Posted tagged ‘Peshmerga’

Here’s How ISIS’ Female Enemies Celebrated International Women’s Day

March 10, 2017

Here’s How ISIS’ Female Enemies Celebrated International Women’s Day, Clarion ProjectRyan Mauro, March 9, 2017

Female fighters from the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), including the oldest and youngest soldiers. (Photo: Courtesy)

The Iraqi and Syrian Christians who stare daily into the darkness of genocide have, after a long and bloody period of patience and non-violence, formed self-defense forces, including an all-female force in Syria.

The Beth Nahrin Women Protection Forces is a branch of the 2,000-strong Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia that says it includes Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs. The Christian force is part of a U.S.-backed coalition named the Syrian Democratic Forces that includes Kurds and Sunni Arabs and is marching on Raqqa, the “capitol” of ISIS’ “caliphate.”

International Women’s Day would have been better honored by broadcasting those words and telling these stories than by skipping work, politicizing the day or getting arrested for blocking traffic as the radical Muslim-American activist and left-wing star Linda Sarsour was.

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In America, some attention-seeking activists purposely got arrested by blocking traffic outside the Trump International Hotel so they could later become the face of so-called gender oppression.

Their PR stunt stole attention from the most powerful symbols of feminism: women in the Middle East—Christians, Kurds, Arabs, Yazidis—risking their lives to vanquish Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as a step towards starting a new era for women in the region.

The Iraqi and Syrian Christians who stare daily into the darkness of genocide have, after a long and bloody period of patience and non-violence, formed self-defense forces, including an all-female force in Syria.

The Beth Nahrin Women Protection Forces is a branch of the 2,000-strong Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia that says it includes Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs. The Christian force is part of a U.S.-backed coalition named the Syrian Democratic Forces that includes Kurds and Sunni Arabs and is marching on Raqqa, the “capitol” of ISIS’ “caliphate.”

Watch a video about this force titled “Meet the Christian Women Fighting ISIS,” which shows a camp with 50 female recruits in the Kurdish area of northern Syria:

SIS is believed to still be holding many Yazidi women and girls as sex slaves and the other female Yazidis are determined to put an end to it. The Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq has trained at least two female Yazidi forces, the 1,700-strong Sun Ladies and the Sinjar Women’s Units.

The Iraqi Kurdistan government is proud of how its Peshmerga forces put men and women on equal footing. The same goes for other Kurdish groups in Iraq that are fighting both ISIS and the Iranian regime, like the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI).

Clarion Project’s National Security Analyst Prof. Ryan Mauro in Iraq with female fighters from the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK)

The Syrian Democratic Forces include the Kurdish YPG group, with a female component known as the YPJ Women’s Defense Units. The Kurdish YPG is accused of being a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., E.U. and Turkey. The U.S. government nonetheless backs the YPG, disputing the claim that YPG and PKK are synonymous.

A Twitter posting from ANF News shows female Kurdish fighters purportedly handing out flowers to women in villages freed from ISIS and is accompanied with a quote: “We’ll liberate women from slavery, atrocity and make every day March 8 [International Women’s Day].”

Sunni Arab women are also in on the action. The U.S. military has proudly distributed pictures showing female fighters who belong to the Syrian Arab Coalition, another component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), being trained and armed ahead of the planned attack on Raqqa.

For the female Kurdish commanders, they are not only risking their lives to defeat ISIS but for the sake of the next generation of girls.

The commander of the female Kurdish forces in Syria, Rojda Felat, has vowed to free the Yazidi women enslaved by ISIS as part of a broader struggle for women’s rights. She said, “Wherever a man is threatening a woman, our forces will struggle against this,” according to a report referenced in a PJ Media article.

In an interview published on International Women’s Day, Felat spoke words that should stiffen the spine and inspire every women’s right activist:

“In the Middle East women are assigned traditional roles such as wife, mother, house-worker. With the establishment of the SDF, however, this has changed and traditional roles have been turned upside down … With the SDF, the women of our region have taken developments by the scruff of the neck and left their imprint on the direction of the battle. As a result, women have re-established themselves in every sphere of life.”

International Women’s Day would have been better honored by broadcasting those words and telling these stories than by skipping work, politicizing the day or getting arrested for blocking traffic as the radical Muslim-American activist and left-wing star Linda Sarsour was.

Bernard-Henri Lévy: With the Peshmerga, on the Front Line in the Battle for Mosul

October 30, 2016

Bernard-Henri Lévy: With the Peshmerga, on the Front Line in the Battle for Mosul, Algemeiner, Bernard-Henri Lévy,October 30,2016

Editor’s note: Bernard-Henri Lévy’s documentary, “Peshmerga,” was an Official Selection at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. He and his team are back in Iraqi Kurdistan, embedded with the Peshmerga, filming a follow-up. The following is his report.

Return to Kurdistan. My first move is to go into the hills around Mount Zartak to gather my thoughts in the spot where Maghdid Harki, the young, white-haired general who was one of the heroes of Peshmerga, spent his last moments. Nothing has changed. Not the sandbags that were too flimsy to protect him. Not his bunker which, as he liked to say, was no better fortified than those of his men. Those men have kept his water bottle hanging in its place on the wall near the door, still containing the last gulp of water that he had been about to drink. The only difference is that American special forces are now using the bunker.

Through binoculars, a US soldier scans the valley in which the human bombs of ISIS may appear at any moment. Another stands behind a telescope trained 20 kilometers farther away on the outskirts of Mosul. A third, with long, blond hair and an Errol Flynn mustache, recovers a drone that has just landed at our feet in a cloud of dust. A fourth who looks like an intellectual (reminding me of Norman Mailer’s cartographer from the 112th cavalry of San Antonio) sits under a canopy deciphering the data coming in on his PC. And a fifth, the highest in rank, from Tennessee, passes on the intelligence. Who are these young Americans, oppressed by the heat and squinting at the light like blind men blinking at the dark? With Mosul a stone’s throw away, they are the leading edge of the coalition that has finally decided, in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army, to take the capital of the Islamic State.

I am in Sheikh Amir in the al-Khazir zone. Sheikh Amir is the last liberated village before the beleaguered Christian city of Qaraqosh. Three brand new Toyotas come to a screeching halt, disgorging a squad of men in mismatched black uniforms — definitely not the Peshmerga.

“What are you doing here?” demands General Hajar, with whom I’ve traveled from Erbil. “You shouldn’t be here!”

“This is our land!” answers an ill-shaven man with a nasty, menacing look who seems to be the leader of the group.

“No,” says Hajar, gesturing toward a distant stand of prefabricated shelters that, from the road, we had taken for a refugee camp. “That’s where you should be. The accords are clear: You’re not supposed to leave your camp unless you’re attacking.”

“To hell with you!” chimes in another of the men in black. “We’re home wherever we are.”

As Hajar ups the ante and the confrontation threatens to turn ugly, the leader mumbles a half-hearted apology and, after ordering his bunch back into their pickups, heads off in the direction of the camp, where we can make out three helicopters landing. It all took place very quickly. But the men in black, we now know, were among the thousands of Shi’ite militiamen that Baghdad has hastily incorporated into the Iraqi regular army. And the incident, however minor, speaks long about the tensions among the participants (the Peshmerga on the one hand; Baghdad’s majority Shi’ite army on the other) called upon to liberate the Islamic State’s Berlin.

