Iraq Isn't the Right Front

A Syria-First Strategy to Fight ISIS

Smoke rises after a shell fell on a building that was held by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, March 28, 2015. Rami Zayat / Reuters

The battle to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been a serious test of the United States’ current strategy in Iraq. Despite more than 2,320 strikes (costing $1.83 billion) since the summer, ISIS still holds uncontested control of the Sunni heartlands, including in Anbar, Deir Ezzor, Mosul, and Raqqa. If anything, the air strikes have mostly helped Kurdish and Shiite militias push ISIS back from their own territories and deeper into the Sunni ones.

The battle for Tikrit, though, could be different. The defeat of ISIS in Saddam Hussein’s hometown seems likely—but only after the complete destruction of the city. The battle stalled for more than three weeks despite initial expectations that it would be over within days or even hours. ISIS has reportedly been holed up in 1.5 square mile area inside Tikrit, with the Iraqi government announcing last week the final phase of

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