The Baathist Phoenix

iraq-al-douri-450x253Frontpage, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, April 23, 2015:

1]The alleged killing on Friday of a former henchman of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by Shiite militiamen loyal to Iran could have far reaching consequences for the United States.

was one of a handful of survivors from Saddam’s inner circle. Labelled the King of Clubs in the famous deck of cards that guided U.S. capture efforts after the 2003 liberation of Iraq, ad-Douri evaded traps a sand fly.

Three times he was pronounced dead. Three times he returned to give video-taped speeches and make public appearances, leading an insurgency against the United States and, more recently, against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Ad-Duri supporters tell me that he has done so again – although pro-Iranian militiamen claim to have conducted DNA sampling on the beard of the man they killed in a raid on Friday andproclaimed it [2] to be ad-Duri.

Why is ad-Duri’s fate so important?

Because as new documents uncovered by Der Spiegel show [3], it was ad-Duri’s Baathists who provided the military know-how, strategic thinking, and intimate knowledge of Iraqi society that allowed the Islamic State to stage its dramatic takeover of a large swathe of Iraqi territory last year.

They also provided a vast pool of manpower from the former Iraqi army that, in a monumental strategic blunder, former U.S. Viceroy Paul “Jerry” Bremer cashiered without pay just days after arriving in Baghdad in May 2003.

The unholy alliance between mostly secular Baathists and the Islamist thugs of al Qaeda in Iraq – now known as the Islamic State, or Daesh – has presented the greatest challenge to the U.S. and Iranian-backed government in Baghdad since the surge in 2007-2008.

Unlike that time, there are not 130,000 U.S. troops on the ground to combat them. This time, it is the Iranians who are providing boots on the ground, led by the commander of the Quds Force – Iran’s equivalent of the Special Forces – Major General Qassem Suleymani.

And that’s where ad-Duri becomes even more important.

Sources close to the Baathist leader tell me that ad-Duri has broken with Daesh, and is seeking to lead the growing Baathists forces into some form of détente with the United States, to counter Iran’s growing influence in his country and the region.

They are calling themselves the Iraqi Forces Coalition, and have issued a manifesto [4] proclaiming their goal of driving a wedge between Iran and the Islamic State.

The group includes moderate Islamic groups in Iran and represents major Sunni and Shiite tribes.

When representatives of the new Coalition first broached the idea of a split with Daesh to CIA contacts last year, no one took them seriously. So they staged a dramatic show of force. As Islamic State forces seized Mosul and began targeting Kurdish forces in the north, the Baathist Coalition launched rockets [5]against the most heavily guarded site outside the Green Zone: Baghdad International Airport.

“We reached the airport with military vehicles and shut it down for one hour. And then we left,” a source close to the Coalition leadership told me.

The U.S. and the Baghdad government attributed the attack to Daesh. “But they knew it wasn’t Daesh. They knew it was carried out by professional military people,” the source said.

A large number of the Daesh fighters in Iraq are former al Qaeda fighters who have been trained and equipped by Iran.

For years, Iran has claimed it was “detaining” al Qaeda fighters who fled to Iran from Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America.

Iran’s support for al Qaeda is one of the deep dirty secrets of an Iranian regime that operates in many ways like the former Soviet Union: lighting fires around the region, then offering its services to put them out.

The United States Treasury Department ultimately exposed [6] Iran’s sponsorship of al Qaeda in a series of press releases identifying al Qaeda’s clandestine financial networks based in Iran.

In December 2011, a U.S. federal court judge ruled that Iran was behind the 9/11 attacks [7] and that the Iranian government had provided extensive material support for the hijackers and to al Qaeda in general.

Ad-Duri and his supporters – Sunni and Shia alike – are fighting to staunch the spread of Iranian influence, first in Iraq, then across the region.

Where are America’s strategic interests? The Obama administration appears to be conflicted.

As White House press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted on Tuesday, the U.S. has an interest in preventing Iran from arming Houthi rebels in Yemen and has dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Teddy Roosevelt to waters off the Yemeni coast to potentially intercept Iranian weapons shipments.

And yet, the United States appears to sit back and allow Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi hand his country over to Iranian-backed militias, such as those who claimed to have killed ad-Duri on Friday, and to their commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleymani.

That is where ad-Duri comes in. Can the former Baathist and the non-sectarian Coalition he has formed provide a viable alternative to Iranian control of Iraq and the Persian Gulf region?

“We are not pretending to be your friends,” a source close to the Coalition leadership told me. “But we are not your enemies. The Iranians are our enemies. And they are your enemies.”

If only the President of the United States understood affairs so clearly.

Also see:

What Ex-Baathists Within IS Do and Don’t Signify

CSP, by Kyle Shideler, April 20, 2015:

The interwebs are abuzz with discussion over the significance of Der Spiegel’s scoop regarding the role of Former Iraqi military intelligence officer Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi (AKA Haji Bakr), and what is reported to be pages of documents showing the plan Haji Bakr put together for Islamic State operations in Syria and the establishment of an IS intelligence service which involved both conducting Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) for IS fighters, including infiltrating fighters and gathering intelligence on likely resisters, and establishing a counterintelligence function within the group’s fighters.

Haji Bakr's plan

This is all good information, and does much to explain how Islamic State operates on a tactical level, and so for that reason the journalists at Der Spiegel should be applauded for their work. It also helps to explain how Islamic State has relied on Ex-Baathists with military and intelligence experience to provide the high degree of technical expertise the Islamic State has generated thus far.

However, the article drastically oversells the importance of the Baathists within the Islamic State’s hierarchy, treating Caliph AbuBakr AlBaghdadi, and the tens of thousands who have flocked to Islamic State’s banner as merely pawns of a clever Iraqi intelligence con game:

But apocalyptic visions alone are not enough to capture cities and take over countries. Terrorists don’t establish countries. And a criminal cartel is unlikely to generate enthusiasm among supporters around the world, who are willing to give up their lives to travel to the “Caliphate” and potentially their deaths.

IS has little in common with predecessors like al-Qaida aside from its jihadist label. There is essentially nothing religious in its actions, its strategic planning, its unscrupulous changing of alliances and its precisely implemented propaganda narratives. Faith, even in its most extreme form, is just one of many means to an end. Islamic State’s only constant maxim is the expansion of power at any price.

As the Center for Security Policy has noted repeatedly, the reality is that much of Islamic State’s behavior IS explained by examining matters of Islamic Law, as they related to jihad violence, relations with non-Muslims, Islamic State’s extortion of Christians and tax collection from Muslims (Jizya and Zakat), it’s treatment of women captives, etc.

Simply put, The “Islamic State as puppet for Ex-Baathists” theory fails to properly explain a whole host of Islamic State behaviors, which CAN be understood within the context of an Islamic terrorist organization, with roots in Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood with an end goal of reestablishing the Caliphate globally.

