Islamic State Leader Baghdadi ‘Flees Mosul’ as Iraqi Forces Advance

AP Photo/Militant video, File

Breitbart Jerusalem, March 9, 2017:

(AFP) — Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have abandoned Mosul, leaving local commanders behind to lead the battle against Iraqi forces advancing in the city.

With Iraqi troops making steady progress in their assault to retake Mosul from the jihadists, a US defence official said Baghdadi had fled to avoid being trapped inside.

It was the latest sign that IS is feeling the pressure from twin US-backed offensives that have seen it lose much of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, the defence official said Baghdadi had left Mosul before Iraqi forces seized control of a key road at the beginning of this month, isolating the jihadists in the city.

“He was in Mosul at some point before the offensive…. He left before we isolated Mosul and Tal Afar,” a town to the west, the official said.

“He probably gave broad strategic guidance and has left it to battlefield commanders.”

Baghdadi, who declared IS’s cross-border “caliphate” at a Mosul mosque in 2014, in an audio message in November urged supporters to make a stand in the city rather than “retreating in shame”.

Iraq launched the offensive to retake Mosul — which involves tens of thousands of soldiers, police and allied militia fighters — in October.

After recapturing its eastern side, the forces set their sights on the city’s smaller but more densely populated west.

– ‘Ran away like chickens’ –

In recent days Iraqi forces have retaken a series of neighbourhoods in west Mosul as well as the provincial government headquarters and a museum where IS militants filmed themselves destroying priceless artefacts.

The military said Wednesday they had also taken the infamous Badush prison northwest of Mosul where IS reportedly executed hundreds of people and held captured Yazidi women.

On Thursday Iraqi forces were “combing the city centre area to defuse (bombs in) homes and shops and buildings,” Lieutenant Colonel Abdulamir al-Mohammedawi of Iraq’s elite Rapid Response Division told AFP.

Forces were also “searching for snipers in the city centre,” Mohammedawi said.

The area is located on the edge of Mosul’s Old City, a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced houses that could see some of the toughest fighting of the battle.

“Currently there is no order from the operations command to advance toward the Old City. We will advance when this order is issued,” Mohammedawi said.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under IS rule in Mosul.

Those who did manage to escape the city said the jihadists were growing increasingly desperate.

Abdulrazzaq Ahmed, a 25-year-old civil servant, was seized by jihadist fighters as they retreated from the neighbourhood of Al-Mansur.

“We were used as human shields” said Ahmed, who managed to escape along with hundreds of other civilians to Iraqi police waiting outside the city.

Rayan Mohammed, a frail 18-year-old who was once given 60 lashes for missing prayers, said the jihadists were scrambling in the face of the Iraqi offensive.

“They ran away like chickens,” he said.

– Marines deployed to Syria –

West Mosul is the most heavily populated area under IS control and along with Raqa in Syria the last major urban centres it holds.

In Syria, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been advancing on Raqa. Earlier this week its forces reached the Euphrates River, cutting the main road to the partly IS-held city of Deir Ezzor downstream.

A US official said Wednesday that a Marine Corps artillery battery had been sent into Syria to support the battle for Raqa — joining some 500 American special operations fighters who have been training and assisting the SDF.

The United States has been leading a coalition since mid-2014 carrying out air strikes against the jihadists in both Syria and Iraq.

Elsewhere in Syria, Turkish troops and their rebel allies have pushed south from the Turkish border and driven IS out of the northern town of Al-Bab.

Russian-backed government troops have meanwhile swept eastwards from Syria’s second city Aleppo and seized a swathe of countryside from the jihadists.

The US defence official said IS was now looking beyond the seemingly inevitable losses of Mosul and Raqa.

“I don’t think they have given up on their vision of their caliphate yet,” the official said.

“They… are still making plans to continue to function as a pseudo-state centred in the Euphrates River valley.”

About 15,000 IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, including some 2,500 in Mosul and Tal Afar and as many as 4,000 still in Raqa, the official said.

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Exclusive video: Iraqi forces near Mosul mosque where IS group leader declared ‘caliphate’

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Iraqi army controls main roads out of Mosul, trapping Islamic State

An Iraqi special forces soldier fires a rifle as other soldiers runs across a street during a battle in Mosul, Iraq March 1, 2017 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

An Iraqi special forces soldier fires a rifle as other soldiers runs across a street during a battle in Mosul, Iraq March 1, 2017 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Reuters, by Stephen Kalin, March 1, 2017:

U.S.-backed Iraqi army units on Wednesday took control of the last major road out of western Mosul that had been in Islamic State’s hands, trapping the militants in a shrinking area within the city, a general and residents said.

The army’s 9th Armored Division was within a kilometer of Mosul’s Syria Gate, the city’s northwestern entrance, a general from the unit told Reuters by telephone.

“We effectively control the road, it is in our sight,” he said.

Mosul residents said they had not been able to travel on the highway that starts at the Syria Gate since Tuesday. The road links Mosul to Tal Afar, another Islamic State stronghold 60 km (40 miles) to the west, and then to Syria.

Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on Feb. 19.

If they defeat Islamic State in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 from the city’s grand old Nuri Mosque.

The U.S.-led coalition effort against Islamic State is killing the group’s fighters more quickly than it can replace them, British Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander for the Combined Joint Task Force said.

With more than 45,000 killed by coalition air strikes up to August last year, “their destruction just becomes really a matter of time,” he said on Tuesday in London.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa, Islamic State’s Syria stronghold in neighboring Syria, within six months.

