Islamic State Preparing for Loss of Caliphate

ISIS soldiers. (Photo: © Screenshot from video)

ISIS soldiers. (Photo: © Screenshot from video)

Clarion Project,  July 14, 2016:

The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)  is ordering potential recruits to remain in their countries of origin and wait to carry out attacks there, in preparation for the loss of territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

The world’s most notorious terrorist group has been steadily losing territory in Iraq to the Iraqi army, bolstered by Iranian backed Shiite militias, and in Syria to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Western-backed coalition of militia groups dominated by Kurdish YPG forces.

“While we see our core structure in Iraq and Syria under attack, we have been able to expand and have shifted some of our command, media and wealth structure to different countries,” a longtime Islamic State operative told the Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“We do have, every day, people reaching out and telling us they want to come to the caliphate. But we tell them to stay in their countries and rather wait to do something there.”

Islamic State’s supporters will not be deterred by a lack of organizational infrastructure, former CIA head and retired air force general Michael Hayden told the Washington Post.

“Where al-Qaeda was hierarchical and somewhat controlled, these guys are not,” he said. “They have all the energy and unpredictability of a populist movement.”

IHS senior analyst Columb Strack concurred, telling CNN that “as the Islamic State’s caliphate shrinks and it becomes increasingly clear that its governance project is failing, the group is re-prioritizing insurgency.”

“As a result, we unfortunately expect an increase in mass casualty attacks and sabotage of economic infrastructure, across Iraq and Syria, and further afield, including Europe.”

Experts see this trend as already happening. The recent attacks against Saudi Arabia “bear the hallmarks of ISIL” CIA Director John Brennan announced Wednesday.

The Islamic State successfully carried out an attack against the United States in Orlando Florida, when the Pulse gay nightclub was attacked on June 12 by Omar Mateen, and 49 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in recent American history.

Yet there are many more attempts which are prevented by security services. On Sunday July 10 a Virginia man was arrested in a sting operation after helping an FBI informant make videos of landmarks in Washington DC in preparation for an ISIS terrorist attack.

Last year the FBI investigated terrorism in all 50 states.

Signs of Insurrection in Mosul as ISIS Executes Top Commanders

A fighter with Badr Brigades an armed Shiite group under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces loads his rifle as Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces and Sunni tribal fighters, take combat positions outside Fallujah / AP

A fighter with Badr Brigades an armed Shiite group under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces loads his rifle as Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces and Sunni tribal fighters, take combat positions outside Fallujah / AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Douglas Burton, June 27, 2016:

A synchronized attack on ISIS militants by unknown persons in the city of Mosul suggests spreading unrest in the last large city held by ISIS in Iraq.

Local sources in Mosul have told Iraqi media that ISIS terrorists were shot at by unknown men in several areas in Mosul. ISIS has deployed its fighters in the city to find the shooters. This is the largest synchronized attack since ISIS occupied the city in 2014, Daesh Daily reported Friday.

Additionally, a local activist says coalition warplanes bombed an ISIS vehicle on Masaref Street in Mosul, and bombed the location two more times after terrorists gathered there, according to the Syrian news site ARA.

Former Nineveh Province Governor Atheel Al-Nujaifi, who commands the National Mobilization Force of Sunni fighters, confirms that attacks are taking place inside Mosul with increased frequency.

“There was an attack in the Old City of Mosul on Friday. A man threw a hand grenade at Daesh militants. He was captured, executed and his body dragged through the streets behind a truck,” Nujaifi told the Washington Free Beacon by telephone Sunday. Daesh is an alternative name for ISIS.

“In another incident, an ISIS militant was shouting at a local woman who was not wearing her head scarf and an unknown man attacked the Daesh soldier with a knife,” Al-Nujaifi added.

The news site Sumaria reported Friday that Daesh militia are looking for unknown people in Mosul who tore up Daesh posters and pictures of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in different areas in the city. There are also reports of firefights within the ISIS police force as tension mounts and morale for the ISIS soldiers plummets. According to a Friday report by the Iraqi newspaper Mada, seven Daesh terrorists were killed in internal clashes between Daesh’s Islamic rules police, the hisbah, and security members.

Some Iraqi politicians have predicted that an insurrection will break out as the Iraqi army moves closer to liberating Mosul. An MP from Ninewa, Ahmed Al-Jubouri, who also leads an armed group, told an Iraqi newspaper on Wednesday that “People of Mosul are awaiting the start of the Ninewa liberation operations in order to revolt against Daesh.” He also says some of his fighters sneaked into Mosul city to carry out assassinations against ISIS terrorists.

ISIS executed four of its top commanders in a public square in Mosul on Wednesday, according to multiple sources, including Bas News, a Kurdish news site. The commanders reportedly were convicted by a Sharia Court for high treason on June 22nd and hanged in Mosul the same day, according to media reports. The executions follow the hanging or beheading of 21 ISIS commanders since April and the executions of scores of ISIS fighters charged with desertion or collaborating with Iraqi Army agents.

The Mosul incidents happened as major battles were underway in the northwestern tip of Saladin Province 140 miles north of Baghdad. The Iraqi Army’s elite counter-terrorism units are pressing into the city of Shirqat, an ISIS stronghold. They are supported by the 4,000-man 92nd Brigade, an armored unit including tanks and infantry composed of predominately Turkmen volunteers from Tel Afar, according to Dr. Ali Al Bayati of the Turkmen Rescue Foundation.

The Salahuddin Operations commander says his troops destroyed 30 ISIS vehicle bombs. ISIS media reported more than 10 suicide attacks in the Shirqat areas.

Nujaifi says the subjugation of Shirqat, will be followed by a campaign to liberate Qayara, an oilfield town of 80,000 people 60 km south of Mosul. After Qayara is secured, which he estimates should need only a few days, the full force of the Iraqi Army can turn toward Mosul.

“The Iraqi Army wants to capture the airfield at Qayara, much more than the city. But as the Qayara campaign gets underway, Daesh is expected to burn the oil field,” Mr. Nujaifi said.

