Posted tagged ‘Mosul’

Iran’s Tel Afar op is in sync with Russia in Syria

October 30, 2016

Iran’s Tel Afar op is in sync with Russia in Syria, DEBKAfile, October 30, 2016

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The irony of this arrangement is that, the US armed the Iraqi army, and indirectly the Shiite militias, for this offensive with top-notch Abrams M1 tanks, M1-198 Howitzers and M88 Recovery vehicles for tanks. All this s valuable hardware looks like ending up away another battlefield away from Mosul in Syria, and under a different command, Russia.

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The pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite drive to capture Tel Afar, 55 km from Mosul in western Iraq, was designed less to complete the encirclement of the Islamists in Mosul – in support of the US-led coalition – and more to forge a link in the land bridge Tehran aspires to build to give its Revolutionary Guards free passage to Hizballah and the Shiite groups fighting for Bashar Assad in Syria. This is reported by DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources.

The Iraqi Shiite battle for Afar is led by Iran’s Al Qods chief, Gen. Qassem Soliemani from the front lines.

US and Iraqi commanders of Operation Inherent for expelling ISIS from Mosul welcomed the Iran-led Iraqi Shiites’ initiative to take Tal Afar in order to sever ISIS’ supply lines from Syria to Mosul.

But Iran’s overriding motive in initiating this operation was laid bare by Ahmad al-Asadi, spokesman of the pro-Iranian Iraqi Hashid Shaabi Shiite groups, when he spoke to reporters Saturday, Oct. 29 in Baghdad.

After “clearing” these “terrorist gangs,” from 14,000 sq. km of Iraq including Tal Afar and the regions bordering on Syria, he said, “We are fully ready to cross the border into Syria and fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad.

According to our sources, this plan was not coordinated directly with the US-Iraqi command of the Mosul operation, but with the Russian military command center in the Syrian province of Latakia.

It is important enough for the Russian command to have just established a new center for military and intelligence interchanges. It is staffed by Russian, Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi Shiite and Iranian officers. This mechanism has been put in charge of coordinating Shiite military operations both in Syria and Iraq.

It was decided that when US military assistance or air support is deemed necessary, requests will be piped through the bureau of Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and passed on to the US-Iraqi command of Operation Inherent.

Russian, Iranian and Turkish officers have thus effectively hitched on to the decision-making process for the Mosul offensive alongside American officers.

The irony of this arrangement is that, the US armed the Iraqi army, and indirectly the Shiite militias, for this offensive with top-notch Abrams M1 tanks, M1-198 Howitzers and M88 Recovery vehicles for tanks. All this s valuable hardware looks like ending up away another battlefield away from Mosul in Syria, and under a different command, Russia..

Pro-Iranian Shiites ready to lead Mosul operation

October 28, 2016

Pro-Iranian Shiites ready to lead Mosul operation, DEBKAfile, October 28, 2016

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The US-led coalition offensive for liberating Mosul from ISIS suffered two ominous downturns on its 10th day

Friday, Oct. 28, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. One: Pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiites stand ready to assume a lead role, sparking the threat of sectarian violence in the mainly Sunni city; and, two, the Islamic State is poised to launch surface missiles with a range of 500km against Baghdad, as well as Jordan and Israel.

Friday, a spokesman for the Iraqi Shiite paramilitary groups the Bader Brigades and the Population Mobilization Force announced that their advance toward the Islamic State-held town of Tal Afar, about 55 km west of Mosul, was imminent.

These militias are fighting under the command of the Iranian Al Qods chief, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who takes his orders from Tehran.

The capture of Tal Afar – a mix of Sunni and Shiite ethnic Turkmen until the Islamic State’s takeover two years ago – would cut off ISIS-held Mosul from Syria.

Turkey, Iraq’s northern neighbor, and the Kurds are seriously alarmed by the Shiite groups’ initiative.

The Shiites, who are not part of the main coalition fighting body preparing to storm Mosul, are about to strike ISIS from the north.

DEBKAfile’s military sources note that coalition commanders erred by not taking Tal Afar in the early stage of the Mosul offensive and so blocking ISIS supply lines.

The offensive was hobbled two days day earlier by the Kurdish decision to withdraw Peshmerga fighters from the operation to retake Mosul. President Masoud Barzani of the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government stated Wednesday, Oct. 26, that his army had ended its role in the warfare, after cleansing dozens of mostly uninhabited villages on the road to Mosul, and did not intend to enter the city at this time.

