Archive for the ‘Baghdad’ category

Propping up US-Iraqi Mosul flop exposed Baghdad

December 31, 2016

Propping up US-Iraqi Mosul flop exposed Baghdad, DEBKAfile, December 31, 2016

(I receive frequent daily Google alerts on Iraq. Most deal with terrorist attacks in and near Baghdad, sometimes resulting in a few deaths and sometimes resulting in many.  —  DM)

mosul_iraq_destroyed_tank_12-16Iraqi tank blown up by ISIS bomber in Mosul battle

This week, another 1,700 US special operations forces and 4,000 members of the Iraqi federal police and counter-terrorism service (CTS) were urgently sent out to reinforce the crumbling front lines. Their deployment was officially characterized as marking the launch of “the second phase of the operation to retake Mosul.”


The US-backed Iraqi campaign launched in October to liberate Mosul from the clutches of the Islamic State is on its last legs, although the Obama administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi are making every effort to disguise the debacle.

AS DEBKAfile has been reporting for three weeks, the Iraqi army’s Mosul operation has run aground, despite solid US military backing, giving the advantage to Islamic State fighters occupying Iraq’s biggest city since the summer of 2015.

This development has major security ramifications – not only for Iraq, but also for Syria, Jordan, Israel and the West at large.

The jihadists staunched the Iraqi army’s advance by releasing in its path hundreds of suicide killers in waves on foot and in bomb cars. This tactic has inflicted crippling losses on the two elite Iraqi divisions leading the offensive, the Golden Division, which is the backbone of Iraq’s Special Operations forces, and the 9th Armored Division. Devastating losses forced both to pull back from the battlefield.

This week, another 1,700 US special operations forces and 4,000 members of the Iraqi federal police and counter-terrorism service (CTS) were urgently sent out to reinforce the crumbling front lines. Their deployment was officially characterized as marking the launch of “the second phase of the operation to retake Mosul.”

Their real function was to prop up the few positions Iraqi forces have captured so far and save the Mosul offensive from crashing.

Western military observers noted Saturday, Dec. 31, that more and more American troops are to be seen on the embattled city’s front lines. US combatants are therefore fighting face to face with ISIS jihadists, a development the Obama administration is loath to admit, never having released the number of American lives lost in the Mosul offensive.

Our military sources add that the Iraqi counter-terrorism force sent to Mosul was previously posted in Baghdad to secure the capital against Islamist terrorist operations and ISIS attempts to seize the center and Iraqi’s national government centers. Its transfer to Mosul, 356km to the north, exposed central Baghdad to terror.

And, inevitably, on Saturday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up on a main street of the capital, killing 28 people and injuring 40 in their first major attack there in three months since the onset of the Mosul offensive..

This happened the day after the Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook released an unwelcome report that US security agencies “do think [Abu Bakr al] Baghdadi is alive and is still leading” the Islamic group and the battle for Mosul.

ISIS for its part issued a menacing new communiqué that jacked up its threat against neighboring Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his security forces, in the wake of its terrorist-cum-hostage assault earlier this month on the southern town of Karak, in which 10 people were killed and 29 injured.

The communiqué reads:“All Jordanian soldiers, police, mosque preachers, information activists and regime supporters are legitimate targets for the muhahideen’s bullets and knives. All of Jordan is an open battlefield!”

ISIS is informing the world of its coming targets, say DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources, which are:

1. The overthrow of the Hashemite king and his rule, and

2. The seizure of southern Jordan.

If Baghdadi succeeds in this scheme, he will gain control of a large stretch of land adjacent to Israel and Egyptian Sinai to the west and Saudi Arabia to the south, thereby bringing both under threat and placing itself close enough to block the port of Aqaba, Jordan’s only outlet to the sea.

From the desert region of southern Jordan, ISIS will also achieve proximity to the Sinai desert – through Israeli and Egyptian Bedouin – and be able to control the main Middle East arms-smuggling route and the Sinai center of operations of this illicit and enormously profitable trade

Iraq’s Al-Sadr reportedly summoned to Tehran

May 5, 2016

Iraq’s Al-Sadr reportedly summoned to Tehran, Middle East Monitor, May 5, 2016

muqtada-al-sadrMuqtada al-Sadr

Iraq’s Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr was summoned to Tehran “for bashing and rebuke”, a Lebanon-based Shia cleric said.

Secretary General of the Arab Islamic Council in Lebanon Mohammad Ali Husseini said that the Iranian embassy in Baghdad informed Al-Sadr that he was summoned to Tehran because “his followers crossed red lines by criticizing and insulting clerical rule at a time when the Iranian regime is facing noticeable political and military decline among the countries of the region”.

Husseini told Okaz newspaper that Al-Sadr “will be subjected to much blame, censure and pressure” and he will be “redirected to serve Iran’s interest”.

Al-Sadr has mobilized followers to take to the streets to demand reforms and the replacement of ministers belonging to the parties dominating power in Baghdad.

Supporters of Al-Sadr stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone on Saturday before forcing their way into the parliament building where they broke windows and smashed furniture.

Iraq Parliament Collapses, Lawmakers Flee Baghdad

May 1, 2016

Iraq Parliament Collapses, Lawmakers Flee Baghdad, Voice of AmericaSharon Behn, May 1, 2016

Baghdad parliament flees

Baghdad teeters on the edge of political chaos Sunday.

The city is in a state of emergency, protesters are occupying parts of the once-secure International Zone (IZ), lawmakers have run away and the military is on high alert.

By Sunday morning, protesters led by Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr continued to crowd the streets in front of the country’s now-empty parliament and gather in what is known as the zone’s “Celebration Square.”

Lawmakers fled Saturday after protestors stormed into the parliament.

About 60 lawmakers, mostly from the minority Kurdish and Sunni parties, flew out of the capital for Irbil and Suleymania, in the northern autonomous Kurdish region.

“It was dangerous for all of us,” one parliament official told VOA, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Some lawmakers were beaten, he said.

Baghdad 1A handout image released by the press office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on May 1, 2016, shows him (L) looking at the damage after protesters stormed the Iraqi parliament building in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone area.

The official said thousands of protesters were still in the so-called International Zone Sunday, parked outside the major government buildings.

WATCH: Related video of protesters in the International Zone (Video at the link — DM)

Normally only those with special badges are allowed into the secured area, which is also home to many foreign embassies and the United Nations.

“It is dangerous,” the parliament official said. “At any time, the protesters could attack any embassy, any institution they want, or abuse anybody passing by.

“It seems al-Sadr wants to keep them inside the IZ so he can force the government to do what he wants,” the official said.

Political unrest

The parliament takeover was the culmination of weeks of political wrangling and increasing instability, and came just days after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Baghdad.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the visit was a good indication of U.S. continued support for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to unify Iraq and confront the Islamic State (IS) group.

Baghdad 2Supporters of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr walk over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone, April 30, 2016. Dozens of protesters climbed over the blast walls and could be seen storming the parliament building.

But the visit was not enough to stave off the deepening political crisis.

Sadr has been demanding a new government of technocrats.

Abadi, who had also promised reform, had been unable to deliver any real change as political parties, unwilling to let go of their political power, blocked the majority of his list of candidates.

The prime minister on Sunday walked through the ransacked parliament building, and called on Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban to bring the attackers “to justice.”

Unrest growing

But even as political blocs have fought to maintain their positions and all the trappings of power, the anger in the Iraqi street has been growing for the past year over the lack of basic services, security, and the vast government corruption and political patronage.