Another sign. A few kilometers farther on, we are in the Christian village of Manguba. Here, ISIS put up little resistance. But, in retreat, it left behind explosives hidden in soda bottles, fuel cans and sometimes even Korans. And Anwar, a Christian officer in the Peshmerga, is one of very few who take the risk of going out to see what remains of his house. He arranges to rejoin us at a nearby spot, the highest in the village, which, to judge from the punctured soccer ball and the marbles mingled with spent cartridges, must have been a playground before becoming, today, the unit’s lookout post.

“It’s terrible,” he tells us on his return. “There’s nothing left of my house, and they torched the church.” Then, choking back a sob: “But there’s another problem, Mr. Lévy. These bastards have left and, God willing, they won’t come back. But then what? Who will be responsible for protecting our community? We have a Christian brigade training with the Peshmerga, but what will become of it after the victory? Under whose command will it be then?”

Egged on by questions from my friend, Gilles Hertzog, Anwar speaks his mind plainly. Neither he nor any of the Christians in the Qaraqosh region has any confidence in Iraq. He won’t bring his wife and children back, he says, unless the Kurds, and the Kurds alone, are protecting the Plain of Nineveh. In what form, we ask? As a province? An autonomous zone under Kurdish mandate? And does he think that the Iraqis or the Americans on Mount Zartak will agree to such a thing? He shrugs. For soldiers of God, life and salvation are non-negotiable.

Hassan al-Sham. Near the Christian town of Bartallah. The same landscape of charred earth, wreckage of suicide trucks, and lingering fires from torched fuel depots. And suddenly, right in front of me, a big hole. A well, I think at first. Wrong. There is a ladder in the hole, which my cameraman and I climb down behind a member of the bomb squad. Three meters down, I discover a tunnel a meter wide with an arched ceiling and cement walls interspersed with crude masonry in which a man my height can stand upright.

After walking tentatively for 100 meters by the light of the bomb technician’s flashlight, we come upon a passage perpendicular to the one we are in and similarly walled but that we do not enter because we can make out bundles of plastic explosive and contact wires. Then, on each side of the tunnel, rooms filled with a jumble of dirty mattresses. Then, again symmetrically arranged, a twin command center in which someone has left behind a pile of newspapers in Arabic. It’s a black-and-white publication of eight pages, a sort of bulletin for ISIS fighters, entitled “The News.” On the front page, under a photo of a man being beheaded, the headline: “How we identify traitors.” Inside, an article on a terrorist operation in the Sinai; an “analysis” of the “unlimited rights” of a shahid (martyr) who has rid the world of a kafir (heretic); and a report on the presence of sleeper cells in Kirkuk. On page 2, a strange roundup of the past year: “1,031 news reports, 110 infographics, 50 maps, and 112 executions of traitors.” If the enemy took the trouble to dig this tunnel in a forlorn village, what are we likely to find in Mosul? What lacework of traps and pitfalls? What secret, subterranean city for what sort of dirty war?

We are on the road again heading due north to the outskirts of Dohuk, 13 kilometers from the Mosul dam. The man whom we have come to see is Rawan Barzani, the younger brother of the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and the commander of the first battalion of the Kurdish special forces. The base where he receives us is no more than 300 meters from the front line. In his bunker, furnished with a simple table and spartan bed, I observe this amazing officer who is the age of Napoleon’s generals. I listen to him explain, in perfect English and against a background of arriving and departing mortar shells, his theory of an enemy made up of (1) “loonies” (the drivers of suicide trucks); (2) “rats” (the denizens of the tunnels); and (3) “attack dogs” (whom he believes will offer fierce resistance).

How is it possible that a soldier of his rank should be so exposed, so close to the combat zone that he can grant me only a few seconds for a photo outside in the open? There is the legendary courage of the Kurdish commanders who place themselves not behind but in front of their men … There is his name, which could expose him to suspicions of nepotism if he didn’t force himself to be all the braver … But, above all, there is the following. Here, ISIS holds one of its most strategic positions. We are only a few kilometers from an immense dam that, if sabotaged, would flood the entire region extending to Mosul and on to Baghdad. Therefore, the coalition has no choice. It has no use for men in black or Sunni tribesmen hastily recruited for walk-on parts. It needs serious, solid soldiers. It needs seasoned commandos to pass behind enemy lines and carry out the boldest attacks. And, at their head, it needs a grandson of the founder of the Kurdish nation, the father of the Peshmerga, Mustafa Barzani…

An envoy from the general staff comes looking for us during the night. We are to head east toward Nawaran, where the taking of Bashiqa, the last linchpin before Mosul, is to start. The usual crush of tanks, armored vehicles, and Toyotas. Then, at the first glimmers of dawn, two drones, similar to the one that dropped a bomb two weeks ago on the French camp in Erbil: but this time the Peshmerga, in a hail of fire from Kalashnikovs and 12.7 mm caliber machine guns, destroy them before they can touch down. We slip into the last of the five armored personnel carriers that are headed for the front. We leave behind us the mounds of excavated earth where the rest of the troops will await the order to advance. We wend through a landscape of hamlets, warehouses, and ghostly houses from which we expect at any moment to see a suicide bomber emerge. A sniper! Our gunner at his turret takes him out. And another, whose shot grazes our lead cameraman who is filming from the turret next to the gunner. This one escapes, disappearing into the gloom. A spasm of anxiety at the sound of something striking our vehicle’s armor. Another when we learn through walkie-talkie exchanges with the excavators ahead of us that the road is mined and we will have to find a new route across the empty terrain to our left. We spend two hours driving nearly blind, with no other guidance but that of the local villager riding on the lead bulldozer, two hours of jolts and swerves in the dust, of bogging down, all to travel the eight kilometers that separate us from the fringes of the village of Fazlia, which the column has been ordered to retake.

Of the sequence that follows, I have the images recorded by our second cameraman, Ala Tayyeb, after operational command orders the vehicle I’m in to turn back. The personnel carriers and T55 tanks encircle the village. The men get out, are joined by an elite Zeravani unit, and advance in the open. Suddenly, shots burst forth from houses and from an olive grove that had seemed abandoned. Over his walkie-talkie, the colonel in command requests air support. The voice at the other end of the line promises it within minutes, as is the norm. But the shooting becomes more intense. The jihadists surge out of the olive grove and surround the Peshmerga on three sides. Seven Kurdish soldiers are hit. Those that their comrades haul behind the armored carriers are targeted by snipers. When two of the assailants raise a white flag and Ardalan Khasrawi, who also appeared in Peshmerga, approaches to accept their surrender, he finds another trap. The two men open fire and seriously wound Khasrawi. Orders and counterorders. Total confusion. Should the vehicles form a circle? Should they spread out? And the fact is that for the two and a half hours the ambush lasts, for the interminable minutes of hell on earth during which the Kurdish commander never stops pleading for air support and never stops hearing that it is coming, nothing comes. The unit is left to fend for itself, abandoned by the gods and by its allies. Only by their own valiance do the Kurds overcome the jihadists and liberate the village — but at what a price!