Mr. Nujaifi says that most of the elite fighters in Mosul, who are foreign nationals, have fled in recent days to the ISIS stronghold in Tel Afar, 30 kilometers west of Mosul.

Ali Sada, editor of Daesh Daily, contributed to this report.

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The Islamic State’s prolific ‘martyrdom’ machine

isis suicide attacksLONG WAR JOURNAL, BY | June 8, 2016:

The Islamic State claims to have executed 489 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq, Syria and Libya during the first five months of 2016. The figure comes from monthly data published by Amaq News Agency, a propaganda arm of the so-called caliphate that releases infographics summarizing the group’s suicide attacks.

Amaq’s most recent infographic (seen on the right) indicates that the jihadists executed 119 “martyrdom operations” in the month of May alone. If Amaq’s figures are accurate, then the Islamic State is launching suicide attacks at a historically high rate.

Earlier this month, for example, the State Department reported that there were 726 “suicide attacks” executed by all perpetrators around the globe in 2015. Therefore, all terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, carried out an average of 61 suicide bombings per month in 2015. The Islamic State nearly doubled that rate in May and has exceeded it by more than 20 attacks each month this year, according to Amaq’s infographics.

The data referenced by Foggy Bottom is compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which maintains an “unclassified event database compiled from information in open-source reports of terrorist attacks.”

According to START’s data, 2015 witnessed a record number of suicide bombings. But 2016 is currently on pace to eclipse that high-water mark.

While Amaq’s claims are difficult to independently verify, the statistics are reasonable given the scale of the Islamic State’s fighting. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men routinely claim credit for simultaneous suicide bombings. The organization is taking on multiple adversaries in every country where it operates, making the use of suicide bombings (one of the jihadists’ most effective tactics) an especially important tool. For instance, the State Department noted that “[o]n average, suicide attacks in 2015 were 4.6 times as lethal as non-suicide attacks.”

A recent video from Al Hayat, another one of the Islamic State’s mouthpieces, trumpeted this “caliphate vs. the world” mentality. In “The Religion of Kufr Is One,” Al Hayat made it clear that Baghdadi’s enterprise is at war with virtually everyone else. The subtitle of the video, “The Islamic State and its methodology dealing with all apostate parties and nations of disbelief,” underscored the degree to which this is the group’s deliberate strategy.

The Islamic State’s prolific use of “martyrs” probably highlights both its strength and weakness. On the one hand, there are likely more people, predominately young men, willing to die for the jihadists’ cause today than ever. (It should also be noted that adolescents and even children have been used in suicide attacks.) On the other hand, most of the organization’s suicide attackers are being dispatched in areas where the “caliphate” is being challenged, including locations that were once under its control.

The Long War Journal assesses that Islamic State is being forced to deploy many of its “martyrs” because its territorial claims are being rolled back in Iraq, Syria and even Libya.

The Long War Journal has tallied the figures provided on Amaq’s infographics from January through May of 2016. The English-language versions of these infographics can be seen below.

The following observations have been culled from Amaq’s statistics.

Most of the Islamic State’s “martyrdom operations,” 303 of the 489 claimed (62 percent), have been carried out inside Iraq. Approximately half of these (152 of 303) have been launched in Anbar province, where the jihadists are engaged in fierce battles with Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias for months. Salahuddin (52 suicide attacks), Nineveh (40), Baghdad (32), and Kirkuk (17) are the next most frequently targeted areas.

The Islamic State launched 175 suicide attacks in Syria (36 percent of the total) during the first five months of the year. Aleppo province (59) was hit most frequently, followed by Hasakah (33), Deir Ezzor (25), Homs (20) and Raqqa (14) provinces. Raqqa is, of course, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. Amaq’s data indicate that 12 of the 14 suicide attacks there this year were carried out in February.

The remaining 11 “martyrdom operations” took place in Libya. Interestingly, Amaq claimed only one suicide attack in Libya from January through April. But the infographic for May shows 10 such bombings. Nine of the 10 have been executed in and around Sirte, the group’s central base of operations in Libya. The Islamic State’s presence in Sirte has been under assault from multiple directions for weeks, with the jihadists losing their grip on some of the neighboring towns and key facilities. Thus, the group is likely attempting to stymie its rivals’ advances with the deployment of its suicide bombers.

Iraqi forces are the most frequent target of the Islamic State’s “martyrdom operations,” as they were hit 279 times from January through May. Bashar al Assad’s regime is the second most frequent target, with the Islamic State’s suicide bombers striking the Syrian government’s forces on 89 occasions. The remaining bombings struck “Kurdish units” (54), the “Syrian opposition” (31 times), the Peshmerga (25), Fajr Libya (10) and General Khalifa Haftar’s fighters in Libya (1).

Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) are used more often than individual bombers strapped with explosives, according to Amaq. The infographics count 301 VBIEDs used in suicide attacks (62 percent of the total) as compared to 184 bombings using explosive belts, jackets and vests. The remaining four are listed as “dual operations.”

Assuming Amaq’s data are accurate, then the Islamic State’s “martyrdom” machine is setting a record pace for suicide operations.

See more

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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Shiite Protesters Supporting Muqtada al-Sadr Storm Baghdad’s Green Zone, Occupy Parliament Building

iraq-green-zone-2016-04-30t141758z.sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE. APRIL 30, 2016:

The government of Iraq teeters on the brink of collapse and a state of emergency has been declared after thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the Green Zone in Baghdad today and occupied the parliament building:

Hundreds of protesters climbed over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone for the first time on Saturday and stormed into parliament, carrying Iraqi flags and chanting against the government.The breach marked a major escalation in the country’s political crisis following months of anti-government protests, sit-ins and demonstrations by supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Green Zone is home to most ministries and foreign embassies and has long been the focus of al-Sadr’s criticism of the government.

Earlier Saturday, al-Sadr accused Iraqi politicians of blocking political reforms aimed at combating corruption and waste. While al-Sadr didn’t call for an escalation to the protests, shortly after his remarks, his supporters began scaling the compound’s walls. A group of young men then pulled down a section of concrete blast walls to cheers from the crowd of thousands gathered in the streets outside.