“The Ex-Baathist theory” does not explain, for example, the amount of time and effort expended by the group in its feud with Al Qaeda, including its efforts to “pick off” groups formerly linked to Al-Qaeda. Accepting the oath of loyalty from Boko Haram, and urging jihadists to travel to West Africa to fight, does nothing for Saddam Hussein’s former military commanders whose goals are presumably Iraq-focused. Neither does IS’ efforts to supplant the Taliban in the AF/PAK region with a “Khorasan Province.”

It does not explain the insistence on burning a Jordanian pilot, or beheading Coptic Christians in Libya, when those acts have clearly drawn more support for efforts to defeat them and could easily have been avoided. It doesn’t explain Islamic State’s infighting with Ex-Baathists within the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi order (JRTN), against which Islamic State conducted a purge in early April. It does not explain how Islamic State’s efforts at establishing the Caliphate with Iraq as the centerpiece actual precedes the supposed Iraqi mastermind.

This new cache of documents is worth considering for all they can tell us about HOW the Islamic State is able to do what it does. It would be a drastic mistake to think that they unlock any clues as to the WHY of Islamic State.

Chairman of Joint Chiefs Downplays Ramadi Potentially Falling to ISIS

Displaced Sunni people, who fled the violence in the city of Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad, April 17, 2015. REUTERS/STRINGER

Displaced Sunni people, who fled the violence in the city of Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad, April 17, 2015.
REUTERS/STRINGER

CSP, by Aaron Kliegman, April 17, 2015:

Islamic State (ISIS) is currently launching an assault on the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. After gaining control of areas to the city’s north, taking villages to the city’s east, and already holding ground to its south, ISIS fought Iraqi security forces to Ramadi’s west on Friday in an attempt to surround the provincial capital.

Thousands of residents are fleeing the area as local leaders warn the city will fall unless they receive help. Specifically, people like Faleh Essawi, deputy chief of the Anbar provincial council, are pleading for more air support from the U.S.-led coalition and more assistance from Baghdad. While another council member, Farhan Mohammed, says Ramadi will survive, he expressed frustration at Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his government’s lack of seriousness in countering ISIS in Anbar.

Another provincial council member, Athal al-Fahdawi, asserted that Ramadi is in “great danger” and said ISIS suicide bombers have been targeting government buildings and checkpoints in the city. U.S. defense officials also believe Ramadi could soon fall to ISIS, a change from earlier this week when many from the Pentagon said this possibility was less likely.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, played down the importance of Ramadi at a Pentagon news conference, going so far as saying, “The city itself is not symbolic in any way.” He elaborated, “It’s not been declared part of the caliphate on one hand, or central to the future of Iraq” and emphasized the city’s fall would not be a strategic defeat, is not central to U.S. aims in defeating ISIS, and would not expose weaknesses in current U.S. policy.

Ramadi, however, is important in the war against ISIS, and while a loss there would not end the Iraqis’ campaign in Anbar, it would have moral and strategic implications for both the U.S. and the region.

Ramadi was a major center of conflict during the Iraq War where several Americas fought and lost their lives. Al-Qaeda in Iraq – the precursor to ISIS – had, by the summer of 2006, declared Ramadi the capital of their caliphate. The U.S. had to launch a difficult offensive to retake the city, which cost great blood and treasure. Losing Ramadi to ISIS after the U.S. fought so hard for it would be a significant symbolic loss.

Furthermore, the Iraqi military moved into Anbar this week with a wave of confidence after driving ISIS out of Tikrit, albeit with help from Iranian-supported/directed Shia militias. Success in Anbar would keep momentum going forward and show the Iraqis have taken the upper hand from ISIS. Meanwhile, ISIS is looking to make up for its loss in Tikrit by gaining ground in Anbar, and success in this endeavor would affect morale for both sides.

Ramadi is also important as the capital of Iraq’s largest governorate (Anbar Province), only 70 miles west of Baghdad. Beyond being a relatively prominent city close to the country’s capital, its location in Anbar has significant implications for the security environment.

Anbar is known as the Sunni heartland of Iraq. Therefore, its population is more likely to be sympathetic to ISIS – which is fervently anti-Shia – than other parts of the country. ISIS is already entrenched in parts of Anbar, and many Sunni tribes in the area are reluctant, if not refusing, to help Iraqi forces. Several of these Sunni tribesmen are also experienced fighters who received insurgency training from 2003 to 2008. As a result, it will be difficult for the Iraqis to drive ISIS out of Anbar, especially if Ramadi falls.

Because Anbar is predominately Sunni, the Shia militias fighting ISIS will need to play less of a role in this offensive. Strong Shia action will enflame sectarian violence and perpetuate further chaos, which will only help ISIS. The Iraqi military may have to fight in Anbar alone, making any defeats all the more demoralizing for them.

While the fall of Ramadi would not drastically alter the situation on the ground, it would still be significant and have foreboding implications going forward. The city is part of the caliphate because ISIS views the entire region as its rightful empire. Therefore, the jihadist group will continue to try and expand, committing atrocities along the way, until met with countervailing force.

Also see:

Blown to kingdom come: Incredible footage shows ISIS suicide bomber’s car explode in MID-AIR

Explodes like a firework: The car erupts in a ball of flames either due to the explosives or fuel tank igniting

Explodes like a firework: The car erupts in a ball of flames either due to the explosives or fuel tank igniting

Jihadi tried to launch attack on Kurdish Peshmerga forces near Kirkuk, Iraq

Daily Mail, By SIMON TOMLINSON, April 14, 2015:

This is the incredible moment a car being driven by an ISIS suicide bomber detonates mid-air seconds after it is blasted skywards by an explosion on the ground.

Video shows the jihadi attempting to launch an attack on Kurdish Peshmerga forces, reportedly near Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

But as the car approaches, it hits what appears to be a roadside bomb, catapulting the vehicle at least 100ft into the air.

Just as it begins to fall back down to earth, the car detonates like a firework, either due to the explosives on board or the fuel tank igniting.

What’s left of the car is then seen dropping back down into the massive cloud of smoke that has billowed up from the ground.  

The footage is the latest in a string of videos released by Kurdish forces which show ISIS launching bungled attacks in Iraq.

Compilation clips released on YouTube also show militants being killed or injured by back-firing mortars, malfunctioning machine guns and misfiring rockets.

It comes as Iraq’s prime minister said his country needs greater support from the international coalition so it can ‘finish’ the Islamic State.

Haider al-Abadi said the ‘marked increase’ in airstrikes, weapons deliveries and training has helped roll back the extremists, but that more is required to eliminate the group once and for all.

‘We want to see more,’ al-Abadi told journalists yesterday as he boarded a flight to Washington where he will meet with Barack Obama as part of his first official visit to the U.S. as prime minister.

‘We can finish Daesh… and we can stop their advance in other countries,’ he added, using the group’s Arabic acronym.

