A little over two years ago, ISIS took Mosul and large swathes of Iraqi territory in a spectacular campaign characterized by its disproportionality: hundreds of Islamic State fighters drove tens of thousands of Iraqi troops running back to Baghdad, often dropping their weapons along the way. How was ISIS able to assert control over these areas with such relative ease? Deep-seated hatred of the central government and its sectarian policies played a big role. And once Mosul is “liberated,” these same realities will need to be addressed again. Immediately.

“West Iraq: The Search for Leaders and Leverage,” a paper released today by the Hudson Institute, looks at a possible solution to a problem that has plagued Iraq since even before the 2003 U.S. invasion: can the center hold? As the Kurdish Peshmerga take the lead in the fight for Mosul, it becomes clearer still that an independent Kurdistan will one day be a reality. What about the Sunni Arabs? Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi and other key cities in West Iraq are predominantly Sunni. Ten years ago, then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden talked about dividing Iraq into three autonomous areas. A decade later, that idea appears to have been ahead of its time.

Flagging oil revenues have dampened the previously vibrant economy of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan in recent years which is why the Hudson paper looks at the prospects of diversification for the region that stretches from Fallujah, to the West of Baghdad, northwards to Mosul and Tikrit. Still, natural resources do exist in the region, and the report cites the Akkas gas field, with an estimated 5.6 trillion cubic feet of reserves, in Iraq’s restive Anbar governorate, near the Syrian border.

“Akkas coming online could then theoretically provide an alternative source of gas to Europe with which Western countries could leverage Russia’s control over Eurasian energy markets,” it suggests, pointing to the geo-strategic implications of developing this region both for political and energy security. But its author warns of the “Dutch disease” that has handicapped natural resource-dependent economies and points to the fact that West Iraq benefits from the flow of the country’s major rivers and could, if peace is restored, recover significant agricultural potential, as well as cross-border trade with Jordan and the Levant.

The Committee to Destroy ISIS believes that the way to defeat extremism and make sure it doesn’t take root again is to give the people in these areas of Iraq a reason to fight for their own future. This strategy worked in 2008-9 when Sunni tribes rose up and drove al-Qaeda from their lands. And it can work again.

This paper, “West Iraq: The Search for Leaders and Leverage,” poses a clear-eyed set of considerations for those with the courage and the vision to change the status quo and allow the people of West Iraq a greater say in their own destiny. It is well worth the reading!