Various video feeds from inside the Iraqi parliament have been posted:

The Carnegie Endowment has a good overview of the Iraqi political crisis. Sadrist are also blocking the roads to the Baghdad International Airport to prevent Iraqi politicians from fleeing the country:

One U.S. spokesman had to take to Twitter to deny that Iraqi politicians were seeking refuge inside the U.S. Embassy:

Those of us old enough to remember the Iranian Revolution in 1979 can see striking similarities.

Muqtada al-Sadr is no friend of the U.S. and his Iranian-funded Mahdi Army was responsible for the deaths of a number of U.S. soldiers and servicemen in Iraq. Even after the U.S. military departure from Iraq, Sadr has threatened attacks against the U.S. if any type of recognition of Kurdistan or Sunni-controlled areas by the U.S. government were to occur. Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal explains the militias Sadr has under his control:

Sadr controls two militias inside Iraq: the Saraya al Salam, or Peace Companies (often called the Peace Brigades), and the Liwa al Yaom al Mawood, or Promised Day Brigade. Both groups are offshoots of the Mahdi Army, Sadr’s militia that fought US forces in pitched battles in Baghdad and central and southern Iraq between 2004 and 2008. Sadr purportedly disbanded the Mahdi Army in the spring of 2008 after US forces battled the group in Baghdad’s sprawling neighborhood of Sadr City, and created the Promised Day Brigade.

Sadr created the Peace Companies after the Islamic State overran most of northern and central Iraq beginning in June 2014. In February 2015, he purportedly suspended the activities of the two militias, however the groups have been spotted fighting in Iraq since then. Sadr also frequently claimed to have halted the activities of the Mahdi Army during the US occupation, but these ceasefires rarely held.

While Sadr has denied receiving Iranian support, the US military and government consistently stated that his forces have the backing of Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. US military officials called the Iranian-backed militias who battled American forces up until 2011, such as Hezbollah Brigades and Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), the Mahdi Army Special Groups. With the backing of Qods Force, Sadr’s militias maintain the ability to strike US interests in the Gulf region and the Levant.

It bears mentioning that Vice President Joe Biden was just in Baghdad to meet with Prime Minister Al-Abadi two days ago:

The collapse of the Iraqi government or a continuation of the political stalemate will reflect poorly on Barack Obama’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 just prior to his 2012 reelection campaign.

During the 2012 campaign he took credit for the move, but as Iraq continues to devolve under multiple pressure points, including the presence of ISIS in the north and west of the country, he has blamed Iraqi authorities for the American withdrawal.

Also see:

Islamic State Brainwashing Yazidi Boys to Turn on and Kill Their Families

Sipa via AP Images by EDWIN MORA26 Apr 201647

Sipa via AP Images

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, April 26, 2016:

Some Yazidi boys who have been subjected to Islamic State indoctrination are hesitating to escape the jihadist group’s training camps when given the chance, Reuters reports.

“When nine-year-old Murad got the chance to flee from Islamic State — the group that repeatedly raped his mother and slaughtered or enslaved thousands from his Yazidi minority — he hesitated,” notes the report.

“So powerful was the indoctrination during his 20-month captivity in Iraq and Syria that the boy told his mother he wanted to stay at the camp where Islamic State had trained him to kill ‘infidels’, including his own people,” it adds.

Reuters spoke to one of the boys, identified only as Murad, and his mother after they escaped captivity by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.

Murad’s mother reportedly said she struggled to convince her son, who was being prepared for battle along other Yazidi boys, to flee the ISIS training camp where he was being held along with his mother and little brother.

“My son’s brain was changed and most of the kids were saying to their families ‘Go, we will stay’,” the mother told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “Until the last moment before we left, my son was saying ‘I will not come with you’.”

“Yazidi boys appear to be part of broader efforts by Islamic State to create a new generation of fighters loyal to the group’s ideology and inured to its extreme violence,” notes Reuters. “The training often leaves them scarred, even after returning home.”

Murad, his brother, and mother were taken hostage by ISIS when the jihadist group seized their village near the Yazidi Iraqi town of Sinjar in August 2014.

ISIS massacred, raped, and enslaved thousands of Yazidis during that offensive. Members of the Yazidi minority group are considered to be devil-worshippers by the jihadist group.

The United States, which launched airstrikes against ISIS in an effort to save the Yazidis, has determined that the attacks on the minority group amount to genocide.

Many Yazidis have been unable to return to their homeland in and around Sinjar due to the ongoing ISIS threat and the damage to the infrastructure caused by the airstrikes.

“More than a third of the 5,000 Yazidis captured in 2014 have escaped or been smuggled out, but activists say hundreds of boys are still held,” reports Reuters.

“Dressed in a long brown skirt and matching headscarf, the mother described how Murad had finally agreed to escape, allowing people smugglers to spirit the family by a convoluted route to a refugee camp near the northern Iraqi city of Duhok where they are living now,” it adds.

The Yazidi boys were being trained to fight the “infidels,” which Murad’s mother described as Shiite Muslims, the peshmerga forces of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the armed wing of Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“They were teaching the children how to fight and go to war to battle the infidels,” Murad’s mother told Reuters.

The boys were reportedly being dressed in the long robes worn by ISIS members and trained to use guns and knives.

“They were assessing them for how well they had learned to fight. Daesh [ISIS] then showed the families videos of killing. Among them they saw their sons also taking part,” said the mother.

“Islamic State also forced Murad to pray, study the Koran and sit through extremist religious lessons, according to his mother, who said she had been beaten as well as raped by at least 14 men,” reports Reuters.

Other Yazidi boys were subjected to similar treatment.

“They told us, ‘You are Yazidis and you are infidels. We want to convert you to the true religion so you can go to heaven’,” a 16-year-old Yazidi boy told Reuters on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution against his brother and father still held by ISIS.

“Most Yazidis have had to spend small fortunes on smugglers’ costs to rescue loved ones — Murad’s family raised $24,000 to get the three home,” notes Reuters.