Sadr, a firebrand cleric sometimes described as a Shi’ite nationalist, has managed to capitalize on that anger and frustration.

“Al-Sadr has the power of the people. One speech and he can deliver thousands of people to do what he wants. It is the power of the populace,” the parliament official said. “Al-Sadr is capable of running and leading the anger within each Iraqi person.”

Baghdad 3Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raise the Iraqi flag outside parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone, April 30, 2016.

One high-ranking Iraqi military official, also speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, said that Sadr had many young Iraqis, including Sunnis and Christians, on his side.

The Institute for the Study of War describes Sadr’s power grab as a de facto political coup.

But the military official said Prime Minister Abadi was still in control of the Iraqi military and running the country.

Rival Shi’ite powers

Yet, the military official warned that powerful rival Shi’ite powers in Baghdad were not comfortable with Sadr’s attempted power grab. He said members of the notorious Badr Brigade militia, which is strongly allied with Iran, were beginning to converge on the capital’s center.

The possibility for intra-Shi’ite violence in Baghdad is high, and Baghdad residents said they are unsure of what will happen next.

There is also concern that IS could take advantage of the turmoil to ramp up its attacks. Iraqi security forces closed off all entrances to the city Saturday.

Resident Mahdi Makhmour, who lives outside the IZ, said the city streets were empty Sunday morning and many roads were still blocked, partly because of the start of a three-day Shi’ite religious celebration in the capital.

What ISIS Has in Store for Baghdad…

May 26, 2015

What ISIS Has in Store for Baghdad…, ISIS Study Group, May 24, 2015

Since the majority of the government forces and Shia proxy forces are defending Baghdad, the rest of the country is vulnerable to being overrun by IS. Team Baghdadi views the seizing of terrain to expand the “Caliphate” as a bigger priority than seizing control of the Iraqi capital. The reason is obvious – seizing other major population centers and the critical infrastructure will help sustain the Islamic State. For IS, it makes more sense for them to continue having their sleeper cells conducting attacks inside the city while the front-line forces put pressure on the government by launching major operations in places like Karmah, Ramadi and al-Asad Airbase.


The media has been in overdrive about the Islamic State’s (IS) move to eliminate the remaining Iraqi Army (IA) and Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC) elements in Anbar Province – but does this mean that a march on Baghdad is imminent? The short answer is no. As we’ve said in our last couple of Iraq-themed articles (“ISIS Moves Against Targets in Haditha, Habbaniyah While Qods Force and Proxies Launch Counterattack,” “Suleimani’s Gambit: Bid to Deal Crushing Blow to ISIS in Bayji” and “JV Team Solidifies Hold on Anbar With Ramadi Purging”), IS doesn’t intend to “overrun” the capital, at least not in the near-term. Why? Three reasons:

1. Most of the government forces are concentrated in Baghdad. With over 90,000 Iraqi Security Force (ISF) personnel defending the capital, IS would have to generate a far greater force than they fielded in the takeovers of Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Mosul. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter recently came out slamming the cowardice that’s endemic throughout the IA. We agree with his assessment, but these forces will stand and fight in Baghdad.

Iraqi forces lack will to fight – Ashton Carter

Ashton Carter1

SECDEF Ashton Carter: Yes, somebody in the Obama administration actually got something right on the foreign policy arena – Kinda contradicts the administration’s party line of the fight against IS being a “great success,” doesn’t it?

2. So if Carter was right about the IA’s lack of will to fight, then how will they make a stand in Baghdad? The reason is that 80% of the IA are Shia and the capital is a major Shia stronghold these days. The IA does much better in places where they have a great deal of local support, which isn’t Anbar, the Zaab Triangle or Tikrit. Baghdad and the areas South of the city are very difficult for IS to overrun due to the large concentration of Shia in the area. Another thing to keep in mind is that Baghdad is also a major stronghold for the PMCs and Shia militant leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr aka “Muqi.” Even though the IA will still collapse when faced with a big fight, the Shia militias will hold their ground. Regarding the Shia militias, they’re no different than IS when it comes to martyrdom and brutality.


Muqi and his boys aren’t about to let IS roll into Baghdad in force without a fight
Source: Corbis

3. Since the majority of the government forces and Shia proxy forces are defending Baghdad, the rest of the country is vulnerable to being overrun by IS. Team Baghdadi views the seizing of terrain to expand the “Caliphate” as a bigger priority than seizing control of the Iraqi capital. The reason is obvious – seizing other major population centers and the critical infrastructure will help sustain the Islamic State. For IS, it makes more sense for them to continue having their sleeper cells conducting attacks inside the city while the front-line forces put pressure on the government by launching major operations in places like Karmah, Ramadi and al-Asad Airbase.

70 miles from Baghdad

Source: CNN

ISIS Moves Against Targets in Haditha, Habbaniyah While Qods Force and Proxies Launch Counterattack

Suleimani’s Gambit: Bid to Deal Crushing Blow to ISIS in Bayji

“JV Team” Solidifies Hold on Anbar With Ramadi Purging

Our “Fortress Baghdad” series laid out the IS strategy of relying on sleeper cells to conduct VBIED/SVEST attacks throughout the city. That strategy remains their preferred method of targeting the capital as it keeps the ISF/PMC off-balance and forces them to maintain their “circled wagon” posture. By doing this, the Government of Iraq (GOI) has kept manpower and resources from supporting efforts in Anbar and Northern Iraq that would’ve been crucial to the success of those operations. You’ve all seen the result of this with the fall of Anbar and failure to secure Tikrit, Bayji and the areas South of Kirkuk. IS won’t make a major push for Baghdad until after they’ve taken over the rest of the country – which is being greatly facilitated by the GOI keeping the majority of its forces in Baghdad. In the meantime, the sleeper cells will continue with their current OP-Tempo while groups of fighters get sent to the city to target specific neighborhoods in the city where the Sunni demographic is dominant. Those neighborhoods will be used to stage follow-on operations targeting locations such as Sadr City and the Green Zone – the US Embassy, specifically. We suspect that IS may choose to wait until a sandstorm hits before they move on the Embassy, fully knowing that military aircraft are grounded in bad weather. The far more immediate threat will likely come from IS conducting a high-profile attack on a government building. We assess that they will probably look to target the prisons in either Baghdad or Nasiriyah to capitalize on previous jail breaks conducted in Mosul and Ramadi. That said, the earliest they might target the prisons will be next month during Ramadan.

Links to Other Related Articles:

Islamic State Seizes Town of Khan al-Baghdadi, Threatens US Marines at Ayn al-Asad

ISIS Increases Pressure on Baghdad’s Green Zone – is the US Government Taking Notice?

Shia Militias To Reinforce al-Asad Airbase – IA On The Verge of Collapse

Links to Other Related Articles:

State of the Iraqi Air Force and Special Operations Forces

Update on the Baghdad and Kobane Fronts

The Islamic State Moves Into Abu Ghraib Within Striking Distance of Baghdad

Fortress Baghdad 4

Fortress Baghdad 3

Fortress Baghdad 2

Fortress Baghdad

US Begins Using Apache Attack Helicopters Against ISIS Northeast Of Fallujah

US Airstrikes Ivo Baghdad

Baghdad Update As Of 13 AUG 14

Fighting Around Baghdad Intensifies

ISIS advances on Baghdad, faces little resistance

May 24, 2015

ISIS advances on Baghdad, faces little resistance, DEBKAfile, May 24, 2015

The Islamic State continued its push toward Baghdad and on other fronts. Saturday, the group took the Iraq-Syrian town of Husaybah on the Tigris, rounding off its control of the border and the river and gaining an easy and rapid route for transferring reinforcements between the two countries.