Two hours later, we are with President Barzani at his camp of Mount Zartak, which lies at the end of a winding road protected by US special forces. I had asked to see him. And, it soon becomes clear, he has messages to pass on. Yes, in the Arab villages that it is taking, his army is conducting itself in an exemplary manner. No, that army does not intend, at least for the time being, to enter Mosul proper, a job that the allied accords have reserved for the Iraqi army. Yes, again, he had a plan for the “day after,” and he deplores the fact that his partners, in their haste to be done with this before the US election, did not heed him more closely. But his face betrays nothing. The same dark eyes but devoid of their usual mischief. The commanders and dignitaries seated around the makeshift shed that serves as his HQ do not look any more overjoyed than he. He says hardly a thing when I praise the courage of his soldiers. He ducks when I ask him if he believes that the prospect that seemed to haunt him when we last talked in September, the specter of a Shi’ite corridor running through Mosul from Baghdad to Syria, has been dispelled. And, when Gilles Hertzog tells him the story of the Christians who have confidence only in the KRG, he is terse: “It will be up to them to decide and up to the international community to assume its responsibilities — or not.” The truth, which I learned a few hours later from his chief adviser, is that the president spent the hours of the battle for Fazlia in communication with the American ambassador in Iraq, demanding air support for his troops. And the reason for his mood during our interview, not to say his wrath, is that he felt abandoned by his allies — and not far from believing that he has fulfilled his part of the bargain and that, for him, the war is over.

Because why didn’t the promised air support arrive? Why, in defiance of the rules of engagement, did no aircraft take off from the bases in Erbil or Qayyarah? Why, when an Apache helicopter had, at that same moment and not far away, come to the rescue of a mortally wounded American soldier, was another not found to come to the assistance of the trapped Peshmerga fighters? Some in Washington, London and Paris will pin the tragic failure on the chain of command. Others will point to the change in itinerary, when the column realized that the road was mined and had to find another route. But here in Erbil the most widely accepted explanation is less forgiving. We are the best, the Kurds say. We were flying from one victory to another while the Iraqi regulars were managing to lose again two of the villages they had just taken. But our western allies were listening selectively. They wanted success to be equally apportioned among all parties: Kurds, the majority Shi’ite Iraqi army, and the Sunni militiamen designed to reassure the Arabs of Mosul. And, in this studied balance that they sought; in the distribution of roles testily negotiated with, in particular, Baghdad and its Iranian backers; within the framework, then, of the commitment the Americans made not to let the Peshmerga move too fast and gain an advantage that would cost too much later on — the price being the independence of Kurdistan and the supposed “destabilization” of Iraq and the region — it was not necessarily a bad thing to see our column rubbed out in Fazliya.

authorThe author with Peshmerga fighters.

That explanation is probably too simple. But I do remember one of Barack Obama’s predecessors sending the late Richard Holbrooke to warn President Izetbegovic of Bosnia that he would cease to benefit from American air cover if he persisted in his intemperate goal of entering Banja Luka. And we all remember the trouble that a certain General de Gaulle had in obtaining from another American president the right to have a Free French division enter insurgent Paris. And thus that explanation may not be too absurd to ascribe to allied capitals locked into their old sovereign schemes and ready to do nearly anything to try to please one newly rehabilitated power (Iran) or to preserve another pseudo-nation (Iraq) while not becoming overly indebted to a people who would certainly not shrink, when the time came to settle up, from claiming their fair share of the fruits of victory (the Kurdish people, who for a century have played the fall guy in our schemes). If that were the case, if that were the nature of the powers’ great game here, if one persisted in asking the Peshmerga to open the doors to Mosul but not to enter it, and if the return of the Christians to the Plain of Nineveh were to hang on such a cynical accommodation, then the battle would have gotten off to a very bad start and the moral defeat of ISIS would be much less certain than it appears.

Understanding the Dispute Over Peshmerga Command

August 21, 2016

Understanding the Dispute Over Peshmerga Command, Kurdistan News, Laurie Mylroie, August 20, 2016

The battle to liberate Mosul, as well as the ongoing “shaping operations,” in which Peshmerga are prominently involved, is not the responsibility of the State Department. It is the job of the Defense Department—one reason to question the authoritativeness of State Department statements on this matter.

Moreover, there is a crucial difference between how the State and Defense Departments interpret White House guidance on Iraq.

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A dispute has erupted between Washington and Erbil over command and control of Peshmerga forces. Most probably, the argument reflects a State Department misunderstanding.

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Deputy Spokesperson was questioned about the recent remarks of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in which he said, “The Peshmerga should stay where they are now, and they should not expand their presence even if they help the Iraqi Army.”

When asked to comment on that statement, the Spokesperson replied, “The Peshmerga and all the various fighting groups in Iraq need to be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi military.”

In turn, the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) responded, “The Peshmerga are not under the command or control of the Iraqi government. According to the Iraqi constitution, the Peshmerga are part of Iraq’s defense system, but the Iraqi government has not supplied the Peshmerga with weapons or military training, and they have not assumed any responsibility toward the Peshmerga.”

The battle to liberate Mosul, as well as the ongoing “shaping operations,” in which Peshmerga are prominently involved, is not the responsibility of the State Department. It is the job of the Defense Department—one reason to question the authoritativeness of State Department statements on this matter.

Moreover, there is a crucial difference between how the State and Defense Departments interpret White House guidance on Iraq.

According to that guidance, Baghdad is in the lead, and the US (and others) follow its direction. The White House believes this is the best way to ensure Baghdad’s continuing cooperation in the fight against IS.

But the interpretation of that guidance varies. The State Department tends to adhere to it strictly; the Defense Department applies it more loosely.

For example, the Defense Department decided to support the Peshmerga directly, rather than channel aid through Baghdad. In July, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Erbil. The Pentagon secured Baghdad’s approval by telling the Iraqis what it intended to do and then asking them if they had any objection.

The State Department, however, tends to leave such decisions to the Iraqi government, as it did regarding the anti-ISIL Coalition meetings in Washington last month. KRG representation was minimal because Iraq’s Foreign Minister decided, as he liked.

The State Department’s restrictive interpretation of this guidance led them to make a major misstatement before. That came in response to a query of mine, following the recent International Pledging Conference that raised $2.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Iraq.

What mechanisms existed to ensure that the Kurdistan Region—which hosts 2/3 of the refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq—received its fair share, given Baghdad’s notorious corruption?, I asked a State Department Spokesperson.

She did not address the issue of Baghdad’s corruption but clearly affirmed, “Funding and support will go through Baghdad.”

That statement also prompted protest from Erbil. But it turned out to be wrong. The State Department soon clarified that the international aid would go through the UN, not Baghdad.

The State Department’s answer to any question that raises criticism of the Iraqi government, as I have learned, is likely to begin with an affirmation of US backing for Baghdad, and the rest of the answer will probably not address the criticism.

When the question involves a dispute between Baghdad versus Erbil, almost certainly, the answer will favor Baghdad. So I have learned not to ask such questions, unless Baghdad’s actions are so clearly wrong that the question itself will highlight the folly of the answer—and the policy behind it.

The spokespersons are the messengers, not the decision-makers, I regularly remind myself. Their deference to Baghdad’s decision-making may prove a grave error, as it does not seem to acknowledge the sectarian nature of the Iraqi government and the influence Tehran exerts over it. But they are not responsible for that policy.

And their jobs are not easy. For an hour each day, they stand before a camera, answering questions, which can be quite hostile, about a wide range of topics. Such questions may come from ambitious journalists who seem to think that their incessant, repetitive questioning may trap the spokespersons into revealing the kernel of some big scoop. Or they may come from the representatives of hostile states, who seem to think that through their barrage of queries, they can embarrass the US.

This situation happens in real time, on an indelible record, to be posted for the whole world to view. The spokespersons bear the hour with unflagging courtesy, and sometimes even good humor, all the while aware that certain slip-ups can create an international incident.