This decision by the KRG in Irbil was not published.

Since the Kurds and the Shiite militias are out of it, who is left to finish the job and go into Mosul?

The mission which started out as a grand coalition enterprise has been left now to US forces and the Iraqi army.

However, Iraq’s elite 9th Golden Division and its federal anti-terror police unit have not made much headway in their advance against ISIS forces east of Mosul. Their commanders now warn the government in Baghdad that they can’t go any further without reinforcements.

But there are no Iraqi military reserves to draw on, without stripping any more main Iraqi towns of their defenses and laying them open to Islamists assaults, like those ISIS staged successfully last week on the oil city of Kirkuk, the Kurdish town of Sinjar and Rutba near the Jordanian border.

The long and short of it is that the Mosul offensive has virtually ground to a halt.

ISIS meanwhile is compounding its atrocities and gearing up for escalation.

1. The UN Human Rights agency reported Friday that, since the Mosul offensive began on Oct. 17, Islamic State forces in Iraq have abducted tens of thousands of men, women and children from areas around Mosul and are using them as “human shields” in the city as Iraqi government troops advance.

They shot dead at least 232 people on Wednesday, including 190 former Iraqi troops and 42 civilians when they refused to obey their orders.

2.  ISIS has plans to use chemical weapons against the coalition forces advancing any further towards Mosul.

3.  Following their raids on key Iraqi cities, the Islamist State is preparing to launch surface missiles against Baghdad.

4. ISIS may not confine its missile attacks to targets in Iraq. Our military sources report that the jihadists have laid hands on Syrian and Iraqi ground-to-ground missiles with a range of 500km and are holding them ready for attacks on Iraq’s neighbors, which could be Jordan. Israel too is in their sights.

Tehran will fight Turkey’s role in Mosul operation

October 24, 2016

Tehran will fight Turkey’s role in Mosul operation, DEBKAfile, October 24, 2016

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The involvement of Turkish special operations, armored and artillery forces in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga battle to drive ISIS out of Bashiqa, 12 south of Mosul, marks a pivotal moment in the US-led coalition’s anti-ISIS offensive to free Iraq’s second city. The entire Mosul operation hangs in the balance since Turkey stepped into the fighting in Iraq, at the initiative of the US. Instead of fighting ISIS, the coalition’s partners are squaring off to fight each other.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Turkey was allowed to gatecrash the fighting around Mosul after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited the KRG capital of Irbil Sunday, Oct. 23. He urged Kurdish leaders to bow to President Tayyip Erdogan’s demands for a role in the battle.

The Kurdish leaders succumbed to the pressure with the proviso that Turkey cease its air and artillery assaults on Syrian Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

When Ankara accepted this condition, Ashton set out for the Bashiqa arena, becoming the first US defense secretary to come that close to a battlefront against ISIS in Iraq.

He visited the Turkish military encampment outside Bashiqa and was given a briefing by their commanders. As soon as he departed, Turkish units entered the fray in support of the Peshmerga fighters

According to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim, this involvement was limited to tank and artillery support for the Kurdish forces. Our military sources report, however, that it went much further and included Turkish special operations forces and tanks. By Monday, Oct. 24, Turkish troops were still backing up the Kurdish effort to purge Bashiqa of ISIS fighters.

Tehran’s reaction to this change on the game board was extreme. Our sources report that the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias assigned to subordinate tasks in the Mosul operation were immediately put on a state of readiness. Commanders of the Bader Brigades, the Population Mobilization Force and the Hashd eal-Shaabi reported that they were standing ready to attack the Turkish forces operating at Bashiqa, whom they termed “gangs of terrorists no less dangerous than ISIS.”

The Iranian government leaned hard on Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi to make him redirect Iraqi government forces from the Mosul arena to join the Shiite forces preparing to strike the Turkish troops at Bashiqa.

Al-Abadi had in the past week demanded the removal of Turkish troops from Iraqi soil, a demand Ankara just as steadily rebuffed.

Building up at present is an imminent head-to-head fight between Turkish and Kurdish forces on the one hand and Iraqi Shiites on the other.