The Islamists closed the distance to the big Iraqi base of Habbaniyah, taking Khalidiya on the way.DEBKAfile: Claims in Baghdad that Iraqi forces are preparing to recapture Ramadi have no substance in fact. The only place the ISIS is facing resistance is at the eastern exit of Khalidiya, where pro-Iranian Shiite militias are attempting to bar their progress towards Habbaniyah whic would bring them to within 12 km from Baghdad.


Strategic Failures, the US and the Fall of Ramadi

May 21, 2015

Strategic Failures, the US and the Fall of Ramadi, Clarion ProjectRyan Mauro, May 21, 2015

Islamic-State-Victory-Parade-HPIslamic State fighters celebrate their take over of Ramadi with a victory ‘parade.’ (Photo: Islamic State social media)

The U.S. must correct its strategy by sidelining Iranian-backed militias and terrorists, leveraging influence with the Iraqi government and significantly increasing assistance to the Anbar tribes, Kurds, Iraqi government and to the persecuted Christian minority that is forming its own self-defense force.

Recent history has shown that the Iraqi government will choose the U.S. over Iran if compelled.


The Islamic State (ISIS) has captured Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, reportedly “terrifying” Iraqi officials who now foresee a “tsunami of international terror.” It is an important achievement for the terrorist group aimed at pre-empting a potential Sunni tribal uprising.

The Sunni tribes in Anbar Province were critical to the success of the 2007 “surge” that ousted the Islamic State’s predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The deterioration in the relationship between these tribes and the central Iraqi government was likewise critical to the terrorists’ comeback in Iraq.

The Islamic State remembered these lessons and acted quickly as the Iraqi government began training tribal fighters and the U.S. defense budget allotted $179 million to Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces. The U.S. forgot these lessons and has long rejected Sunni and Kurdish pleas for direct aid to fight the Islamic State.

The Obama Administration is now planning to change course and directly arm and train the Iraqi Sunni tribes after the fall of Ramadi. The White House previously chose to work only through the central Iraqi government that has given the Kurds and Sunnis inadequate support.

A delegation of 11 Sunni tribal leaders, including Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the President of the Anbar Awakening Council, flew to the U.S. on January 18 to plead for direct assistance. Former President George W. Bush called Abu Risha and listened to his complaints for 20 minutes and offered to help. Administration officials were less willing. One tribal official said, “I wouldn’t call it the ‘cold shoulder,’ but it certainly was a cool one.”

The Obama Administration told them that it would only work through the elected central government. Its viewpoint was that working with forces outside the government’s authority undermines the Iraqi leadership and threatens the country’s unity.

That standpoint ignores what was learned after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Nothing threatens Iraq’s unity and the government’s authority more than instability. Direct U.S. aid to the Sunni tribes helped save Iraq from disintegration into sectarian enclaves ruled by terrorists and militias.

The Islamic State struck Ramadi during a sandstorm that delayed American air support. Former U.S. Central Command advisor Ali Khedery says that a Kurdish member of parliament informed him that 6,000 Iraqi Security Forces fled when faced with a mere 150 Islamic State fighters. About 500 Iraqi security personnel and civilians died in two days. The Iraqi officials spoke straight forwardly and  admitted that the current strategy is failing.

The Pentagon says it has finished training about 7,000 Iraqi Security Forces and another 3-4,000 are in the process of training, but training won’t solve the problem of collapsing Iraqi forces. The U.S. trained the Iraqis from 2003 until the withdrawal in 2011. The strategy of waiting for the Iraqi security forces to become strong enough to stabilize the country is the same strategy that failed before the surge.

Iraqi personnel flee because they don’t want to die for a lost cause or to fight for a replacement worse than the Islamic State.

The Iraqi Security Forces face a fundamental disadvantage when battling the Islamic State: They want to live and their enemies want to die. This disadvantage is further compounded by a lack of confidence. If given the choice to die fighting in a losing battle or to flee and perhaps regroup later with better chances of victory, they will choose the latter.

An Anbar official placed the blame on the Iraqi government, telling CNN, “If 10% of the government’s promises had been implemented, Ramadi would still in our hands and the Islamic State wouldn’t dare to be anywhere near the city.”

Iraqi Sunnis are faced with a terrible choice. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias are often nicknamed “Shiite ISIS” because their crimes are comparable to ISIS but are less known by the West because they aren’t broadcasted. However, the Anbar Provincial Council is officially welcoming them now out of desperation and perhaps an awareness that their opposition will be ignored anyway.

The Shiite militias should be expected to mistreat the local Sunnis the second after the Islamic State is expelled or even during the fighting. Tribal support is far from unanimous. The son of the largest tribe’s leader is in the U.S. asking for support right now and bluntly warned that sending the Shiite militias into Anbar Province “will cause a civil war.”

The New York Times has noticed the change in American attitude towards the Shiite militias. Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steve Warren said, “As long as they’re controlled by the central Iraqi government, there’s a place for them.” Yet, only two months ago, Central Command Commander General Austin said, “I will not—and I hope we will never—coordinate or cooperate with Shiite militias.”

The U.S. must correct its strategy by sidelining Iranian-backed militias and terrorists, leveraging influence with the Iraqi government and significantly increasing assistance to the Anbar tribes, Kurds, Iraqi government and to the persecuted Christian minority that is forming its own self-defense force.

Recent history has shown that the Iraqi government will choose the U.S. over Iran if compelled.

In March, the U.S. withheld support to Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State in Tikrit because of the involvement of Iranian-backed militias and the Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Iranian proxies stalled and could move no further, displaying the value of U.S. air support. The Iraqis chose America and the Iranians were removed from the battle. U.S. aid delivered the victory that the Iranians could not.

The Iraqis had been asking for U.S. for more help including possibly advisors on the ground since October 2013. By March 2014, the Iraqis were asking for airstrikes on the Islamic State. The Islamic State blitz into Iraq began in June.

The Iraqi ambassador complained that the U.S. had denied requests for help including Apache helicopter sales, thereby putting Iraq “in an uncomfortable position in seeking support from whoever is available on the ground.” He emphasized that the “U.S. is our strategic partner of choice.”

Iran opposed the return of U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq as advisors. The Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to attack the advisors and two other Iranian-backed militias alsoforcefully opposed U.S. involvement. The Iraqi government went ahead anyway.

Even now, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is in Russia and talking to China and Iran about delivering arms that the U.S. refuses to provide.

The U.S. needs to give the Iraqi government a clear choice: Iran or us.

The Iraqi government should be put on notice. If it is willing to restrain the Shiite militias and work with us to disband them, then we will provide all necessary aid. We will help negotiate with the Sunni tribes so their local forces operate within a national framework.

If the Iraqi government chooses Iran, then we will cut our aid and redirect it towards our Sunni, Kurdish and Christian partners while maintaining contact with friendly Shiites. We will not act as the air force for Iranian proxies. If necessary, we will talk about a role for the forthcoming Arab force led by Egypt to replace yours.

It is positive news that the Obama Administration is reversing its stance and will directly help the Sunni tribes, but the anti- Islamic State strategy requires an anti-Iran strategy.