Also see:

The Strong Horse is Always Favored

black flag

By Counter Jihad,  April 14, 2016:

Brett Stephens at the Wall Street Journal chides those who excuse terrorist violence from the Islamic world.

There’s a great deal of literature about how young Muslim men—often born in the West to middle-class and not particularly religious households—get turned on to jihad….  It’s a long list.

And in many cases investigators are able to identify an agent of radicalization…. But the influence of the Awlakis of the world can’t fully account for the mind-set of these jihadists. They are also sons of the West—educated in the schools of multiculturalism, reared on the works of Noam Chomsky and perhaps Frantz Fanon, consumers of a news diet heavy with reports of perfidy by American or British or Israeli soldiers. If Islamism is their ideological drug of choice, the political orthodoxies of the modern left are their gateway to it.

Stephens mentions a famous anti-colonial thinker, Chomsky, as a purveyor of the idea that hatred of the West is justified in the Islamic world.  This attitude is not limited to scholars.  It is peddled by public relations firms that are paid by Islamic governments to sell these stories to Western publics.  Burson-Marsteller, called “the PR firm of evil” even by MSNBC, has just crafted a poll designed to push that very point.  Using simplistic language and offering no useful analysis, the poll finds that 90% of Iraqi youth view the United States as an enemy government.

It does not ask why.  It might be because the United States, having brought peace to their land after a brutal civil war, abandoned them to a new spiral of darkness.  President Obama has recently tried to shift the blame for his disastrous Iraq policy onto the shoulders of retiring Central Command leader General Lloyd Austin.  But Austin advised President Obama not to withdraw precipitously from Iraq.  President Obama abandoned Iraq to a renewed chaos.  Had American soldiers remained in the country to stabilize the government, the peace that flourished following the Surge and into 2009 would have continued.

Instead, though, we are told that our ‘occupation’ was the driver of their rage.  “For years, many have argued that Muslims and Arabs, like other humans, don’t appreciate being bombed or occupied,” says Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. “Finally, we have a study to confirm this suspicion.”

That is nonsense.  The Gulf States love America, including Bahrain where we base the US 5th Fleet and Qatar where Central Command’s forward deployed headquarters is located.  Kuwaitis love America in spite of the fact that we base Air Force operations there serving the war in Afghanistan and, yes, Iraq.  Iraqis had mixed feelings about the troops who both were a reminder of national weakness and yet also a guarantor of their country’s stability.  Many did not want us to leave.  “Occupation” isn’t driving the anger at America among the current state of Iraq.

What is driving the anger is the way in which our leadership broke the promises we made, and allowed peace to slip away.  President Obama broke our word and left them to be savaged by the dogs of war.  But peddling the justification has its purpose.  It allows the President to shift the blame for Iraqi anger to his predecessor.  It also teaches the potential jihadist, however, that the West condemns itself and thinks their anger against us is justified.  It suggests to them that we are prepared to submit, because we do not see ourselves as morally worthy to wield the sword.  Weakness provokes.  As a man who knew something about jihad once said, everyone always favors the strong horse.

Also see:

Would Iraqis want help from a country they don’t trust?

iraq

Constitution, by Joe Scudder, April 11, 2016:

Don’t the Iraqis want help in combating ISIS? Many probably do. But watch this news report and notice the anomalies.

Does this seem strange to you? ISIS has invaded Iraq, carved out a portion of its territory, and committed mass atrocities. Yet  has to make a sudden trip to make sure that are going to keep fighting. Why should a politician from thousands of miles away have to go make sure that the Iraqis are willing to fight such an immediate threat? Do they not understand what ISIS is?

No, according to a State Department report, they understand ISIS. ABC News reports,

The Iraqi public, the report says, is “keenly aware of [ISIS’s] true nature” and the polling showed that “nearly all Iraqis have unfavorable views of [ISIS] and oppose its goals and tactics, with no significant variation across religious sects and ethnic groups.”

So they hate ISIS as they should. The problem is that they don’t trust the United States.

Despite the United States spending billions of dollars and spilling American blood in the fight against ISIS, as many as one third of Iraqis believed as recently as last fall that the U.S. “supports terrorism in general or ISIL [ISIS] specifically,” according to a recent U.S. State Department report. Forty percent of the country said the U.S. is purposefully “working to destabilize Iraq and control its natural resources.”

The figures come from State Department polling cited in a State Inspector General report that was published online last week. The report, which used data from October to November 2015, focused on how well the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was implementing the sixth of nine directives from the Obama White House’s strategy to counter ISIS, namely, “Exposing [ISIS’s] True Nature.” While the report found that the embassy was working diligently to counter ISIS’s messaging, mostly with America’s own information about coalition military victories, the White House directive didn’t exactly apply as written.

I’ll leave the accusation about the U.S. wanting to control Iraq’s resources alone. I don’t know that it is true even though I think the Iraqis cannot be blamed for believing it, even if it is false.  What about the U.S. supporting terrorism?

That is exactly what we did in Libya under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Iraqis aren’t being fools. They are simply reading the news.

Consider this recent post from the Ron Paul Institute: “US Delivers 3,000 Tons of Weapons And Ammo To Al-Qaeda & Co in Syria.”

It reads in part,

US and Turkey supported “rebels” took part in the recent attack on Tal al-Eis against Syrian government forces which was launched with three suicide bombs by al-Qaeda in Syria. This was an indisputable breaking of the ceasefire agreement between Russia and the US It is very likely that some of the weapons and ammunition the US delivered in December were used in this attack.

Millions of rifle, machine-gun and mortar shots, thousands of new light and heavy weapons and hundreds of new anti-tank missiles were delivered by the US. Neither Turkey nor Jordan use such weapons of Soviet providence. These weapons are going to Syria where, as has been reported for years by several independent sources, half of them go directly to al-Qaeda.

No wonder the Iraqis don’t want help from us. They think we’re a major source of their problem.

Do we really want the government increasing our taxes and debt to interfere in that part of the world? What has it purchased for us so far?