In an effort to prevent the long-awaited Mosul operation degenerating into an all-out conflagration among US allies, with the Islamist State no doubt cheering on, the Obama administration Monday turned to Tehran, Baghdad, Ankara and Irbil and asked them back off lest they wreck their primary mission of evicting ISIS from Mosul.

Tehran may decide to give ground on this but the price it exacts will be steep: an overhaul of the Iraqi Shiite militias’ rear position and permission for their direct intervention in the battle for Mosul, including their entry into the city. This permission the US commanders have hitherto withheld.

This would be a big prize. Mosul has been coveted by Iranian strategists as a major transit point on the land bridge they have designed to link the Islamic Republic to Syria and the Mediterranean. This prize would go by the board if the Turks and Kurds were first in the liberated city first and assumed control.

ISIS’ Kirkuk raid spreads. US air force in action

October 22, 2016

ISIS’ Kirkuk raid spreads. US air force in action, DEBKAfile, October 22, 2016

kurdish_gen-_mariwan_mohammed_21-10-16Kurdish General. Mariwan Mohammed

The raid of Iraq’s northern oil city of Kirkuk launched by the Islamic State Friday began to spread Saturday, Oct. 22 to surrounding towns. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that ISIS fighters headed south from Kirkuk in two heads. One tried to enter Laylan, a town 21 km south of the oil city, which was defended by Kurdish Peshmerga and Turkman paramilitary forces; the second seized the crossroads of Rtes 2, 3 and 24 to sever Kirkuk from Baghdad.

When Kirkuk first came under attack, the Kurdish defenders still left there appealed for US air support against the Islamist invaders. The US air force went into action late Friday. They first targeted ISIS sniper positions on the town’s highest rooftops. Then, the next day US aircraft struck twin targets: the jihadist fighters storming Laylan and the fighters heading down the roads to the south of Kirkuk.

Nonetheless, up until Saturday pm, ISIS was still in control of at least five of the oil city’s neighborhoods as well as buildings in the town center, including government offices.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Peshmerga, according to our military sources, dispatched to Kirkuk their special counterterrorism unit to dislodge the raiders. Kurdish sources also warned that this city was only the first of a row of Iraqi towns still in ISIS sights. They added that they would not be surprised to find the Islamists heading out to strike European towns as well.

Iraqi and Kurdish sources have since Friday been throwing out high ISIS casualty figures and reporting that many were put to flight. They were attempting to play down the scale of the raid on Kirkuk.

In fact, our sources report that the Islamists found extra numbers and ammunition caches waiting for them in two places – sleeper cells in Kirkuk and local Sunni sympathizers.

The numbers of civilian casualties and refugees mounting since the onset of the Mosul operation are mounting, causing grave concern to the UN and international aid agencies.

DEBKAfile first reported on the ISIS raid of Kirkuk Friday.

No one doubted that the US-Iraqi-Kurdish offensive to liberate Mosul would be drawn out and fraught with unforeseen setbacks before the Islamic State was finally thrown out of its Iraqi capital. But on Oct. 21, five days into the Mosul operation, the ISIS terrorists landed their most severe blow, when Islamist fighters and suicide bombers suddenly hurled themselves on the Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk in a coordinated attack.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that taking advantage of a chance to catch the US, Iraqi and Kurdish generals leading the attack on Mosul unawares, the Islamist fighters were able to open a second front to the rear of the main battle arena against ISIS.

Kirkuk is some 175km southeast of Mosul and 230km from Baghdad. By hitting this important oil city, the terrorists came close to enough to menace the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government region and its capital, Irbil, and expose the Kurdish Peshmerga troops fighting for Mosul.

Our military sources note that a large Peshmerga force of some 11,000 troops had been posted to secure the town and its oil fields, under the command of Gen. Mariwan Mohammed.

But then, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, the US-Iraqi-Kurdish joint command of the Mosul offensive decided that Kurdish reinforcements were necessary to provide the operation with greater impetus. The extra Peshmerga troops were accordingly ordered to set out from Khazar, 40 km east of Mosul, and join the coalition offensive.

However, what they missed, despite the mainly American spy satellites, drones and reconnaissance planes collecting intelligence, was an ISIS concentration clandestinely building up at Hawja, 57km east of Kirkuk. According to our military sources, some of the jihadists reported by the Western media to have turned tail on the run from Mosul had been gathering to the southeast, some 57km from Kirkuk. They stood ready to attack that town.