Ramadi’s fall opens ISIS road to Baghdad. Jordan warns US air strikes won’t stop the terrorists’ advance

May 18, 2015

Ramadi’s fall opens ISIS road to Baghdad. Jordan warns US air strikes won’t stop the terrorists’ advance, DEBKAfile, May 18, 2015


Jordan’s King Abdullah has warned the Obama administration in an urgent message that US air strikes alone won’t stop the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq and Syria and, what is more, they leave his kingdom next door exposed to the Islamist peril. ISIS would at present have no difficulty in invading southern Jordan, where the army is thin on the ground, and seizing local towns and villages whose inhabitants are already sympathetic to the extremist group. The bulk of the Jordanian army is concentrated in the north on the Syrian border. Even a limited Islamist incursion in the south would also pose a threat to northern Saudi Arabia, the king pointed out.

Abdullah offered the view that the US Delta Special Forces operation in eastern Syria Saturday was designed less to be an effective assault on ISIS’s core strength and more as a pallliative to minimize the Islamist peril facing Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf emirates.

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report that US officials refused to heed Abdullah’s warning and tried to play it down, in the same way as Secretary John Kerry tried Monday, May 18, to de-emphasize to the ISIS conquest of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province.

At a news conference in Seoul, Kerry dismissed the Islamists’ feat as a “target of opportunity” and expressed confidence that, in the coming days, the loss “can be reversed.”

The Secretary of State’s words were unlikely to scare the Islamists, who had caused more than 500 deaths in the battle for the town and witnessed panicky Iraqi soldiers fleeing Ramadi in Humvees and tanks.

Baghdad, only 110 km southeast of Ramadi, has more reason to be frightened, in the absence of any sizeable Iraqi military strength in the area for standing in the enemy’s path to the capital.

The Baghdad government tried announcing that substantial military reinforcements had been ordered to set out and halt the Islamists’ advance. This was just whistling in the dark. In the last two days, the remnants of the Iraqi army have gone to pieces – just like in the early days of the ISIS offensive, when the troops fled Mosul and Falujah. They are running away from any possible engagement with the Islamist enemy.

The Baghdad-sourced reports that Shiite paramilitaries were preparing to deploy to Iraq’s western province of Anbar after Islamic State militants overran Ramadi were likewise no more than an attempt to boost morale. Sending armed Shiites into the Ramadi area of Anbar would make no sense, because its overwhelmingly Sunni population would line up behind fellow-Sunni Islamist State conquerors rather than help the Shiite militias to fight them.

Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, who arrived precipitately in Baghdad Monday, shortly after Ramadi’s fall, faces this difficulty. Our military sources expect him to focus on a desperate effort to deploy Shiite militias as an obstacle in ISIS’s path to Baghdad, now that the road is clear of defenders all the way from Ramadi.

In Amman, King Abdullah Sunday made a clean sweep of senior security officials, firing the Minister of Interior, the head of internal security (Muhabarat) and a number of high police officers. They were accused officially of using excessive violence to disperse demonstrations in the southern town of Maan.

The real reason for their dismissal, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources disclose, is the decline of these officials’ authority in the Maan district,  in the face of the rising influence of extremist groups identified with Al Qaeda and ISIS, in particular.

The U.S. Is Providing Air Cover for Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq

March 29, 2015

The U.S. Is Providing Air Cover for Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq, Foreign Policy MagazineMichael Weiss, Michael Pregent, March 28, 2015

(Don’t worry! Be Happy! Obama is in charge so everything will come up roses for sure.

Just ask Obama, the all-wise, all-knowing. He will set it right, as soon as Iran uses the nukes she deserves. — DM)


American warplanes have begun bombing the Islamic State-held Iraqi city of Tikrit in order to bail out the embattled, stalled ground campaign launched by Baghdad and Tehran two weeks ago. This operation, billed as “revenge” for the Islamic State (IS) massacre of 1,700 Shiite soldiers at Camp Speicher last June, was launched without any consultation with Washington and was meant to be over by now, three weeks after much triumphalism by the Iraqi government about how swiftly the terrorist redoubt in Saddam Hussein’s hometown was going to be retaken.

U.S. officials have variously estimated that either 23,000 or 30,000 “pro-government” forces were marshaled for the job, of which only slender minority were actual Iraqi soldiers. The rest consisted of a consortium of Shiite militia groups operating under the banner of Hashd al-Shaabi, or the Population Mobilization Units (PMU), which was assembled in answer to afatwah issued by Iraq’s revered Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani in June 2014 following ISIS’s blitzkrieg through northern Iraq. To give you a sense of the force disparity, the PMUs are said to command 120,000 fighters, whereas the Iraqi Army has only got 48,000 troops.

Against this impressive array of paramilitaries, a mere 400 to 1,000 IS fighters have managed to hold their ground in Tikrit, driving major combat operations to a halt. This is because the Islamic State is resorting to exactly the kinds of lethal insurgency tactics which al Qaeda in Iraq (its earlier incarnation) used against the more professional and better-equipped U.S. forces. BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio has ably documented the extent to which IS has relied upon improvised explosive devices, and just how sophisticated these have been. Even skilled explosive ordnance disposal teams — many guided by Iranian specialists — are being ripped apart by what one termed the “hidden enemy” in Tikrit.

Because IS controls hundreds of square miles of terrain in Iraq, it has an unknown number of bomb manufacturing plants, and because it knows the terrain so well, it’s been able to booby-trap houses and roads. Even Shiite prayer beads left lying on the ground are thought to be rigged to explosives. One Kurdish official told Giglio that the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters alone have “defused or detonated more than 6,000 IEDs along their 650-mile front with ISIS since the war began in August.”

The toll this has taken on the militias is extraordinary. Cemetery workers in Najaf told the Washington Post that as many as 60 corpses are arriving per day. Former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Derek Harvey tweeted last week that an Iraqi Shiite source told him the number of militia war dead from the Tikrit offensive so far may be as high as 6,000. So the militias’ triumphalism, much of it no doubt manufactured by Iran’s propaganda machine, proved to be misplaced. Jeffrey White, another former DIA analyst now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, notes “there’s a failure of will on the part of the militias and government forces. They just didn’t have the sufficient desire and determination to take the fight forward given the casualties they’ve been sustaining.”

So now, the same Iraqi government which earlier dismissed the need for U.S. airpower had to put in an eleventh-hour request for it, lest an easy victory descend into embarrassing folly. But the past few months ought to have shown that even indirectly relying on Iranian agents to conduct a credible ground war against Sunni extremists was always a lousy idea for three reasons: those agents hate the United States and have threatened to attack its interest in Iraq; they’re guilty of IS-style atrocities themselves; and they’re lousy at fighting an entrenched jihadist insurgency.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey told Congress on March 3: “What we are watching carefully is whether the militias — they call themselves the popular mobilization forces — whether when they recapture lost territory, whether they engage in acts of retribution and ethnic cleansing.” He needn’t watch any longer. They are engaging in exactly that.

The crimes of war

On March 10, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a comprehensive study of human rights violations committed by both IS and pro-Iraqi forces. The Islamic State, OHCHR concluded, has likely committed genocide against the Yazidis, a ethno-religious minority in Iraq, in a catalogue of war crimes and crimes against humanity that include gang-rape and sexual slavery. But OHCHR’s language is equally unambiguous in condemning the other side on the battlefield: “Throughout the summer of 2014,” the report noted, “[PMUs], other volunteers and [Shiite] militia moved from their southern heartlands towards [Islamic State]-controlled areas in central and northern Iraq. While their military campaign against the group gained ground, the militias seem to operate with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.” [Italics added.]