My guess is that is what happened with the misguided statement about command and control of the Peshmerga.

 

‘Kill Me Now, I Have to Be in Heaven by Four’

May 12, 2016

‘Kill Me Now, I Have to Be in Heaven by Four’ Clarion Project, May 12, 2016

ClockIllustrative picture. (Photo: © Creative Commons/Sunghwan Yoon)

An ISIS prisoner captured by the Peshmerga near Mosul demanded to be executed immediately since he had to be in heaven by 4pm.

He informed his captors the day of his capture was the Muslim festival of Isra and Mi’iraj, which celebrates the famous night journey of the founder of Islam Muhammed to Jerusalem and his temporary ascension to heaven to receive instruction from Allah. The fighter claimed he wanted to attend a commemoration ceremony for this event in heaven, which he said would start at 4pm.

One of the fighters of the Peshmerga who was assigned to the prisoner said the armed man told him “Don’t take care of me, you are an infidel.”

A lieutenant-colonel in the forces of the Peshmerga, Salim al-Surji, bandaged the wounds of the prisoner. He spoke to Rudaw media after a battle at Telskuf in which several Peshmerga fighters were killed.

“While I was filming the ISIS men on my phone” Surji said, “I saw that one of them was moving his ankle. So that’s when I put my hand on his chest and found that he was breathing. He was also conscious and talking. His explosive belt had not detonated and he was hurt in his ankle due to the explosion of one of his comrades. He was unable to walk. He told me ‘you are infidels, kill me.’”

Al-Surji didn’t listen to him and bandaged his ankle.

“While I was bandaging his wound I asked him where he was from and he said he’s from Samarra (a city in Iraq) and that he came to fight here with 50 other armed men. They were supposed to commit suicide using their suicide belts because today is the anniversary of the Isra and Mi’iraj celebration. He told me ‘all of us must be in heaven by 4pm, kill me.’”

Column One: Obama strikes again

July 31, 2015

Column One: Obama strikes again, Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick, July 30, 2015

ShowImage (5)US President Barack Obama (L) and Vice President Joe Biden. (photo credit:OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY PETE SOUZA)

Most of the antiquities that ISIS plunders in Iraq and Syria make their way to the world market through Turkey. So, too, most of the oil that ISIS produces in Syria and Iraq is smuggled out through Turkey. According to the US Treasury, ISIS has made $1 million-$4m. a day from oil revenue.

Instead of maintaining its current practice of balancing its support for Turkey with its support for the Kurds, under the agreement, the West ditches its support for the Kurds and transfers its support to Turkey exclusively.

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While Israel and much of oficial Washington remain focused on the deal President Barack Obama just cut with the ayatollahs that gives them $150 billion and a guaranteed nuclear arsenal within a decade, Obama has already moved on – to Syria.

Obama’s first hope was to reach a deal with his Iranian friends that would leave the Assad regime in place. But the Iranians blew him off.

They know they don’t need a deal with Obama to secure their interests. Obama will continue to help them to maintain their power base in Syria though Hezbollah and the remains of the Assad regime without a deal.

Iran’s cold shoulder didn’t stop Obama. He moved on to his Sunni friend Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Like the Iranians, since the war broke out, Erdogan has played a central role in transforming what started out as a local uprising into a regional conflict between Sunni and Shiite jihadists.

With Obama’s full support, by late 2012 Erdogan had built an opposition dominated by his totalitarian allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

By mid-2013, Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood- led coalition was eclipsed by al-Qaida spinoffs. They also enjoyed Turkish support.

And when last summer ISIS supplanted al-Qaida as the dominant Sunni jihadist force in Syria, it did so with Erdogan’s full backing. For the past 18 months, Turkey has been ISIS’s logistical, political and economic base.

According to Brett McGurk, the State Department’s point man on ISIS, about 25,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. All of them transited through Turkey.

Most of the antiquities that ISIS plunders in Iraq and Syria make their way to the world market through Turkey. So, too, most of the oil that ISIS produces in Syria and Iraq is smuggled out through Turkey. According to the US Treasury, ISIS has made $1 million-$4m. a day from oil revenue.

In May, US commandos in Syria assassinated Abu Sayyaf, ISIS’s chief money manager, and arrested his wife and seized numerous computers and flash drives from his home. According to a report in The Guardian published last week, the drives provided hard evidence of official Turkish economic collusion with ISIS.

Due to Turkish support, ISIS has become a self-financing terrorist group. With its revenue stream it is able to maintain a welfare state regime, attracting recruits from abroad and securing the loyalty of local Sunni militias and former Ba’athist forces.

Some Western officials believed that after finding hard evidence of Turkish regime support for ISIS, NATO would finally change its relationship with Turkey. To a degree they were correct.

Last week, Obama cut a deal with Erdogan that changes the West’s relationship with Erdogan.

Instead of maintaining its current practice of balancing its support for Turkey with its support for the Kurds, under the agreement, the West ditches its support for the Kurds and transfers its support to Turkey exclusively.

The Kurdish peshmerga militias operating today in Iraq and Syria are the only military outfits making sustained progress in the war against ISIS. Since last October, the Kurds in Syria have liberated ISIS-controlled and -threatened areas along the Turkish border.

The YPG, the peshmerga militia in Syria, won its first major victory in January, when after a protracted, bloody battle, with US air support, it freed the Kurdish border town of Kobani from ISIS’s assault.

In June, the YPG scored a strategic victory against ISIS by taking control of Tal Abyad. Tal Abyad controls the road connecting ISIS’s capital of Raqqa with Turkey. By capturing Tal Abyad, the Kurds cut Raqqa’s supply lines.

Last month, Time magazine reported that the Turks reacted with hysteria to Tal Abyad’s capture.

Not only did the operation endanger Raqqa, it gave the Kurds territorial contiguity in Syria.

The YPG’s victories enhanced the Kurds’ standing among Western nations. Indeed, some British and American officials were quoted openly discussing the possibility of removing the PKK, the YPG’s Iraqi counterpart, from their official lists of terrorist organizations.

The YPG’s victories similarly enhanced the Kurds’ standing inside Turkey itself. In the June elections to the Turkish parliament, the Kurdish HDP party won 12 percent of the vote nationally, and so blocked Erdogan’s AKP party from winning a parliamentary majority.

Without that majority Erdogan’s plan of reforming the constitution to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and secure his dictatorship for the long run has been jeopardized.

As far as Erdogan was concerned, by the middle of July the Kurdish threat to his power had reached unacceptable levels.

Then two weeks ago the deck was miraculously reshuffled.

On July 20, young Kurdish activists convened in Suduc, a Kurdish town on the Turkish side of the border, 6 kilometers from Kobani. A suicide bomber walked up to them, and detonated, massacring 32 people.

Turkish officials claim that the bomber was a Turkish Kurd, and a member of ISIS. But the Kurds didn’t buy that line. Last week, HDP lawmakers accused the regime of complicity with the bomber. And two days after the attack, militants from the PKK killed two Turkish policemen in a neighboring village, claiming that they collaborated with ISIS.

At that point, Erdogan sprang into action.

After refusing for months to work with NATO forces in their anti-ISIS operations, Erdogan announced he was entering the fray. He would begin targeting “terrorists” and allow the US air force to use two Turkish air bases for its anti-ISIS operations. In exchange, the US agreed to set up a “safe zone” in Syria along the Turkish border.