Their opportunity came when the large Kurdish group exited Kirkuk and headed out to Mosul. Kirkuk was left exposed without defenders.

Friday morning, the Islamic State launched its surprise attack on the defenseless oil city. Its fighters and suicide bombers slammed into four police stations, Kurdish security offices, residential neighborhoods and a power station to the north. Clashes continued during the day with unknown casualty figures on both sides.

At some point, the governor claimed control of the city was regained but residents reported the clashes continued.

ISIS said in a statement it had seized “half the city” and had also attacked the Dubiz power plant, killing all the security forces inside, but the claims were not possible to verify.

ISIS hits Kirkuk, opens a 2nd front behind Mosul

October 21, 2016

ISIS hits Kirkuk, opens a 2nd front behind Mosul, DEBKAfile, October 21, 2016

kurdgenKurdish General. Mariwan Mohammed

No one doubted that the US-Iraqi-Kurdish offensive to liberate Mosul would be drawn out and fraught with unforeseen setbacks before the Islamic State was finally thrown out of its Iraqi capital. But on Oct. 21, five days into the Mosul operation, the ISIS terrorists landed their most severe blow, when Islamist fighters and suicide bombers suddenly hurled themselves on the Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk in a coordinated attack.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that taking advantage of a chance to catch the US, Iraqi and Kurdish generals leading the attack on Mosul unawares, the Islamist fighters were able to open a second front to the rear of the main battle arena against ISIS.

Kirkuk is some 175km southeast of Mosul and 230km from Baghdad. By hitting this important oil city, the terrorists came close to enough to menace the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government region and its capital, Irbil, and expose the Kurdish Peshmerga troops fighting for Mosul.

Our military sources note that a large Peshmerga force of some 11,000 troops had been posted to secure the town and its oil fields, under the command of Gen. Mariwan Mohammed.

But then, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, the US-Iraqi-Kurdish joint command of the Mosul offensive decided that Kurdish reinforcements were necessary to provide the operation with greater impetus. The extra Peshmerga troops were accordingly ordered to set out from Khazar, 40 km east of Mosul, and join the coalition offensive.

However, what they missed, despite the mainly American spy satellites, drones and reconnaissance planes collecting intelligence, was an ISIS concentration clandestinely building up at Hawja, 57km east of Kirkuk. According to our military sources, some of the jihadists reported by the Western media to have turned tail on the run from Mosul had been gathering to the southeast, some 57km from Kirkuk. They stood ready to attack that town.

Their opportunity came when the large Kurdish group exited Kirkuk and headed out to Mosul. Kirkuk was left exposed without defenders.

Friday morning, the Islamic State launched its surprise attack on the defenseless oil city. Its fighters and suicide bombers slammed into four police stations, Kurdish security offices, residential neighborhoods and a power station to the north. Clashes continued during the day with unknown casualty figures on both sides.

At some point, the governor claimed control of the city was regained but residents reported the clashes continued.

ISIS said in a statement it had seized “half the city” and had also attacked the Dubiz power plant, killing all the security forces inside, but the claims were not possible to verify.

Turkish warplanes bomb US-backed Kurdish militias in Syria

October 20, 2016

Turkish warplanes bomb US-backed Kurdish militias in Syria , DEBKAfile, October 20, 2016

Turkish warplanes carried out more than 20 sorties early Thursday morning in northern Syria, attacking positions, vehicles and convoys of US-backed Kurdish militias fighting the Islamic State organization. The targets were in a number of villages around the city of Aleppo. There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, with the Turkish army reporting that 200 Kurdish fighters had been killed while the militias claimed that there were only about 20 fatalities. DEBKAfile‘s intelligence sources report that the Turkish attack may cause the Kurds to withdraw their forces from the US-led offensive to capture the Iraqi city of Mosul, and not help the US capture the Syrian city of Raqqa afterwards.

Obama vs Baghdad on Sunni cleansing of Mosul

October 20, 2016

Obama vs Baghdad on Sunni cleansing of Mosul, DEBKAfile, October 20, 2016

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A major dispute on combat tactics which has sprung up between Washington and Baghdad hangs over the coalition’s Mosul offensive after three days of combat. Thursday, Oct. 20, President Barack Obama and US commanders challenged Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and is generals over a 500km long route, the Ba’aj Road, which does not appear on maps, but is pivotal for the offensive’s continuation, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources report.

