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

464763530_iraq2michaelweissBy Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crimes of war

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

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

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

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

Looking the other way

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

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

Read more at FP

US begins airstrikes against Islamic State in Tikrit, supports Shiite militias

The offensive on Tikrit includes thousands of Iranian-backed Shia militiamen AP

The offensive on Tikrit includes thousands of Iranian-backed Shia militiamen AP

LWJ, by BILL ROGGIO, March 25th, 2015:

The US-led military Coalition in Iraq is openly supporting Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Iraqi forces who are battling Islamic State fighters who are entrenched in Tikrit. Many of the Shiite militia commanders are listed by the US as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, and one militia is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Many of the commanders and militias are responsible for killing US, Coailition, and Iraqi troops and civilians during the occupation of Iraq.

Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) announced today that “operations to support Iraqi Security Forces in Tikrit have commenced after a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al Abadi,” in a press released issued by the US-led command.

“The Coalition is now providing direct support to Iraqi Security Forces conducting operations to expel ISIL [Islamic State] from the city. CJTF-OIR is providing air strikes, airborne intelligence capabilities, and Advise and Assist support to Iraqi Security Force headquarters elements in order to enhance their ability to defeat ISIL,” the statement continued.

The US and CJTF-OIR have claimed that the airstrikes and other support is benefiting “Iraqi Security Forces,” when in reality more than two-thirds of the personnel opposing the Islamic State are comprised of Shiite militias, all of which are backed by Iran.

The US has reversed its decision to remain on the sidelines as the militias and Iraqi forces have bogged down in Tikrit after launching the offensive at the beginning of March. The US military had previously said it would not support operations in Tikrit due to the extensive presence of Shiite militias and the significant support from Iran. Additionally, the Shiite militias have been involved in stoking sectarian tension in other areas that they have retaken from the Islamic State.

The Shiite militias are operating under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Committee, or Hashid Shaabi, which was created by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to combat the Islamic State after the Iraqi military collapsed during the summer of 2014. The head of the Popular Mobilization Committee is listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and he is closely tied to Iran. One of the militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, is listed a a Foreign Terrorists Organization. And several top militia commanders, in addition to being Iranian proxies, are also listed as global terrorists.

Qods Force “advisor” heads Popular Mobilization Committee

The Popular Mobilization Committee is led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as Specially Designated Global Terrorist in July 2009. The US government described Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” the commander of the Qods Force, the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Soleimani has been visiting the Shiite militias fighting on the Tikrit front, and is said to be directing the Tikrit operation. [See LWJ report, US sanctions Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades and Qods Force adviser, and Threat Matrix report, Iranian general at the forefront of the Tikrit offensive.]

In addition to leading the Popular Mobilization Committee, Muhandis is also said to direct the operations of Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade) as well as command the Hezbollah Brigades. Shebl al Zaidi, a former commander in the Mahdi Army who has been photographed with Soleimani in the past, is the secretary-general of the Imam Ali Brigade, which is operating from Camp Speicher, a sprawling military base northwest of the city.

Iranian-backed Shiite militas invested in Tikrit offensive

Shiite militias involved in the fighting in Tikrit include the Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade), Asiab al Haq (League of the Righteous), Saraya Khorasani (Khorasan Brigades), and Kata’ib Sayyed al Shuhada (Battalion of Sayyed’s Martyrs). All of these militias receive support from Iran’s Qods Force.

The Hezbollah Brigades, which has been spotted in Al Alam, was designated by the US State Department as a terrorist organization in July 2009. In that designation, State described the militia as “a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, US, and Coalition targets in Iraq.” State also reported that the militia receives funding, training, logistics, guidance, and material support from Qods Force.

Asaib al Haq, which has been fighting in Abu Ajil, is considered by the US government to be one of the most dangerous Iranian-supported Shiite militias. Several of its leaders, including Akram Abas al Kabi, the group’s military commander, are listed by the US government as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The group’s leader, Qais Qazali, was directly involved in the killing of US soldiers and was in US custody from 2007 up until his release as part of a hostage exchange at the end of 2009. Qazili has since threatened US interests in Iraq. [See LWJ reports, US sanctions Iranian general for aiding Iraqi terror groups, US releases ‘dangerous’ Iranian proxy behind the murder of US troops and Iranian-backed Shia terror leader freed by US threatens to attack.]

Kata’ib Sayyed al Shuhada has also been spotted in the fighting outside of Tikrit. This group is led by Mustafa al Sheibani, a notorious terrorist who previously commanded what the US military called the Sheibani Network. Like Asaib al Haq and the Hezbollah Brigades, the Sheibani Network was responsible for conducting attacks against US and Coalition forces in Iraq from 2005 to 2011. His fighters were known to carry out attacks with the deadly, armor-piercing explosively-formed projectiles, or EFPs, as well as with mortars, Katyusha and other rockets, and small-arms assaults. Sheibani was sent back into Iraq by Qods Force in 2010 as US forces prepared to exit the country. [See LWJ report, Iran sends another dangerous Shia terror commander back to Iraq.]

Saraya Khorasani, which has been involved in the fighting in Al Alam, is also backed by Iran. The group was advised by Hamid Taqavi, an IRGC general who was killed by an Islamic State sniper late last year. Ali al Yasiri, the leader of Saraya Khorasani, said that Taqavi “was an expert at guerrilla war” and that “People looked at him as magical,” Reuters reported. The militia has also put up billboards praising Taqavi throughout Baghdad and published videos online to commemorate the Iranian general.

In addition to the Shiite militias, Iranian artillery forces as well as drones are directly supporting the Tikrit offensive, US officials have told The Wall Street Journal.

Also see:

The Kobani Precedent

U.S. Service members stand by a Patriot missile battery in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 4, 2013, during a visit from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, not shown. U.S. and NATO Patriot missile batteries and personnel deployed to Turkey in support of NATO’s commitment to defending Turkey’s security during a period of regional instability. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

U.S. Service members stand by a Patriot missile battery in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 4, 2013, during a visit from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, not shown. U.S. and NATO Patriot missile batteries and personnel deployed to Turkey in support of NATO’s commitment to defending Turkey’s security during a period of regional instability. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Rubin Center, by Jonathan Spyer, March 25, 2015:

Recently,  I attempted to undertake a reporting trip into the Kurdish Kobani enclave in northern Syria.  It would not have been my first visit, neither to Syria nor to Kobani.  For the first time, however, I found myself unable to enter.  Instead, I spent a frustrating but, as it turns out, instructive four days waiting in the border town of Suruc in south-east Turkey before running out of time and going home.

The episode was instructive because of what it indicated regarding the extent to which Kurdish control in the enclaves established in mid 2012 is now a fact acknowledged by all neighboring players, including the enemies of the Kurds.  This in itself has larger lessons regarding US and western policy in Syria and Iraq.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  First, let me complete the account of the episode on the border.    My intention had been to enter Kobani ‘illegally’ with the help of the Kurdish YPG and local smugglers.  This sounds more exciting than it is.    I have entered Syria in a similar way half a dozen times over the last two years, to the extent that it has become a not very pleasant but mundane procedure. This time, however, something was different.  I was placed in a local center with a number of other westerners waiting to make the trip. Then, it seemed, we were forgotten.

The westerners themselves were  an interesting bunch, whose varied presence was an indication of the curious pattern by which the Syrian Kurdish cause has entered public awareness in the west.

There was a group of European radical leftists, mainly Italians, who had come after being inspired by stories of the ‘Rojava revolution.’  A little noted element of the control by the Syrian franchise of the PKK of de facto sovereign areas of Syria has been the interest that this has generated in the circles of the western radical left.  These circles are ever on the lookout for something which allows their politics to encounter reality, in a way that does not bring immediate and obvious disaster.  As of now, ‘Rojava,’ given the leftist credentials of the PKK, is playing this role.  So the Europeans in question  wanted to ‘contribute’ to what they called the ‘revolution.’

Unfortunately, their preferred mode of support was leading to a situation of complete mutual bewilderment between themselves and the local Kurds.   Offered military training by their hosts, the radical leftists demurred.  They would not hold a gun for Rojava before they had seen it and been persuaded that it did indeed represent the peoples’ revolution that they hoped for.

Instead, they had a plan for the rebuilding of Kobani along sustainable and environmentally friendly lines, using natural materials  In addition, the health crisis and shortage of medicines in the devastated enclave led the radicals to believe that this might offer an appropriate context for popularizing various items of alternative and naturopathic medicine about which they themselves were enthusiastic.  (I’m not making any of this up).

All this had elicited the predictable reaction from the Kurds, who were trying to manage a humanitarian disaster and a determined attempt by murderous jihadis to destroy  them.  ‘Perhaps you could do the military training first and then we could talk about the other stuff?’ suggested Fawzia, the nice and helpful representative of the PYD who was responsible for us.  This led to further impassioned and theatrical responses from the Italians.

***

Why is the YPG the chosen partner of the Americans in northern Syria, just as the Kurdish Pesh Merga further east is one of the preferred partners on the ground in Iraq?

The answer to this is clear, but not encouraging.  It is because in both countries, the only reliable, pro-western and militarily effective element on the ground is that of the Kurds.

Consider:  in northern Syria, other than the forces of the Islamic State, there are three other elements of real military and political import.  These are the forces of the Assad regime, the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the YPG.

In addition, there are a bewildering variety of disparate rebel battalions, with loyalties ranging from Salafi Islamism to Muslim Brotherhood style Islamism, to non-political opposition to the Assad regime.  Some of these groups operate independently.  Others are gathered in local alliances such as the Aleppo based Jabhat al-Shamiya (Levant Front), or the Syria-wide Islamic Front, which unites Salafi factions.

Despite the reported existence of a US staffed military operations room in Turkey, the latter two movements are either too weak, or too politically suspect (because of their Islamist nature), to form a potential partner for the US in northern Syria.

