by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- U.S. air power helped Kurdish fighters retake a major Iraqi dam from terrorists over the weekend, but the Islamic radicals are still a formidable force in the embattled nation, and the United States may well stay in the fight for the foreseeable future, experts say.
Kurdish forces over the weekend took Iraq's largest dam from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists with the help of U.S. airstrikes, gaining a much-needed victory after the militants in recent weeks overran vast swathes of the country' s north.
But experts said the victory does not signal the terrorists' defeat in the war-torn country, and the Americans may well continue to lend its airpower for months to come, if not longer.
"It appears that Kurdish Peshmerga remains unable to engage in major efforts against combatants without heavy U.S. air support," Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua.
David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Xinhua that while the dam battle was a victory for the Kurds and America, U.S. airstrikes are likely to continue -- perhaps even for years -- although U.S. military engagement, at least under the current administration, will likely remain limited.
While better cooperation between Iraq's army, Peshmerga forces and U.S. air power has been effective in pushing ISIL back from parts of the country, it remains unclear whether such actions will also take place in other parts of the country.
Moreover, such tactics are difficult to pull off in densely populated cities such as Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit, and militants are expected to use civilians, including women and children, as human shields, Pollock said.
White echoed those sentiments, arguing that although ISIL fighters are surely learning the dangers of opposing forces backed by U.S. air support, most such fighting has occurred outside heavily populated areas.
When either a yet-to-be revived Iraqi Army or the Peshmerga tackle urban targets like Mosul, combatants will be able to find plenty of concealment within urban clutter. So, retaking urban targets could require far heavier doses of air strikes -- should the U.S. oblige -- resulting in some of the heavy damage to buildings and infrastructure already seen in Syria where government forces rely on huge amounts of firepower to combat rebels in cities, White said.
However, the damage almost certainly would not be as serious as in Syria because the government of Syrian President Bashar al- Assad regularly engages in indiscriminate bombardments -- something the U.S. and its allies would seek to avoid, he added.
Still, with American airpower gradually wearing down the number of heavy weapons and various armored and unarmored combat vehicles ISIL can deploy, the group may well have reached its high water mark of conquest in Iraq, White said.
IRAQ FORMS NEW GOV'T
One of the main obstacles to forming a unified front against ISIL was the sectarian governing style of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, but his recent resignation is likely to help the country come together in the face of the terrorist threat.
But Prime Minister-designate Haidar Al-Abadi and the Iraqi leadership have been caught up in the difficult process of government formation involving much politicking among diverse ethno-sectarian and other political elements, with each demanding concessions for their support, White said.
As a result, the full thrust of al-Maliki's departure has not been felt in governance and on the front lines. However, government and Iraqi morale have been boosted, to ISIL' disadvantage, White contended.
Also, with ISIL's leading grievance -- namely al-Maliki's rule - - to recruit various Sunni Arab forces now gone and international assistance starting to ramp up, the group must appreciate its ability to advance has been hobbled, White said.