This route is a kind of “Burma road” developed by the Islamic State as a private corridor between Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa, the terrorist group’s Syrian capital, during the terrorist group’s two years of control. It runs through the Iraqi town of Tal Afar before crossing into Syria and passing south of areas controlled by Syrian Kurdish militias, among which US special operations forces are embedded.

The argument flared over a demand by President Obama and US commanders that Iraqi government forces turn to the Syrian border and block the Ba’aja Road, and so cut off the ISIS fighters’ escape route from Mosul to Syria. The Americans can’t bomb the corridor because it is also packed with a stream of refugees in flight from the fighting in Mosul.

So long as it is open, ISIS is free to move thousands of fighters and masses of weapons, ammunition and other supplies between its two strongholds. This freedom of action, Obama warned Al-Abadi, would prolong the Mosul operation beyond the Dec. 20 deadline set by the coalition for its termination.

However, according to our sources, the Iraqi prime minister countered this demand with a proviso unacceptable to Washington. He was prepared to order Iraqi forces to block the Ba’aja Road provided Mosul’s entire population of 750,000 Sunni Muslims was expelled from the city. He argued that ISIS could not be defeated until then because the Sunnis were supporting and collaborating with the Islamist terrorists.

Obama fiercely opposes the mass Sunni expulsion, seeing it as an attempt by the Shiite Iraqi prime minister to cleanse Iraq’s second city of its Sunni inhabitants and using the Mosul offensive against ISIS as a pretext for such action.

mosul_soulemeni_19-10-16EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani greets Shiite fighters outside Mosul.

DEBKAfile’s sources add that Al-Abadi has found support for his side of the argument with the arrival of the Iranian Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the command posts of the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, who have not yet been thrown into the Mosul battle.

The Mosul offensive came up in the third US presidential debate in Las Vegas early Thursday. The Republican candidate Donald Trump, who appeared to have been updated on the state of play there, commented that the big winner from that offensive would be Iran.

Our military sources report that three days of combat have not brought any major coalition forces advances against ISIS. On some sectors Iraqi forces are moving forward slowly, backed by US air strikes and rocket artillery fire; on others, they are stalled by Islamist resistance.

Europe Braces for Post-Mosul Jihadi Onslaught

October 19, 2016

Europe Braces for Post-Mosul Jihadi Onslaught, Investigative Project on Terrorism, John Rossomando, October 18, 2016

(But please see, A ‘lasting defeat’ of the Islamic State will be elusive. — DM)

European leaders fear onslaught of jihadists fleeing from Mosul after Iraq’s government and its allies kick ISIS out of the city.

Last year’s Paris attacks and the Brussels attacks in March brought heightened awareness that ISIS established an underground network to move jihadis in and out of Europe at will. Thousands of European nationals traveled to Syria and Iraq to wage jihad for ISIS. An estimated 2,500 Europeans still belong to ISIS’s fighting force.

“The retaking of (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s) northern Iraq stronghold, Mosul, may lead to the return to Europe of violent (ISIS) fighters,” European Union Security Commissioner Julian King told The (London) Telegraph. “This is a very serious threat and we must be prepared to face it.”

Iraqi forces, together with Iranian-backed Shiite militia and Kurdish pershmerga, aim to deal a deathblow to ISIS’s caliphate in Mosul.

It is a day ISIS anticipated. In an online publication last December called Black Flags From the Islamic State, ISIS vowed to continue its fight.

“If they win this battle, they will capture a lot (sic) of weapons, and their soldiers morale will be boosted. Now they will have control over land and will be able to train more people to fight the enemy. If they continue the fight, they will keep winning, but if they start to lose and give up, their leadership will hide in the deserts and mountains again, only to start the: Lone wolf -> Clandestine Cells -> Insurgency -> Army technique, all over again,” Black Flags From the Islamic State promised.

Jihadis without a home base pose a direct threat to Europe and menace security officials around the world, warned Raffaello Pantucci, director of the International Security studies at the Royal United Services Institute.

This especially concerns France, which suffered the Paris attacks last November that claimed 130 lives at the hands of ISIS jihadis who fought in Syria. An estimated 400 French nationals are still fighting jihad in warzones.