Turkish officials were quick to explain that in targeting “terrorists,” the Turks would not distinguish between Kurdish terrorists and ISIS terrorists just because the former are fighting ISIS. Both, they insisted, are legitimate targets.

Erdogan closed his deal in a telephone call with Obama. And he immediately went into action.

Turkish forces began bombing terrorist targets and rounding up terrorist suspects. Although a few of the Turkish bombing runs have been directly against ISIS, the vast majority have targeted Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria.

Moreover, for every suspected ISIS terrorist arrested by Turkish security forces, at least eight Kurds have been taken into custody.

Then, too, Erdogan has called on AKP lawmakers to begin criminalizing their counterparts from the HDP. Kurdish lawmakers, he urged them, must be stripped of their parliamentary immunity to enable their arrests.

As Erdogan apparently sees things, by going to war against the Kurds, he will be able to reestablish the AKP’s parliamentary majority. Within a few weeks, if the AKP fails to form a governing coalition – and it will – then new elections will be held. The nationalists, who abandoned the AKP in June, will return to the party to reward Erdogan for fighting the Kurds.

As for that “safe area” in northern Syria, as the Kurds see it, Erdogan will use it to destroy Kurdish autonomy. He will flood the zone with Syrian Arab refugees who fled to Turkey, to dilute the Kurdish majority. And he will secure coalition support for the Sunni Arab militias – including those still affiliated with al-Qaida – which will be permitted by NATO to operate openly in the safe area.

Already the Kurds are reporting that the US has stopped providing air support for their forces fighting ISIS in the border town of Jarablus. Those forces were bombed this week by Turkish F-16s.

For their part, despite Erdogan’s pledge to fight ISIS, his forces seem remarkable uninterested in rolling back ISIS achievements. The Turks have no plan for removing ISIS from its strongholds in Raqqa or Haskiyah.

The Obama administration is presenting the deal with Turkey as yet another great achievement.

In an interview with Charlie Rose on Tuesday, McGurk explained that the deal was a long time in the making. It began with a phone conversation between Obama and Erdogan last October and it ended with their phone call last week.

In October, Obama convinced Erdogan not to oppose US air support for the Kurds in Kobani and to enable the US to resupply YPG fighters in Kobani through Turkey. In the second, Obama agreed not to oppose Erdogan’s offensive against the Kurds.

Two years ago, in August 2013, the world held its breath awaiting US action in Syria. That month, after prolonged equivocation amidst mountains of evidence, the Obama administration was forced to acknowledge that Iran’s Syrian puppet Bashar Assad had crossed Obama’s self-declared redline and used chemical weapons against regime opponents, including civilians.

US forces assembled for battle. Everything looked ready to go, until just hours before US jets were scheduled to begin bombing regime targets, Obama canceled the operation. In so doing, he lost all deterrent power against Iran. He also lost all strategic credibility among America’s regional allies.

To save face, Obama agreed to a Russian proposal to have international monitors remove Syria’s chemical weapons from the country.

Last summer, the administration proudly announced that the mission had been completed.

UN chemical weapons monitors had removed Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal from the country, they proclaimed. It didn’t matter to either Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry that by that point Assad had resumed chemical assaults with chlorine-based bombs. Chlorine bombs weren’t chemical weapons, the Americans idiotically proclaimed.

Then last week, the lie fell apart. The Wall Street Journal reported that according to US intelligence agencies, Assad not surrendered his chemical arsenal.

Rather, he hid much of his chemical weaponry from the UN inspectors. He had even managed to retain the capacity to make chemical weapons – like chlorine-based bombs – after agreeing to part with his chemical arsenal.

Assad was able to cheat, because just as the administration’s nuclear deal with the Iranians gives Iran control over which nuclear sites will be open to UN inspectors, and which will be off limits, so the chemical deal gave Assad control over what the inspectors would and would not be allowed to see. So, they saw only what he showed them.

Obama has gone full circle in concluding his deal with Erdogan. Since entering office, Obama has sought to cut deals with both the Sunni jihadists of the Muslim Brotherhood ilk and the Shi’ite jihadists of the Iranian ilk.

His chemical deal with Assad and his nuclear deal with the ayatollahs accomplished the latter goal, and did so at the expense of America’s Sunni Arab allies and Israel.

His deal last week with Erdogan accomplishes the former goal, to the benefit of ISIS, and on the backs of America’s Kurdish allies.

So that takes care of the Middle East. With 17 months left to go till Obama leave office, the time has apparently come for the British to begin to worry.

US blocks attempts by Arab allies to fly heavy weapons directly to Kurds to fight Islamic State

July 2, 2015

US blocks attempts by Arab allies to fly heavy weapons directly to Kurds to fight Islamic State, The Telegraph (UK), Defence Editor, July 1, 2015

Barack-Obama-_3361379bPresident Barack Obama pauses speaks at Taylor Stratton Elementary School in Nashville Photo: AP

The United States has blocked attempts by its Middle East allies to fly heavy weapons directly to the Kurds fighting Islamic State jihadists in Iraq, The Telegraph has learnt.

Some of America’s closest allies say President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, including David Cameron, are failing to show strategic leadership over the world’s gravest security crisis for decades.

They now say they are willing to “go it alone” in supplying heavy weapons to the Kurds, even if means defying the Iraqi authorities and their American backers, who demand all weapons be channelled through Baghdad.

High level officials from Gulf and other states have told this newspaper that all attempts to persuade Mr Obama of the need to arm the Kurds directly as part of more vigorous plans to take on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) have failed. The Senate voted down one attempt by supporters of the Kurdish cause last month.

The officials say they are looking at new ways to take the fight to Isil without seeking US approval.

“If the Americans and the West are not prepared to do anything serious about defeating Isil, then we will have to find new ways of dealing with the threat,” said a senior Arab government official. “With Isil making ground all the time we simply cannot afford to wait for Washington to wake up to the enormity of the threat we face.”

Kurdish-weapons_3361377bKurdish Peshmerga fighters train on a weapon during a training session with British military advisers

The Peshmerga have been successfully fighting Isil, driving them back from the gates of Erbil and, with the support of Kurds from neighbouring Syria, re-establishing control over parts of Iraq’s north-west.

But they are doing so with a makeshift armoury. Millions of pounds-worth of weapons have been bought by a number of European countries to arm the Kurds, but American commanders, who are overseeing all military operations against Isil, are blocking the arms transfers.

One of the core complaints of the Kurds is that the Iraqi army has abandoned so many weapons in the face of Isil attack, the Peshmerga are fighting modern American weaponry with out-of-date Soviet equipment.

At least one Arab state is understood to be considering arming the Peshmerga directly, despite US opposition.

The US has also infuriated its allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, by what they perceive to be a lack of clear purpose and vacillation in how they conduct the bombing campaign. Other members of the coalition say they have identified clear Isil targets but then been blocked by US veto from firing at them.

“There is simply no strategic approach,” one senior Gulf official said. “There is a lack of coordination in selecting targets, and there is no overall plan for defeating Isil.”

Western leaders increasingly accept that the “war on Isil” has not gone well, from the moment last year Mr Obama called the group a “JV [junior varsity] team” of jihadists compared with al-Qaeda. At that point, Isil had seized Fallujah, which US forces took in a bloody battle in 2004. It went on to take much of western Iraq and large areas of Syria, and in May took Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

Britain is moving closer to expanding its role in the war. The Government on Wednesday gave its strongest indication yet that MPs will be given a new vote on whether to bomb Isil in Syria.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said it was “illogical” that British planes were able to hit extremists in Iraq but not across the border.