Joe Scudder is the “nom de plume” (or “nom de guerre”) of a fifty-ish-year-old writer and stroke survivor. He lives in St Louis with his wife and still-at-home children. He has been a freelance writer and occasional political activist since the early nineties. He describes his politics as Tolkienesque.

Hezbollah Brigades vows to attack US forces ‘defending ISIS’ in Iraq

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wave Hezbollah and Lebanese flags in south Lebanon. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wave Hezbollah and Lebanese flags in south Lebanon. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Jerusalem Post, by Maayan Groisman, March 21, 2016:

Hezbollah Brigades fighters in Iraq have threatened to attack the American soldiers stationed in the country, following the decision by the US army to send reinforcements to Iraq to support the international coalition in its fights against ISIS.

In a statement released Sunday, the Iranian-backed organization active in Iraq and in the Syrian civil war, claimed: “the United States increasingly intervenes in Iraq’s issues with its presence in the Iraqi joint operations command.”

While the US army says it is sending reinforcements to Iraq to help the international coalition vanquish ISIS, Hezbollah Brigades’ statement claimed the opposite.

“ISIS, the stepdaughter of the Americans, is taking its last breaths, so the Americans dispatched their ground troops to protect the “clinically dead” body of ISIS,” Hezbollah Brigades’ statement read.

“We have vanquished the American occupation with our quality and quantity in the past and we will continue attacking them, with our resources significantly increased. Iraq’s streets are still filled with the ruins of their vehicles that destroyed our explosive devices, and those injured by their soldiers are still hospitalized.

“The occupation’s coward soldiers should understand that however protective their vehicles are, these vehicles will become an obstacle for them and they will burn to death inside them,” the statement read.

Hezbollah Brigades, known in Arabic as Kata’ib Hezbollah, is not directly affiliated to the Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah. However, according to American forces, the group received training and logistical aid from the Iranian Quds force as well as from Lebanese Hezbollah.

Hezbollah Brigades’ statement comes shortly after Colonel Steve Warren, the Spokesman of the US military operation against ISIS, announced Sunday that a group of Marines will reinforce the existing force in Iraq to support the international coalition’s efforts against ISIS.

On Saturday, an American Marine troop who served at a coalition fire base near Makhmur in northern Iraq was killed after the base came under ISIS rocket fire. Several other Marines were wounded in this ISIS attack.

***

Miller: Did Bush Lie About Iraq?

maxresdefaultThe Daily Wire, by Aaron Bandler, March 8, 2016:
In Prager University’s latest video, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Judith Miller puts to bed the myth that former President George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Miller, who at the time was a reporter for The New York Times, says unequivocally that Bush did not lie. President Bush received intelligence from American and European arms-control experts, intelligence analysts and counterterrorism agents who had also previously provided The New York Times with information on Osama bin Laden and the rise of al-Qaeda.

“The members of the intelligence community with whom I dealt were overwhelmingly reliable, hard-working and honest,” Miller says. “But they were also human, and in the aftermath of 9/11, they were very wary of ever again underestimating a terrorist threat.”

Bipartisan investigations have determined that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that intelligence analysts were pressured to modify their findings to push the Bush administration’s agenda.

“The 2005 commission headed by former Democratic Senator Charles Robb and Republican judge Laurence Silberman called the intelligence community’s estimates on Iraq ‘dead wrong,'” Miller said. “A year earlier, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence denounced such intelligence failures as the product of ‘groupthink’ rooted in a fear of underestimating grave threats to national security in the wake of 9/11.”

In addition, none of the Congressional committees that were briefed on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ever complained of “bias or error.” The intelligence provided to Bush was understandable given dictator Saddam Hussein’s history of using chemical weapons against his own people as well as invading his neighbors, Iran and Kuwait.

There is also no evidence that the Bush administration started the war in Iraq for oil, as they could just purchased it.

While many think that the Iraq War was a bad policy, it was not based on lies.

“They were mistakes, not lies,” concludes Miller.

In Prager University’s latest video, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Judith Miller puts to bed the myth that former President George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Miller, who at the time was a reporter for The New York Times, says unequivocally that Bush did not lie. President Bush received intelligence from American and European arms-control experts, intelligence analysts and counterterrorism agents who had also previously provided The New York Times with information on Osama bin Laden and the rise of al-Qaeda.

“The members of the intelligence community with whom I dealt were overwhelmingly reliable, hard-working and honest,” Miller says. “But they were also human, and in the aftermath of 9/11, they were very wary of ever again underestimating a terrorist threat.”

Bipartisan investigations have determined that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that intelligence analysts were pressured to modify their findings to push the Bush administration’s agenda.

“The 2005 commission headed by former Democratic Senator Charles Robb and Republican judge Laurence Silberman called the intelligence community’s estimates on Iraq ‘dead wrong,'” Miller said. “A year earlier, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence denounced such intelligence failures as the product of ‘groupthink’ rooted in a fear of underestimating grave threats to national security in the wake of 9/11.”

In addition, none of the Congressional committees that were briefed on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ever complained of “bias or error.” The intelligence provided to Bush was understandable given dictator Saddam Hussein’s history of using chemical weapons against his own people as well as invading his neighbors, Iran and Kuwait.

There is also no evidence that the Bush administration started the war in Iraq for oil, as they could just purchased it.

While many think that the Iraq War was a bad policy, it was not based on lies.

“They were mistakes, not lies,” concludes Miller.

David Kilcullen: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror

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Published on Mar 2, 2016 by RUSI

A lecture by Dr David Kilcullen, Chairman, Caerus Associates
In his lecture, Dr Kilcullen gives an unsparingly honest, self-critical analysis of the collapse of western counterterrorism strategy and the subsequent rise of Islamic State. As a soldier, counterterrorism official and Chief Strategist in the US State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, he was one of the original architects of US and allied counterterrorism policy.

Dr Kilcullen contends that the strategy he helped design has failed, and that it has not made us safer and has contributed to new threats, including Islamic State. The most startling part of his analysis is that there may be worse dangers than ISIS incubating in various parts of the world.

