In some respects, this victory could be seen as a harbinger for future successes. After months of rout and brutal defeats, the Iraqi Army appears to be cobbling itself together. In part, this could be due to natural selection wrought by the rigors of combat. Recall the early phases of the Syrian civil war. The rebels inflicted a series of victories against Assad's regime, but now the Syrian military is in a favorable position. As incompetent commander and soldiers are either relieved or gain more experience, the force as a whole becomes more resilient and formidable. Prime Minister Haider Abadi recently removed 26 commander's from their posts in a security forces-wide shake up of leadership. This is in stark contrast to the actions of his predecessor, Maliki, who fired some of his best Sunni commanders and replaced them with sectarian counter parts belonging to the Shiite faith following America's withdraw from Iraq.
More than that, however, are the broader reforms implemented by Abadi. Early into his tenure, Abadi declared that the Iraqi Army would be more selective in its use of airstrikes as to prevent Sunni casualties. During the attack on Beiji, the military used loud speakers to urge civilians to flee the town before ground elements attacked. Further, Iraqi leaders have ordered Shiite militias to back away from the front lines. This announcement came after the Asaib Ahl al Haq militia was accused of killing 34 Sunnis northeast of Baghdad in apparent retaliation for ISIS massacres against Shiites. However, attempts by Abadi to bridge the sectarian divide have not been enough. The Badr Brigade is allegedly supporting military operations in Jalawala, and the Iraqi military has not gone far enough in supporting Sunni militias despite calls by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistan to arm them.
Coalition operations to stall the advance of ISIS forces appear to be contributing to the success of Iraqi forces as well. Notably, over 900 militants have been killed in airstrikes since America began combat operations in August. British Special Air Services operators have also been acting as a mobile raid force across the country. Soldiers are dropped into an area by a helicopter, then they proceed to use quad bikes for drive by shootings on Islamic State forces. The past four weeks have seen a total of 200 militants killed, creating a sense of fear in terrorists operating in safe zones. The United States has been planning to step up its support of local forces in Iraq, too. America, Germany, Britain, and others have supplied the Pershmerga forces with high volume of firepower, and the Pentagon recently unveiled its intention to supply Sunni groups with 24.1 million dollars worth of arms.
However, despite these advances, the war against ISIS will be a long, slow grind. Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey sees the conflict in Iraq lasting for years. Academic research shows that a civil war generally lasts about six years. So as the Iraqi Army recaptures more and more territory, they will have to contend with guerrilla warfare and its associated hardships. Namely, the dismantling of Shiite militias which have been crucial in the conflict thus far, absorbing Sunni militias into the armed forces, and the creation of sustainable relationships with Sunni tribal leaders.
This will subsequently require a sustained effort by the international community to not only push for these reforms by the Iraqi government, but also mitigate influence being exerted by Iran. Failing to that will not only prolong the conflict and perpetuate immoral and disgusting acts by Shiite militants, but also allow Iran to expand its regional clout. Unfortunately, it's questionable if America has the will to take all the measures required to ensure success in Iraq should the government not actively implement reforms to its devisive political system. General Dempsey has stated that a "modest" amount of soldiers would have to deploy to Iraq should Abadi not pursue changes to his government and military.