The closing of the westward highway meant that Islamic State are besieged in the city center, said Lt General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi, the deputy commander of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), deployed in the southwestern side.

Units from the elite U.S.-trained division battled incoming sniper and anti-tank fire as they moved eastwards, through Wadi al-Hajar district, and northward, through al-Mansour and al-Shuhada districts where gunfire and explosions could be heard.

These moves would allow the CTS to link up with Rapid Response and Federal Police units deployed by the riverside, and to link up with the 9th Armored Division coming from the west, tightening the noose around the militants.

“Many of them were killed, and for those who are still positioned in the residential neighborhoods, they either pull back or get killed are our forces move forward,” Saidi said.

Two militants lay dead near the field command of the CTS, in the al-Mamoun district which looked like a ghost town. A few hundred meters away, a car bomb was hit by an air strike.

STRAFING FROM ABOVE

The few families who remained in al-Mamoun said they were too scared to leave as the militants had booby-trapped cars.

Women cooked bread over outdoor ovens while men gathered on street corners as helicopters flew overhead strafing suspected militant positions further north

One of two buses parked nearby had its roof shorn off. Residents buried a 60-year-old woman who was killed on Tuesday when she stepped on an explosive device while trying to flee.

Several thousand militants, including many who traveled from Western countries to join up, are believed to be in Mosul among a remaining civilian population estimated at the start of the offensive at 750,000.

They are using mortars, sniper fire, booby traps and suicide car bombs to fight the offensive carried out by a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, regional Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups.

About 26,000 have been displaced from western Mosul, often under militant fire, according to government figures. The United Nations puts at more than 176,000 the total number of people displaced from Mosul since the offensive started in October.

Thousands more streamed out, walking through the desert toward government lines during the day, crossing over a deep trench which appears to have served as an Islamic State defense, some waving white flags.

Among them a boy shot in the leg was limping alongside a cart carrying an older woman, while another was pushed in a wheelchair. Old people asked why there was no cars or buses to pick them up and take them to the displaced people centers.

A man said he spent 11 days hiding in his house with no food, no water and no idea of what was happening outside.

“The archangel of death would have come for us if we stayed any longer,” he said.

Aid agencies put the number of killed and wounded at several thousands, both military and civilians.

Army, police, CTS and Rapid Response units forces attacking Islamic State in western Mosul are backed by air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition, including artillery. U.S. personnel are operating close to the frontlines to direct air strikes.

Federal police and Rapid Response units are several hundred meters only from the city’s’ government buildings.

Taking those buildings would be of symbolic significance in terms of restoring state authority over the city and help Iraqi forces attack militants in the nearby old city center where the al-Nuri Mosque is located.

Military engineers started preparing a pontoon that they plan to put in place by the side of the city’s southernmost bridge, captured on Monday. Air strikes have damaged all of its five bridges.

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Meet Iraq’s hipsters: Incredibly well-groomed Kurdish men launch clothing brand to prove Iraq is not just a country of war and terrorism

Dressed in snappy suits and designer sunglasses, the men from Iraq are using fashion to change the country's reputation

Dressed in snappy suits and designer sunglasses, the men from Iraq are using fashion to change the country’s reputation

  • Synonymous with constant, bloody battles with Islamic State terrorists, the men’s region has been plagued
  • Mr Erbil is a gathering of stylish Kurdish men who are widely regarded as Iraq’s first ever gentlemen’s club 
  • With snappy suits, manicured beards and sharp hairstyles – they are trying to change the way Iraq is perceived
  • The group are also fighting for women’s rights and have recruited an Iraqi popstar to help spread the word 

Daily Mail, by Gareth Davies, Feb. 23, 2017:

A group of well-groomed hipsters are attempting to change the way people perceive Iraq by giving it an injection of style with a new clothing brand.

Usually synonymous with constant and bloody battles with terrorists from Islamic State, their region of Northern Iraq has been plagued by civil war, but the pin-ups want to change that.

Mr Erbil is a gathering of Kurdish men who are widely regarded as Iraq’s first gentleman’s club and have done away with the traditional tatty outfits of the area and replaced them with snappy suits, perfectly-manicured beards and sharp hairstyles.

With around 30 core members and more than 30,000 followers on Instagram, the group is not only trying to make a statement with their clothes, but want to make a political stand too.

Dressed in Western-style suits, the men are attempting to promote cultural diversity, and are fighting for women’s rights.

Three days ago, they invited Dashni Morad – an Iraqi popstar – to fron up their Girls Inspiration campaign.

Along with a picture of the glamorous singer, they said: ‘A very young soul and a Kurdish girl who has dedicated all her time helping refugees, especially the children with the Green Kids campaign, opening two new Libraries for the Syrian and Mosoul displaced children in northern Kurdistan.

‘A brave enough soul to give leadership workshops to the Yazidi women survivors from ISIS.

‘Also known as the female voices of the World, the effort she puts for the humanity love and peace is so impressive

‘Keep up the good work Dashni Khan, you are making us proud.’

Not only is Mr Erbil a political movement, it is also a clothing brand.

The website is currently being built, but on its Facebook page, the company states: ‘We organise local and international – in the near future – trade shows and cultural events to promote the fashion system as the aesthetic expression and evolution of taste.’

The group have garnered a worldwide following with fans from the Middle East, Europe and the US.

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More on Kurdistan region :

The Kurdistan Region in Brief

With a population of 5.2 million and increasing, the four governorates of Erbil, Slemani, Duhok and Halabja cover approximately 40,000 square kilometres – larger than the Netherlands and four times the area of Lebanon. This includes the governorates administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government but does not include areas of Kurdistan outside of KRG administration, such as Kirkuk.