Nusra is for obvious reasons not a potential partner for the US in the fight against the Islamic State.  And the US continues to hold to its stated  goal that Bashar Assad should step down.  So the prospect of an overt alliance between the regime and the US against the Islamic State is not on the cards (despite the de facto American alliance with Assad’s  Iran-supported Shia Islamist allies in Iraq).

This leaves the Kurds, and only the Kurds, to work with.  And the un-stated alliance is sufficiently tight for it to begin to have effects also on Turkish-Kurdish relations in Syria, as seen in the Suleiman Shah operation.

But what are the broader implications of this absence of any other coherent partner on the ground?

The stark clarity of the northern Syria situation is replicated in all essentials in Iraq, though a more determined attempt by the US to deny this reality is under way in that country.

In Iraq, there is a clear and stated enemy of the US (the Islamic State), a clear and stated Kurdish ally of the west (the Kurdish Regional Government and its Pesh Merga) and an Iran-supported government which controls the capital and part of the territory of the country.

Unlike in Syria, however, in Iraq the US relates to the official government, mistakenly, as an ally.  This is leading to a potentially disastrous situation  whereby US air power is currently partnering with Iran-supported Shia militias against the Islamic State.

The most powerful of these militias have a presence in the government of Iraq. But they do not act under the orders of the elected Baghdad government, but rather in coordination with their sponsors in the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

It is possible that the current partnering with Shia Islamist forces in Iraq is the result of a general US attempt now under way to achieve a historic rapprochement with Iran, as suggested by Michael Doran in a recent essay.  Or it may be that this reality has emerged as a result of poor analysis of the realities of the Levant and Iraq, resulting in a confused and flailing policy.  But either way, the result is an astonishing mess.

In northern Syria, the obvious absence of any partners other than the Kurds has produced a momentary tactical clarity.  But as the larger example of Iraq shows, this clarity is buried in a much larger strategic confusion.

This confusion, at root, derives from a failure to grasp what is taking place in Syria and in Iraq.

In both countries, the removal or weakening of powerful dictatorships has resulted in the emergence of conflict based on older, sub-state ethnic and sectarian identities.  The strength and persistence of these identities is testimony to the profound failure of the states of Syria and Iraq to develop anything resembling a sustainable national identity.  In both Syria and Iraq, the resultant conflict is essentially three-sided.  Sunni Arabs, Shia/Alawi Arabs and Kurds are fighting over the ruins of the state.

Because of the lamentable nature of Arab politics at the present time, the form that both Arab sides are taking is that of political Islam.   On the Shia side, the powerful Iranian structures dedicated to the creation and sponsorship of proxy movements are closely engaged with the clients in both countries (and in neighboring Lebanon.)

On the Sunni Arab side, a bewildering tangle of support from different regional and western states to various militias has emerged.  But two main formations may be discerned. These are the Islamic State, which has no overt state sponsor, and Jabhat al-Nusra, which has close links to Qatar.

In southern Syria, a western attempt to maintain armed forces linked to conservative and western-aligned Arab states (Jordan, Saudi Arabia) has proved somewhat more successful because of the close physical proximity of Jordan and the differing tribal and clan structures in this area when compared with the north.  Even here, however, Nusra is a powerful presence, and Islamic State itself recently appeared in the south Damascus area.

The Kurds, because of the existence among them of a secular, pro-western nationalist politics with real popular appeal, have unsurprisingly emerged as the only reliable partner.    On both the Shia and the Sunni sides, the strongest and prevailing forces are anti-western.

This reality is denied  both by advocates for rapprochement with Iran, and by wishful-thinking supporters of the Syrian rebellion.  But it remains so.  What are its implications for western policy?

Firstly, if the goal is to degrade the Islamic State, reduce it, split it, impoverish it, this can probably be achieved through the alliance of US air power and Kurdish ground forces.  But if the desire, genuinely, is to destroy the Islamic State, this can only be achieved through the employment of western boots on the ground.  This is the choice which is presented by reality.

Secondly, the desire to avoid this choice is leading to the disastrous partnering with Iraqi Shia forces loyal to Iran.  The winner from all this will be, unsurprisingly,  Iran. Neither Teheran nor its Shia militias are the moral superiors to Islamic State. The partnering with them is absurd both from a political and an ethical point of view.

Thirdly, the determination to maintain the territorial integrity of ‘Syria’ and ‘Iraq’ is one of the midwives of the current confusion.  Were it to be acknowledged that Humpty cannot be put back together again, it would then be possible to accurately ascertain which local players the west can partner with, and which it can not.

As of now, the determination to consider these areas as coherent states is leading to absurdities including the failure by the US to directly arm the pro-US Pesh Merga because the pro-Iranians in Baghdad object to this, the failure to revive relations with and directly supply Iraqi Sunni tribal elements in IS controlled areas for the same reason,  and the insistence on relating to all forces ostensibly acting on behalf of Baghdad as legitimate.

Ultimately, the mess in the former Syria and Iraq derives from a very western form of wishful thinking that is common to various sides of the debate in the west.  This is the refusal to accept that political Islam, of both Shia and Sunni varieties, has an unparalleled power of political mobilization among Arab populations in the Middle East at the present time, and that political Islam is a genuinely anti-western force, with genuinely murderous intentions.

For as long as that stark reality is denied, western policy will resemble our Italian leftist friends on the border, baffled and bewildered as they go about proposing ideas and notions utterly alien to and irrelevant to the local situation.

The reality of this situation means that the available partners for the west are minority nationalist projects  such as that of the Kurds (or the Jews,) and traditional, non-ideological conservative elites – such as the Egyptian military, the Hashemite monarchs, and in a more partial and problematic way, the Gulf monarchs.  Attempts to move beyond this limited but considerable array of potential allies will result in the strengthening of destructive, anti-western Islamist forces in the region, of either Sunni or Shia coloration.

As for the Syrian Kurds, they deserve their partnership with US air power, and the greater security it is bringing them.

The American Baptist volunteer, to conclude the story, made it across the border and is now training with the YPG.  He, at least, has a clear sense of who is who in the Middle East.  Hopefully, this sense will eventually percolate up to the policymaking community too.

Read it all

Animosity between David Petraeus and Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani, still on display

petraus2Washington Post, by Dan Lamothe, March 20, 2015:

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, closing in on a court date during which he is expected to plead guilty to mishandling classified information, was back in Iraq last week for the first time in three years, meeting with academics and leaders in the Kurdistan region.

Petraeus, in a post published today on The Washington Post’s World Views blog, weighed in on a variety of issues about the Islamic State militant group and security in the region.

It is Petraeus’s blunt reaction to an Iranian counterpart, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, that is particularly buzzworthy, however. Asked about widely distributed photographs of the Iranian military leader in Iraq recently, Petraeus said he has “several thoughts when I see the pictures of him, but most of those thoughts probably aren’t suitable for publication in a family newspaper like yours.”

“What I will say is that he is very capable and resourceful individual, a worthy adversary. He has played his hand well,” Petraeus said. “But this is a long game, so let’s see how events transpire.”

Petraeus added that Iranian influence across the Middle East is rarely helpful to the United States and its allies. The foremost threat to Iraq’s long term security, he said, isn’t the Islamic State, it’s Iranian-backed militias and the volatility they bring.

Petraeus also relayed an old story. In 2008 — the same year that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone was shelled by Iranian-backed militias — Soleimani sent a message to Petraeus, the retired general said. It read: “General Petraeus, you should be aware that I, Qassem Soleimani, control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan.”

He replied, through a messenger, by telling Soleimani to “pound sand,” Petraeus told The Post’s Liz Sly. A former executive officer of Petraeus’s, retired Col. Peter R. Mansoor, relayed a similar story in his 2013 book, “Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War.”

“In so many words, they were told to pound sand,” Mansoor wrote.

Qods Force-Led Offensive Hits Wall in Tikrit as IA Gets Overrun in Thar Thar

tikritMarch 18, 2015 / /

As we’ve predicted, the IRGC-Qods Force-led offensive to retake Tikrit has stalled due to the mounting casualties the joint force has experienced during the operation – and they haven’t even entered the city yet. In our last piece on the Tikrit offensive (ISIS Digs-in For Battle of Tikrit as Sunni Populace is Targeted by Iran’s Proxies) we discussed how the Islamic State (IS) were implementing a similar defense strategy to what we encountered during the Second Battle of Fallujah and the USMC’s Operation Steel Curtain. In each instance we saw AQI (what IS was known as back then) lining the avenues of approach with IEDs and VBIEDs, with choke points created by destroying bridges and blocking streets in order to force the US Marines down specific routes. We’re seeing the same playbook being used here, only US Marines aren’t the ones conducting the operation – its the IRGC-Qods Force, their proxies and ISOF.

ISIS Digs-in For Battle of Tikrit as Sunni Populace is Targeted by Iran’s Proxies
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5559

The Tikrit Front: “Not so Rosy” as Claimed by Obama Administration
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5440

Qods Force-Led Assault Force Meets Heavy Resistance in Tikrit
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5352

Iraqi offensive for Tikrit stalls as casualties mount
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraqi-offensive-for-tikrit-stalls-as-islamic-state-inflicts-casualties/2015/03/16/258a6dec-cb58-11e4-8730-4f473416e759_story.html

Iraq halts Tikrit operation to limit losses of ‘heroic forces’
http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraq-halts-tikrit-operation-limit-losses-heroic-forces-861959426

reuters

Source: Associated Free Press

The assault force consists of over 25,000 that are broken down into the following: 19,850 Shia militia personnel, an estimated 150 IRGC-Qods Force operators and 2,000 pro-government tribal forces (which have lost over 20% of their personnel already). This leaves a small brigade-sized IA element of around 3,000 that consists of both ISOF and regular troops. This highlights the following issues that makes the success of the GOI’s long-term objectives unlikely:

1. The ISOF ranks are severely depleted from the high-rate of casualties they’ve experienced over the past year. ISOF personnel are highly-trained troops that can’t be quickly replaced like their regular IA counterparts, who receive a few weeks of the basics and might be able to properly fire and care for their weapon by the time they graduate. Another reason why ISOF are so important is that they usually don’t drop their weapons and flee for their lives. Due to the degradation of ISOF’s capabilities and manpower, a great deal of their tasks now fall on the Shia militias.