Any decision to bomb in Syria would have to be approved by MPs. In 2013, the Prime Minister lost a vote for British military action in Syria. However, Mr Fallon said: “It is a new Parliament and I think new Members of Parliament will want to think very carefully about how we best deal with Isil, and the illogicality of Isil not respecting the borderlines.”

Mr Fallon suggested that a bombing campaign could be mounted in revenge for the terror attacks in Tunisia if a link could be proved between the killer and Isil in Libya. Britain would only take military action in Libya “where we think there is an imminent threat, a very direct to British lives or, for example, to British hostages”, he said.

Senior Whitehall sources did not distance themselves from Mr Fallon’s comments but insisted there was no immediate prospect of military action.

The Telegraph understands that Mr Cameron is concerned that Labour might force the Government into another defeat over Syria.

Shoshana Bryen: The Kurds: A Guide for U.S. Policymakers

June 7, 2015

Shoshana Bryen: The Kurds: A Guide for U.S. Policymakerssecurefreedom via You Tube, June 5, 2015

Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director, Jewish Policy Center; Former Senior Director for Security Policy, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA):

 

The Islamic State Is Here to Stay

June 5, 2015

The Islamic State Is Here to Stay, VICE NewsAhmed S. Hashim, June 6, 2015

(Please see also, The Kurd-Shia War Behind the War on ISIS. — DM)

The victories against IS in early 2015 have proven ephemeral — or have been nullified by IS gains elsewhere. On Sunday, CIA director John Brennan said on Face the Nation, “I don’t see this being resolved anytime soon.” Assad’s vaunted offensives of February 2015 have fallen short as the regime faced stiff resistance from a wide variety of opposition fighters, including elements from IS. The failure was alarming in part because the campaign was designed and aided by both Hezbollah and the Iranians, two seemingly ascendant Shia powers.

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Just a few months ago, analysts and policy-makers were certain that the defeat of Islamic State (IS) forces was simply a matter of time.

Coalition airstrikes would degrade the group’s capabilities and eventually allow Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga — though discredited by their poor military showing in mid-2014 — to push back the extremists. And indeed, IS fighters were ejected from Tikrit in March 2015 by the Iraqi army and thousands of motivated fighters from Shia militias. In Kobani in northern Syria, IS fighters were defeated by Syrian Kurdish fighters. Elsewhere in the country, the regime of Bashar al-Assad was going on the offensive with help from Hezbollah and advisers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The Islamic State, however, rose like a phoenix from the ashes of every setback. And today, the situation is not so rosy.

The victories against IS in early 2015 have proven ephemeral — or have been nullified by IS gains elsewhere. On Sunday, CIA director John Brennan said on Face the Nation, “I don’t see this being resolved anytime soon.” Assad’s vaunted offensives of February 2015 have fallen short as the regime faced stiff resistance from a wide variety of opposition fighters, including elements from IS. The failure was alarming in part because the campaign was designed and aided by both Hezbollah and the Iranians, two seemingly ascendant Shia powers.

The situation in Iraq is just as complicated, something that the Obama administration appears either oblivious to or reluctant to acknowledge. Much of the US strategy continues to hinge on what is increasingly a mirage: a unified, albeit federal, Iraq under the control of Baghdad. Meanwhile, the resilience of IS is greatly enhanced by the ability of its military forces to innovate and adapt faster on the ground than its lackluster opponents.

In light of the constant aerial strikes by the US and its allies, IS has dispersed and made its forces more mobile, no longer presenting dense concentrations of fighting men as it did when it seized Mosul in mid-2014. Instead, when IS seized Ramadi in May 2015, it made use of inclement weather and sent several small units from different directions simultaneously into the city aided by suicide bombers. Moreover, the fact that the group faced ill-equipped and poorly motivated Sunni fighters in and around Ramadi did not do anything for Baghdad’s standing with the country’s already alienated Sunni community, which had pleaded for arms while caught between the unfathomable brutality of IS and revengeful Shia militias.

Many Sunnis are now angling for their own “super-region,” one that would have considerable independence from Baghdad. The problem? In order to have it, the Sunnis would need to first defeat IS. Currently, they’re unable to do so because they lack the resources; despite all the talk from Baghdad and Washington about arming Sunni tribes, Baghdad is not actually keen to do so.

And besides, the Sunnis seem relatively ambivalent about defeating IS. They took an unequivocal stance between late 2006 and 2009, when they joined with the Americans and the Iraqi government to deal the Islamist militants what was then seen as a decisive blow. Now, however, despite Sunnis’ resentment and fear of IS, the Islamists’ existence is seen as a kind of insurance policy against Shia revanchism should Baghdad succeed in retaking the three Sunni provinces of Anbar, Salahuddin, and Ninevah.

(Please see video at the link. — DM

The “victory” of the Iraqi government in Tikrit was more propaganda than reality; a few hundred IS fighters managed to inflict considerable damage on the Shia militias that had been mobilized to fight alongside the Iraqi army, then withdrew because they were outnumbered and wished to avoid being surrounded. The IS forces in Tikrit simply felt that they had done enough damage; there was no need to waste further assets in an untenable situation.

Militarily, the Iraqi Shia militias are better motivated and more dedicated than the regular army. Anecdotal information out of Baghdad suggests that Iraqi Shias are wondering whether the government should invest more effort building these forces into an effective and more organized parallel army. Even that parallel army, however, might be reluctant to commit to any significant long-term offensive to reclaim provinces full of “ungrateful” Sunnis.

But the Shia are willing to die to defend what they have, and there is increased sentiment among the Shia in central Iraq and Baghdad, along with the southern part of the country, that they would be better off without the Sunnis. There also exists the belief that the Kurds have more or less opted out of the Iraqi state despite the fact that they maintain a presence within the government in Baghdad. The Shia would seemingly not be sorry to see them exit the government in a deal that would settle as best as possible divisions of resources and territory. However, whether the Kurds would take the plunge and opt for de jure rather than de facto independence is a question that is subject to regional realities — How would Ankara and Tehran react? — rather than merely a matter of a deal between Baghdad and Erbil.

The Islamic State will continue to be a profound geopolitical problem for the region and the international community, and a long battle lies ahead. Syria and Iraq are more or less shattered states; it is unlikely that they will be put back together in their previous shapes. If Assad survives 2015, it will be as head of a rump state of Alawites and other minorities protected by Hezbollah, Iran, and Alawite militias. Shia Iraq will survive, and will possibly dissociate itself from the nettlesome Sunni regions. The Kurds will go their own way step by step. The international community is currently at a loss for how to stem the flow of foreign fighters to the IS battlefields — and even more serious is the growing sympathy and admiration for the group in various parts of the world among disgruntled and alienated youth.

If the US is serious about defeating IS, it needs to take on a larger share of the fight on the ground. This means more troops embedded with regular Iraqi forces in order to bring about better command, control, and coordination. It also means advisors who can continue to train these forces so that they improve over time. If this is not done, the regular Iraqi military will continue to be nothing more than an auxiliary to the more motivated — and pro-Iranian — Shia militias. Currently, militia commanders are giving orders to the regular military; that cannot be good for morale.

This month, the Islamic State celebrates the first anniversary of its self-declared caliphate. The group has little reason to fear it will be the last.