• The Region is geographically diverse, from hot and dry plains to cooler mountainous areas with natural springs and snowfall in the winter.

• Foreign visitors are warmly welcomed. Among the growing number of visitors are international media and business people as well as those returning from the Kurdish Diaspora.

• Not a single coalition soldier died in Kurdistan during the Iraq war, nor has a single foreigner been kidnapped in the areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). With the cooperation of citizens, the Kurdistan Region’s security forces have kept the area safe and stable. Security responsibility was formally transferred from the Multinational Forces to the KRG in May 2007.

• The capital and the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government is Erbil, a city known in Kurdish as Hawler. The Citadel in Erbil is considered the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. The next largest cities are Slemani and Dohuk. Please note that Slemani is the KRG’s official English spelling, but it can also be found with other spellings such as Sulaimani, Suleimani, Sulaimaniyah, and Suleimaniah.

• The Kurdistan Regional Government exercises executive power according to the Kurdistan Region’s laws as enacted by the democratically elected Kurdistan Parliament. The current government, led by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, assumed office in the spring of 2014.

• Iraq’s Constitution recognises the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistan Parliament as the region’s formal institutions and the Peshmerga forces as the Region’s legitimate security guard.

• The current coalition government consists of several political parties that reflect the diversity of the Region’s population, which includes Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Arabs and Kurds living together in harmony.

• More than 65% of destroyed villages have been rebuilt since being razed during the Anfal campaign perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s.

• The Kurdish language is of Indo-European origin and is among the family of Iranian languages, such as Persian and Pashto, and is distinct from Arabic. The two main dialects are Sorani and Kurmanji.

• The Kurdistan Region has 11 public universities and several licensed private universities. Some of them use English as the main language of teaching and examination, most notably the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH) and the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani (AUI-S).

• A new, liberal foreign investment law was ratified in June 2006, providing incentives for foreign investors such as the possibility of owning land, up to ten-year tax holidays, and easy repatriation of profits.

• To rapidly benefit from its oil and gas resources, the KRG has signed dozens of production sharing contracts with companies from 17 countries.

• The Kurdistan Region has international airports in Erbil and Slemani, with direct flights to and from Europe and the Middle East. A new international airport is under construction in Duhok.

Mosul Update: Islamic State Fielding a Serious Defense of the Caliphate

A mix of conventional military and insurgent tactics is making the going tougher than anticipated. The Sunni / Shia split promises to bedevil the hard work that is still to come.

CounterJihad, November 17, 2016:

The Islamic State (ISIS) came out of a union of traditional Islamist radicals from al Qaeda in Iraq with members of Saddam’s military professionals.  In its defense of the city of Mosul, ISIS is showing that its leaders have managed to bring a professional understanding of how to leverage both conventional and insurgent tactics to maximum advantage.  The weight of numbers is against them, but they are fielding effective and vicious tactics to make their enemies pay dearly for their victories.

On the conventional side, CounterJihad has learned that ISIS successfully rendered the Mosul air field unusable for the forces pressing in on the city.  Much of the strategy of the coalition of Iraqi, Iranian, and American forces has been built around capturing outlying areas that can then be used as effective staging grounds for the push into the city proper.  ISIS anticipated this strategy.  Having no use for an airfield itself, it suffers neither long- nor short-term costs for destroying the airport.  We are also hearing that a second nearby airport near Tal Afar has been captured by Iranian-backed Shia militias, but has proven to be heavily mined with IEDs.

ISIS has also deployed snipers to slow the advance of their enemies into these neighborhoods.  Traditionally, snipers can be contested with the use of air strikes or artillery.  ISIS has been raising the cost of that by forcing Mosul civilians to remain in their  homes.  Snipers deployed on top of those homes are then protected, to some degree, by the human shields within.  American air power is less likely to strike a house that is thought to be full of civilians, although doing so is justifiable under the Doctrine of Double Effect.*  Iraqi and Iranian-led forces are less careful about such things, but the tactic does show some limited effectiveness given the reliance on American warplanes for much of the air strike capability.

Another tactic that shows a blend of insurgent and conventional military understanding has been the use of suicide vest attackers to slow military advances.  The Long War Journal reports 79 such attacks in Mosul’s province.  Our sources tell us that there have been such attacks in a “majority” of the sectors of the operation.  The suicide vest is an insurgent tactic, but it is functionally very much like a Hellfire drone strike:  it delivers a similar payload in a similarly accurate way, as if the human wearing the vest were a guided missile.  It is unclear whether the suicide attackers are motivated by a desire for Paradise, or threats to their families.  Either way, it is clear that ISIS has managed to develop a capacity to deliver these attacks on an industrial scale.  It is a tactic that they are using in the place of an air force or similar surgical strike capability.

The campaign is thus proving costly.  The hard part has not started yet, either.  These are fights for staging grounds and outlying areas.  The push into the heavily defended central city is yet to come.

There remains a serious concern with regard to the composition of the forces attacking Mosul, too.  As mentioned, the Iranian-backed Shia militias have been tasked with taking Tal Afar.  It is a city well-known to American veterans of the Iraq war, because it was one of the prototypical models for the new counterinsurgency campaign that would come to be known as the Surge, or the Awakening.  Colonel H. R. McMaster led the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to a stunning victory over al Qaeda in Iraq, one that proved lasting because of his commitment to treating the Sunni population with justice.  The Mayor of Tal Afar visited Fort Carson, later, to personally thank American forces for freeing his city of Islamist terror.