Speaker Bio

Dr David Kilcullen is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on counterinsurgency and military strategy. He is the author of The Accidental Guerilla, Counterinsurgency, and Out of the Mountains. He was formerly Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General David Petraeus in Iraq and to the NATO Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He is currently Chairman of Caerus Associates, a Washington-based strategy and design firm, and First Mile Geo, a geospatial analysis firm. He is also a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, studying insurgency and unconventional warfare. He has served in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Also see:

Iraq: The Real Story

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National Review, by Victor Davis Hanson, February 23, 2016:

Donald Trump constantly brings up Iraq to remind voters that Jeb Bush supported his brother’s war, while Trump, alone of the Republican candidates, supposedly opposed it well before it started.

That is a flat-out lie. There is no evidence that Trump opposed the war before the March 20, 2003 invasion. Like most Americans, he supported the invasion and said just that very clearly in interviews. And like most Americans, Trump quickly turned on a once popular intervention — but only when the postwar occupation was beginning to cost too much in blood and treasure. Trump’s serial invocations of the war are good reminders of just how mythical Iraq has now become.

We need to recall a few facts. Bill Clinton bombed Iraq (Operation Desert Fox) on December 16 to 19, 1998, without prior congressional or U.N. approval. As Clinton put it at the time, our armed forces wanted “to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” At the time of Clinton’s warning about Iraq’s WMD capability, George W. Bush was a relatively obscure Texas governor.

Just weeks earlier, Clinton had signed the Iraq Liberation Act into law, after the legislation passed Congress on a House vote of 360 to 38 and the Senate unanimously. The act formally called for the removal of Saddam Hussein, a transition to democracy for Iraq, and a forced end to Saddam’s WMD program. As President Clinton had also warned when signing the act — long before the left-wing construction of neo-con bogeymen and “Bush lied, thousands died” sloganeering — without such an act, Saddam Hussein “will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he’ll use the arsenal.” Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, often voiced warnings about Saddam’s aggression and his possession of deadly stocks of WMD (e.g., “Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face”). Indeed, most felt that the U.S. had been too lax in allowing Saddam to gas the Kurds when it might have prevented such mass murdering.

In October 2002, President Bush asked for the consent of Congress — unlike the Clinton resort to force in the Balkans and the later Obama bombing in Libya, both by executive action — before using arms to reify existing American policy. Both the Senate (with a majority of Democrats voting in favor) and the House overwhelmingly approved 23 writs calling for Saddam’s forced removal. The causes of action included Iraq’s violation of well over a dozen U.N. resolutions, Saddam’s harboring of international terrorists (including those who had tried and failed to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993), his plot to murder former president George H. W. Bush, his violations of no-fly zones, his bounties to suicide bombers on the West Bank, his genocidal policies against the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, and a host of other transgressions. Only a few of the causes of action were directly related to weapons of mass destruction.

Go back and review speeches on the floor of Congress in support of the Bush administration’s using force. Some of the most muscular were the arguments of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid, and Chuck Schumer. Pundits as diverse as Al Franken, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, and Fareed Zakaria all wrote or spoke passionately about the need to remove the genocidal Saddam Hussein. All voiced their humanitarian concerns about finally stopping Saddam’s genocidal wars against the helpless. The New York Times estimated that 1 million had died violently because of Saddam’s governance. And all would soon damn those with whom they once agreed.

No liberal supporters of the war ever alleged that the Bush administration had concocted WMD evidence ex nihilo in Iraq — and for four understandable reasons: one, the Clinton administration and the United Nations had already made the case about Saddam Hussein’s dangerous possession of WMD stockpiles; two, the CIA had briefed congressional leaders in September and October 2002 on WMD independently and autonomously from its White House briefings (a “slam-dunk case”), as CIA Director George Tenet, a Clinton appointee, later reiterated; three, WMD were only a small concern, at least in the congressional authorization for war, which for the most part dealt with Iraq’s support for terrorism in the post–9/11 climate, violation of the U.N. mandates, and serial genocidal violence directed at Iraq’s own people and neighboring countries; and, four, the invasion was initially successful and its results seemed to have justified it.

The WMD issue was largely a postbellum mechanism of blaming conspiracies rather than anyone’s own judgment when violence flared. Did the disappearance of WMD stocks really nullify all 23 congressional writs?

Support for the invasion reached its apex not before the war but directly at its conclusion, when polls in April 2003 revealed approval ratings between 70 and 90 percent, owing to Saddam’s sudden downfall, the relatively rapid end to the fighting, and the avoidance of catastrophic American casualties.

In late April 2003, initial worry about the absence of WMD stockpiles was soon noted — after all, the 2004 presidential primaries were less than a year away — but largely dismissed, given that Congress had sanctioned the war on a variety of grounds that had nothing to do with WMD, and it was not clear where or how known stockpiles had mysteriously disappeared, after their prior demonstrable use by Saddam. (Did Clinton get them all in his 1998 Desert Fox campaign? Did Saddam himself stealthily destroy them? Did he send out false intelligence about them to create deterrence? Or were they moved to Syria — where WMD turned up later during the Obama “red-line” controversy?)

Only as the postwar violence spiked in June and July 2003 did the fallback position arise of having been cajoled by “bogus” intelligence and thus having been “misled” into going along with the “Bush and Cheney” agenda. Had the occupation gone as well as the initial war, missing WMD would have been noted in the context of there having been roughly 20 other writs for going into Iraq.

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Missing Radioactive Material Found Dumped in South Iraq

Radioactive-symbol-jpgNBC, Feb. 21, 2016:

BAGHDAD — A “highly dangerous” radioactive material that went missing in Iraq has been found dumped near a petrol station in the southern town of Zubair, environment ministry spokesman Ameer Ali said on Sunday.

Ali said it had not been damaged and there were no concerns about radiation from the material, the loss of which raised concerns it could be used as a weapon if acquired by ISIS militants.

The material had been stolen in November from a storage facility belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford near the southern city of Basra.

It was not immediately clear how the material ended up in Zubair, around 9 miles southwest of Basra.