‘We are the only country with armed forces on the ground fighting Daesh. We need all the support of the world.’

The U.S. and its coalition allies have carried out nearly 2,000 strikes in Iraq since its campaign began in August – as well as nearly 1,400 in neighboring Syria.

American officials say the campaign has been somewhat successful, though it is likely to stretch on for years.

In November, Obama authorised the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, which could more than double the total number of U.S. forces to 3,100.

The Pentagon has made a spending request to Congress of $1.6 billion, focusing on training and arming Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Iraqi Forces Struggle to Counter ISIS in Anbar Province

Security officials said Ramadi was deserted but still firmly in the hands of government forces http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32333630

Security officials said Ramadi was deserted but still firmly in the hands of government forces http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32333630

CSP, by Aaron Kliegman, April 15, 2015:

According to local leaders on the ground, Islamic State (ISIS) may be hours away from overtaking the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. Falih Essawi, the deputy leader of the Anbar Provincial Council, told CNN that government forces need help from Iraq’s government in Baghdad and the U.S.-led air coalition to save the city.

Anbar Province’s security deputy, Aziz Khalaf al-Tarmouz, echoed Essawi’s plea for help, stating, “Our security and tribal forces need more military consolidation and urgency,” asking “for airstrikes from the international coalition and Iraqi forces to support security teams there.”

Fighting and calls for help in Anbar coincide with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s trip on Tuesday to Washington, DC to meet with President Barack Obama. Al-Abadi asked for greater U.S. and international support in fighting ISIS, referring to airstrikes as well as money, supplies – especially tanks – and advisors. While Obama pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid for displaced peoples, he did not mention military support.

ISIS has already captured three villages – Sjariyah, Albu-Ghanim, and Soufiya – near Ramadi to the east, causing several residents to flee amid intense fighting between Iraqi troops and the jihadists. This advancement comes after ISIS gained control of areas north of Ramadi this past weekend. ISIS already holds ground to the south, only leaving the west, which Essawi asserts is being threatened. An Iraqi intelligence official backed this point saying ISIS is planning an attack from the west.

Fighting in Ramadi, a city only 70 miles west of Baghdad, comes after al-Abadi announcedlast week an offensive into Anbar, the country’s largest governorate, to counter ISIS forces who wield great control in many parts. The campaign follows the Iraqi military’s victory in Tikrit and is in part meant to keep the momentum going. Conversely, ISIS wants to make up for its defeat in Tikrit with aggressive gains in Anbar.

Anbar is Iraq’s Sunni heartland, and its high Sunni population may have significant effects on the fighting to come. ISIS targets Shiites to a greater extent than other Sunni terror groups like al-Qaeda and uses such sectarian tensions and violence to attract Sunnis to its cause. While Iranian-backed Shiite militias have helped Iraqi forces, including in Tikrit, and at least some Iraqi politicians and military men welcome the help, especially al-Abadi, the presence of Shia militias will likely worsen the government’s position in Anbar. Therefore, the Iraqi military may have to fight in Anbar on its own.

Some experts believe Anbar will be quite difficult to free from ISIS’s grasp, in large part due to many Sunni tribes’ reluctance, if not refusal, to fight with government forces against ISIS. The aforementioned Sunni-Shia dynamics play a large role in their calculations. ISIS is also entrenched in some parts of Anbar with experienced insurgents and fighters throughout the province.

Another area of conflict beyond Anbar is Basiji, a city in northern Iraq, home to the country’s largest oil refinery. Some Iraqi officials, however, believe that ISIS is attacking Basiji to distract Iraqi forces from Anbar. While Anbar is now the main source of fighting, Basiji is another place to watch going forward, especially given its oil facilities. Selling oil has been a major source of funding for ISIS.

After a victory in Tikrit, Iraqi forces appeared to be feeling confident, but fighting in Anbar is a rude awakening that the situation in Iraq is still dire. Despite the Tikrit setback, ISIS is aggressively seeking territory, showing few signs of weakening and no indication of giving up. Wednesday’s events in Ramadi show ISIS’s efforts to repair their reputation in a big way in an area of strategic importance. The Iraqis want more U.S. airstrikes and equipment to counter this aggression, and it would be wise to give them what they want. Otherwise, in the words of Essawi, “Just Allah knows if we will survive this.”

GOI Begins Prepping For OPs in Bayji, Hawijah and Mosul While Tikrit Remains Unsecured

April 15, 2015 / /

Last week we got a good taste of how contrary to the Government of Iraq’s (GOI) claims, the city of Tikrit has not been secured. This was demonstrated in an attack launched by the Islamic State (IS) in al-Dajil along the lines of communication (LOC) and inside the city itself. This was further highlighted in the heavy fighting that occurred on 13 APR 15 near the Ajil oil field that reportedly resulted in the death of of IS governor of al-Hajaj and the Albu Tema-area known as “Abu Maria.” His deputy is also reported to have been killed in the battle. IS has shifted to increasing attacks on the LOCs and conducting complex attacks on Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Shia proxy forces throughout the city, which has kept the pro-government forces off-balanced and unable to transition to maintaining security in the city – which still remains in chaos. This also keeps the government forces from being able to move on to targeting Bayji, Hawijah, the Zaab Triangle – and ultimately Mosul.

ISIS launches attack on al-Dajil, south of Tikrit
http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/isis-launches-attack-al-dajil-south-tikrit/

ISIS Leader Abu Maria Killed By Iraqi Forces In Tikrit: Report
http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-leader-abu-maria-killed-iraqi-forces-tikrit-report-1879177

Tikrit Still Not Liberated, ISIS Remains Inside
http://www.ibtimes.com/tikrit-still-not-liberated-isis-remains-inside-1866044

IA Claims to Have “Liberated” Tikrit – Reality Says Different
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=6044

Today’s Middle East: The Burning Fuse of the 21 Century’s “Great Game”
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=6193

shia militia_apr

Shia militia fighters engaging IS in the Tikrit-area
Source: iraqinews.com

Despite the fact that the ISF are nowhere near where they need to be for retaking Tikrit, Bayji Hawijah and the Zaab Triangle, they’re still planning ahead for a push into Mosul. As we’ve stated in previous articles, the Iraqi Army (IA) has been struggling to remain afloat with desertions and combat losses having a significant impact on their manpower – which has led to the rise in prominence of the IRGC-Qods Force and their Shia proxy groups that have been serving as the backbone of the ISF structure for the last 8 months. Although Bayji is an important population center to regain control of, perhaps the most critical piece of real estate that needs to be considered clearing (and HOLDING) first is the Zaab Triangle – of which Hawijah is at the epicenter. This area is a major support hub for bringing in fighters and supplies from Mosul to battlefields in Kirkuk, Tikrit, Samarra, Bayji etc. No Mosul offensive will succeed if this area isn’t retaken and held – otherwise supply convoys will be regularly hit, the offensive will be slowed and ultimately fail as the ISF would be forced to refocus their attention to securing the LOCs.