”Are you truly my friends?” he asked through a translator. “Yes. I walk a happier man because you are my friends. You are the world to me. I smell the sweet perfume that emanates from your flower of your strength, honor and greatness in every corner of Tal Afar. The nightmares of terror fled when the lion of your bravery entered our city.”

Deploying these Shia militias to take Tal Afar instead suggests that no similar success will follow.  The Institute for the Study of War reports that both the militias and the formal Iraqi Security Forceshave already been committing war crimes against the Sunni population.  The Shia militias who were turned loose on Saddam’s home town of Tikrit disappeared hundreds while razing the homes of those they decided were personal enemies of Iran.

If this conduct continues, only chaos looms in the future of Ninevah province.  Iran and Iraq will not create a peace in that desert unless they resist a temptation that they seem committed, instead, to sating in full.

* The Doctrine of Double Effect is an important element in Just War Theory, which is the traditional Western philosophical approach to war.  The doctrine itself arose during the Middle Ages as Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas applied Aristotelian reasoning to questions of war, but the roots of Just War Theory are older still.  They lie in the efforts of the Church to try to stem the horrors of the constant warfare that came during the weakening of the Roman Empire, and the chaos that came after the fall of that empire.  The Doctrine of Double Effect speaks to cases, like the bombing of a house hosting a sniper but also an innocent family, in which an act of war can cause significant harm as well as attaining some good.  Thus, there is a double effect:  a good effect, but also a bad effect.

The doctrine proposes a two part test for whether or not the action is justifiable.  The first is that the good to be attained must be proportionate to the harm being done.  While killing one sniper may not seem proportionate to killing a whole family of innocents, the killing of the sniper is part of a campaign to eliminate a regime that licenses Islamist sex-slavery and engages in terrible abuses of innocents.  Thus, the good to be accomplished is arguably proportionate: indeed, eliminating ISIS is arguably a very great good indeed.

The second part is that the act must be discriminate, a technical term that means that the harm being done is neither your end, nor the means to your end.  There is a thought experiment that helps clarify this question:  If, by miracle, the harmful effect was avoided, would you be satisfied with the outcome?  In the current case, assume that an American aircraft bombed the sniper’s location and — by miracle — none of the innocents inside were hurt.  Would we be satisfied with the outcome?  Obviously, we would be delighted if that happened.

Since the thought experiment is satisfied, the act is discriminate.  If it is also proportionate, as it very arguably is, the bombing of the building is a justified act of war.  The death of the family is a tragedy, but the moral fault for it lies on those who elected to use them as human shields, not on the pilot who bombs the building.

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Also see:

Iraqis Push Deeper Into Islamic State’s Mosul Stronghold

Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al Assadi, in a black shirt and purple beret, the commander of Iraqi Special Operations Forces, spoke with a resident of Mosul's Arpachiya neighborhood on Sunday. PHOTO: YAROSLAV TROFIMOV/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al Assadi, in a black shirt and purple beret, the commander of Iraqi Special Operations Forces, spoke with a resident of Mosul’s Arpachiya neighborhood on Sunday. PHOTO: YAROSLAV TROFIMOV/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WSJ, by YAROSLAV TROFIMOV and ALI A. NABHAN, Nov. 13, 2016:

MOSUL, Iraq—Iraqi troops pushed deeper into the country’s second largest city on Sunday, securing densely populated areas as commanders said Islamic State resistance began to buckle.

“The first neighborhoods were the hardest because Daesh desperately fought to retain them. Now, as we go forward, I expect the battle to get easier,” said Brig. Gen. Maan al Saadi, the commander of the 2nd Group of Iraqi Special Operations Forces, which are spearheading the Mosul offensive. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the terrorist group.

“The enemy is collapsing and losing control, and we are now taking only two days to seize a neighborhood where we planned to be fighting for four days,” he said.

In the Arpachiya neighborhood, secured on Saturday, Abed Abu Ahmed marked the first morning free of Islamic State with a shave. The 63-year-old engineer stood outside his home Sunday, small cuts on his chin the only reminder of the beards Islamic State mandated for all adult males.

“We have been counting minutes until the troops arrived here,” he said. “I don’t care if we lose our cars, if we lose our homes, as long as Daesh is gone from here.”

Islamic State has been putting up a fierce fight. Since the campaign began on Oct. 17, the militants have dispatched more than 200 suicide car bombs just against the black-clad Iraqi Special Operations Forces units that are pushing into Mosul from the east, commanders say. Other Iraqi and Kurdish units are advancing from the three other directions.

U.S. special operations forces are also on the ground in Mosul, advising the Iraqi commanders and providing liaison with American warplanes that hover in the skies above the city. At an outpost in eastern Mosul, the U.S. troops could be seen on Sunday launching mortars and firing from a rooftop gun.

What makes this fight especially difficult is that, unlike in past battles to reclaim the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah or Tikrit, Mosul remains packed with civilians. More than 1.5 million people are believed to still reside in the city, the biggest urban area in Iraq or Syria that remains in Islamic State’s hands.

That limits the utility of air power or artillery, which can’t be used to strike densely populated areas without risking harm to civilians, and makes the mission of Iraqi troops particularly hazardous.

“Daesh is taking advantage of civilians as human shields. A family of civilians would be inside the house, and the enemy would be targeting us from its rooftop,” Gen. Saadi said.