“A passer-by found the radioactive device dumped in Zubair and immediately informed security forces which went with a special prevention radiation team and retrieved the device,” said Jabbar al-Saidi, the chief of security panel in Basra provincial council.

Related: Smugglers Tried to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS

“After initial checking I can confirm the device is intact 100 percent and there is absolutely no concern of radiation.”

The material, which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to the document and officials.

The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the IAEA, meaning that if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.

***

CSP’s Kyle Shideler discusses black market for radioactive material, dangers of it’s dissemination and efforts to track such criminal activities:

Also see:

Why is the West So Obsessed with Protecting the Territorial Integrity of Syria and Iraq?

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

American Thinker, by Adam Turner, Feb. 20, 2016:

This week, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond asked, “Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini state in the north-west of Syria?”

sy-mapObviously, the Russians are not committed to the Syrian peace process and want an Alawite state. Their national interest is in keeping their client state, Syria, and the Russian bases within it, in existence. The Russians have little interest in a peace process to create a more democratic — and certainly Sunni Arab (74% of the population) dominated — Syria, where they would probably lose both their client and their bases. The easiest way for the Russians to do this now is to cut off the Alawite portions of the state and thereby create an Alawite majority/plurality state.

The U.S., and the rest of the West, needs to understand what these Russian interests are, and try to make the best of the situation. Thanks to the U.S.’s fecklessness in the region, we have already allowed Russia to take a dominant role in Syria, and there is probably little chance of us pressuring them to leave. Besides, the creation of a separate Alawite nation is not necessarily in opposition to Western interests. The West has long sought to promote peace; boost the number of democratic nations; and also protect minority rights (whether religious, gender, ethnic, or tribal) throughout the Middle East. Some revamped borderlines, including the creation of an Alawite state, may well maximize these Western interests.

Syria was one of the many Middle Eastern states that were created by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Unfortunately, the post-World War I Sykes-Picot lines were drawn solely for the benefit of the colonial powers, and not based on the idea of creating stable, united, and democratic nations. So, the end result of Sykes-Picot has been the creation a Middle East plagued by violence, genocide, and persecution. And with the Obama Administration’s decisions to: 1) pull the U.S. from the region; and 2) favor Islamist Iran, which has long sought to promote instability throughout the rest of the region and thereby boost Iranian power, things have gotten even worse.

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

Dividing Syria into different nations — whether officially or de facto — might help ameliorate the bloody civil war that has (so far) reportedly killed up to 470,000 Syrians and driven millions more into exile. An Alawite state in the west of Syria would satisfy the Russians, but also protect the Alawite and Shia population (13%) from slaughter at the hands of Sunni Islamist groups. (Perhaps an agreement could also be reached with Putin to remove Assad, and replace him with another, less bloodthirsty, Alawite.) An Alawite state could also include Syrian Christians (10%), who mostly live near the Alawites, and also are endangered by the Islamists. A Kurdish state in the north would be positive for the West, since the Syrian Kurds (10%): 1) have proven to be the most effective fighters against ISIS; 2) are largely secular; and 3) have had some success creating a region where other minorities are protected. A Druze state, in a portion of the south where they are a majority, might also be a good idea. The Druze (3%), as a minority, generally do not discriminate against other groups, have faced threats from the Syrian Sunni Islamists, and have long been known as fierce and competent fighters.

Syria’s division would also impact Iraq. The remainder of the Syrian state is Sunni dominated, and should probably be added to the Sunni portions of Iraq to create one state. “This ‘Sunni-stan’ has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiations with the Kurds, to be sure) and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad.” This would also allow the West to “empower viable Sunni leaders, including tribal authorities” to fight against ISIS, in a replay of what happened in Iraq in 2007. Currently the Sunni Arabs who dominate in those regions so fear being controlled by Shia Iraqis, Alawite Syrians or Shia Iranians that they will not oppose Sunni ISIS. Of course, by separating Sunnis and Shias in Iraq and Sunnis from non-Sunnis in Syria, this should also decrease the religious violence and discrimination currently occurring in Syria and Iraq.

If the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq are separated from the rest of Iraq, this will also result in the creation of a separate Kurdish state in the north, since Sunni Iraq is between Iraqi Kurdistan and Shia Iraq. (Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan could also unite as one state). Once again, the West would benefit from a Kurdish state; Iraqi Kurdistan “is a uniquely strong, stable, and democratic house” that generally has a good record of respecting minority rights.

25bolton-blog427Two nations will object to these map changes in Iraq and Syria. Iran wants to maximize its control over the Middle East. But contrary to the belief of President Obama, the U.S. does not have national interests in empowering the Shia Islamist Iran. Turkey would also object. But the concerns of that undemocratic, discriminatory Sunni Islamist regime should be immaterial to the West, especially since the Russians would be happy to stick it to the Turks by backing a Kurdish state.

It is time to redraw the lines in the Middle East to ameliorate violence and promote democracy and human rights. I hope the next U.S. president will have the courage and foresight to do so.

Adam Turner serves as general counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security.

World on red alert as radioactive material stolen from Iraq that ISIS could use to build dirty bomb

Fears: There are concerns the radioactive material could fall into the hands of ISIS AFP/Getty

Fears: There are concerns the radioactive material could fall into the hands of ISIS
AFP/Getty

Mirror, by David Raven, Feb. 17, 2016:

Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year that could be used to make a dirty bomb if acquired by Islamic State.

The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing in November from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra.

It belonged to US oilfield services company Weatherford, a document showed and officials confirmed.

A spokesman for Iraq’s environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns.

A Weatherford spokesman in Iraq declined to comment, and the company’s Houston headquarters did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The material, which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to the document and officials.

An SGS official in Iraq declined to comment and referred Reuters to its Turkish headquarters, which did not respond to phone calls.

The document, dated November 30 and addressed to the ministry’s Centre for Prevention of Radiation, describes “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity belonging to SGS from a depot belonging to Weatherford in the Rafidhia area of Basra province”.