Sunni villages in Amerli and Suleiman Bek, in the Salah ad-Din province, have been looted or destroyed by militiamen operating on the specious assumption that all inhabitants once ruled by IS must be IS sympathizers or collaborators. Human Rights Watch has also lately discovered that the “liberation” of Amerli last October — another PMU/Iranian-led endeavor, only this one abetted by U.S. airstrikes in the early stages — was characterized by wide-scale abuses including the looting and burning of homes and business of Sunni residents of villages surrounding Amerli. The apparent aim was ethnic cleansing. Human Rights Watch concluded, from witness accounts, that “building destruction in at least 47 predominantly Sunni villages was methodical and driven by revenge and intended to alter the demographic composition of Iraq’s traditionally diverse provinces of Salah al-Din and Kirkuk.”

Sunnis weren’t the only demographic subjected to collective punishment. A 21-year-old Shiite Turkmen from the Yengija village was “burned with cigarettes and tied to a ceiling fan” by militants of Saraya Tala’a al-Khorasani, another Iran-backed militia. He told Human Rights Watch: “They kept saying, ‘You are ISIS,’ and I kept denying it. They were beating me randomly on my face, head, shoulders using water pipes and the butts of their weapons…. They went to have lunch and then came back and beat us for an hour and half. Later that night they asked me if I was Shia or Sunni. I told them I was Shia Turkoman and they ordered me to prove it by praying the Shia way…. They kept me for nine days.”

This account tracks with a mountain of social media-propagated video and photographic evidence showing that Iraq’s Shiite militias are behaving rather like the Islamic State — beheading and torturing people they assail as quislings, and then exhibiting these atrocities as a means of recruitment. More worrying, a six-month investigation by ABC News has found that U.S.-trained Iraqi Security Force personnel are also guilty of anti-Sunni pogroms, with officers from Iraq’s Special Forces shown in one video accusing an unarmed teenaged boy of being a shooter (a charge the boy denies) before opening fire on him.

Looking the other way

The Obama administration’s counterterrorism-driven policy for the Middle East, and a quietly pursued diplomatic reconciliation with Iran, has resulted in America’s diminishment of grave war crimes committed by Iran’s clients and proxies, and the problem is hardly just confined to Iraq. In Syria, for instance, the National Defense Force, a conglomerate of militias trained and equipped by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC) — a U.S.-designated terrorist entity — has been accused by the Syrian Network for Human Rights and the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights, of “[burning] at least 81 people to death, including 46 civilians; 18 children, 7 women, and 35 of the armed opposition fighters,” along with other pro-Assad forces. The State Department has offered condolences to Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani on the death of his mother; to date, it has not said a word about the immolation of these Syrians at the hands of a Quds Force-built guerrilla army.

All of which raises the question: Does the United States have a “common interest,” as Secretary of State John Kerry phrased it, with a regime in Tehran whose proxies are currently burning people alive in their houses, playing soccer with severed human heads, and ethnically cleansing and razing whole villages to the ground?

It really ought to surprise no one in the U.S. government that what amounts to an Iranian occupation of the Levant and Mesopotamia would lead to an increase in jihadist bloodletting. Dempsey has less of an excuse than most. A four-star general, he formerly commanded the First Armored Division in Baghdad, which in 2004 was the unit redirected, as it was about to go home, to fight the Shiite militias who had taken over Karbala and other southern cities, so he would have seen the precursor to the PMUs in action. Yet somehow managed to brief legislators that the Islamic Republic’s role in Iraq might yet prove “positive” — provided, that is, it didn’t lead to an uptick in sectarianism. This is like arguing that death wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t result in being dead. It did not take much, however, for the scales to fall from Dempsey’s eyes. He took a helicopter tour of Baghdad last week and noticedthe “plethora of flags, only one of which happens to be the Iraqi flag,” The rest, he told reporters to evident dismay, belonged to Shiite militias. (He might have also added that posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are now omnipresent in the Iraqi capital where ones of Saddam Hussein used to be.)

Everyone from Gen. David Petraeus to Kurdish intelligence chief Masrour Barzani is acknowledging the obvious: that Shiite militias pose more of a long-term threat to the stability of Iraq than does the Islamic State. Even Ayatollah Sistani has made noises lately about the rampant abuses committed by the “volunteers” he assembled through a religious edict.

While it is true that most Iraqis do not wish to live in a state of vassalage to Iran, it also true that most of the “units” in the PMUs are well-known subsidiaries of the Quds Force. “The indoctrination they’ve been getting is anti-American, Khomeinist ideology,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias and author of a comprehensive survey of them put out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Sectarianism has been promoted whether we like it or not.”

According to Chris Harmer, a former U.S. Naval officer and now an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, there really is no dressing up who the supposed “good guys” in Iraq now are. “They killed hundreds of Americans during the war,” Harmer said. “These are not ‘affiliated’ organizations — they are same guys, the same organizations. And can you find me anybody stupid enough to say that what Iran wants is a stable, unified, secular, non-sectarian Iraq?”

The enemies of our enemy are our enemy

Indeed, quite apart from having American blood on their hands and American interests furthest from their mind, Shiite militias — following Tehran’s favorite playbook — have also taken to conspiratorially blaming the United States for inventing and militarily supporting the Islamic State, while decrying any American anti-IS involvement in Iraq. Take, for instance, the Badr Corps, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, the commander of Hashd al-Shaabi, and a man infamous for “using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries,” or so the State Department found in a 2009 cable to Washington, which also alleged that al-Amiri “may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis.” (Despite this grim record, al-Amiri was invited to the Obama White House in 2011 when he was Iraq’s transportation minister.)

Lately al-Amiri taken to both boasting that Stuart Jones, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, personally offered him close air support, whilereprehending those Iraqis who “kiss the hands of the Americans and get nothing in return.” But when it comes to Tehran, he’s full of praise for the “unconditional” support his country has received. Now al-Amiri has found a more modest tongue. He told the Guardian’s Martin Chulov on March 26: “We did not ask for [U.S. airstrikes on Tikrit] and we have no direct contact with the Americans. From what I understand, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi made the request. However, we respect his decision.”

Kataeb Hezbollah may be the only Iraqi Shiite militia in Iraq to be designated a terrorist entity by the United States, but that hasn’t stopped it from driving around in Abrams tanks, Humvees, armored personnel carriers, MRAPs, and toting M4 and M16 rifles — all the accidental largesse of Uncle Sam, which has sent $1 billion in military equipment to Baghdad, but has no oversight as to which actors, foreign or domestic, ultimately receive what. An abundance of U.S. weapons hasn’t dissuaded Kataeb Hezbollah from openly inciting violence against the American-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State.

“Recently we had them accusing the United States of supplying [IS] via helicopters,” said Smyth. “Kataeb Hezbollah then came out with a bullshit article claiming that they shot down a British cargo plane carrying arms to [IS]. They also said they were going to move antiaircraft missile batteries in Anbar and north of Baghdad to counter U.S. airdrops to [IS]. Whenever they sense too much of a U.S. influence in Iraq, they start to threaten American soldiers.” Kataeb Hezbollah, it bears mentioning, is headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iranian spy who is widely believed to have planned the bombings of both the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait in the 1980s. There’s even a photograph of him holding up a Kuwaiti newspaper fingering him for this act of international terrorism. Kataeb Hezbollah has also been caught on video playing bongos with severed human heads.