The advance of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles had been slowed down by Islamic State’s new approach of strewing the roads with welded antitank obstacles, he added. In response, Iraqi forces have changed their tactics and now send foot patrols that remove these obstacles ahead of the armored columns.

The fear of suicide car bombs, which can’t be easily stopped, means that no civilian cars can be seen on the roads in the parts of Mosul that have been retaken from Islamic State. Those who drive them risk being mistaken for bombers and shot from a distance. The troops also usually block off side streets and alleyways with seized private vehicles, to prevent suicide car bombers from approaching.

With many water and sewage pipes broken during the fighting, streams are coursing down the streets and pooling into small lakes. In some areas, bearded cadavers of killed Islamic State fighters still lie on the ground.

Mosul civilians, when they move to escape the fighting, usually travel on foot, carrying bags with their possessions and waving white flags. In relatively safer areas of eastern Mosul that had been cleared earlier, such as Samah, troops hand out water bottles and Styrofoam trays of rice and beans to the families that approach them.

“When civilians come by we are not allowed to treat them rudely or shout at them. We’re giving them so much water and food that we are running out ourselves,” said soldier Yahya Majid, minutes after disbursing bottled water to a local family in Samah.

In Arpachiya, a middle-class neighborhood of pleasant two-story villas, clearing operations against Islamic State concluded only on Saturday.

Most of Mr. Abu Ahmed’s neighbors got a clean shave on Sunday, too, using razors for the first time in the 2½ years since Islamic State captured the city. “There has been no freedom at all, nothing,” said one neighbor, Ismail Khalil, his voice drowned out by the rattle of gunfire. “Daesh was asking us for help but nobody did that because we all know that the security forces are on the right side.”

On Sunday morning, as Gen. Saadi and Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al Assadi, the overall commander of Iraqi Special Operations Forces, arrived to inspect the battlefield, soldiers waved from a rooftop an upside-down black-and-white Islamic State flag they had captured from the militants.

Islamic State’s positions weren’t far away, just across the road in the Bakr neighborhood. Within minutes of the generals’ arrival the gunfire became so intense that it was difficult to hear a conversation. Shortly thereafter, a car bomb went off a mile or two away, sending a mushroom cloud of black smoke into the sky.

When the shooting died down, Gen. Assadi strolled down the street, greeting local residents who ventured from their front gates, all smiles.

“I recognize you, I have seen you on television,” beamed 70-year-old elder Abbas Mohammed as he greeted Gen. Assadi. “We feel like it is a holiday today.”

“You are our people and our family, our sisters and mothers,” Gen. Assadi said, and immediately asked for help in tracking down Islamic State militants who remain in the area: “We want you to cooperate with us and to guide us to where they are because they have caused you all this pain for two years.”

Islamic State’s members have all fled, Mr. Mohammed assured him. “If there is anyone from Daesh in the neighborhood, we will inform you immediately.”

There most certainly are Islamic State members around, commanders say. In recent days, Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured some 50 wanted Islamic State militants who shaved off their beards and tried to blend in among civilians in eastern Mosul, according to officers.

Asked whether Islamic State left behind sleeper cells ready to strike behind the front lines, Lt. Gen. Munaf Abbas, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service, didn’t hesitate.

“One hundred percent,” he said.

“We can’t know who is an innocent citizen and who still has Daesh ideas in his head.”

Also see:

Baghdadi Tells Would-Be Jihadists to Start Populating Far-Flung ISIS Provinces

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PJ Media, by Bridget Johnson, November 2, 2016:

In his first audio message since December, self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told ISIS fighters who have steadily been losing ground since the start of the 17-day-old offensive on Mosul to hang in there as the coalition massing against them is part of their apocalyptic prophecy.

Baghdadi’s half-hour-long recording, titled “This is What Allah and his Messenger Have Promised Us” and released by ISIS’ Al-Furqan media, did not come with any video. It comes as reports have said the ISIS leader is trapped in Mosul and unable to flee the Iraqi army, while others note that ISIS’ supply pipeline to the west — leading to the Islamic State capital, Raqqa — is still open.

In fact, as Iraqi troops entered Mosul this week to find little resistance so far — and their losses have included an Iraqi jet killing dozens of ISIS commanders strategizing at a hotel swimming pool — Baghdadi reminded followers that Mosul isn’t an Islamic State capital, but a “minaret.”

He tells the “soldiers of the caliphate” to “be patient, stand firm against the U.S. Air Force and allies — they will be defeated.” He admonishes the jihadists to “hold the ground” and “don’t fight among yourselves.” Even though the offensive is led by the Iraqi army and Peshmerga, he frames it as an assault by “crusaders” and Jews.

He tried to stoke sectarian conflict in the offensive that has included Shiite militias.

Baghdadi appealed to Saudi Muslims, saying the caliphate is “your only hope” and calling on them to wage attacks against Saudi leaders, the media and police.

Last week, the State Department evacuated family members of those stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, citing “security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent.” No other diplomatic posts in Turkey were affected and the consulate remains open.

U.S. citizens were warned to “avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the country.”

In his message, Baghdadi noted that Turkey was afraid of being attacked by ISIS — the terror group previously issued warnings to Ankara after the government heeded international calls to crack down on the flow of foreign fighters and supplies crossing the Turkish border — but had now joined “the apostates to fulfill its greediness in Iraq and Syria.” He could have been referring to a controversial map appearing on Turkish TV that showed the country’s borders swallowing Mosul, Aleppo, Irbil and Kirkuk, like in Ottoman times. He also decried Turkey’s participation in the assault on Mosul.