The problem with securing the Zaab Triangle is that Hawijah itself would require considerable amounts of ISF personnel to secure the city and even more to maintain a hold on the rest of the area going towards Sharqat and Mosul. These manpower requirements and the fact that heavy resistance would be expected from IS and the local Sunnis are the main reasons why the KRG Peshmerga haven’t attempted to retake the area themselves. They absolutely won’t do anything that would require them to redeploy forces from the defense of Kirkuk and leave the city vulnerable – and that’s why there are calls for the IA and Shia militias to join them in a joint-operation. That said, the presence of Shia militia personnel in a heavily-Sunni populated area as the Zaab Triangle – Hawijah in particular – would not go over well considering the large concentration of people who served in the former Saddam regime’s military currently living there.

Peshmerga: No Hawija offensive without Iraqi Army, Shia Militias
http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/090420151

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

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

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

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced additional deployment of 300 Australian Defense Force (ADF) personnel to Iraq to serve in an advise/assist role in the IA’s bid to retake Mosul. These forces will be operating in Northern Iraq to minimize the IRGC-Qods Force influence on the security forces and Shia proxy groups. Unfortunately, these security force personnel and Shia militias aren’t interested in anything Australia or the US have to say or offer – and like their militant Sunni counterparts IS, they’re also targeting us. Our staff has a great deal of respect for PM Abbott and the ADF, but we can’t help but feel that sending these men to Iraq with such a restrictive ROE is a big mistake. Of course there’s the second and third orders of effect with IS-aligned sleeper cells operating in places like Brisbane and Sydney that will likely attempt to launch retaliatory attacks in response to the deployment, but we have full confidence that our Aussie allies will deal with them at the right time as they have over the last few months.

It’s Operation Retake Mosul: Tony Abbott
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/terror/its-operation-retake-mosul-tony-abbott/story-fnpdbcmu-1227304004820

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

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

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

Australia Launches Largest Counter-Terror OP in History Against ISIS
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1819

ISOF and ramazan

With “friends” like this, who needs enemies?
Source: The ISIS Study Group

Our brethren serving in the elite 82nd Airborne Division are now on the ground with a similar role in other places in the country, and they’re running into the same problems. The 82nd, along with the 101st Airborne Division and 10th Mountain Division along with the 173rd and 4/25 Airborne Brigade Combat Teams brigades are considered to be the best conventional units the Army has to offer. Many of the personnel serving in the ranks of these units have done on average 4-5 deployments to either Iraq, Afghanistan or both. This is important since these troops having played a big role in both combat operations and training the IA during the OIF-era. What they’ve been seeing on the ground hasn’t been very encouraging either. The reports we’re getting back – some of which has been echoed in a few media outlets – shows that there has been a complete breakdown in training throughout the IA.

US soldiers, back in Iraq, find security forces in disrepair
http://www.afr.com/news/policy/defence/us-soldiers-back-in-iraq-find-security-forces-in-disrepair-20150414-1ml76y

About 250 Fort Bragg soldiers to deploy to support Iraq operations
http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2014/12/01/about-250-fort-bragg-soldiers-deploy-support-iraq-operations/19741789/

deuce

Paratroopers don’t run from a fight, so IS will face a stiff challenge should they attempt to overrun a base these guys are staying – even as the IA abandons their positions in panic
Source: The ISIS Study Group

The question being asked by Big Army these days is “will more Iraq deployments to train the IA make any difference this time around?” We don’t think it will because the damage has been done – and its irreversible now. Indeed this all could’ve been avoided had we stayed, which would’ve countered the Iranian influence and curbed former-PM Maliki from sacking Sunnis serving in the IA’s officer corps and replacing them with loyalist Shia who lacked the experience and competence that their Sunni counterparts possessed. Coulda, woulda shoulda. Since OIF ended, the IA was pretty much purged of Sunnis and is now comprised of 80% Shia. Where did those Sunni IA troops go? Straight to the ranks of IS. Our brothers in arms serving in Division aren’t surprised by this as we all saw the writing on the wall, but the powers that be in the Beltway don’t value the opinions of those who actually fought and bled there – which is precisely why we’re in this predicament in the first place. So now we’re going to be training a very green force of IA personnel who got their commissions or enlistment into the military through their familial and tribal connections as opposed to meeting any perquisites (believe it or not there are – or were such standards for selection) in preparation for the big Mosul offensive.

obama_buck

This is what happens when we elect a President who only wanted to “end” the war but not necessarily end it – and forget that the enemy will always have a say in such decisions
Source: Liberty Alliance

Compounding the problem is the fact that the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) capabilities and manpower has been significantly degraded brought about by a heavy OP-tempo and the GOI insistence on using them as “front-line infantry troops” instead of the specialized forces that they are. A big reason for this is the fact that they don’t flee their positions like the regular IA troops do – which is a huge red flag. Unlike the conventional forces, ISOF personnel can’t be produced through a four week crash course on basic rifle marksmanship and small-unit tactics. This is why we assess that the inclusion of these new troops won’t be as much of an advantage as the Obama administration claim. Another area where the US and Australia will run into problems is that we’re seen as supporting Iran and its proxies in conducting atrocities against the civilian Sunni population, which is only going to get worse as the fighting in Tikrit rages on and operations commence in Bayji and Hawijah – two locations that IS has also been fortifying. Given the significant presence that the ISF would need to have in Tikrit, Hawijah and Bayji to maintain security in those population centers and LOCs for the the future Mosul offensive, we doubt enough troops will be on hand for the undertaking even with the training program that’s underway. The green troops produced from the program will likely abandon their positions at the first sign of heavy fighting, meaning the Shia militias will be the ones doing most of the heavy lifting. We’d love for everything to go smoothly so that we can get that “happy ending,” but the sad truth is it simply isn’t in the cards. More to follow…

Links to Other Related Articles:

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

Tikrit OP Shows Signs of Falling Apart Despite US Airstrikes
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5887

Qods Force-Led Offensive Hits Wall in Tikrit as IA Gets Overrun in Thar Thar
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5659

IA Preps to Retake Mosul as King’s Rage Continues
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4699

On the Collapse of the IA in Northern Iraq
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=56

The Search for “Moderate Islam”

Goodbye Cruel WorldPhilos Project, by Andrew Harrod, April 8, 2015:

Critical observers should be cautious when presented with the idea of a moderate Islam. While keynote speakers at a recent Washington Institute for Near East Policypresentation asked their audience to believe that this ideal is not only attainable, but already a reality, their articulation of a true Islamic religion of peace fell short of convincing the crowd – and rightly so.