ISOF Commandos’ Admiration of their IRGC-Qods Force Embeds
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=122

State of the Iraqi Air Force and Special Operations Forces
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=69

The ones that are still alive openly display their admiration of their Qods Force “advisors” like the trooper in the pic below:

ISOF and ramazan

Source: The ISIS Study Group

2. The increasing reliance on the Shia militias is a red flag of ISOF’s degraded capabilities and the regular IA being effectively “tapped out” on personnel who are available to conduct offensive operations, with most IA units being dedicated to the static defense of Baghdad. Another issue that makes the IA achieving its goal of driving out IS from Tikrit, Bayji, the Zaab Triangle, Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul is the fact that these Shia militias regularly target the Sunni civilian population – despite the fact that most are caught in the cross-hairs and not IS fighters themselves. The presence of Asaib al-Haq (AAH), Badr Corps and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) means we can expect to see more villages burned into the ground and fighting-age males taken from their homes and tortured to death. In addition to GEN Suleimani being on the ground, so is AAH leader Qais al-Khazali:

BTW the video posted above shows that Khazali’s men were the ones that found the mass grave of the IA troops that were executed by IS, which also suggests that his men were the ones who burned down the village where the grave was found. Khazali’s presence is of particular concern due to this individual’s history of personally torturing Sunnis. If you want to know more about the Shia militias operating in the country, then check out the following articles:

The Hezbollah Presence in Iraq
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=358

Iran’s Go-To Proxy Group in Iraq
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1480

qais

Qais al-Khazali
Source: voanews.com

3. IS had been fortifying Tikrit and the Zaab Triangle in anticipation of an offensive to retake Mosul. The reason is simple – IS can effectively launch attacks from Zaab, Tikrit and Bayji targeting the lines of communication (LOC) supplying the offensive and quite possibly even cut-off and isolate the force sent to retake Mosul from any reinforcements. This was the primary reason for GEN Suleimani launching the current offensive to retake Tikrit. That said, What happens in Tikrit will be a glimpse into what the future holds for the IA in the subsequent offensives that will have occur before anybody can even think of retaking Mosul. Even if Suleimani’s assault force manages to retake Tikrit, the losses they’ve sustained thus far and have yet to experience would lead to the Shia militias experience a degradation in capabilities and manpower that’s currently plaguing ISOF. Reporting from the ground are putting the casualty numbers at around 40-60 dead per day, with most of the fallen fighters coming from the pro-government tribal forces and Shia militias themselves. That doesn’t bode well for Team Iraq.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 8.53.33 PM

GEN Suleimani: Willing to fight to the last man
Source: The ISIS Study Group

Further South in the Thar Thar-area, the IA’s 26th BDE HQ was overrun by IS late last week. The Thar Thar area is of great strategic importance to both the IA and IS as control of this location would enable the Salafists to launch attacks against government forces traveling between Baghdad, Samarra, Dujail, Taji and Balad. More importantly, this appears to be an attempt at cutting off the forces engaged in Tikrit from any resupply coming by ground from Baghdad or Samarra. Its also worth noting that IS had also recently executed 13 suicide attacks in Ramadi in order to blunt the clearing operations that are currently underway to relieve the pressure being exerted on al-Asad Airbase. Both attacks on the 26th BDE and inside Ramadi saw heavy foreign fighter involvement – some of which came from Australia.

Islamic State Overruns Iraqi Army Brigade Headquarters North of Fallujah
http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/03/islamic-state-overruns-iraqi-army-brigade-headquarters-north-of-fallujah.php

Foreign Suicide Bombers Launch Assault on Ramadi
http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/03/foreign-suicide-bombers-launch-assault-on-ramadi.php

Iraqi forces push into Tikrit, bombers hit Ramadi
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/11/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-tirkit-idUSKBN0M713X20150311

Shia Militias Sent to Reinforce al-Asad Airbase – IA on Verge of Collapse
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2758

The Continuing Flow of Foreign Fighters From Australia
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2889

The Increasing Role of Aussie Jihadists in ISIS Efforts to Expand into Southeast Asia and Strike the West
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5388

australi

Abu Abdullah al-Australi, who has been identified as Australian citizen Jake Bilardi
Source: Long War Journal

In keeping with Ayatollah Khameini’s fatwa authorizing the total destruction of Tikrit, Saddam’s tomb has been destroyed and there are multiple reports of the surrounding villages being set ablaze. This will only galvanize the anti-Shia sentiments of the Sunni community (there are a lot of former Baathists who live in the area that were among the “elite” in the days of the former regime), with many of the “fence-sitters” likely choosing to side with anybody who defends them against the Qods Force and their proxies – even if it means being aligned with IS. The fact that the pro-government tribal forces are being used as little more than canon fodder for the Shia militias gives the Sunni populace even more reason to distrust the GOI. Worse, its abundantly clear that no matter how much makeup GEN Suleimani puts on this pig – its still a pig. What we mean by that is the IA simply isn’t ready for “prime time” and it probably never will be. Tikrit serves as a gauge to test the viability of an offensive to retake Mosul. Thus far, the Iraq front has proven to be every bit the war of attrition that we assessed it would be – which goes against the overly-optimistic views of the Obama administration.

GEN Suleimani has every intention to completely destroy Tikrit in order to “make an example” out of the population center in much the same way that the late-Hafiz al-Assad did with Hama when he snuffed out the Muslim Brotherhood in what became known in that part of the world as “Hama Rules.” The current pause in the operation possibly means heavier weapons will be brought in, such as Iranian-made Zelzal-3 missiles to shell the city. With losses mounting in this campaign before government forces even enter Tikrit and the KRG Peshmerga making the decision to fortify Kirkuk instead of continuing to clear the Zaab Triangle, we assess that any planned operation to retake Mosul would end in failure. Furthermore, resistance against the IA advance will only stiffen in the aftermath of this offensive, regardless of whether or not Suleimani’s forces can seize Tikrit. Only a few weeks ago GEN Dempsey said that it would “be a good thing” for Iran to take on a greater role in the Iraq front. Well, they are, and those words are coming back to haunt him…

Saddam Hussein’s tomb destroyed, but Babylon is safe as ISIS targets antiquity
http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/16/middleeast/iraq-isis-babylon-safe/

Links to Other Related Articles:

ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts

Incoherent Strategy Delays Mosul Offensive, Administration Touts Hashtag Victory

IA Struggling to Avoid Collapse on Multiple Fronts – Mosul OP in Danger of Failing

GOI Has Big Plans to Retake the Country From ISIS – But Can They Pull it Off???

ISIS: Regained the Initiative in Northern Iraq

ISIS Digs-in For Battle of Tikrit as Sunni Populace is Targeted by Iran’s Proxies

March 14, 2015 / /

In an update to our piece “The Tikrit Front: Not So Rosy as Claimed by Obama Administration,” the Islamic State (IS) has been conducting steady operations to delay the IRGC-Qods Force-led assault force’s advance towards Tikrit. This is being done by executing a series of IED and VIBED attacks all along the major avenue of approach, which has been narrowed into a single entry point into the city after the destruction of the Tikrit highway bridge that effectively blocked the advance. The move has pushed the assault force into repositioning itself north and south of the city. Currently, the joint-force is prepping to launch the main push into the city, which we assess will occur within the next 3-5 days. We are aware of two IA BDEs have already moved to positions 40 km north of Tikrit and have remained stationary, likely waiting for follow-on forces to arrive.

Iraqi offensive to dislodge Islamic State from Tikrit appears to stall

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/iraqi-offensive-to-dislodge-islamic-state-from-tikrit-appears-to-stall/article23444248/

Iraqi forces pause in battle to drive Islamic State from Tikrit

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/13/us-mideast-iraq-idUSKBN0M91DR20150313

Shi'ite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi look at smoke from an explosives-laden military vehicle driven by an Islamic State suicide bomber which exploded during an attack on the southern edge of Tikrit

A Shia militia column forced to halt their advance after the detonation of a VBIED
Source: Reuters

The move to destroy the Tikrit highway bridge was done to force the advancing Qods Force/Shia Militia/IA units into a “fatal funnel” where they will face even more intense opposition in the form of complex attacks. Setting the nearby oil fields ablaze was likely done to mask the movements of IS units from the view of ISR assets – both American and Iranian – that are attempting to identify for target development. This is indicative of IS commanders possessing formal military experience, no doubt a reflection of Baghdadi’s efforts to recruit members of the Saddam-era military. On the flip side, we fully expect the Qods Force and their Shia proxies to intensify their operations by increasing the brutality of their treatment of the Sunni civilian population in order to “make an example” out of them. In fact, our sources in the country have reported to us that Qods Force commanding general GEN Suleimani – who is the overall commander of this campaign – has passed guidance to the Shia militias involved in the offensive that Ayatollah Khameini issued a fatwa authorizing the “total destruction” of Tikrit and the civilian population – who the Iranian regime views as “heretics that need to be purged from Iraq.” Indeed, there are those in the American intelligence community (IC) who continue with the erroneous thinking that the Iranian involvement in active ground combat operations in Iraq is a “positive thing” (looking at you GEN Dempsey). We submit to them the following video and corresponding reporting that highlights what we’ve been saying throughout the last few weeks (in case they don’t want to take our word for it):

Video shows burning village near Tikrit : “Shiite militias wanted revenge”

http://observers.france24.com/content/20150311-video-shiite-militias-sunni-village-tikrit

 

CNN and the rest of the American media has been reporting that the Qods Force and its proxies are trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the Sunni populace in a bid to put the most positive spin possible for the Obama administration -but they couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, they point to pro-government Sunni tribal forces participating in this joint-endeavor, but what they either fail to understand or willfully leave out of their reporting is the rather nasty fact that the Qods Force is using them as mere “canon fodder.” They’ve also been diverting ammo and other supplies meant for those tribal forces to their Shia proxies instead. So really, just how hard is GEN Suleimani trying to win those hearts and minds there? Keep in mind that a few days before the start of the Tikrit offensive, IS had abducted over 100 of those pro-GOI tribal fighters and the Qods Force didn’t seem to be very concerned nor did they try to save them. In a way the people on the Beltway are correct that Iran wants “stability” in Iraq – they just fail to realize that the Iranian regime views “stability” as an Iraq purged of all “unmanageable” influences. In other words, “all Sunnnis” are viewed as “terrorists.”