The ISIS leader called on followers to “make it your objective” to “spread fear and terror in Turkey,” and also said they should target Turkish soldiers in Syria as they’re “equivalent to any dog.”

If those wanting to join ISIS can’t make it to Iraq or Syria, he said, they should head to Libya or other ISIS provinces around the globe. Libyan forces, though, have been gradually clearing ISIS’ onetime stronghold of Sirte and are expecting full liberation of the city soon. That has flushed terrorists into the desert.

Baghdadi addresses jihadists in the provinces, including Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Indonesia, Philippines, Sinai, Bangladesh, West Africa and North Africa, as the “base of the caliphate,” and warned that “kuffar [disbelievers] will try to split you.” He tells them to have patience and not be discouraged by the loss of leaders as they can be replaced.

Baghdadi acknowledged the August death of spokesman and Syria commander Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, then added that the caliphate “was not affected” by the loss.

**

General: Raqqa Op Needed ASAP as ISIS Plotting ‘Significant External Operations’

(ISIS photo)

(ISIS photo)

PJ Media, by Bridget Johnson, October 26, 2016:

ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander for U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria said that, with Iraqi forces still yet to plunge inside Mosul, the coalition is moving forward with urgency on taking the battle to the Islamic State’s capital in Syria — particularly as “an external plot” for a terror attack is being fomented in Raqqa.

Speaking with reporters via video from Baghdad today, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend stressed that Syria is a “complicated battle space” as “our Syrian partners in Turkey continue advancing and push ISIL farther from Turkey’s border.”

“We’re working with our allies, our partners, coalition members to refine the military plan for the isolation and eventual liberation of Raqqa. While that planning effort is ongoing, we will continue conducting precision strikes to reduce the enemy’s freedom of movement, attack their leaders and command and control,” Townsend said.

Seeing greater willingness from local populations to rise up against ISIS after having endured their brutal rule, he said, “gives us confidence that ISIL will also be driven from Raqqa.”

One of the challenges with Raqqa will be using “a partnered force rather than the partner being a nation-state’s armed forces like the Iraqi armed forces” and will be “done with a lot lighter coalition footprint.”

“We’ll have fewer coalition troops there, less combat capability there. We’ll have to apply coalition combat support in a different way than we’re doing here in Iraq,” Townsend said. “…There are a lot of regional security concerns that are in competition there. And the Syrian regime’s involved, the Russians are involved, Turkey’s involved, it’s hard. And there’s — oh by the way, there’s a civil war going on right next door.”

“So it’s gonna be a tough — very tough political environment and a security environment, I think, for our effort there.”

Raqqa is a smaller city than Mosul, but because of the complicating factors Townsend guessed “the ultimate liberation of Raqqa will probably take longer than Mosul.”

“I believe that there are sufficient local forces already available for that operation. However, we have a plan to… recruit and equip and train more local forces for that operation. So that’s part of our campaign plan, to generate additional combat power for that future operation,” he said.

The Raqqa effort will rely heavily on the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. “They have an Arab wing which we refer to as the Syrian Arab Corp. That force is fairly robust, over 30,000. And a good portion of them are Kurdish forces, Syrian Kurds. But also, another part of that force is — a significant part of that force is Arabs and other ethnic groups that are from that region,” the general explained.

“So we will train the forces that we need. And specifically, we’re going to try to recruit and train a force that’s from the local area of Raqqa. So that’s what’s made our — one of the factors that’s made our efforts in Northern Syria successful to date, is we have recruited, in each case — and Manbij is a good example of this — we’ve recruited forces from the local area that were part of the assault force to liberate that area. And they form the core of the whole force that will stay.”

Townsend clarified that “most the recruiting will be done not by us, but it will be done by our local partners,” and noted “we haven’t found a shortage of volunteers who want to go fight ISIL or Daesh, as we refer to them.”

“There’s no shortage of folks who want to do that, especially if they’re going back to liberate their own hometown,” he said.

U.S. forces may assist “with specialty courses, weapons, leadership courses, those kind of things — and I don’t think that training will be done in the vicinity of Raqqa.”

Townsend said “there’s an imperative to get isolation in place around Raqqa because our intelligence feeds tell us that there is significant external operations attacks planning going on, emanating central in — centralized in Raqqa.”

“So, we think it’s very important to get isolation in place around Raqqa to start controlling that environment on a pretty short timeline. So, we’re gonna take the force that we have and it will — we will go to Raqqa soon with that force. And I think that the Syrian Democratic Forces, to include the Kurdish YPG and the Arab — Syrian Arab Corps, will all be part of that force to go and place isolation at Raqqa,” he said.

Pressed on what that external threat could entail, Townsend said he didn’t want to discuss specific intelligence but “we actually aren’t sure how pressing it is, and that’s what’s worrying us.”

“So we’re not sure, we know they’re up to something. And it’s an external plot, we don’t know exactly where, we don’t know exactly when. You can understand this because you’ve been following these kinds of terrorist plots for a number of years, and we’re gonna try to hit if off,” he continued.

“So what we’re doing right now is a pretty much continuous watch and strikes in the Raqqa area when targets emerge that we can strike. And so we’re gonna do those kinds of suppressive fires until we’re ready.”

After the city of Manbij was liberated from ISIS, “we found links to individuals and plot streams to France, the United States, other European countries.”

“So we know that this is going on in Raqqa, as well. And so I think that’s why its necessary to get down there to Raqqa. We know that it’s a focal point of ISIL external operations, planning, plotting.”