“Fighting for Moderate Islam: Ideas and Activism on the New Front Line” was headlined by The Washington Institute’s David Pollock, who opened the event by explaining that would-be Islamic reformers like Washington Institute colleague Mohammed Dajani are in considerable danger because of their beliefs. Assailants torched Dajani’s car at his Jerusalem home the day his article “A Plea for Moderate Islam” appeared, and this was only one of many threats to the man’s life. Dajani described the about-face he made after witnessing the generous humanity of his “perceived enemy,” Israel, and recounted how ill-received his Saul-to-Paul-like conversion was from his fellow Palestinians.

During his tenure as a professor at Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, Dajani faced accusations of CIA recruitment and the teaching of “American Islam.” Experiences he faced while leading a 2014 student trip to the Nazi death camp memorial at Auschwitz, a topic of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories among majority-Muslim communities, finally forced his resignation.

American Islamic Congress co-founder and executive director Zainab Al-Suwaij said that she is constantly worried about threats similar to Dajani’s – not just abroad, but here at home. Al-Suwaij, the Iraqi granddaughter of a Shiite ayatollah, fled Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship after participating in the 1991 post-Gulf War revolt to overthrow Hussein before establishing her career and family in the United States. Soberly, she said that Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States made her realize that “the terror I had left behind is not always back there.”

Al-Suwaij said that extremism within the American Muslim community is dehumanizing and is “spreading like a cancer – quietly.” She pointed out that this form of jihadism in America has often been masked by moderation since the events of 9/11, giving the false illusion that “we are now in a safer place.”

An attendee at President Barack Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit, Al-Suwaij said that she would have preferred that the event be titled “Countering Radical Islamism,” which was the actual focus of the president’s summit. Although Al-Suwaij said that “Muslims and Islam – their religion – are the first victims of this dangerous ideology,” she was reticent to give specifics about the Islamist backgrounds of groups like theCouncil on American-Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America.

Al-Suwaij said that what she sought most of all was “a voice of moderate Islam” that involved a reinterpretation of Islamic canonical texts. She said that this was not unheard of, but had occurred fairly often in Islamic history – albeit mostly due to pressure from Islamic regimes, not from the Muslim grassroots. She accused groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria of their own kind of brutal revisionism.

In all, Al-Suwaij said that she was optimistic that the social climate within Islamic communities would change for the better. Although extreme groups like ISIS have limited appeal among Muslims, she attributed deficient American Muslim anti-extremism efforts to the widespread desire of those who simply want to live a “normal life” without political fights. After all, many American Muslims simply do not care to air their dirty laundry for the world to see.

Seconding Al-Suwaij’s call for ideological warfare, Dajani said that another “version of Islam” is needed, in the face of groups like the Islamic State. He said that it was wrong for struggles against jihadist threats to consume so much military attention while “soft messages” that can influence Islam get little notice. Hence his assertion that Israel’s anti-terrorism barrier (the “wall”) was ineffective and consumed resources that would be better spent winning Palestinian friendship with development aid. His overgenerous spirit also included former ISIS fighters who were disillusioned when they returned to their home countries. His prescription: “Don’t treat them like criminals; embrace them.”

Dajani’s devil came in his theological details. To promote his vision of Islam, he founded the Wasatia Reconciliation Center, an organization whose name is derived from the Arabic word wasat from Quran 2:143, a word that can mean “middle ground.” Although Dajani said that he seeks to avoid extremes, his online explanatory documents note that, in the “Holy Quran,” wasat also “means justice, righteousness and goodness,” as various English Quran translations indicate. A writer at Islamic Revival argued that wasat “is unrelated to being extreme or moderate,” but requires the Muslim community to “resume the Islamic way of life by re-establishing the true State of Islam.”

Similarly shallow canonical foundations can also be found in Dajani’s rejection of Islamic anti-Semitism. He failed to counter copious instances of Islamic anti-Semitism such as a well-known, infamous canonical saying – or hadith – of Muhammad that predicted a genocidal end-times battle with the Jews. While Dajani called this hadith “fabricated,” Islam scholar Martin Kramer countered by saying its authenticity is “rated triple-A.”

Dajani also cited a hadith that described the Prophet Muhammad’s standing in respect for the funeral bier of a Jew, but more detailed Islamic interpretations explained that the prophet had merely stood for the angels who were receiving that Jew’s soul.

In a later interview, Dajani clarified that he hopes most of all to build “bridges of understanding” between people of various faiths whose values are common among religions. He rejected a “radical school” that believes “Islam has come to correct the other religions, rather than to complement other religions,” even though such correction is standard Islamic dogma. “Taken as a whole, the Quran’s moral message is consistent,” he said, but his evaluation rejects Islam’s abrogation doctrine, under which chronologically later, aggressive Quran verses replace earlier, tolerant passages.

Dajani’s presentation expressed optimism in winning over the Muslim people, but conceded that “people tell me that this is a one-man effort.” He and Al-Suwaij undoubtedly mean well, but Islam’s often violent, intolerant canons present steep theological hurdles to developing an Islam with a human face. Al-Suwaij and Dajani’s well-wishers should look before they make any leap of faith on the basis of an Islamic reform project.

The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants? Saddam Hussein’s.

SaddamWashington Post, by Liz Sly, April 4, 2015:

— When Abu Hamza, a former Syrian rebel, agreed to join the Islamic State, he did so assuming he would become a part of the group’s promised Islamist utopia, which has lured foreign jihadists from around the globe.

Instead, he found himself being supervised by an Iraqi emir and receiving orders from shadowy Iraqis who moved in and out of the battlefield in Syria. When Abu Hamza disagreed with fellow commanders at an Islamic State meeting last year, he said, he was placed under arrest on the orders of a masked Iraqi man who had sat silently through the proceedings, listening and taking notes.

Abu Hamza, who became the group’s ruler in a small community in Syria, never discovered the Iraqis’ real identities, which were cloaked by code names or simply not revealed. All of the men, however, were former Iraqi officers who had served under Saddam Hussein, including the masked man, who had once worked for an Iraqi intelligence agency and now belonged to the Islamic State’s own shadowy security service, he said.

His account, and those of others who have lived with or fought against the Islamic State over the past two years, underscore the pervasive role played by members of Iraq’s former Baathist army in an organization more typically associated with flamboyant foreign jihadists and the gruesome videos in which they star.

Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group.

They have brought to the organization the military expertise and some of the agendas of the former Baathists, as well as the smuggling networks developed to avoid sanctions in the 1990s and which now facilitate the Islamic State’s illicit oil trading.

In Syria, local “emirs” are typically shadowed by a deputy who is Iraqi and makes the real decisions, said Abu Hamza, who fled to Turkey last summer after growing disillusioned with the group. He uses a pseudonym because he fears for his safety.

“All the decision makers are Iraqi, and most of them are former Iraqi officers. The Iraqi officers are in command, and they make the tactics and the battle plans,” he said. “But the Iraqis themselves don’t fight. They put the foreign fighters on the front lines.”