The number of returnees on watch lists has overstretched European security services, just as ISIS hoped. More than 10 officers try to monitor each returnee around the clock.

“We’ve had hundreds returned to our country [UK.] Some estimates say it’s a thousand. We can’t monitor the people that are here. So, it is really important that they sit round the table, because there are potentially 9,000 ISIS jihadists sitting in Mosul at the moment, who are also looking to move across,” European Parliament member Janice Atkinson told Russia Today.

The conflict against ISIS is moving into a new, unpredictable phase that has Europe on edge worrying about what comes next.

A ‘lasting defeat’ of the Islamic State will be elusive

October 18, 2016

A ‘lasting defeat’ of the Islamic State will be elusive, Long War Journal, October 18, 2016

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As the Iraqi government and Coalition forces launched the offensive to retake Mosul, the US military has optimistically said that the campaign will deal a “lasting defeat” to the Islamic State. But, if the recent history of the fight against jihadist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is any indicator, a lasting defeat of the Islamic State will remain elusive.

On Oct. 16, the US military made the claim that the Mosul operation will “deliver ISIL [Islamic State] a lasting defeat” [emphasis mine]:

Tonight Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of Iraqi operations to liberate Mosul from ISIL. This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat. The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead. We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality.

Keep in mind that many analysts were quick to pronounce the Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, as defeated after the US surge that began in 2007 rooted out the jihadists from its sanctuaries across Iraq. By 2010, Iraqi and US forces killed the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir, Abu Omar al Baghdadi, and War Minister Abu Ayyub al Masri a.k.a. Abu Hamza al Muhajir, and the group was driven underground. But these setbacks did not deter the Islamic State of Iraq. Its new leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi rallied the Islamic State of Iraq’s remaining forces and reconstituted the organization. In Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq took advantage of the Syrian civil war to rebuild its strength. By 2012, it created the Al Nusrah Front, its branch in Syria, and was launching large scale raids inside Iraq, such as the one in Haditha in March 2012, that presaged the events of 2014, which saw Iraqi forces defeated in Anbar, Salahaddin, Ninewa, and Diyala.

The Islamic State is not alone in its phoenix-like rebirth after losing ground to local forces backed by the US. Al Qaeda branches in Somalia, Yemen, and Mali, have experienced major setbacks and lost ground it held, only to regroup and retake territory. The same is true with Boko Haram in Nigeria and Taliban branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each of these countries have been in a state of perpetual war for well over a decade due to jihadist insurgencies.

In Iraq, the political and security situation is ripe for an eventual Islamic State (or whatever jihadist entity may follow it) comeback. There are large rural areas in Iraq still under Islamic State control today, and it is highly unlikely that Iraqi forces will root out the Islamic State from all of these areas. Syria remains a security nightmare, and even with recent Islamic State losses, it still controls large areas. Iraq remains a fractured state divided between the Shia-led government, which is under pressure from Iran, the marginalized Sunnis that make up the recruiting base for the Islamic State, and the Kurds, who seek independence. The Islamic State has deftly taken advantage of Iraq’s political and sectarian fault lines to stoke the fires of conflict. Iran’s machinations in Iraq and its Shia militias provide the Islamic State all of the recruiting fodder it needs to convince Sunnis to join the fight.

The fight in Iraq, as in other jihadist theaters, ebbs and flows. For the Islamic State, it is currently retreating from many of the cities and towns in Iraq and Syria that it once held. But do not expect a lasting defeat of the Islamic State. The Islamic State has survived the full might of the US surge, and was able to regroup, wage a terrorist insurgency, and build an army that overran large areas of Iraq and Syria, all over the course of four years.

Turkey’s New Territorial Claims Threaten NATO

October 13, 2016

Turkey’s New Territorial Claims Threaten NATO, Counter Jihad, October 13, 2016

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Should Russia be able to get a process of negotiation going between Turkey, Iraq and Iran on the issue of Turkish territorial expansion, Russia would assume the leadership role in the region.  Should it actually resolve the negotiations successfully, it could expect Turkey to become part of the Russian sphere of influence.  That would potentially derail NATO, as NATO’s decisions must be taken by a unanimous vote.  If Turkey becomes as strong a Russian ally as China, NATO could become as useless an organ for opposing Russian ambition as the United Nations Security Council (on which Russia has a veto).