Iraq militia leader hails Iran’s ‘unconditional’ support

http://news.yahoo.com/iraqs-top-shiite-cleric-urges-help-militias-battling-105335552.html

Iraqi, allied forces try to win back Tikrit, win over hearts and minds of residents

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/13/middleeast/iraq-isis/

Qods Force-Led Assault Force Meets Heavy Resistance in Tikrit

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5352

11 MAR

The main fight for Tikrit will be a long, hard slog
Source: Reuters

The Long War Journal put out a great piece two days ago that echoes our sentiments that we’ve been voicing since last summer, pointing out that not only will the Qods Force-led campaign will result in a worsened sectarian crisis, but that the regime is angling to use their involvement in Iraq as another bargaining chip to dupe the Obama administration into giving up even more concessions in the already one-sided nuclear deal that’s being negotiated. Their piece is a damning indictment of the rudderless Obama foreign policy that has led to the rise of IS and further entrenchment of the Iranian regime inside Iraq.

Analysis: Iran is No Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/03/analysis-iran-is-no-partner-in-the-fight-against-the-islamic-state.php

longwar

GEN Suleimani on the front-lines in the Tikrit-area
Source: Long War Journal

If you want to see just what the Iranian regime is all about, check out the following:

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Kurdish Insurgency

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4068

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Southeast Insurgency

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2689

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Charm Offensive

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2676

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the “Reformers”

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2635

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Nuclear Weapons Program

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2640

The IA will be depending on the Shia militias to hold the terrain they’ve seized and secure the lines of communication (LOCs) while the main force attempts to push deeper into Tikrit itself. The problem with this is that IS has already been receiving reinforcements from Mosul and the Lake Thar Thar-area to begin hitting those LOCs. This dependency on the militias will only increase as it becomes painfully obvious that those “5 new IA BDEs” US advisors are training hasn’t been going as well as advertised. Worse, we have the Sunni civilians – most of whom have no love for IS – not only caught in the cross-hairs of the fighting, but actually being targeted by the very people claiming to be their “liberators.” Apologists claiming that the current foreign policy being implemented by the Obama administration is “the only reasonable plan” are dangerously naive in thinking that the Iranian regime’s involvement is “a good thing.” This is a regime that is brutal to its own people and to the Sunni population in Syria – so what makes them think that Iran is somehow going to be “different” in Iraq? The Qods Force and their Shia proxies are engaging in the same sectarian violence as IS – and the Obama administration just hitched itself to their wagon. Is this the “reasonable plan” the Obama administration’s supporters within the media have been referring to?

Other Related Articles:

ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5171

IA Struggling to Avoid Collapse on Multiple Fronts -Mosul OP in Danger of Failing

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5008

GOI Has Big Plans to Retake the Country From ISIS – But Can They Pull it Off???

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4565

Tikrit Update as of 22 JUL 14

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=138

State of the Iraqi Air Force and Special Operations Forces

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=69

ISIS: Regained the Initiative in Northern Iraq

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3794

Leading from Behind Case Study: Iraq

 

Published on Mar 10, 2015 by ConcernedVets

In the second installment of the Leading from Behind Case Study Series, CVA examines how politics trumped military strategy in Iraq.

The Tikrit Front: Not so “Rosy” as Claimed by Obama Administration

March 9, 2015 / /

The IRGC-Qods Force-led operation has proven to be every bit the slow, hard slog as we assessed it would be, with the IA and the Qods Force-backed Shia militias struggling to advance on Saturday to the Tikrit-area towns of al-slam and al-Dour (Ad-Dawr). Much of this has to do with the VBIEDs, IEDs and other obstacles the Islamic State (IS) fighters in the area set up in anticipation for GEN Suleimani’s campaign. Earlier today (Sunday as of this writing) the IA reported that they finally took the small town of al-Dour, although it was a costly victory with the amount of casualties they took in the effort – and the real fight for Tikrit hasn’t even begun.

Iraqi troops, militia make advances near Tikrit
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/08/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0M40LZ20150308

Iraqi troops, militia advance towards Tikrit
http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/iraqi-troops-militia-advance-towards-tikrit

tikrit 07 MAR

View of the fighting
Source: Reuters

We’re already beginning to see the inflamed sectarian tensions that we warned about in previous articles popping up in various international media outlets (but not the American media – not that we’re surprised). al-Arabiya’s Abdulrahman al-Rashed is on point in his analysis of whatever gains the IA makes in their Saladin Province campaign being short-term. He hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that the heavy Qods Force and Shia militia involvement in the operation is going to galvanize the opposition to what the Sunni demographic views as an “Iranian puppet regime” – which we must say there’s a great deal of truth to those suspicions. We fear that the reports we’re getting back from our sources in the country are indicators that the Shia militias may have already started to “depopulate” the areas in and around Tikrit – a purging of Sunni influence. We’ve heard similar stories in parts of Diyala Province that had large concentrations of Sunni civilians. This is disturbing for the following reasons:

– The increased reliance on the Shia militias are serious red-flags that the IA simply doesn’t have the manpower to conduct sustained offensive operations and maintain a hold on the territory they do manage so seize. They also had a much harder time trying to take small towns like Khan al-Baghdadi and al-Dour than they should’ve with the size of the force they used in the operation – another troubling sign that indicates the real fights that have yet to take place in Tikrit, Hawijah, Bayji, Mosul and Fallujah will not have the positive outcome that the Obama administration is selling to the American people.

militias_MAR

Shia militias launching rockets at IS positions in the Tikrit-area
Source: Reuters

– When they turn over seized terrain to the Shia militias, the locals immediately turn on them because the militias don’t discriminate between IS and the civilian population – to them, ALL SUNNIS ARE THE ENEMY. You simply can’t wage an effective campaign with this mindset and in the end will only create more enemies. This will especially be the case in al-Dour – the home of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. We predict the civilians of this town will face the brunt of the post-combat hostilities from the Shia militias because of the al-Douri’s family and fellow tribesmen living in the area.

izzat

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri joined forces with IS and threw the full support of the New Baath Party (NBP) behind Baghadi’s “Caliphate” – which is the reason so many Saddam-era officers are in the IS ranks
Source: globalsecurity.org

Tikrit igniting sectarian war in Iraq
http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/03/06/Tikrit-igniting-sectarian-war-in-Iraq.html

Qods Force-Led Assault Force Meets Heavy Resistance in Tikrit
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5352

ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5171

Incoherent Strategy Delays Mosul Offensive, Administration Touts Hashtag Victory
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5217

IA Struggling to Avoid Collapse on Multiple Fronts – Mosul OP in Danger of Failing
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5008

GEN Dempsey has foolishly said that he expects the joint-IA/Qods Force campaign in Northern Iraq to be a “success,” merely parroting what the Obama administration’s Marie Harf and Jen Psaki repeat day after day in their press conferences. Unfortunately, their rosy picture doesn’t mirror the reality on the ground for the reasons mentioned above. This all goes back to the Baghdad Belts Strategy that we’ve talked about previously in “Fortess Baghdad Part II” and “Defeating the Islamic State.” In addition to the fact that the increased Qods Force/Shia proxy involvement is pouring gasoline on the already lit sectarian fire, the Iraqi military’s resources are being stretched to the breaking point. As we stated in our piece titled “Qods Force-Led Assault Force Meets Heavy Resistance in Tikrit,” the US military isn’t providing adequate air support (despite Obama administration claims), meaning an already stressed Iraqi air capability is about to be stretched even further. There’s no way they can sustain the current OP-Tempo, so they will likely need the Iranians to increase their armed-UAV missions and possibly manned airstrikes like what we saw in Diyala during the Jalula Campaign.

Dempsey optimistic about outcome of Tikrit battle
http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2015/03/07/dempsey-optimistic-about-outcome-of-tikrit-battle/24556303/

Taking back Tikrit and Mosul from Islamic State could make life worse for residents
http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/03/04/taking-back-tikrit-and-mosul-from-islamic-state-isnt-necessarily-a-good-thing/

Fortress Baghdad Part II
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=576

Defeating the Islamic State
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1708

Iranian Airstrikes in Iraq
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3396

Qods Force UAV OPs Part II
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2660

Qods Force UAV OPs
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=367

dempsey

GEN Dempsey: Every bit as clueless as Marie Harf and DoS
Source: Bloomberg

Meanwhile people are getting spun up about IS hanging people in Hawijah – but that’s not what they should be looking at there. What people should be paying close attention to here are the reinforcements being sent to the town to assist in defending the surrounding area. As we’ve stated in previous articles, IS’ strategy is to stand and fight in Bayji, Tikrit and Hawijah in order to grind up the ISOF and Qods Force personnel that are leading the offensive. Each area is critical to IS’ defense of Mosul as each location enables Baghdadi’s followers to launch attacks to disrupt the IA’s lines of communication (LOC) – which was one of the primary reasons for the Mosul offensive being delayed. We know that personnel from Ar-Raqqa have been sent to Hawijah fairly recently, as suggested by the presence of the notorious Abu al-Rahman, who if you recall appeared in pictures last summer posing with the severed heads of fallen Syrian Soldiers. That Mosul operation can’t occur until Bayji, Tikrit, Hawijah and the Zaab Triangle as a whole are cleared and held. Unfortunately, the IA doesn’t have the manpower to do this nor will entrusting the task of holding seized territory to the Shia militias lead to the desired outcome.