The public profile of the foreign jihadists frequently obscures the Islamic State’s roots in the bloody recent history of Iraq, its brutal excesses as much a symptom as a cause of the country’s woes.

The raw cruelty of Hussein’s Baathist regime, the disbandment of the Iraqi army after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the subsequent insurgency and the marginalization of Sunni Iraqis by the Shiite-dominated government all are intertwined with the Islamic State’s ascent, said Hassan Hassan, a Dubai-based analyst and co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.”

“A lot of people think of the Islamic State as a terrorist group, and it’s not useful,” Hassan said. “It is a terrorist group, but it is more than that. It is a homegrown Iraqi insurgency, and it is organic to Iraq.”

The de-Baathification law promulgated by L.­ Paul Bremer, Iraq’s American ruler in 2003, has long been identified as one of the contributors to the original insurgency. At a stroke, 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi army were barred from government employment, denied pensions — and also allowed to keep their guns.

The U.S. military failed in the early years to recognize the role the disbanded Baathist officers would eventually come to play in the extremist group, eclipsing the foreign fighters whom American officials preferred to blame, said Col. Joel Rayburn, a senior fellow at the National Defense University who served as an adviser to top generals in Iraq and describes the links between Baathists and the Islamic State in his book, “Iraq After America.”

The U.S. military always knew that the former Baathist officers had joined other insurgent groups and were giving tactical support to the Al Qaeda in Iraq affiliate, the precursor to the Islamic State, he said. But American officials didn’t anticipate that they would become not only adjuncts to al-Qaeda, but core members of the jihadist group.

“We might have been able to come up with ways to head off the fusion, the completion of the Iraqization process,” he said. The former officers were probably not reconcilable, “but it was the labeling of them as irrelevant that was the mistake.”

Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, the former officers became more than relevant. They were instrumental in the group’s rebirth from the defeats inflicted on insurgents by the U.S. military, which is now back in Iraq bombing many of the same men it had already fought twice before.

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Shared traits

At first glance, the secularist dogma of Hussein’s tyrannical Baath Party seems at odds with the Islamic State’s harsh interpretation of the Islamic laws it purports to uphold.

But the two creeds broadly overlap in several regards, especially their reliance on fear to secure the submission of the people under the group’s rule. Two decades ago, the elaborate and cruel forms of torture perpetrated by Hussein dominated the discourse about Iraq, much as the Islamic State’s harsh punishments do today.

Like the Islamic State, Hussein’s Baath Party also regarded itself as a transnational movement, forming branches in countries across the Middle East and running training camps for foreign volunteers from across the Arab world.

By the time U.S. troops invaded in 2003, Hussein had begun to tilt toward a more religious approach to governance, making the transition from Baathist to Islamist ideology less improbable for some of the disenfranchised Iraqi officers, said Ahmed S. Hashim, a professor who is researching the ties at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

With the launch of the Iraqi dictator’s Faith Campaign in 1994, strict Islamic precepts were introduced. The words “God is Great” were inscribed on the Iraqi flag. Amputations were decreed for theft. Former Baathist officers recall friends who suddenly stopped drinking, started praying and embraced the deeply conservative form of Islam known as Salafism in the years preceding the U.S. invasion.

In the last two years of Hussein’s rule, a campaign of beheadings, mainly targeting women suspected of prostitution and carried out by his elite Fedayeen unit, killed more than 200 people, human rights groups reported at the time.

Read more

Also see:

UN: Record 25K-Plus Foreigners From 100 Countries Travel to Join ISIS, Al Qaeda

Jake-Bilardi-White-Jihadi-Twitter-640x480

 

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, April 2, 2015:

The number of foreign fighters who have traveled to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al Qaeda in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries has reached a historic level, exceeding 25,000 from over 100 countries, reveals a new U.N. report.

A panel of experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against al Qaeda prepared the report for the U.N. Security Council, which was obtained by The Associated Press and Reuters.

The experts found that Iraq and Syria housed most of the foreign fighters.

An estimated 22,000 foreigners linked to ISIS and al Qaeda are reportedly fighting in Iraq and Syria; nearly 6,500 in Afghanistan, hundreds more in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and about 100 in Somalia.

Moreover, the experts report that foreigners have also joined terrorists in the Sahel countries in North Africa and the Philippines.

Although most of the fighters who traveled to Iraq and Syria joined ISIS, they also linked up with the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front.

Iraq and Syria have become an “international finishing school for extremists,” the experts said.

The worldwide number of foreign terrorist fighters increased by 71 percent between mid-2014 and March 2015, added the panel, noting that the number of countries the fighters come form has also skyrocketed to over 100 today including nations that have never been linked to al Qaeda and other jihadist groups.

In the report, the experts mentioned that the flow of foreign fighters “is higher than it has ever been historically.”

The total number of foreigner fighters has “risen sharply from a few thousand… a decade ago to more than 25,000 today,” the panel said.

“For the thousands of [foreign fighters] who traveled to the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq… they live and work in a veritable ‘international finishing school’ for extremists, as was the case in Afghanistan during the 1990s,” it added.

A “high number” of the foreign fighters are from Tunisia, Morocco, France, and Russia.

However, there has also been an increase in fighters from the Maldives, Finland, Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, and unnamed countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Defeating ISIS could have the unintended consequence of scattering the foreign fighters across the world, the report warned, adding that some may be recruited by criminal networks.

Efforts to deal with the threat posed by the growing number of foreign fighters should focus on preventing the radicalization, recruitment and travel of the prospective fighters, suggested the U.N. report.

U.S. intelligence officials estimate that more than 150 U.S. citizens and residents have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

Why Allying With Iran Helps ISIS

287x203xIslamic_State_IS_insurgents_Anbar_Province_Iraq1Frontpage, by Daniel Greenfield, March 31, 2015:

The Jihad is a machine for generating atrocities.

A new horror is deployed. Then it becomes routine. The horror of one decade, such as suicide bombing, has to be made dirtier and uglier by using women and children, by targeting houses of worship and families, and then finally superseded by the horror of another decade, mass beheadings.

Terrorism is a shock tactic. It only works if you’re horrified by it. If you get bored of ISIS beheading its victims, it will bring out child beheaders. It will set men on fire. Then it will have children set men on fire.

Like an acrobat juggling at a telethon, it’s always looking for ways to top its last trick.

In a crowded market, each Jihadist group has to be ambitious about its atrocities. No matter what horrifying thing an Islamic group did last year or last decade, another group will find a way to top it.

The old group will become the lesser evil. The new group will become the greater evil.

“If Hitler invaded Hell,” Churchill said of the Nazi invasion of the USSR, “I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”

There are a lot of favorable references to the Jihadist devil in Foggy Bottom where the terrible terror groups of yesteryear turn out to be misunderstood moderates who can help us fight this year’s devil. Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism program is tweeting Al Qaeda criticisms of ISIS. Iran and its Hezbollah terrorists no longer show up on the list of terror threats. Instead they’re our new allies.