Another prominent Shiite militia is Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or the League of the Righteous, which in 2007 set an ambush which killed 5 U.S. servicemen in Karbala. It, too, now also happily motors around Iraq in U.S. armored vehicles, some of them thought to have been stolen from the U.S. consulate in Basra. One unnamed U.S. official told Al Jazeera that Asaib was most recently responsible for burning down homes in Albu Ajil, a village near Tikrit in retaliation for massacres carried out by the Islamic State. It has also been implicated in the abduction and murder of Sheik Qassem Sweidan al-Janabi, one of the Sunni tribal leaders who worked cheek-by-jowl with U.S. forces in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq during the so-called Awakening period.

Remarkably, the demagogic Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, once the bane of U.S. forces in Baghdad, condemned al-Janabi’s murder — in language more severe than anything contrived by the U.S. State Department’s Marie Harf or Jennifer Psaki. “Did not I tell you that Iraq will suffer from the brazen militias?” al-Sadr was quoted as saying. “Did I tell you that the army must handle the reins?” Al-Sadr demanded that Shiite head-loppers be punished and actually backed up his rhetoric with action, suspending the participation of his own al-Salam Brigades and al-Yaom ak-Mawood military in ongoing operations. (He unsuspended these militias a week ago to help with the battle in Tikrit, but so far, because of the frozen nature of the ground campaign, none of the Sadrists have seen any real action.)

Assad’s friends in Iraq want to kill Americans

The Basij-ization of Iraq of was both inevitable, given the defunct and corrupted state of the U.S.-trained military, and Iran’s outsize influence in Baghdad even before ISIS conquered a third of the country. “When the Iraqi Army was destroyed last July, this was a gift to Iran to build up these militias,” Gen. Najim Jibouri, the former mayor and police chief of Tal Afar, a crucial Iraqi border town now held by the Islamic State, said in a recent interview. “A few days ago, Khaled al-Obaidi, Iraq’s minister of defense, went to Tikrit, but the militias wouldn’t allow him to enter. He had to stay in Samarra.”

All of which makes risible U.S. officials’ continued emphasis that there is no direct American coordination with Iran or its proxies. Gen. James Terry, the U.S. commander of the coalition, claims that the “ongoing Iraqi and coalition air strikes are setting the conditions for offensive action to be conducted by Iraqi forces currently surrounding Tikrit. Iraqi security forces supported by the coalition will continue to gain territory.”

One of the authors personally witnessed in Baghdad how the IRGC targets make their way into the U.S. targeting queue. Shiite militia commanders pass Quds Force-selected targets to Badr-affiliated Iraqi Security Force commanders on the ground (many of whom are, in fact, agents of the militias), who then pass them on as legitimate targets to Iraq’s Defense Ministry representatives in the Joint Operations Centers where U.S. advisors then put those targets into a queue for aerial sorties. This is the pattern of target development that U.S. forces tried to stop during the American occupation of Iraq — when there was actually a military strategy for countering Iranian influence in the country.

But this nefarious chain of putting intelligence into action — and making the United States do the dirty work — has been resurrected. Soleimani knows it, al-Muhandis knows it, al-Amiri and his Badr agents in the Iraq Security Forces know it — so, too, should the Pentagon, whatever claims to the contrary it puts out. Iranian intelligence operatives are now America’s eyes on the ground.

What does this mean for Tikrit? The Islamic State will no doubt be flushed from the city or bombed to death eventually, but it will be a tactical loss for IS, not a strategic one. They’ll still have Mosul and most of Anbar province. The Institute for the Study of War’s Chris Harmer notes that this will have a direct bearing on bigger fights ahead. “These militiamen will say, ‘This is how badly we got beat up in Tikrit, who wants to volunteer to storm that castle in Mosul?’”

Even if Iran’s proxies do end up massing on Mosul, they’ll remain the ultimate occupying force in post-Islamic State Tikrit. The Washington Post’s Loveday Morris tweeted on March 26 that Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq have now “suspended” their operations in the city, no doubt out of a desire to not appear to be coordinating with the hated United States. But once the Pentagon declares victory, the militias will no doubt try to hijack it and move right in to serve as the occupying force in Tikrit.

Despite reports on Thursday that three Shiite militias were “withdrawing” from operations in objection to U.S. airstrikes, now the news has come that they’ve called off their boycott, largely owing to another edict by Ayatollah Sistani. Even an alleged accidental hit by U.S. warplanes on Asaib Ahl al-Haq barely raised that militia’s pique, according to the New York Times. A Badr Corps representative also told the newspaper, “We haven’t retreated from our positions near Tikrit.” Still, others have indicated that they’re not going to let a good turn go unpunished and intend to strike at American soldiers in Iraq.

Akram al-Kabi, the leader of the Al Nujabaa Brigade, which has also fought with the Assad regime in Syria, has said: “We are staying in Tikrit, we are not leaving and we are going to target the American led coalition in Tikrit and their creation, ISIS.” Today, one of al-Kabi’s spokesmen reiterated thatthreat. Al-Kabi was once a deputy in Asaib Ahl al-Haq and was associatedwith that militia’s attacks against U.S. and British troops in 2008-2011, including an incident in which British contractors were abducted from the Iraqi Finance Ministry and later murdered. CENTCOM commander Gen. Lloyd Austin’s nevertheless briefed the Senate on Thursday with a straight face that “[c]urrently, there are no [Shiite] militia and as reported by the Iraqis today, no [PMU] in that area as well.” This is either propaganda or sheer ignorance about what is transpiring in Austin’s theatre of operations. The Guardian’s Chulov, who just returned from Tikrit, confirmed to one of the authors, in fact, that both al-Amiri and al-Muhandis were indeed in the center of the city on March 26.

Recrimination and resentment by these militias is no light matter. According to Politico, U.S. military planners are now worried that any decision to engage or isolate the Assad regime in Syria will encourage Iran or its cut-outs to attack the some 3,000 U.S. military trainers currently stationed in Iraq. It’s hard to tell where genuine concern bleeds into further excuse-making on the part of an Obama administration that has shown no intention of engaging or isolating the Assad regime, which is responsible for the vast majority of war dead and war crimes in Syria. Regardless, the result is the same: Washington is now behaving as if it needs Tehran’s permission to pursue its own anti-IS strategy, if it can even be called that.

You call this a plan?

“What strategy?” asks Chris Harmer. “We have only consequentially intervened in one part in Syria — Kobani. What’s the plan for countering [the Islamic State] there? Training 5,000 Syrian rebels per year. That is laughable when you consider the 200,000 dead from four years of attritional warfare, the four million refugees, and slow-motion destruction of the country. Five thousand doesn’t even get you into the ballgame. You have to have a significant portion of the population on your side. Moderate Syrians should be on our side. They’re saying the Americans are unreliable, they’re not on our side. This is why the moderate opposition has collapsed and the beneficiaries of that collapse have been al Qaeda, the Islamic State and Assad.”

The loss of confidence in the United States by moderate Sunnis in Syria is mirrored in Iraq. New polling data has confirmed that most Mosulawis, for instance, welcomed IS back into Iraq’s second city not out of ideological sympathy for the terror group, but out of deep-seated political grievances with the Iraqi government. Yet the Obama administration is doing next to nothing to redress these grievances. The Anbar tribal leader Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, whose charismatic brother was notoriously gunned down by al Qaeda just days after meeting with President George W. Bush in Baghdad in 2007, simply could not get a meeting with any significant official in White House during a 10-day tour of Washington last February. Vice President Joe Biden was good enough to drop in on a lesser confab, mainly to smile and pat them on the head and tell them to work constructively with the new government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

“Many of the people in Mosul will stand with [the Islamic State] if Shiite militias invade,” said Gen. Najim Jibouri. “Eighty percent of the population is does not like [IS], but if the militias are involved — 80 percent will stand very strong with [IS]. I told the Americans before, the image now is not like it was in 2003. Now the Sunni people want American forces. They will throw the flowers on them now, because the battle now is not between them and the United States and [IS], it’s between the Sunnis and Iran.” Yet far too many Sunnis still see the United States as aligned with Iran against them, Jibouri said.