ISIS fortifies Hawija for Tikrit aftermath
http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/070320156

Welcome to Hell: ISIS hang bodies of ‘soldiers’ from entrance to the city where Syrian troops were paraded through streets in cages
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2983901/Barbaric-ISIS-jihadis-string-bodies-hanged-soldiers-metal-frame-city-Syrian-troops-cruelly-paraded-streets-cages.html#ixzz3TiT7Jevz

hawijah

The recent hangings in Hawijah
Source: The ISIS Study Group

head shot.JPG

Rahman posing with the severed heads of Syrian Soldiers in Ar-Raqqa
Source: The Daily Mail

As much as we’d like for IS to be driven out of Northern Iraq, the current claims being made by the Obama administration simply don’t mirror what’s actually happening on the ground. If anything, things are much worse now than they ever were with the Qods Force in the lead. This isn’t the “positive development” that GEN Dempsey was crowing about because the people who are being affected the most isn’t IS – its the Sunni civilian population who aren’t involved in the combat themselves but are caught in the cross-hairs. The GOI should be trying to get those people on their side, but that isn’t happening as long as the locals see Shia militias and their Qods Force embeds harassing them and treating them like IS fighters. We’ve been hearing from several sources that this is already happening in Diyala and Anbar, so its safe to say that Saladin won’t be much different. If anything, the civilians will get it much worse due to the Tikrit-area being the home of many prominent former regime types – many of which are also currently fighting alongside IS against government forces. So as you can see, IS’ Baghdad Belts strategy of further inflaming sectarian tensions and building relationships with the local Sunni communities who feel threatened by Iranian influence is alive and well. Also keep in mind that the real fight in Tikrit itself hasn’t even begun. The Obama administration may view the Iranian regime as the “lesser of two evils,” but in truth they’re no different than IS – and like IS, they also have designs against American interests.

ISIS Is Running Short of Recruits

Defeat on the battlefield and a wave of deserters is weakening the caliphate’s ability to fight. THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

Defeat on the battlefield and a wave of deserters is weakening the caliphate’s ability to fight. THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

Newsweek, BY MONA ALAMI, 3/4/15:

As the pressure on the Islamic State (ISIS) mounts against the backdrop of coalition attacks and a Kurdish offensive in Syria’s Raqqa region, militant recruitment has become a pressing matter for the radical organization, which has lost many fighters in clashes around Iraq and Syria.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, out of 1,800 people killed during the Kobani battles, 70 percent belonged to ISIS. On February 14, 132 fighters died across Syria, including 44 ISIS militants.

Given mounting losses, ISIS expansion has relied on a two-pronged recruitment approach: targeting foreigners looking to join the new caliphate and enlisting members of the local population. While the foreign recruitment strategy appears successful, local recruitment faces growing obstacles in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS has relied on a powerful branding strategy, diffusing violent images on social media, YouTube and Twitter. The organization has released several documentaries boasting its military exploits such as the “Flames of War,” featuring heroic jihadists and gruesome footage of bombings and executions.

This systematic glamorization of violence has allowed the terror group to attract foreign recruits. In January, a new study by International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence estimated that the number of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria had reached about 20,000.

ISIS’s local recruitment approach has been described in Idarat al Tawahosh,(The Management of Savagery), a book written by Abu Bakr Naji in 2004, which ISIS has adopted. Naji argues that the first step for recruitment is “the creation of organizations to improve the management of the areas under our control.”

ISIS applied this technique initially following its surge in June. The groups managed everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques in Raqqa. One activist admitted at that the time that the organization had been doing “massive institutional work.”

A second recruitment tool imagined by Naji was the manipulation of tribal antagonism in favor of the organization. ISIS attempted to mobilize Arab crowds ahead of the battle of Tel Hamis in Syria last year using flagrant anti-Kurdish discourse. In accordance with Naji’s recommendation to use money or power as incentives, activists in Raqqa report that ISIS offered cash andsabaya (female slaves) to local tribal leaders to encourage them to swear allegiance.

Indoctrinating local populations and its youth was another cornerstone to Naji’s manifesto. Since its inception, ISIS has imposed religious and military training on children in the Raqqa province. The same activists report that the group uses two training camps—Sharea Ashbal and Maahad Ashbal al-Khilafa—to indoctrinate and train children.

According to a Syrian Human Rights Committee report in August, at least 800 children under 18 had been recruited by ISIS. Other reports highlight the more than 30 kids fighting with ISIS in Kobani. An ISIS defector said that militants targeted the young to break down traditional authority structures: alliance to the family and to the tribe.

While these strategies succeeded initially, they appear more difficult to maintain in the wake of the continuous coalition, Kurdish and Shia militia attacks on ISIS. The counteroffensives have killed many militants and disrupted the transfer of goods between regions under the organization’s control. Naji’s governance tool appears to be faltering as residents of ISIS-controlled areas increasingly complain of rising food and fuel prices and declining services. The price of staples such as bread has also risen significantly and basic products have become scarce.

ISIS has since resorted to aggressive means for youth recruitment, triggering resentment in some areas. One Iraqi activist notes that the organization often recruits children without the knowledge or approval of their families, leading to a drop in school attendance. A wave of conscription among youth in Mosul, Hawija, and Kirkuk in Iraq has in some cases led to kidnappings to coerce families to provide them with fighters (although reports could not be independently confirmed).

ISIS militants also arrested forty ex-fighters in the Nusra Front and rebel factions from the village of Abriha and town of al-Sahil and trained them in Shariah camps before sending them to battlefronts. Syrian activists said that ISIS also began forcing male members of foreign families that had come to live in the Islamic State, but did not want to fight, to participate in battles.

As a result, ISIS has suffered increased defections in Syria, particularly after the fall of Kobani. Militants have tried to return home or join other groups. ISIS executed 100 jihadists who attempted to defect. Defections have left the organization possibly facing a shortage of willing martyrs.

Other reports point to ISIS police arresting 400 fighters in Raqqa for not reporting for duty. The same Iraqi activist reported that the organization banned truck drivers from transporting ISIS fighters to limit desertion. In both Raqqa and Mosul, the transit of residents in and out of the city has been closely monitored.

Decreasing human resources may account for ISIS repositioning across areas under its control. ISIS had to transfer in late December 800 Chechens, Afghans, and Syrians with their families to the city of Tel Affar (31 miles west of Mosul), which was scene of heavy fighting. The number of ISIS checkpoints and patrols also dwindled in the Syrian border town of al-Bokamel in January with troops possibly funnelled into Iraq.

ISIS relies heavily on the loyalty of both its muhajireen (foreign fighters) base and ansar (local supporters). While the organization’s successes bolstered its appeal among foreign fighters, warlords and tribes whether in Syria or Iraq, new losses may be starting to chip away at its aura of power.

The rate of recruitment has dropped by more than half in February (only 54 recruited) compared with January 2015. Compare this figure to June 2014, when nearly 6,000 fighters had joined ISIS.

Growing defections, rising tensions, and declining local recruitment puts added pressure on ISIS and provides the U.S.-led coalition and the Baghdad government with a window of opportunity to degrade the organization. But in Iraq, other social, political and economic reasons account for local support of ISIS. Naji’s tactic using tribal antagonism to breed organizational loyalty may not have had enough time to sink in, but for many Sunnis—particularly in Iraq—no credible alternative to ISIS has emerged.

The Iraqi government will need to take concerted steps to diffuse sectarian tensions and present itself as that alternative. ISIS also benefits from the use of both Syrian and Iraqi territory according to its military needs. The anti-ISIS coalition will need a more comprehensive approach in Syria if it hopes to win the day.

Mona Alami is a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center currently reporting from Iraq. She is a French-Lebanese journalist and based in Beirut. Follow her on Twitter @monaalami. This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council’s website.

Iranian-backed Shiite militias lead Iraq’s fight to retake Tikrit

LWJ, BY CALEB WEISS AND BILL ROGGIO | March 4th, 2015:

Video showing Asaib al Haq fighters taking part in the Tikrit offensive

The Iraqi Security Forces, supported by several Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Sunni tribal fighters, have launched an offensive to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State, which has held the central Iraqi city since June 2014. Massive columns of Shiite militas, including some groups that are listed by the US as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, have been leading the fight in Tikrit.

The operation, which involves more than thirty thousand Iraqi security personnel and militia forces, started on the morning of March 2. According to Al Jazeera, Iraqi forces and allied militias attacked the city from three sides while Iraqi aviation launched an aerial bombardment.

As of yet, the US has not launched any airstrikes in support of the operation. The US has refused to support the Tikrit offensive because Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) elements are actively supporting the operation, anonymous US officials have told The Wall Street Journal

Although the US military has refused to provide air support for the offensive due to Iran’s involvement, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran’s involvement could be “a positive thing” if the Shiite militias do not lash out at Sunnis in and around Tikrit. Dempsey also estimated that the militias make up more than two-thirds of the fighting force, The Associated Press noted. Shiite militias have been accused of launching reprisal attacks against Sunni civilians and executing scores of people after liberating areas from Islamic State control.

Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force, the external operations wing of the IRGC, has been spotted near Tikrit. Soleimani’s forces are tasked with supporting the Iraqi military and Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata’ib Imam Ali, and Muqtada al Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade (or Peace Brigade). The Shiite militias have been instrumental in reinforcing beleaguered and demoralized Iraqi forces, and have helped retake some areas in Iraq, including Jurf al Sakhar and Amerli.