A senior environment ministry official based in Basra, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak publicly, told Reuters the device contained up to 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of Ir-192 “capsules”, a radioactive isotope of iridium also used to treat cancer.

The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the International Atomic Energy Agency, meaning if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.

How harmful exposure can be is determined by a number of factors such as the material’s strength and age, which Reuters could not immediately determine.

The ministry document said it posed a risk of bodily and environmental harm as well as a national security threat.

Also see:

Exclusive: U.S. Allies Now Fighting CIA-Backed Rebels

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Daily Beast, By Nancy A. Youssef, Feb. 12, 2016:
Not long ago, U.S. jets and Shia militias worked together to battle ISIS. Today, those militias are trying to take down American proxies in Syria.

Iraqi militias who once fought ISIS with U.S. help are now working with Russian and Iranian forces to crush American-backed rebels in the strategic Syrian city of Aleppo, two defense officials have told The Daily Beast.

At least three Shia militias involved in successful battles against ISIS in Iraq—the Badr Brigade, Kata’ib Hezbollah, and the League of the Righteous—have acknowledged taking casualties in fighting in south and southeast Aleppo province. U.S. defense officials confirmed to The Daily Beast that they believe “at least one” unit of the Badr Brigade is fighting in southern Aleppo alongside other Iraqi militia groups. Those groups are backed by Russian airpower and Iranian troops—and all of whom are bolstering President Bashar al Assad’s Syrian Arab Army.

Reports on social media say the Iraqi militias in Syria are armed with U.S. tanks and small arms they procured on the Iraqi side of the border. Those reports could not be independently confirmed.

The presence of militias fighting on behalf of Assad—a dictator that the U.S. has pledged to depose—is yet another reminder of the tangled alliances that the United States must thread as it pursues seemingly contradictory policies in its battles against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. In Iraq, these Shia militias were battling on behalf of the U.S.-backed government. In Syria, they are fighting against an American-supported rebel coalition that includes forces armed by the CIA.

In other words: The forces the U.S. once counted on to take back Iraq’s cities are the same ones the Russians now are counting on to get Aleppo back. And those militias are fighting units of the American-backed Free Syrian Army—including the 16th Division, elements of Jaish al Nasr, and Sultan al Murad—according to Nicholas Heras, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.

U.S. officials claim not to be alarmed. “On our list of problems, one Badr brigade in Syria is way down there,” one U.S. official explained.

But the role of the Shia militias continues to be controversial. The militias are backed and funded by Iran—Badr, in fact, was created as a branch of the Iranian military. But in Syria, their role is part of the increasingly effective one-two punch of the Russian/Iranian alliance that has given the Syrian government the upper hand in the battle for Aleppo.

U.S. officials agree that without those Iraqi militias, the Syrian Army would be too weak to hold territory on their own.

It is perhaps because of these dynamics that both Russia and the U.S agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria late Thursday, to begin in one week. Even if Aleppo fell, Assad forces’ hold on the city and the country would be tenuous, at best, and would depend on unending Russian/Iranian support, an unappealing proposition for two states with fragile economies. For the U.S., the deal offered hope for ending uncomfortable alliances that had militias that once served it interests fighting opposition forces it was no longer willing to back militarily.

In the last week, Russia has launched hundreds of punishing, largely indiscriminate strikes in Aleppo. That’s allowed forces loyal to Assad—including the Iraqi militias—to move in and reclaim parts of Aleppo, cutting off the main supply route to the city. According to the Red Cross, at least 50,000 refugees have sought to flee to Turkey since the Russian assault began.

“Without the Russian airstrikes the Shiite militias would not have been as successful,” said Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who studies Shiite militias. At the same time, “It is clear that Iran is routing as many fighters as possible to Syria, particularly on the Aleppo front.”

To make matters worse for the U.S. effort in Syria, among the opposition groups now losing territory in Aleppo are groups once backed by the United States. Unfortunately, those groups are also intermingled with Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and a member of the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. The great irony of Aleppo is that U.S. strikes against the Islamic State have the perverse effect of benefiting al Qaeda.

It was Nusra forces who, in 2013 and 2014, were key in pushing ISIS out of Aleppo.

Today Nusra and its allies now are largely fighting back the Russian/Iranian offensive alone.

The fall of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, would be a major win for Assad supporters and potentially leave Syria with two major rival forces—ISIS and the Assad regime.

In Iraq, the Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, were key to important wins against the Islamic State in Amiri and Tikrit, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s hometown. With the help of U.S. airstrikes, the militias were able to claim those cities from ISIS and end the jihadist group’s land grab across Iraq.

Fighting in Syria is a more lucrative undertaking, however. During the battle for the Iraqi cities of Amerli and Tikrit, militia members earned roughly $720 a month, according to Iraqi government officials. In Syria, the militiamen earn as much as $1,500 a month, Smyth said. The pay increase is a powerful incentive to join the battle—as if the appeal to sectarian loyalty were not enough.

U.S. officials are quick to say that they have never directly coordinated with the militias—small wonder, given that the Badr Brigade, for one, targeted hundreds of American troops in Iraq with Iranian-provided explosively formed projectile bombs, one of that war’s deadliest weapons.

But U.S. officials also acknowledged that the pro-Iranian militias benefited from U.S. airstrikes in Amerli and Tikrit, something the militias themselves refused to acknowledge. Only “weak people like the Iraqi army” wanted U.S. help, Haider al Amiri, the head of the Badr Brigade, said of the battle for Tikrit. He publicly celebrated Iranian support.

Either way, the fall of Amerli and Tikrit last year paved the way for the coalition and Iraqi forces to reclaim the city of Ramadi, the biggest prize to be taken back from ISIS so far. That, in turn, allowed the militias to increase their influence over Iraqi security matters.

The U.S. has been notably silent on the role of its erstwhile Iraqi allies in the ongoing battle in Syria, though it no longer predicts that Russia will become bogged down in the conflict as the Russian airstrikes provide the cover needed for the Iranian-backed forces to advance.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Kurdish forces captured a military base in Aleppo, near the Turkish border.

with additional reporting by Michael Weiss