American diplomatic weakness is partially a function of American military weakness in the region.  Russian diplomatic success is partially likewise a function of its deployment of air and naval-gunnery forces, as well as its so-far successful alliance with Iran.  Better American leadership might help, but for now, the situation is rapidly sliding away from America and towards the Russians.

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A significant claim is being pushed by the Turkish government, one that could redraw the lines of the old Ottoman Empire:

Тhe spat erupted after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the country and the region by surprise last month by calling into question the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which defined modern Turkey’s borders.  He declared Turkey had been blackmailed by foreign powers into giving up vast swaths of territory that were once part of the Ottoman Empire….

[A]ccording to visiting Carnegie Europe scholar Sinan Ulgen[:]  “The message should be seen more of a signal in relation to Turkish polices towards the south, Syria and Iraq. I read it as a backdrop to a policy that tries to build domestic support for a more long-term presence, particularly in Syria, by pointing out, at allegedly past historical mistakes,” Ulgen said.

Turkish forces are currently in Syria and Iraq. But the Turkish presence at the Bashiqa base, close to the Iraqi city of Mosul, has become the center of a deepening dispute with Baghdad. The base is ostensibly tor training Sunni militia to fight Islamic State.

On Tuesday, Erdogan dismissed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s calls to withdraw Turkish troops, telling him “he should know his place.”

Ulgen went on to point out that Turkey has historical claims not only to Mosul, currently contested in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).   Both Mosul and oil-rich Kirkuk were part of the original design of the modern-day Turkey.  The Turks’ traditionalists and nationalists view the treaty that gave them away as having been forced on them at the end of World War I.

If Russian diplomacy can broker a deal that allows Turkey to expand into Iraq and Syria, it could cement Turkey’s move into Russia’s sphere.  Until recently, that looked unlikely at best.  Last year, Turkmen fighters shot down a Russian jet over repeated incursions by the Russian air force.  At that time, relations between the two nations became quite tense.  Russia is backing Iran’s play in the region, apparently in the hope that a powerful Shi’a Iran will create a buffer zone between Russia and the Sunni jihadist forces that have acted to inflame Muslim minorities in Central Asia.  Likewise, the war in the Middle East draws attention away from Russia’s strategic moves in Eastern Europe, such as last week’s deployment of nuclear missiles on the very borders of Poland and the Baltic States.

Turkey’s latest move appears likely to inflame Iraq’s government, and Russia’s ally Iran intends to control Iraq at the end of this conflict.  Surrendering territory, especially oil-rich territory, may be a difficult negotiation.  On the other hand, Kirkuk is also disputed with the Kurds, and whichever government formally holds it after the war is going to have to fight to keep it.  Iran may be willing to be persuaded to concede the fight to Turkey in return for a more firmly-controlled corridor between Tehran and the Levant.

That will require some subtle diplomacy to negotiate, but right now Russia is having significant success in its diplomatic moves.  In the wake of a new energy deal between Turkey and Russia, the Russian diplomatic corps seems to have a lot of momentum on its side.  Turkey was already looking away from NATO and Europe in the wake of its Islamist purge following an alleged attempted coup.  Should Russia be able to get a process of negotiation going between Turkey, Iraq and Iran on the issue of Turkish territorial expansion, Russia would assume the leadership role in the region.  Should it actually resolve the negotiations successfully, it could expect Turkey to become part of the Russian sphere of influence.  That would potentially derail NATO, as NATO’s decisions must be taken by a unanimous vote.  If Turkey becomes as strong a Russian ally as China, NATO could become as useless an organ for opposing Russian ambition as the United Nations Security Council (on which Russia has a veto).

American diplomacy is meanwhile spinning its wheels.  The United States broke off talks with Russia, and then called for war crimes investigations into Russia and Assad for their campaign in Syria.  American Secretary of State John F. Kerry also accused Russia of interfering with America’s elections.  However, it appears that Kerry now wants a new push for a cease-fire in Aleppo, which would require Syria and Russia to sign on.

American diplomatic weakness is partially a function of American military weakness in the region.  Russian diplomatic success is partially likewise a function of its deployment of air and naval-gunnery forces, as well as its so-far successful alliance with Iran.  Better American leadership might help, but for now, the situation is rapidly sliding away from America and towards the Russians.