Soleimani has been spotted with units loyal to the Kata’ib Imam Ali and the Badr Organization. In one photo, a clean shaven Soleimani oversees a military parade of Kata’ib Imam Ali at Camp Speicher, a sprawling base outside of Tikrit. In another photo, Soleimani is seen meeting with militia commanders near the city. Kata’ib Imam Ali, which is allegedly led by Shabal al Zaidi, a former leader in Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army, is just one of many Iranian-backed militia taking part in the Tikrit offensive.

The Badr Organization, which is led by Hadi al Amiri, is another such group. In one photo seen on Twitter, Amiri, who is closely allied to Soleimani, is seen meeting with Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the head of Hezbollah Brigades. In a video uploaded to YouTube, a giant Hezbollah Brigades convoy is seen moving towards Tikrit. The US State Department designated the Hezbollah Brigades as a terrorist organization in July 2009 and described the militia as “a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, US, and Coalition targets in Iraq.”

Asaib al Haq has also released a video showing a giant convoy heading towards Tikrit. Asaib al Haq is considered one of the most dangerous Iranian-supported Shiite militias. Several of its leaders are listed by the US as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Status of offensive is unclear

The Iraqi military, Shiite militias, and Iranian forces reportedly have been able toretake two districts from the Islamic State, Iraqi military commanders have told the BBC. The reports should be viewed with caution, as in the past, Iraqi commanders provided optimistic reports on previous attempts to retake Tikrit, only to be proven wrong.

The Iraqi forces and its militia allies have allegedly been able to retake Al Tin, a district northeast of the city, as well as al Abeid in the west. The BBC also reported fighting in the nearby district of Qadisiya. In a photo circulating online, the Iraqi flagis seen flying over the town of Al Dor near Tikrit. This photo cannot be confirmed, although fighting in Al Dor has been reported.

Iraqi forces and their Shiite militia auxiliaries may have a difficult time sustaining a prolonged offensive or siege of Tikrit. The city is in central Salahaddin province, a stronghold of the Islamic State. The Iraqi forces and militias must provide logistical support to a large force by securing a long supply line from Samarra, and it will be exposed to attacks from marauding Islamic State forces.

The Military Times has reported that progress in Tikrit has been slowed due to the many improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have been planted around the town. Quoting the spokesman of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, The Military Times says that the Islamic State has “littered major roadways and routes with mines.” According to Al Mada Press, there are 8,000 IEDs near Tikrit alone. The Islamic State has also countered the offensive with suicide bombings. One suicide bomber who detonated on ISF and Shiite militia personnel as they assembled for the Tikrit offensive near Samarra was allegedly an American citizen. Abu Dawoud al Amriiki, as he was later identified, was said to have “killed and wounded dozens” in an Islamic State video release.

The Islamic State has also released several images purporting to be from Tikrit in a bid to counter positive statements from Iraqi officials. These photos cannot be authenticated. These photos show Islamic State fighters manning a checkpoint near the entrance to the city, as well as its fighters targeting Iraqi and Shiite militia personnel near the city with technicals, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. In one photo, an Islamic State front-end loader is seen building fortifications near the city.

Other photos released by the Islamic State show its fighters engaging Iraqi and Shiite militia personnel in an unnamed place in Salahadin province. The pictures show mortars being fired on Iraqi positions, as well as RPG’s and fire from technicals. One picture shows a Humvee being hit by an RPG and another shows an Islamic State fighter shooting an RPG at a Humvee that is driving away. Several rockets are also fired on Iraqi positions in these photos.

Read more with photos and videos from Tikrit

Also see:

The U.S. Anti-ISIS Strategy’s True Cost

 

Rubin CenterMARCH 2, 2015 BY AYMENN JAWAD AL-TAMIMI:

On Monday the Iraqi military launched its largest operation to date against the self-declared Islamic State (IS), also called ISIS, to retake control of the city of Tikrit. Alongside the Iraqi military the coalition fighting IS in Tikrit includes Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces, but it leans heavily on Iranian backed Shia militias and reportedly includes a contingent from Iran’s revolutionary guard. The urgent question now as the battle against IS intensifies is whether any US policy to defeat IS in Iraq can achieve its aim without ceding the country as a base for Iranian expansionism.

Critics who regard President Obama’s regional policy as aiming for a grand détente with Iran have frequently argued that the current approach undermines attempts to counter IS. The bargain for making a deal with Iran, these critics say, has allowed Iran a free hand to assert dominance in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Exhibit A for this line of thinking is Iran’s cultivation of proxy militias in Iraq, principally in the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, These militias have not just been active on the frontlines in Iraq but also have arguably played the leading role in all major offensives to retake territory from IS, with Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp figure Qassem Suleimani helping to direct operations.

The Badr Organization in particular, with its control of the Interior Ministry, seems poised to become Iraq’s version of Hezbollah. Last fall, the group launched ‘Operation Ashura‘ to clear out Jurf al-Sakhr to the south of Baghdad. Under Suleimani’s guidance, the operation employed a successful strategy of amassing vast militia manpower operating under cover of U.S. airpower.

A virtually identical tactic is now being implemented in the offensive to capture Tikrit except this time with Iraqi fighter jets taking the place of U.S. airpower.

Since these proxy militias frequently engage in ethnic cleansing against Sunnis and answer directly to Iran, they bolster IS’ narrative that it is defending Sunnis against a sectarian government, arguably undermining any attempt to roll back IS. Besides, reflecting Iran’s own anti-American ideology, they also promote a narrative that the U.S. is behind the IS phenomenon, further undermining U.S. influence in Iraq to the benefit of Iranian expansionism.

There is much to be said in favour of these arguments. Since the fall of Mosul to IS in June 2014 and the call to arms issued by Iraq’s most senior Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Sistani, militias that are ideologically aligned with Iran (‘Khomeinist’) if not actual proxies have proliferated most, with many new brands emerging beyond the three mentioned above. A considerable degree of overlap exists between these new groups. For instance, one commander I interviewed is simultaneously involved with two recognizably Khomeinist militias: Kata’ib al-Imam al-Gha’ib (a ‘Hezbollah’ brand) and the Mujahideen of Iraq Brigade, the ‘military wing’ of the Nasrallah Islamic Movement (named after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah).

Beyond the question of Iranian influence, those who defend the ‘Popular Mobilization’ trend as a military necessity tend to downplay the more general negative consequences of militiafication. There is little reason to accept former U.S. defence official Douglas Ollivant’s contention that the militias “will either return home or be regularized by the central government in some way” once the IS threat is dealt with. Militias also create an atmosphere of lawlessness and criminality regardless of the sectarian issue. Indeed, some of the militias themselves have acknowledged the problem of kidnappings and stealing in their name, including a Khomeinist militia known as Kata’ib Ruh Allah.

The complaints about Iran’s expanding influence in Iraq are valid but they raise an important question that has yet to be answered. How exactly do you curb Iranian influence at this stage when its forces dominate in Iraq? The usual line here is to say that the U.S. needs to stop abetting the Iranian proxies through airstrikes and arms provisions to the Iraqi government. But going back even conditionally on these measures simply creates a bigger military vacuum for Iran to fill. At the same time, Iranian proxies are undoubtedly spearheading most new offensives by government forces against IS and at least some of the new weapons shipments intended for Iraqi security forces are likely to end up in the hands of Iranian proxies.

One also hears calls for new U.S. engagement in Iraq, but there is no honesty about the scale of commitment that would be required. If the goal is to rebuild Iraq’s conventional security forces as an alternative to the militias, then the reality is that there will have to be tens of thousands of ground troops, deployed for a number of years and not only willing to train these new forces but coordinating with them in combat missions. Yet even such a massive commitment—tried once before in recent memory—has no guarantee of success. Such an approach is also politically unfeasible due to American war weariness and scepticism of any mission with shifting goalposts. Further, a large-scale American ground presence risks fuelling further support for IS, the possibility of infiltration of rebuilt army brigades by the Iranian proxies, and open warfare between the proxies and U.S. troops.

Notions that the U.S. should focus only on cultivating Kurdish and Sunni allies are also unrealistic. Kurdish forces alone are unable to dislodge IS from its main strongholds, and Sunni locals have good reason for concerns about treatment at the hands of Kurdish forces.

The strategy employed during the last US war in Iraq, employing Sunni tribal groups to lead the fight against IS, has its own problems.

With supposed Sunni allies, the biggest question remains of who is out there for the U.S. to approach.

Sunni insurgent actors like the Ba’athist Naqshbandi Army find themselves severely weakened, having lost out to IS in all major towns and cities outside of government control. Local Sunni forces that are actively pushing back against IS in Iraq’s Anbar province are in fact already working with the Iraqi government and the militias but have been unable to dislodge the group.

On the political axis, Sunni politicians are more lacking in credibility among their constituents than ever.

Simply put, there are no viable ‘third-way’ Sunni actors who reject both the government and IS.

Concern has been expressed that the U.S. ‘risks’ losing Iraq to Iran in the fight against IS, but it is probably more accurate to say the U.S. has already lost Iraq to Iran. No good options seem to exist, and the expansion of Iran’s sphere of influence may well have to be accepted as an inevitable consequence of the original decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam’s regime from power.

(Update: Provision of U.S. airpower in Tikrit offensive denied by Pentagon. Re. ‘Kurdish forces’ in piece above: symbolic representation via ISOF contingent).

Also see:

****

They say that the Arab world moves with the “politics of the wind”. I think we can see which way that hot wind is blowing:

Iraqi Shiite Militia Leader: Give Me a Month, and I Will Make ISIS Terrorists Wear Women’s Clothing

Incoherent Strategy Delays Mosul Offensive, Administration Touts Hashtag Victory

February 28, 2015 / /

For our readers this won’t come as a shock, but the GOI has announced that the Mosul operation will be delayed for several more months – possibly til this fall but more like next year. Why? The reasons for the delay are the very same things we’ve laid out in the Iraq articles we’ve posted over the past two months with our most recent piece being “ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts.” The bottom-line is the GOI and the Obama administration were banking on a pie in the sky assessment of how things “should be” versus what the conditions on the ground are really like. In other words, this is what happens when academics and activists with little or no real world experience run the foreign policy and national defense of the country. Here’s a recap:

– The Iraqi Army (IA) is maxed out on manpower and is having trouble fielding a suitable assault force without pulling troops from other critical areas, such as the defense of Baghdad. As the IA began moving units north and the curfew lifted, Islamic State (IS) sleeper cells began hitting Baghdad with a sustained rate of attacks that show no signs of letting up. The US government is training what is supposed to be the “backbone” of this assault force, but its unrealistic to think a bunch of green recruits who had a few weeks of training (and no real combat experience) will be successful against seasoned-IS fighters.