On the prospects of the Turks and the Kurds both wanting to join the fight, Townsend said, “We’re willing to march south with anybody — to Raqqa — with anybody who’s willing to join the coalition, follow the direction that the coalition’s taking and to go defeat Daesh in Raqqa and start that pretty soon.”

The general said that the U.S. plan has been “to pressure Mosul and Raqqa simultaneously, or nearly so.”

“We want to pressure Raqqa so that the enemy doesn’t have a convenient place to go,” he said. “He’s got other places to go but he’s gotta make some choices that maybe weren’t his first or second choices.”

Also see:

The Battle of Mosul

7fb89ca7-549c-4fff-a20f-b1551b8a4554Townhall, by Cliff May, Oct 26, 2016:

Ayman al-Zawahiri was correct. Believed to be ensconced in the tribal lands of Pakistan, the leader of what’s sometimes called al Qaeda Central has dedicated his life to a jihad that he hopes and prays will lead to the founding of a new and mighty Islamic empire. But he understands the value of strategic patience.

In particular, he recognized that establishing a caliphate before conditions were favorable for its survival and expansion could only be unhelpful, causing Muslims to doubt whether spreading Islamic domination in the 21st century is a divinely blessed mission.

By contrast, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 45, has been a young man in a hurry. As leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, he chafed at taking orders from the 65-year-old successor to Osama bin Laden. In 2014, he broke with al Qaeda, declared a caliphate, the Islamic State, with himself as caliph. And now he and his fledgling empire are in peril.

A coalition of forces is closing in on Mosul, the only major Sunni-majority city in Iraq still under Islamic State control. It is probably only a matter of time — and blood — before Mosul is liberated, a term that should be used advisedly in the Middle East.

The Islamic State is believed to have fewer than 7,000 fighters in Mosul. How many will seek martyrdom (after using human shields for as long as possible) and how many will run from the more than 30,000 coalition troops — troops much better equipped and supported by American air power? Hard to say.

Those who flee may head for towns along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that remain Islamic State strongholds. Others will try to reach Syria, especially Raqqa, the caliphate’s de facto capital, northeast of Damascus.

An offensive against Raqqa is being contemplated. But who will lead that effort? And who will govern Raqqa after the Islamic State is gone? These are difficult questions that ought to be answered within a broader strategic framework.

Imagine that the Battle of Mosul is followed by a Battle of Raqqa and that the Islamic State ends up with little or no territory still under its control. What do its surviving fighters do then? Perhaps some will slink back to wherever they came from, defeated and disillusioned. Others may become guerrillas, perpetrating acts of terrorism within the region and plotting a comeback. Still others could decide to put their skills and experience to use in a more distant land, perhaps one that mistakes them for refugees.

We don’t know how much destruction will be visited on Mosul over the days ahead, but it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of people will be displaced. The agencies charged with caring for them are already burdened to the breaking point.

Mosul and the nearby Nineveh Plain are the historic homeland of the Assyrian Christians. The U.S. Congress, the Obama administration and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have all recognized that these and other Christian communities of the Middle East, as well as Yazidis and other religious minorities, are facing genocide. Such recognition should guarantee that saving Christians and their communities is a high priority. That does not appear to be the case at present. It’s easy to champion diversity for Washington, Toronto and Berlin. To do so for Muslim-majority lands is more challenging.

Though the forces assembled for the Battle of Mosul view the Islamic State as their common enemy, their alliance remains tenuous. The Peshmerga, the army of Iraqi Kurdistan, is constituted of tough fighters whose most important mission is consolidating and defending historically Kurdish lands. Elements of the Iraqi military are reportedly flying Shia flags, a sight not reassuring to Mosul’s Sunnis. Also joining the coalition are Popular Mobilization Forces, Shia militias, the most powerful of which are controlled by Iran. Just a few years ago, they were killing American troops, using such weapons as EFPs, explosively formed penetrators — highly lethal bombs supplied by Iran’s ruling mullahs.

If the Battle of Mosul goes as expected, the Islamic State’s loss, while significant, also will be al Qaeda’s gain. Dr. Zawahiri (he was a physician before he was a revolutionary) should have an easier time attracting recruits and funds once it becomes indisputable that the rival founded by Dr. Baghdadi (he was a theologian before he was a revolutionary) has not lived up to its promise.

Also benefiting from the decline of the Islamic State will be the Islamic Republic of Iran, which aims to establish a new Persian empire, albeit one based on religious allegiance. Most immediately, the clerical regime is attempting to construct what has been called a “Shia crescent” including Iraq, where its influence has only grown since the 2011 withdrawal of American troops, and Syria, where it is defending the dictatorship of its client, Bashar Assad (with significant Russian assistance). Beyond Syria is Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran’s foreign legion, is more powerful than the national armed forces and is preparing for a future showdown with Israel. In addition, Iran provides support to Houthis fighting a civil war in Yemen, and to Hamas in Gaza.

So while the Battle of Mosul is likely to be a military victory for the alliance President Obama supports, it would be unwise for him to claim — once again — that “the tide of war is receding.” The free peoples of the world, as well as those who might like to be, are in for an extended conflict, one that will have to be fought on multiple battlefields against a list of jihadi groups and regimes. Perhaps the next American administration will develop a serious strategy to defeat our enemies. I’m not suggesting that’s probable, only that it’s not impossible.
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Also see:

MOSUL: Iraqi Military Displays Shi’ite Flags In Advance on Sunni Region

jihad-flagThe flags belie the Baghdad government’s promise that it will repair sectarian relations if it regains control of the Sunni regions of Iraq. Iran’s Shi’a militias are set to join the fray, which can only deepen the rift.