The Kurd-Shia War Behind the War on ISIS

June 5, 2015

The Kurd-Shia War Behind the War on ISIS, The Daily BeastMat Wolf, June 5, 2015

1433495718557.cachedAhmed Jadallah/Reuters

“We could see outright civil war,” Farhan Siddiqi, a research fellow on international politics and national security at the Middle East Research Institute (MERI), tells The Daily Beast. Siddiqi says he believes the Kurds and the Shia central government would face domestic and international pressure to avoid such a conflict, but if cooler heads failed a hypothetical conflict could escalate into something even worst than the current ISIS war.

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In a dusty town near the Iranian border, the terror group was defeated, but the victors are at each other’s throats.

JALAWLA, Iraq — Behind Iraq’s front lines against the so-called Islamic State, Kurdish and Shia factions already are drawing a blueprint for what could be the region’s next major conflict.

In the city of Jalawla in Iraq’s Diyala province, near the Iranian border approximately 80 miles east of Baghdad, Kurdish forces have given the boot to the Shia militia they previously allied with to take the city from ISIS in a bloody November battle. Last month, the commanding Kurdish Peshmerga general in Jalawla threatened to start shooting if the Shia refused to leave the city immediately.

“This area is ours now, and that’s not changing,” Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Sangawi told The Daily Beast. He added that Jalawla, an abandoned city that previously had 83,000 people and was 80 percent Sunni Arab in 2003, would soon have a Kurdish mayor. Sangawi bragged that henceforth the city would also be called by its new Kurdish moniker, “Golala.”

Not so fast, say the Shia militias. They were recruited in the name of a fatwa from Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in June 2014, following the Iraqi army’s humiliating loss of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, virtually without a fight. Many are trained and advised by Iranians, and they have been the spearhead of Baghdad’s efforts to recover lost territory in the name of the national government.

The Kurds, meanwhile, have fought hard to protect, consolidate and indeed expand areas they consider “their” territory.

“They [the Kurds] need to recognize this region is Iraq,” says Ali Khorasani, the commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi militias that Sangawi’s Peshmerga expelled from Jalawla. Hashd al-Shaabi is the Arabic term for Popular Mobilization Units, the name preferred by the volunteer Shia militias.

Khorasani said the Kurds “are strong, and they’re very organized, and our relationship was good, but now our relationship has problems.” And that appears to be an understatement. When asked if Kurdish moves in the region might lead to another war, Khorasani replied tersely: “Maybe.”

For now, Khorasani’s unit has been dispersed to the south of Jalawla around a town called Sadiya. It’s only a five-minute drive from Jalawla, but Kurdish forces are limiting access to Sadiya and prevented us from going there. Khorasani spoke to The Daily Beast by phone.

The ISIS blitz of northern and central Iraq one year ago sent the on-paper highly trained and well-equipped Iraqi army scrambling, and led to the sacking of controversial Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He was widely criticized for his sectarian policies that alienated the country’s Sunni Arabs, who are now the main support base for ISIS.

The Iraqi army’s retreat also opened the door for Kurdish forces to seize large swaths of territory abandoned by government forces.

Now, the central government’s inability to deal decisively with ISIS in Anbar province and its loss of the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi has seen the Kurds acting even more brazenly in anticipation of an independence push. Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani has promised a long-awaited Kurdish independence referendum.

“Certainly an independent Kurdistan is coming,” Barzani said on a visit to Washington D.C. on May 6. “It will take place when the security situation is better and when the fight against ISIS is over.”

“We could see outright civil war,” Farhan Siddiqi, a research fellow on international politics and national security at the Middle East Research Institute (MERI), tells The Daily Beast. Siddiqi says he believes the Kurds and the Shia central government would face domestic and international pressure to avoid such a conflict, but if cooler heads failed a hypothetical conflict could escalate into something even worst than the current ISIS war.

Since the summer of 2014, the Kurds have increased their territory by 40 percent, most notably around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, often called the “Kurdish Jerusalem.” Today Kirkuk has a Kurdish population of around 50 percent combined with large groups of Arabs and Turkmens. The city and its outlying territories were frequent targets of “Arabization” by the Saddam Hussein regime, a policy meant to shift the ethnic balance of power there as he waged a genocidal war against the rebellious Kurds. Now they want the city back, but Arab families who have lived there for decades have no place to go.

Areas like Jalawla are a different matter. It is closer to Baghdad than to the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil. It, too, was the target of waves of Arabization, but it has been a majority Arab city for decades. By Sangawi’s own admission the population was less than 10 percent Kurdish in 2003.

“The Baath regime had a process of oppressing the Kurdish people. They had to change their names to Arab names or leave the city,” Sangawi says. “When filling out forms they had to register as Arab. In 1970, 32 percent of this city was Kurdish. The city was only 8 percent Kurdish at the time of the American invasion in 2003. The Arabs tried to rob the Kurds of their land.”

Today, Jalawla has been completely abandoned by its civilian inhabitants, many of whom supported ISIS, according to Sangawi. Feral dogs dart in front of Peshmerga convoys and Kurdish graffiti proclaims the city part of Kurdistan. The immediate surrounding area of the town—dusty flat fields speckled with palm groves—clashes with the green, mountainous terrain often associated with Kurdistan, and syncs up more with stereotypically Arab lands.

Parts of Jalawla, especially the former ISIS command center on high ground overlooking the city, have been reduced to rubble. However, a spring bloom of un-manicured pink desert roses has overrun the walls and sidewalks, offsetting the many bullet holes and craters that otherwise dot the settlement.

“One-hundred and ten Peshmerga died in the fighting. When ISIS came in here they left many IEDs and explosives on the roads,” says Sangawi.

But the November fighting wasn’t the area’s first battle, and likely not its last. The Kurdish-Arab rift in the city goes back over a millennium.

Golala, Jalawla’s Kurdish name, means the “land of flowers.” Its Arabic title’s etymology is more grisly. In 637 AD, Arab Muslim forces during the early Islamic conquest of the Middle East won a decisive battle here against a Zoroastrian Persian force. A popular tale in the region holds the Arabs named the location Jalawla from an Arabic verb meaning to cover or to fill, as so many Zoroastrian corpses filled the landscape.

Sangawi knows this tale, and says he considers the Zoroastrians the Kurds’ forebears before Arabs took their territory—a perfect and historically convenient parable for Kurdish claims on the region.

Dark haired with a round face, thick droopy mustache and rosy cheeks, the 63-year-old Sangawi at first comes across as a friendly grandfatherly type, albeit one who travels with an entourage equipped with RPGs and machine guns. And most grandfathers don’t blithely threaten former heads of state.

“We’ve killed lots of people, a lot of them like Maliki,” he says of the former Iraqi prime minister, who said in a TV interview last month that anyone wishing to break up Iraq would create a “river of blood.”

“Maliki can eat shit,” Sangawi chuckles.

Sangawi’s been with the Peshmerga since the 1970s and has jumped around the Kurds’ various political parties, at one point even becoming a Marxist before joining up with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the party of former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Compared to Sangawi’s stance of bold antagonism, Khorasani is more conciliatory. The 45-year-old says he was in the legal profession before volunteering for the militia, and he makes a point of saying how the liberation of Jalawla was a joint effort. Even before then, he adds, the Kurds and Shia Arabs could find common cause.

“This is Iraq. We used to be united. They opposed the former regime and so did we,” he laments. “We were one.”