ISF

ISF recruits training in Dubardan, Iraq
Source: Washington Post

– IS – already fully aware of the very public plans to retake Mosul – had launched their own two-pronged counter-offensive in Anbar targeting al-Asad Airbase and in Northern Iraq targeting Irbil, Kirkuk and Bayji with plans to defend Tikrit. As we stated in our previous articles, IS’ intent was to force the IA to reallocate forces dedicated to the Mosul operation to ensuring al-Asad Airbase doesn’t fall and that Tikrit is taken out of the equation.

anbar4

Although graphic, its a glimpse into how well the IA has fared thus far in Anbar Province
Source: al-Battar Media Foundation

– The increased pressure being placed on Irbil and Kirkuk has forced the KRG Peshmerga into making the decision to address the areas south of Kirkuk and the Zaab Triangle that reaches into Ninevah Province. Failure to clear IS from those areas means the LOCs from the main KRG support hubs of Kirkuk and Irbil will become vulnerable to attacks targeting logistical convoys.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters keep watch during the battle with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Mosul

Peshmerga in the outskirts of Mosul
Source: al-Monitor

– IRGC-Qods Force commander GEN Suleimani has declared that securing the LOC from Baghdad to Mosul should be the priority before any operation to retake Mosul is launched. As such, he has formulated a plan involving a joint-Qods Force/Shia militia/Peshmerga operation with some IA participation geared towards clearing the areas South of Kirkuk and pushing south into Tikrit and Bayji. Concurrently, a separate OP will be launched to retake Tikrit. Our sources in the country have confirmed that Suleimani himself will be overseeing the Tikrit OP. The amount of support the Qods Force and its Shia proxies will provide to the IA’s Mosul OP will be heavily dependent on the outcome of these two lines of effort. If they go badly or take longer than they thought, it would mean that the most important part of the IA force – the militias and the Qods Force – would be involved in a much more limited capacity than planned or not involved at all – further increasing the probability that the mission would be a failure.

Qodsfest

GEN Suleimani: Doing what the US government has failed to do – build and maintain relationships
Source: al-Arabiya

You can find more in-depth analysis on each of the above-mentioned points in these articles:

ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts

IA Struggling to Avoid Collapse on Multiple Fronts – Mosul OP in Danger of Failing

IA Preps to Take Mosul as King’s Rage Continues

ISIS Launches First Wave of Attacks Against al-Asad Airbase as Kirkuk Heats Up

GOI Has Big Plans to Retake the Country From ISIS – But Can They Pull it Off???

IS has recently launched an offensive against Samarra. Indeed the city holds a great deal of religious significance for Shia Muslims, but there’s also a tactical reason for targeting this particular population center. First, the city is where the IRGC-Qods Force is running its UAV operations. Its also the city with the Shia militia personnel that can respond the quickest should reinforcements be needed during the Tikrit OP – and they will. Tikrit is being defended in much the same way as Mosul, that is, it involves a combination of the play books used during the Second Battle of Fallujah and the Euphrates River Valley during Operation Steel Curtain with some updates, such as the inclusion of armor and heavy weapons.

Islamic State fighters attack Samarra ahead of army offensive
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/28/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0LW0AD20150228

Iraqi security forces guard during the building of a new road between Diyala province and Samarra

Source: Reuters

The KRG made it abundantly clear that they would not participate in the Mosul OP as long as Kirkuk and Irbil are threatened, and have stated that they will need heavier weaponry to counter the armored assets that IS has at their disposal. Also, the KRG voiced concerns about the IA’s capabilities stating that they’re simply not ready – and probably won’t be in the foreseeable future. A more damning indictment of the IA can be found when speaking with Peshmerga fighters themselves, with the descriptions of their Arab counterparts ranging from talks of their cowardice to colluding with IS – both of which are valid complaints considering how fast the IA disintegrated in Northern Iraq. IS has been fortifying Mosul and Tikrit with VBIEDs and IEDs along the main avenues of approach and at each intersection. We’ve also been receiving several reports of additional armor being brought in to bolster what they already seized from the IA when they initially fled Northern Iraq in panic, so the KRG’s concerns are well-warranted.

Kurds push for delay of Mosul attack
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/kurd-push-delay-mosul-attack-isis-congress-sunni.html

At Kurdish outpost, skepticism abounds about assault on Mosul
http://www.macon.com/2015/02/22/3600234/at-kurdish-outpost-skepticism.html

Pesh_kirkuk

The Peshmerga has armored assets of their own – but not enough to close the gap with IS
Source: ekurd.net

Meanwhile the Obama administration is touting its State Department’s (DoS) “Think Again, Turn Away” campaign claiming that they’ve “shut down” thousands of IS-affiliated twitter accounts. In truth the Information Operations (IO) campaign has had little to no impact on IS as the terror organization continues to grow and the accounts that have been shut down were done so by Twitter due to violating the terms of use policy. As a whole, IO is an extremely important front in this fight. Unfortunately for us, the US government has done a horrible job in this arena with IS running circles around the flaccid “Think Again, Turn Away” campaign. We first wrote about how this campaign would turn out to be a failure back in SEP 14 – so far nothing has been done to change that assessment. Again, this is what happens when the National Security team is composed of academics and activists, pollsters and campaign staffers. Remember the failed hashtag campaign #bringbackourgirls that the White House launched after Boko Haram kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria? Islamic State made a mockery of that with hashtags such as #bringbackmyhumvee and #comeatmebro. Boko Haram even openly mocked First Lady Michelle Obama in a video uploaded to youtube. The whole episode became such an embarrassment it seems they no longer mention it at the State Department or the White House.

IO is a very important component, but the administration’s approach thus far has been terrible. It wasn’t very good in the previous administration either for the record because in both Iraq and Afghanistan the US had a tendency to use cultural advisers who hadn’t lived in the target country in decades let alone having recent experience. The westernized Arab doesn’t have the same cultural knowledge as an individual with recent in country living. The administration’s recent push that economic opportunity will alleviate the problems with jihadists because they come from poor backgrounds. This is patently false as some of the most well known have come from middle class or higher upbringings such as Usama bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was a Jordanian doctor that became a suicide bomber killing himself and several CIA personnel at FOB Chapman on 30 December 2009. Islamic State social media icon of butchery Mohammed Emwazi came from a middle class upbringing and graduated with a computer science degree. Yes, some come from poor backgrounds, but they come from diverse backgrounds not just the poor.

State Department Failure: Messaging Gaffes Miss Mark Completely
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1689

U.S. Intensifies Effort to Blunt ISIS’ Message
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/world/middleeast/us-intensifies-effort-to-blunt-isis-message.html?_r=0

Veterans advocate blasts Obama’s ‘Twitter war’; ‘fighting terror with tweets’
http://www.bizpacreview.com/2015/02/28/veterans-advocate-blasts-obamas-twitter-war-fighting-terror-with-tweets-183260

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 11.29.10 AM

Source: DoS

Links to Other Related Articles:

ISIS Burns Iraqis Alive in Message to US – Government Remains Oblivious

Obama Blames Rise of ISIS on the Intelligence Community

Obama’s ISIS Strategy: Failed Before it Started

Another Reason Obama’s ISIS Strategy Has Already Failed

The Main Act: ISIS Tightens its Grip in Anbar Province, Preps to Take al-Asad Airbase

Iraqi Army Facing Heavy Resistance in Anbar: Counter-Offensive Stalls

Pro-Government Tribal Forces in Anbar Running Out of Steam

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

ISIS: Regained Initiative in Northern Iraq

ISIS: Still Going Strong Despite Coalition Efforts

ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts

The Iraqi Army (IA) has begun clearing Khan al-Baghdadi earlier this week. LTG James Terry, the senior US commander of the “Coalition of the Reluctantly Willing, is playing down the Islamic State’s (IS) seizure of large chunks of the town and claims the following: My assessment is (Islamic State) is halted, on the defensive, and really forced-exposed themselves in order to achieve gains.” With all do respect sir, that is incorrect and will submit to you that IS’ move into Kahn al-Baghdadi was part of a much broader overall effort force the IA into reallocating from the planned Mosul operation to Retaking places like Khan al-Baghdadi, Bayji and Tikrit. Furthermore, IS has already reinforced the town with fighters dispatched from Ar Rutbah and Syria that will later be used for the main assault on al-Asad Airbase. Perhaps your staff neglected to tell you what’s truly happening on the ground? Kahn al-Baghdadi is a true test to gauge how well the Mosul operation will turn out – and the evidence doesn’t suggest there will be a happy ending. In fact, we’re willing to bet that IS will not only disrupt the IA effort to relieve the pressure being placed on al-Asad Airbase, we will put money on attacks picking up in Ramadi.