Whether or not a nuclear agreement with Iran gets signed in Lausanne this weekend, whether or not Obama inaugurates a perestroika with Tehran as a result, the unshakable truth is that most of Iraq looks in the long term to remain a satrapy of the mullahs. This will only lead to further sectarian violence and civil war. “I met with almost two dozen national leaders in Iraq last week,” Ali Khedery, the longest consecutively serving U.S. diplomat in the Green Zone, told us. “I heard from Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish officials and virtually all of them told me that the real prime minster of the country is Qasem Soleimani and his deputy is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.”

Should We Give Up on the Iraqi Army?

March 4, 2015

Should We Give Up on the Iraqi Army? The Daily BeastPeter W. Galbraith, March 4, 2015

(Please see also Video shows abandoned Iraqi Security Forces armored vehicles near Ramadi.– DM)

1425464112618.cachedSgt. Shawn Miller/US Army

In Baghdad’s Firdos Square, where in 2003 U.S. Marines helped Iraqis topple the statue of Saddam Hussein, there is now a billboard featuring Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini.


The U.S. is training a national army for a nation that does not exist.

The Iraqi Army and Shiite militias have now launched an operation to retake Tikrit, a Sunni city 95 miles north of Baghdad that was Saddam Hussein’s hometown. The Americans are standing back. The U.S.-led coalition air forces are not flying missions in support because this is essentially an Iranian-organized and -led operation dominated by Shiite militias that answer to Tehran as much as Baghdad. This may be the shape of things to come.

In mid-February, a Pentagon official made headlines by announcing an April-May time frame for an Iraqi offensive to take Mosul from the so-called Islamic State. Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq. As The Daily Beast reported last week, the Pentagon now says the April/May date is no longer operative. The Iraqi Army, it was explained, is not ready.

It may never be ready.

1425464110516.cachedStaff Sgt. Tanya Thomas/US Army

At the beginning of 2014, the Iraqi Army comprised 17 divisions. By the end of the year, it was at most seven divisions, possibly as few as five. And, even at full strength, the Iraqi Army was not much of a fighting force.

In spite of outnumbering the ISIS attackers by a ratio of between 10/1 and 15/1, the Iraqi Army lost Mosul in just 10 hours on June 10, 2014. The ISIS forces came to Mosul in pickup trucks. The defenders had armored American Humvees, tanks, helicopters, artillery, and advanced rifles, all of which ended up in ISIS’s hands. Two months later, ISIS used these American weapons to attack the Kurds. The United States, which provided weapons worth billions to the Iraqi Army, is now spending hundreds of millions on airstrikes to destroy them.

Pentagon planners understand the deficiencies of the Iraqi Army. It is disorganized, poorly led, politicized, corrupt, and plagued by sectarian and ethnic divisions. But, where they go wrong is to imagine that these problems can be corrected with better leadership, training, and a policy of inclusiveness towards disaffected Sunnis and Kurds.

In fact, the problems of the Iraqi Army reflect the problems of Iraq where Shiites and Sunnis don’t agree on what it means to be Iraqi and where the Kurds unanimously don’t want to be Iraqi at all. The deficiencies of the army cannot be corrected because they reflect the realities of the society.

The Obama administration and virtually all American foreign policy experts blame former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s sectarian policies for contributing to the rise of ISIS. In this telling, Maliki alienated Sunnis by breaking promises to include the Sons of Iraq (the Sunni militia that was key to the defeat of al Qaeda in 2007) in the Iraqi Army, by appointing Shiite loyalists as top officers, and by marginalizing Sunnis in the army, government, and society. Maliki’s administration was sectarian, corrupt and ineffective. But, he may have been right about the Sunnis.

George W. Bush engineered a revolution in Iraq, albeit apparently unaware that he was doing so. The 2003 invasion ended 80 years of Sunni Arab dictatorships and replaced them with democratically elected governments. In each of the elections held since 2005, Iraqi Shiites voted overwhelmingly for Shiite religious parties.

Sunnis, even the many who are not particularly religious, do not accept that the Iraqi identity should be defined in a way that excludes them or treats them as a minority. Many Sunnis believe that Iraq’s new rulers are more loyal to their Shiite co-religionists in Iran than they are to Iraq.

Iran’s decades-long sponsorship of Iraq’s Shiite parties, including the Dawa party of both Maliki and current Prime Minister Haider al Abadi—reinforces Sunni perceptions, which, in any event, may not be wrong. In Baghdad’s Firdos Square, where in 2003 U.S. Marines helped Iraqis topple the statue of Saddam Hussein, there is now a billboard featuring Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini.

As the Shiites see it, the Sunnis have refused to accept majority rule. They remember—as American planners seem to have forgotten—that Sunni tribal leaders welcomed and supported the al Qaeda extremists who, between 2003 and 2006, assassinated Shiite clerics, massacred Shiite pilgrims, and bombed markets and bus stations in Shiite cities and towns.

The Sunnis turned against al Qaeda not out of revulsion with the killing of Shiites or because they wanted reconciliation, but rather because the extremists had turned on the tribal leaders. When al Qaeda demanded money, daughters and fealty, the Sunni sheikhs had enough. Helped with American cash, they formed militias that finished off al Qaeda in Mesopotamia in a matter of months.

Maliki understood full well that there was no genuine reconciliation between the Shiite religious parties and the Sunnis. He minimized the Sunni role in the Iraqi Army (and central government) because he saw no value in incorporating Sunnis into an army whose primary mission is to protect a Shiite state from Sunnis. And, he was not wrong in his judgment.

When ISIS approached Mosul, some Sunni officers and troops acted as a fifth column providing intelligence and weapons to the attackers. Sunni soldiers who surrendered either went home or joined ISIS. The Shiite commanders fled to nearby Kurdistan, leaving Shiite recruits to face torture and execution (all recorded in videos) at the hands of ISIS.

Ever since Bush’s administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, dissolved Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003, the United States has struggled to create an effective Iraqi army. It is impossible to build a real national army when Iraqis do not have a shared idea of the nation and when its components see each other as the enemy.

There are, of course, effective fighting forces in Iraq that are combatting ISIS. The Kurdistan Peshmerga pushed ISIS out of territory it took in August and continue to battle ISIS around Kirkuk, Makhmur, and Mosul. The Kurds have sustained nearly 1,000 casualties and, supported by American close air support, inflicted many times that number on ISIS.

The Kurds, of course, are motivated to defend Kurdistan. They may support a Mosul operation from their territory, but they have made it clear that they will not sacrifice Kurdish lives in a Sunni Arab city or on behalf of a country, Iraq, that they don’t want to be part of.

Shiite militias—armed and, in some cases, led by the Iranians—defended Baghdad and Samarra (home to an important Shiite shrine) last summer. More recently, they have pushed ISIS out of villages in religiously and ethnically mixed Diyala province (sometimes clashing with Peshmerga units).

The Iraqi Army itself is increasingly a sectarian institution. Ironically, this may make it a more effective fighting force. Sunni Arabs who remain in the army are reluctant to sacrifice their lives on behalf of a Shiite state, especially if it means fighting against fellow Sunnis. (Many recruits signed up not to defend Iraq but for a salary, which also contributes to a reluctance to get killed.) By contrast, the Shiite militias fought hard in 2014 to defend their homes and their religion. To the extent that the Iraqi Army becomes more like a Shiite militia (albeit paid and better armed), it may share the militias’ zeal.