When Western governments embrace the “lesser evil” doctrine, they ally with terrorists who are not fundamentally any different than the terrorists they are fighting. When ISIS broke through into the media, multiple stories emphasized that it was more extreme than Al Qaeda (despite having once identified as Al Qaeda.) But is a terrorist group that flies planes full of civilians into buildings full of civilians more moderate than a sister group that chops off heads on television? Is ISIS’s sex slavery more extreme than Iran’s practice of raping girls sentenced to death so that they don’t die as virgins?

The distinction between one evil and another is insignificant compared to their overall evil. The search for the lesser evil is really a search for ways to exonerate evil.

The Jihad creates endless greater evils. Today’s greater evil is tomorrow’s lesser evil. If another Jihadist group rises out of Syria that commits worse atrocities than ISIS, will we start thinking of the Islamic State’s rapists and headchoppers as moderates? The behavior of our diplomats suggests that we will.

Experts used the rise of ISIS to urge us to build ties with everyone from Hamas to Hezbollah to the Taliban to head off ISIS in their territories. The new president of Afghanistan is proposing apologies to the Taliban while defining ISIS as beyond the pale. Obama has chosen to turn over Iraq and Syria to Iran and its terrorist groups to fight ISIS.

If the process continues, then the United States will end up allying with terrorist groups to fight ISIS. And all this will accomplish is to make ISIS stronger while morally corrupting and discrediting our own fight against Islamic terrorism.

And if ISIS loses, there will always be a Super-ISIS that will be even worse.

We had few options in WW2, but ISIS is not the Wermacht. We don’t need to frantically scramble to ally with anyone against it; especially when the distinctions between it and our newfound allies are vague.

The Syrian opposition, that we armed and almost fought a war for, consists of Jihadists, many of them allied with Al Qaeda. But the Syrian government which we are now allied with, turned the Iraq War into a nightmare by funneling the suicide bombers across the border that ISIS used to kill American soldiers.

ISIS may be officially at war with the Syrian government, but it’s also selling oil to it, and there have been accusations that there is a secret understanding between Assad and ISIS.

How unlikely is that? Almost as unlikely as a Hitler-Stalin pact.

The Communists and the Nazis were tactically intertwined, despite their official ideological enmities, because they shared many of the same enemies (moderate governments, the rest of Europe) and many of the same goals (seizing territory, radicalizing populations, shattering the European order).

Iran and Sunni terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, cooperate based on similar premises. That was why Al Qaeda could pick up terror tips from Iranian terror groups to prep for September 11. Both Sunni and Shiite Islamic revolutionaries want to topple governments, conquer territory and radicalize populations. Despite their mutual enmity, they share bigger enemies, like America, and bigger goals, destroying the current map of the Middle East and remaking it along completely different lines.

The collapse of the Iraqi military that led to ISIS marching on Baghdad was caused by its Shiite officer corps inserted into place by a sectarian Shiite government. That government was not interested in maintaining the American fantasy of a multicultural democratic Iraq. It wanted to crush the Sunnis and Kurds through a partnership with Iran. The collapse of the Iraqi military endangered its survival, but fulfilled its overall goal of driving recruitment to Shiite militias in Iraq trained and commanded by Iran.

Obama’s avoidance of Iraqi entanglements and panic at the ISIS juggernaut led him to a deal with Iran. The deal effectively gives control of Iraq to its Shiite proxies. The sheiks of the Sunni Awakening were ignored when they came to Washington. The Kurds have trouble getting weapons. Instead they’re going to the Shiite militias. By using ISIS to create a crisis, Iraq’s Shiite leaders forced a US deal with Iran.

ISIS has killed a lot of Shiites, but for Iran taking over Iraq is a small price to pay for losing the pesky ‘not really Shiite’ Alawites of Syria. And it hasn’t actually lost them yet.

Iran’s ideal situation would be an ISIS Caliphate spread across parts of Syria and Iraq that would destabilize the Sunni sphere. Like the Hitler-Stalin pact, such an arrangement could end with the ISIS Hitler stabbing the Iranian Stalin in the back, but ISIS does not actually need to defeat Assad. It is not a nationalist group and doesn’t believe in nations. Its focus is on ruling Sunni territories.

Sunni nations have far more to worry about from ISIS than Iran does. Its advance challenges the bonds that hold their nations together. Its goal is the destruction of the Sunni countries and kingdoms.

That is also Iran’s goal.

Both the USSR and Nazi Germany described Poland as an illegitimate child of Versailles. Iran and the Sunni Islamists likewise view the countries of the Middle East as illegitimate children of Sykes-Picot with Israel standing in for Poland as the infuriating “foreign-created” entity ruled by a “subject” people.

ISIS and Iran want to tear down those old borders and replace them with different allegiances. The USSR and the Nazis elevated ideology and race over the nation state. Iran and ISIS elevate the Islamic religion over the nation state. It’s an appeal that can destroy the Sunni nations that block Iran’s path to power.

The trouble with the “lesser evil” doctrine is that the lesser evil is often allied with the greater evil. Hitler used Stalin to cut off any hope of support for Eastern Europe. Stalin then used Hitler to conquer Eastern Europe. While huge numbers of Russians died, Stalin got what he wanted. And that’s all he cared about.

Shiites are dying, but Iran is getting what it wants from ISIS.

Before we start saying favorable things about the devil, we might want to think about the hell we’re getting into.

Also see:

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:

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.

Obama Whitewashes Iranian Terrorism

Hezbollah-Fighters-300x214Frontpage, March 18, 2015 by Joseph Klein:

The Obama administration is shamelessly whitewashing the Iranian regime’s state sponsorship of global terrorism, no doubt to help soften Iran’s image in preparation for trying to foist a bad nuclear deal on the American people. It also did the same thing for Iran’s jihadist proxy terrorist group, Hezbollah.

The administration’s most recent unclassified version of the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community report published on February 26, 2015, delivered to the US Senate by National Intelligence director James Clapper, conspicuously omitted any reference to the ongoing terrorist threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah. While acknowledging that Iran remains “an ongoing threat to US national interests,” the report noted Iran’s “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.” The report also noted Iran‘s commitment of more resources to the fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State.

In the small section devoted to Yemen, the report made no mention of Iranian support for the Huthi rebels. It simply portrayed Iran as a beneficiary of the Huthis’ rise to power: “Huthi ascendency in Yemen has increased Iran’s influence as well.”

By contrast, in the previous Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community report dated January 29, 2014, Iran and Hezbollah figured prominently under a section entitled “Terrorist Activities Overseas.”

In addition to mentioning the large role played by Iran and Hezbollah in propping up the Assad regime in Syria, which they view as “a key partner in the ‘axis of resistance’ against Israel, the earlier intelligence report said that “Iran and Lebanese Hizballah continue to directly threaten the interests of US allies. Hizballah has increased its global terrorist activity in recent years to a level that we have not seen since the 1990s.”