But Sangawi counters: “We were both against Saddam Hussein. We fought together. However, when the Shias came to power they treated us the same as Saddam Hussein, that’s why we don’t have a good relationship now.”

Siddiqi, at the Middle East Research Institute, says that the new Baghdad government under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has shown a willingness to negotiate and be more accommodating to Iraq’s minorities, but the country’s age-old tensions still run deep.

“Saddam Hussein is gone, but his authoritarianism still survives along all levels of Iraqi society,” Siddiqi says. “It remains to be seen if the government becoming more accommodating will reduce calls for independence.”

If a conflict were to occur, he adds, the Hashd al-Shaabi would be at the forefront of any government pushback against the Kurds. “The central government could easily call on the Shia militias it’s currently using against ISIS, using religious pretexts and slogans to drive them forward,” he says.

The central Iraqi government has already come under fire for its use of the militias, whose religious zealotry exacerbates sectarian tensions in Iraq. The government’s operation to retake the Sunni-majority Ramadi was originally named “At Your Service, Hussein,” in honor of a major Shia historical and religious figure. Human Rights Watch has also raised concerns that the Hashd al-Shaabi have committed serious human rights abuses while ostensibly fighting ISIS.

Siddiqi says the international community, including the central government’s main ally, Iran, would be wary of seeing another war in the region. “Iran wants peace, it does not want Iraq to become another Syria or another Yemen,” he says, adding that although opposed on many issues, the U.S. and Iran have tacit tactical cooperation in Iraq these days, and neither would support a Shia-Kurd conflict.

If a fight did occur, Siddiqi says he believes world powers would do their best to take a “hands-off” approach to avoid further escalation. If Kurdish independence were to succeed, he continues, it would only be accomplished via an agreement with Baghdad, not another war.

But far from Tehran and the beltway, on the dusty plains of disputed Jalawla, Sangawi says he’s ready for that war, drawing little distinction between Shia Hashd al-Shaabi and Sunni ISIS, and viewing them both as his people’s ancient enemies.

“The Shia militias believe if they kill ISIS they’re going to heaven, and ISIS believes if they kill the Shia people they are going to go to heaven,” Sangawi declares. “They fight over religion, not for land.”

“For me, if they attack me I will attack them, because this is my land. If they come to this land, of course I will fight them.”

No army in Mid East is challenging ISIS. Iran regroups to defend S. Iraqi Shiites, Assad to save Damascus

May 25, 2015

No army in Mid East is challenging ISIS. Iran regroups to defend S. Iraqi Shiites, Assad to save Damascus, DEBKAfile, May 25, 2015

Baiji_22.5.15Iranian troops in fight to evict ISIS from Baiji refinery

Hassan Nasrallah Saturday, May 23, called his Lebanese Shiite Hizballah movement to the flag, because “we are faced with an existential crisis” from the rising belligerence of the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant. His deputy, Sheik Naim Qssem, sounded even more desperate: “The Middle East is at the risk of partition” in a war with no end in sight, he said. “Solutions for Syria are suspended. We must now see what happens in Iraq.”

The price Iran’s Lebanese proxy has paid for fighting alongside Bashar Assad’s army for four years is cruel: some 1,000 dead and many times that number of wounded. Its leaders now understood that their sacrifice was in vain. ISIS has brought the Syrian civil war to a new dead end.

This week, a 15-year old boy was eulogized by Hizballah’s leaders for performing his “jihadist duty” in Syria.

Clearly, for their last throw in Syria, the group, having run out of adult combatants, is calling up young boys to reinforce the 7,000 fighting there.

The Syrian president Bashar Assad is in no better shape. He too has run dangerously short of fresh fighting manpower. Even his own Alawite community has let him down. Scarcely one-tenth of the 1.8 million Alawites have remained in Syria. Their birthrate is low, and those who stayed behind are hiding their young sons to keep them from being sent to the front lines.

Assad also failed to enlist the Syrian Druze minority to fight for his regime, just as Hizballah’s Nasrallah was rebuffed when he sought to mobilize the Lebanese army to their cause. This has left Hizballah and the Syrian ruler alone in the battlefield with dwindling strength against two rival foes:  ISIS and the radical Syrian opposition coalition calling itself Jaish al-Fatah – the Army of Conquest – which is spearheaded by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and backed to topple Assad by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Nasrallah tried to paint a brave picture of full mobilization to expand the war to all parts of Syria. However, Sunday, May 24, a key adviser to Assad admitted that his regime and its allies were being forced to regroup.

Their forces were withdrawing from the effort to shift the Islamists from the land they have conquered – about three-quarters of Syrian territory – and concentrating on defending the cities, Damascus, Homs and Latakia, home to the bulk of the population, as well as the strategic Damascus highway to the coast and Beirut. Hizballah needed to build up the Lebanese border againest hostile access.

But Syrian cities, the Lebanese border and the highway are still under threat – from Syrian rebel forces.

The Iraqi army, for its part, has been virtually wiped out, along with the many billions of dollars the US spent on training and weapons. There is no longer any military force in Iraq, whether Sunni or Shiite, able to take on ISIS and loosen its grip on the central and western regions.

The Kurdish peshmerga army, to whom President Barack refused to provide armaments for combating the Islamists, has run out of steam. An new offensive would expose the two main towns of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Republic – the capital Irbil and the oil city of Kirkuk – to the depredations of the Islamist belligerents.

A quick scan of Shiite resources reveals that in the space between the Jordan River and the Euphrates and Tigris, Iran commands the only force still intact in Iraq – namely, the Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias, who are trained and armed by the Revolutionary Guards.

This last remaining fighting force faces its acid test in the battle ongoing to recover Baiji, Iraq’s main oil refinery town. For the first time, Iranian troops are fighting in Iraq, not just their surrogates, but in the Baiji campaign they have made little headway in three weeks of combat. All they have managed to do is break through to the 100 Iraqi troops stranded in the town, but ISIS fighting strength is still not dislodged from the refinery.

The Obama administration can no longer pretend that the pro-Iranian Shiite militias are the panacea for the ISIS peril. Like Assad, Tehran too is being forced to regroup. It is abandoning the effort to uproot the Islamists from central and western Iraq and mustering all its Shiite military assets, such as the Badr Brigade, to defend the Shiite south – the shrine towns of Najef and Karbala, Babil (ancient Babylon) and Qadisiya – as well as planting an obstacle in the path of the Islamists to Iraq’s biggest oil fields and only port of Basra.

The Shiite militias flown in by Tehran from Pakistan and Afghanistan have demonstrated in Syria and Iraq alike that they are neither capable nor willing to jump into any battlefields.

The upshot of this cursory scan is that not a single competent army capable of launching all-out war on ISIS is to be found in the Middle East heartland – in the space between the 1,000km long Jordan and the Euphrates and Tigris to the east, or between Ramadi and the Saudi capital of Riyadh to the south.

By Sunday, May 24, this perception had seeped through to the West. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, remarked: “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.” The former British army chief Lord Dannatt was more down to earth. Since the coalition air force campaign had failed to stop ISIS’s advance, he said “it was time to think the previously unthinkable” and send 5,000 ground troops to fight the Islamists in Syria and Iraq.

The next day, Monday, Tehran pointed the finger of blame for the latest debacles in Iraq at Washington. Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani was quoted by the English language Revolutionary Guards mouthpiece Javan as commenting: “The US didn’t do a damn thing to stop the extremists’ advance on Ramadi.”