Iraq moving to retake town from Islamic State: U.S. officer

http://www.macon.com/2015/02/22/3600234/at-kurdish-outpost-skepticism.html

IA Struggling to Avoid Collapse on Multiple Fronts -Mosul OP in Danger of Failing

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5008

ISIS Launches First Wave of Attacks Against al-Asad Airbase as Kirkuk Heats Up

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4779

Iraqi Checkpoint Station

The IA will be hard-pressed to drive IS out of Anbar
Source: assafirnews.net

Below is a video of the IA rolling out to Khan al-Baghdadi (which doesn’t inspire much confidence):

 

As the IA continues to throw more resources into the Anbar line of Operations, IS has already begun harassing Peshmerga units West of Kirkuk and appear to be massing fighters in Hawijah for a larger attack that will likely be a multi-pronged effort targeting the isolated IA forces in Bayji along with Kirkuk and the Peshmerga lines of communication (LOC) that run to the Northeast outskirts of Mosul. The IRGC-Qods Force Ramazan Corps appears to be making moves to attempt an operation geared towards purging the areas South of Kirkuk going into Saladin Province. Our sources in the country have reported that the Qods Force intent is for this operation to push all the way into Bayji and Tikrit in a bid to secure the main LOC linking Mosul to Baghdad. We assess that the Ramazan Corps will run into significant problems due Mosul being so far away from their main support hub of Baghdad. This is important because the amount of support that the Ramazan Corps provides to the Mosul operation will be dependent on how well this effort to retake Tikrit, Bayji and clear the Zaab Triangle is, along with the Anbar effort. Still, we assess they will have personnel on the ground acting as “advisors” and performing specialized missions such as demolitions and targeted raids on IS leadership. We will also likely see an increase in weaponized UAV operations conducted by the IRGC-Qods Force with Samarra used as the primary staging-area. With that said, we assess the Ramazan Corps and Shia Militias’ probability of success in these areas (which have much higher concentrations of Sunnis than Jalula or Amerli) to be LOW. In fact, we’re already seeing indicators of this effort going far less smoothly than they anticipated with IS having already abducted 100 pro-GOI tribesmen before the Tikrit operation’s kickoff. Those pro-GOI tribal forces are supposed to be one of the major contributors to the overall joint strategy, essentially becoming a replay of what happened to the Albu Nimr tribe in Anbar. Definitely not off to a good start.

Islamic State seize 100 Iraqi tribesmen before battle for Tikrit

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/25/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0LT1IX20150225

More than 5,000 fighters arrive in Tikrit in preparation for zero hour

http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/5000-fighters-arrive-tikrit-preparation-zero-hour/

Iraqi forces prepare for Tikrit offensive

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraqi-forces-prepare-for-tikrit-offensive/2015/02/21/f05fd9f1-8892-4207-a212-029c94ed9c4e_story.html

Qods Force UAV OPs Part II

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2660

Qods Force UAV OPs in Iraq

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=367

The Main Act: ISIS Tightens its Grip in Anbar Province, Preps to Retake al-Asad Airbase

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4916

albu nimr44

Those 100 tribesmen will likely meet a fate similar to that of their Albu Nimr counterparts
Source: alkuwaitiyah.com

The worst-case scenario is for IS to suck the joint-IA/Qods Force/Shia Militia force conducting the clearing operation into Bayji and cut them off as they attempt to surround the city. This would be accomplished with the IS fighters massing in Hawijah and other areas within the Zaab Triangle that the Peshmerga thus far have not been able to clear. Should IS pull this off, it would isolate the forward forces, completely cutting them off from any hope of reinforcements as the Kurds attempt to address the increased pressure being placed on Irbil and Kirkuk. This is the driving force behind Qods Force commander GEN Suleimani’s decision to launch the clearing operation moving from the areas South of Kirkuk down to Tikrit and Bayji.

ISIS: Regained the Initiative in Northern Iraq

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3794

suleimani samarra

GEN Suleimani: The man with the plan
Source: The Long War Journal

As we first stated in our 20 JUL 14 article “State of the Iraqi Air Force and Special Operations” and followed up in “IA Preps to Take Mosul as Kings Rage Continues,” Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) capabilities and readiness are in steady decline. However, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been able to delay the organization’s complete collapse with rapid recruitment in the later part of last summer, although the degradation has only slowed – not stopped. This was due to recruits being selected right off the streets instead of the usual selection process through MoD, opting to go with “quantity” over “quality.” To offset the growing demand as capabilities decline, the IA has become increasingly reliant on the Qods Force-backed Shia militias. Despite the Shia militias doing more of the heavy lifting, ISOF still experienced 30% casualties during the DEC 14 Bayji operation. What’s worst is that despite the ISOF being in its continued state of decline, the overall IA can’t function without them and the militias being the lead element in their operations. These significant deficiencies will be come much more apparent for the public once they begin to experience the heavy resistance in Tikrit, Bayji and Anbar Province that we assess to be in the IA’s future.

The GOI thinks they had “great victories” in Jalula and Amerli, but the ugly truth of the matter is that IS never intended to stand and fight there like they do in the heavily-Sunni populated cities of Tikrit, Bayji, Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul. The increased use of Shia militias – who have been depopulating Sunni areas – will only galvanize the locals to oppose what is widely viewed as an “Iranian puppet regime.” Most damning of all, however, is the fact that the majority of the IA personnel being used to augment the forces pulled from other areas to field the force tasked with retaking Mosul are all currently being trained by US military personnel. This means the backbone of the main effort will be filled primarily of green recruits who likely have never fired a weapon in anger, much less operated as a cohesive unit in a do or die situation. Of course the Obama administration announced this publicly with the GOI in the hopes that Mosul would be a ghost town by the time the IA rolls in. Unfortunately, its looking increasingly doubtful that will happen with reporting from our sources indicating that if anything IS fighters are digging in for a long, bloody fight with more weapons and personnel coming in from Syria. With the stakes being as high as they are, we just don’t see this as being the recipe for success. We hope to God we’re wrong.

– Oh, and keep an eye on Baghdad, because IS has been sustaining their current OP-tempo and will continue to increase their attacks in the capital as we get closer to when the Mosul operation is supposed to be kicked off…

State of the Iraqi Air Force and Special Operations Forces

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=69

IA Preps to Take Mosul as Kings Rage Continues

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4699

GOI Has Big Plans to Retake the Country From ISIS – But Can They Pull it Off???

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4565

Other Related Articles:

Iraqi Army Facing Heavy Resistance in Anbar: Counter-Offensive Stalls

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3758

Pro-Government Tribal Forces in Anbar Province Running Out of Steam

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3626

ISIS Burns Iraqis Alive to Send Message to US – Government Remains Oblivious

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4971

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

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4755

ISOF’s Admiration of their IRGC-Qods Force Embeds

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=122

***

Published on Feb 26, 2015 by EnGlobal News World

Can Kurds in Iraq and Syria keep up fight against ISIS? Dr. Anwar Anaid and Dr. Henri Barkey explain the latest regional developments

Fred Fleitz: ISIS may be planning a series of atrocities ahead of a possible offensive to take back Mosul

Fleitz: “We should arm the Kurds and friendly Sunni militias and step up our air campaign…if we inflicted real harm on ISIS and gave the perception that it was losing it would not be able to grab the news cycle”

Published on Feb 25, 2015 by EnGlobal News World

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ISIS Hammers Christian Towns in Syria for Third Day

REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS

REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS

Breitbart, by Katie Gorka, Feb. 25, 2015:

Today marks the third day in ISIS’ latest offensive against a string of Christian towns and villages in northeast Syria. According to Aziz Mirza, with the Syriac Cultural Association, speaking from Qamishli by phone today, ISIS is continuing to push forward in trying to take control of this predominantly Assyrian Christian region.

Mirza said an estimated 350-400 people are missing from 12 different villages, but it has been very difficult to confirm those numbers because all cell phones appear to be confiscated. When relatives have tried calling, members of ISIS answer the phones, Mirza said.

Kurdish and Christian fighters have been working together for the past year and half to protect this area from ISIS. The Christian fighters, who operate as the Syriac Military Council, had forces in 3 villages: Tel Hormizd, at the southern end of the Khabur valley, Tel Shamiram, at the northern end, and Tel Tawil on the northeast flank. The SMC and Kurdish (YPG) forces had been there since Feb 7, but with the pre-dawn attack that was launched on February 23rd, ISIS has now retaken control. So far, the Syriac Military Council has lost four fighters with another 12 deaths suspected but not yet confirmed.

ISIS is currently focusing its efforts on the town of Tel Tamar, which is the regional center. Yesterday, ISIS set off three car bombs just outside the barricades protecting Tel Tamar, near where the Syriac Military Council forces and Kurdish forces are headquartered. There were no casualties. Mirza also said that fighting ebbed somewhat on Tuesday because of heavy rains, but today, February 25, it was back at full force.

In a separate phone call, Sewerios Malke from the Syriac Military Council confirmed that ISIS is still trying to take control of the region and that they are trying to cross the Khabur river. The Kurdish and Syriac forces have been able to hold them back so far but it is uncertain how much longer that can last. He estimates the number of ISIS fighters at several thousand.

According to a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release, U.S. and coalition military forces have carried out airstrikes in the Khabur River region where this fighting is going on. Between 8 a.m. yesterday (Feb 24) and 8 a.m. today (Feb 25), local time, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted nine airstrikes in Syria:

  • Near Hasakah, three airstrikes struck an ISIL vehicle.
  • Near Kobani, six airstrikes struck three ISIL tactical units, an ISIL fighting position and destroyed six ISIL fighting positions.
AINA Media

AINA Media

However, both Malke and Mirza asserted that there were no airstrikes in the Khabur region, only further south, 22 kilometers below Qamishli. The stark contrast between the stories of hundreds or even thousands of ISIS fighters attacking villages, taking as many as 400 hostages, and three U.S. airstrikes in the same region that struck only one vehicle, suggests the U.S. may be missing the target.

Some have argued that without troops, or at least advisors, on the ground, there is insufficient intelligence to guide airstrikes. In addition, representatives of the Syriac forces have been making the case in Washington for the past several years that their location in Syria made them particularly vulnerable to attack by ISIS and they could be key players in the fight against ISIS. They were therefore lobbying to be included in the equipping and training of opposition forces in Syria. The State Department has confirmed that the Syriac forces were not included in the first round of training.

Katie Gorka is the president of the Council on Global Security. @katharinegorka.

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