In the specific section of the January 29, 2014 report devoted to Iran, the report stated: “In the

broader Middle East, Iran will continue to provide arms and other aid to Palestinian groups, Huthi rebels in Yemen, and Shia militants in Bahrain to expand Iranian influence and to counter perceived foreign threats.”

What happened between 2014 and 2015 to merit deleting any association of Iran and Hezbollah with continued global terrorist activity in the most recent intelligence assessment report? Did Iran’s leaders suddenly decide to forswear terrorism and join the family of civilized nations? Obviously not. For example, as Middle East and national security expert Daniel Byman testified on February 11, 2015 before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah continued its terrorist operations in 2014 in far-flung locations:

Iran, often working with Hizballah, has repeatedly tried to use terrorism against an array of Israeli and Western targets and interests, and this pattern has continued in recent years. Recent plots reportedly range from plots against an Israeli shipping company and USAID offices in Nigeria in 2013 to reconnoitering the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, for a possible attack. Hizballah operatives planned an attack in 2014 against Israeli tourists in Bangkok and in October 2014 Hizballah operatives were arrested in Peru for planning attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets there.

With respect to Yemen, Iran’s increased influence in the country was not just a by-product of the “Huthi ascendency,” as the February 2015 intelligence assessment report intimated. Iran’s intervention on behalf of its Shiite allies with arms, training and funding made the Huthi takeover of the Yemen government possible. With Iran also heavily involved in Iraq, the proclamation of an emerging Iranian empire by Ali Younusi, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, rings true, at least as to Iran’s hegemonic intentions. “Iran is an empire once again at last, and its capital is Baghdad,” he declared.

However, the Obama administration is willing to fudge the truth to induce Iran to stay at the negotiating table and make some sort of nuclear arms deal that President Obama can trumpet as a major diplomatic achievement. Anyway, in the Obama administration’s calculations, Iran can’t be all that bad since it now helping to fight those truly evil Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria whom we too are fighting.

Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University and member at the Council of Foreign Relations, postulated a “quid pro quo” arrangement. “Iran helps us with counter-terrorism and we facilitate their nuclear ambitions and cut down on our labelling of them as terrorists,” he was quoted by Newsweek as saying.

The February 2015 intelligence assessment report does not limit its whitewashing of Iran’s malevolent intentions to the subject of terrorism. It turned a blind eye to Iran’s unwillingness to come clean with international inspectors with regard to the military dimensions of its nuclear program.

The February 2015 intelligence assessment report claimed that the temporary agreement in place with Iran, known as the Joint Plan of Action, has “enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities, mainly through improved International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access.”  It ignored the International Atomic Energy Agency’s repeated warnings that Iran has not been cooperating with the IAEA’s inquiry into allegations of Iran’s past nuclear-related military development work.

One would think that unfettered inspections to verify compliance with the terms of any final agreement would be absolutely non-negotiable, especially given Iran’s past record of cheating and defying international inspectors. However, according to a report in the New York Times on March 17th, unnamed officials have indicated that “provisions for extensive verification” are still being negotiated. The other issue where there is reportedly a gap is the timetable for removal of the United Nations sanctions and other sanctions.

The February 2015 intelligence assessment report conceded that Iran has “the ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so,” but refused to take a position on Iran’s probable intentions. “We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” the report stated. “Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them,” the report added.

Iran has remained free to develop or acquire ballistic missiles and the technology to miniaturize nuclear weapons for delivery by Iran’s “preferred method.”  That apparently won’t change with a final deal, since Iran has refused to allow its missile program to be a part of the negotiations. Thus, while the Obama administration is negotiating everything –  the scope of inspections, the number of centrifuges that Iran will be able to keep spinning from the get-go, the timing of sanctions relief and the sunset date after which any significant nuclear restrictions will go away – it is being outmaneuvered by the Iranian negotiators who stick resolutely to their red lines. And, in the process, the Obama administration is providing Iran and its proxy Hezbollah a measure of respectability in the eyes of the world by whitewashing their terrorism records in an official U.S. intelligence assessment document.

***

Dropping Iran and Hezbollah from Threat Assessment a Strategic Error (centerforsecuritypolicy.org)

It is surprising that Iran and Hezbollah were notably omitted from the list of terror threats inthis year’s Worldwide Threat Assessment. The reason for doing so is likely political, tied to negotiation over the Iranian nuclear program and in due to the Obama Administration’s view that Iran has a constructive role to play in the fight against Islamic State. However, both ideas are unsound; Iran can not be trusted, either to surrender its nuclear program nor as an ally against Islamic State.

Many have warned about further Iranian influence in Iraq, and General Petraeus noted to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2007 that Iran was seeking to expand influence over Iraq and challenge American power in the region. Such fears are not unfounded with the fact that Iran is backing most Shia militias in Iraq and the propensity for said militias to engage in brutal acts on Sunni Iraqis for the crime of simply being Sunni. Iranian support for anti-Islamic State actions in Iraq has been considerable, as seen in the retaking of Tikrit. No US support was requested in the operation, and two-thirds of the troops involved in the offensive to retake Tikrit were from Iranian-backed Shia militias. The head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Major General Qasem Soleimani, is personally overseeing operations in Tikrit.

It is quite possible that Iran may itself be encouraging sectarian conflict in Iraq to drive the Iraqi Shia population to support an alliance with Iran to protect them from the Islamic State fundamentalist Sunni threat. This was done during the second Iraq War, when Iran gave weapons and funding to Al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State’s predecessor.

Now, recent reports suggest that terrorist organization Hezbollah will send 800 fighters toIraq in order to participate in a future counterattack against Islamic State in Mosul. Iran has already sent military forces to aid in the battle for Tikrit. Hezbollah’s entry in lieu of further direct Iranian military involvement are concerns from Sunni Arab Iraqis over having further Persian troops in country, and due to the similarity between the terrain of Lebanon with that of northern Iraq. Hezbollah previously had advisors in Iraq, but withdrew them after the Israeli military conducted a strike on a Hezbollah position in the Golan Heights this January.

While ignoring Iranian activity with terrorism, the Worldwide Threat Assessment Report did note that Iran’s nuclear and cyberwarfare programs had become quite advanced, citing the 2012-13 DDOS attacks on the financial sector and noting their recent attempts to develop ICBMs:

We continue to assess that Iran’s overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its civilian goals and give it the ability to build missile – deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so…We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles — along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies — provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer – range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The inclusion of Iran’s nuclear and cyber capabilities, while ignoring their regional strategy of using Islamist proxies and terrorists to advance their interests, which has played so successfully in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, misses the forest for the trees, and provides additional evidence that the Obama administration does not understand the nature of the regime in Tehran.

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