territory.
Heightened fears in Syria, Iraq and the wider region about the offensive in Falluja and Raqqa bode ill for the long-term fight against the group. With western help channelled to militias beholden to the Shia regime in Iran and close to Tehran’s allies in Damascus, the fight is widely seen in the region as nakedly sectarian.
The US-backed offensive is the first of its kind since the American-led anti-Isis campaign began soon after the group swept into Iraq. America has long sought to avoid providing air support for Shia and Kurdish militias to fight in two Sunni areas at once: when Baghdad launched the battle to retake the city of Tikrit from Isis in March last year, Washington refrained from providing air strikes in support of the estimated 30,000 Shia fighters until the battle stalled three weeks later. [Continue reading…]