The Pentagon still sees the Iraqi Army as a national institution and, as a result, provides it with the lion’s share of U.S. military assistance. Seeing it as another of the ethnic and sectarian forces in Iraq is probably more realistic and may lead to a more effective distribution of weaponry. Currently, more U.S. weapons go to an Iraqi Army that is not ready to fight than to a Kurdistan Pershmerga that is fighting. (Iran supplies the Shiite militias as part of the informal division of labor among the anti-ISIS forces.)

If the offensive against Tikrit now underway should fail (and the Iraqi Army has had considerable difficulty trying to take even some small villages adjacent to a large air base in Anbar province), it will not auger well for a Mosul campaign.

But, success in Tikrit will not necessarily translate into success in Mosul. A foreign army—and this is exactly how Mosul’s Sunnis will see the Iraqi Army—fighting house to house in a city of 3 million is certain to kill a lot of civilians even if the Army behaves well, which is unlikely.

Should it lose Mosul, ISIS would still have substantial territory in Iraq, a pool of resentful Sunnis and a sanctuary in Syria.

In a deeply divided Iraq, a successful government offensive to take Mosul may not solve much.

Kurdish Land-Grab Stuns Baghdad

January 27, 2015

Kurdish Land-Grab Stuns Baghdad, Newsweek and , January 27, 2015

peshmergaKurdish Peshmerga fighters keep watch during the battle with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Mosul January 21, 2015. AZAD LASHKARI/REUTERS

A senior Kurdish federal official, who declined to be named, said that Peshmerga forces would never hand back areas captured after Isis’s march across northern Iraq, which brought the group to within miles of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

While the threat of Isis remains significant, Kurds may have to put their independence dreams on hold and the Iraqi government will worry about Kurdish territorial claims later. As the terror group continues to grow, both parties need each other and the radical Islamist threat will bind them together, at least for now.


Kurdish forces launched a barrage of Grad missiles against Islamic State (Isis) positions inside Mosul last week, for the first time since Isis overran Iraq’s second-largest city in June last year, marking a dramatic shift in the Kurds’ battle against the terrorist group.

The bombardment was preceded by a large-scale Kurdish operation against Isis in northern Iraq, which saw 5,000 Kurdish fighters, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes, sweep around Mosul to recapture an area larger than the size of Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino combined.

In the offensive, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters killed over 200 Isis militants, ousting the group from almost 300 square miles of territory, capturing a number of areas contested with Baghdad. As they advanced, encircling Mosul on three sides and cutting vital Isis supply lines to the nearby towns of Tal Afar and Sinjar, the Kurdish forces began a counter-offensive that analysts worry may be the start of a territory war between the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and Baghdad.

The Kurdish forces captured Makhmour, to the east of the city; the towns of Zimar and Wannah, and several Arab villages located in the Sinjar Mountains, west of Mosul; and the area around Mosul Dam, in what amounts to a Kurdish land-grab backed by Western airstrikes.

Iraqi Kurds believe that the recaptured territory around the city is rightfully theirs while the Iraqi government “fears that the Kurds will use territory as leverage during political negotiations”, according to Ranj Alaaldin, a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

A senior Kurdish federal official, who declined to be named, said that Peshmerga forces would never hand back areas captured after Isis’s march across northern Iraq, which brought the group to within miles of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. “All the current military operations that involve the Peshmerga are implemented in coordination with the international military coalition and the central government is aware of it, but, in the Kurdish areas, we will never ever let Arabs control them again,” the official warned. “We are not ready to fight, terrify our fighters’ souls to liberate these areas and hand them to a traitor who would sell it to the killers. We will not allow this scenario to take place again in these areas.”

While the Kurds argue that they have taken control of this territory to defend against Isis, many Iraqis believe that the Kurds will never give up what they have captured because of their ambitions for an independent state.

“In the chaos that followed the Isis assault on Iraq in June, the Iraqi army melted away from its positions throughout northeastern and northwestern Iraq and the Peshmerga swiftly moved in to take their place – taking control of the whole of Kirkuk,” she said.

Despite these aspirations, Iraqi officials seem content to let Kurdish forces claim the territory from Daesh (as Isis is also known), for now. “As long as we are not ready to move as far as to fight in Mosul, it would be better to let them (Kurds) re-control these areas rather than leave it at the hands of Daesh,” a senior Iraqi military officer said. “Now, we will not raise any political disputes. Let [the Kurds] drive the militants away from these areas and we will think about the consequences later,” he added.

Hamed al-Khudari, a senior Shia lawmaker, agreed that Iraqis should “clear our lands” and “talk about this [territorial dispute] later”. Nevertheless, analysts do not believe that the Iraqi government in Baghdad is capable of ousting Kurdish forces from the territory they have seized in the recent advance. “Baghdad cannot do much to kick out the Kurds from any territory they have captured,” says Wladimir van Wilgenburg, analyst on Kurdish politics for the Jamestown Foundation.

The Kurds’ success on the battlefield, coupled with rumours of a potential Iraqi operation in Mosul, has put Isis on the back-foot but also caused disagreement between Erbil and Baghdad. Differences remain over involvement in any potential operation to recapture Mosul. Masrour Barzani, the head of Kurdistan’s regional security council, has said that Mosul will soon be “liberated” from the terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. “I don’t think anyone would envy the situation the people of Mosul are in,” he said. “The terror of Isis is too much for anyone to handle.”

But Kurdish officials believe that the responsibility for the recapture of the predominantly Sunni-Arab city lies solely with Baghdad. “Peshmerga are now 8km away from Mosul but they will not fight inside the city,” the official, who declined to be named, said. “When it comes to liberating Mosul, its people have to fight, not anyone else. We will just support them because we do not want anyone to say that Kurds are fighting Arabs. The [Iraqi] government understands that Mosul is not our battle or Shiites’ battle. Arab Sunnis in Mosul have to take the initiative to liberate their areas.”

Whereas Kurdish officials believe that Baghdad should take leadership over the battle for the city, where citizens now live under the group’s radical version of Islamic law, Iraqi officials claim that the battle against “Daesh is everyone’s to fight. The main goal now for all Iraqis is to fight Daesh and drive them away from all the Iraqi lands, so we will not allow anyone to talk about these [territorial] issues”, says al-Khudari. “This [fighting against IS] is the responsibility of everyone including the central government, the Kurdish forces, the public crowd (Shia militias and volunteers) and the anti-IS Sunni tribes.”

The lack of Kurdish motivation to enter into a battle for Mosul alongside Iraqi forces is due to the knowledge that any fight would be a drawn-out and lethal affair, according to van Wilgenburg. “They know the battle is going to be very heavy if it has to involve street to street fighting,” he says.

“The Kurds are already assisting the fight in Mosul. They recently fired into the city.” Erbil and Baghdad both have “to be pragmatic”, says Gonul Tol, executive director at the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute. Baghdad is focused on recapturing Isis-held territory as opposed to Kurdish territory while Kurds “do not want to get involved” in Mosul to avoid “igniting a Kurdish-Arab war”.

While the threat of Isis remains significant, Kurds may have to put their independence dreams on hold and the Iraqi government will worry about Kurdish territorial claims later. As the terror group continues to grow, both parties need each other and the radical Islamist threat will bind them together, at least for now.