CounterJihad, October 24, 2016:

Here are CounterJihad we have been warning for some time about the growing influence of Shi’a militias within Iraq, as they proclaim that their first loyalty is to Iran and its clerical leadership.  The power that these sectarian militas are exercising within Iraq makes it difficult to believe that the government in Baghdad will be able to remain independent from Iran, as the militias are a dagger pressed at Baghdad’s throat.

This story is worse than that.  This story is about the flying of sectarian flags by Baghdad’s own official state military.

Iraqi soldiers fighting to retake the largely Sunni city of Mosul from Islamic State are mounting Shiite flags on their vehicles and raising them atop buildings, stoking the sectarian divisions that Iraq’s government has vowed to repair….  Flying on tanks or over government checkpoints and homes in recently reclaimed Sunni villages, they often dwarf Iraqi flags next to them.

The flags are rankling Sunnis as well as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters taking part in the assault. Sunnis said the display undermines the message of national unity against Islamic State and reinforces their long-held impression that they don’t belong in Iraq’s state and security structure.

Further testing the alliance, Iraqi Shiite militias said Friday they were set to join the battle to dislodge Islamic State from Mosul.

This development underlines just how we got to a caliphate in western Iraq to begin with.  The Sunni forces fighting against the Baghdad government were brought to the peace table out of an outrage with al Qaeda in Iraq’s brutality against them.  They agreed to support the Baghdad government in return for fair treatment, instead of being suppressed as an ethnic minority.

The US military, which in those days had multiple divisions within Iraq, conducted patient negotiation with militants formerly aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq.  The agreements the US military negotiated for the Sunnis were designed to effect a reconciliation between the government and the tribes.  Agreements included promises of jobs, assistance for communities recovering from the war, and many other things that the government agreed to provide in return for the support of these former enemies.  The United States helped to negotiate all these agreements, and promised to see that they would be kept faithfully.

Instead, our Secretary of State — one Hillary Clinton — failed to produce either a new Status of Forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq, or an agreement that would allow State Department personnel to move about the country safely to observe whether agreements were being kept.  In the wake of the precipitous withdrawal of US forces, Prime Minister Maliki moved to arrest Sunni leaders in government, and broke all his promises to the tribes.

The result was that the western part of Iraq once again became fertile ground for an Islamist insurgency.

The Baghdad government is responsible for the actions that undermined Sunni faith in the system it represented.  It compounded the problem by allowing these Iranian-backed Shi’a militias to conduct punitive war crimes against Sunni villages that had supported Saddam’s regime.  At least the militias were plausibly acting on their own, however, rather than as agents of the state.

Shi’a flags above Iraq’s army as it proceeds into Mosul means that no peace is possible regardless of the outcome of the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).  This is the endorsement of a sectarian war by the official arm of the Baghdad government.  Even if ISIS loses, the Sunnis will have to fight on in order to avoid being subjugated by a central government that has become their actual enemy.

Also see:

Europe Braces for Post-Mosul Jihadi Onslaught

IPT, by John Rossomando  •  Oct 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Islamic State Braces as Iraq Prepares Mosul Offensive

An Iraqi soldier flashed a victory sign on Saturday ahead of an expected offensive to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State. PHOTO: ADAM SCHRECK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

An Iraqi soldier flashed a victory sign on Saturday ahead of an expected offensive to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State. PHOTO: ADAM SCHRECK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Update: The siege of Mosul begins

The long-anticipated attack could begin this week, and will aim to recapture Iraq’s second-largest city from the militant group.

WSJ, ByTAMER EL-GHOBASHY and ALI A. NABHAN, Oct. 16, 2016:

“Do you want to be humiliated again by the army, and do you not appreciate the dignity we gave you?” the imam said, according to a resident who was there. “Do you want to be treated badly by the army as they used to treat you before we liberated you?”

The unusual sermon underscored what Mosul residents and Iraqi intelligence officials describe as disarray in the ranks of Islamic State on the eve of a military operation to dislodge the group from its Iraqi stronghold.

The offensive could begin as early as this week, with the aim of depriving Islamic State of its last major territorial holding in the country.

Islamic State has suffered a string of losses lately in its self-declared caliphate. The latest came Sunday when Syrian rebels backed by Turkey and the U.S. drove the militants from the Syrian town of Dabiq. Officials with the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State have said the offensives in Syria and Iraq aren’t coordinated.

Mass defections, internal rivalries and an increasingly restive local population have contributed to a sense of confidence inside Iraq’s military that the time is ripe to mount an attack to recapture Iraq’s second-largest city, according to Iraqi military officials.

“All the people I talk to are ready to rebel against them with the first gunshot of the operation,” another Mosul resident said. He said new defenses set up by fighters in the city appear amateurish. Main streets have been outfitted with concrete blast walls on a platform attached to a rope, with the intention of pulling the rope to drop the walls on incoming military vehicles.

“To me this is so funny and stupid,” said the resident.

Iraqi and U.S. military officials said they see Islamic State as significantly weakened, in large part because of a dedicated psychological warfare unit that has negotiated guarantees from local elders and former Saddam Hussein loyalists to abandon the militants.

For nearly a year, a multiethnic unit inside Iraq’s military that includes academics specializing in sociology, psychology and communication have used covert methods to secure agreements with people of influence in some 16 districts in Mosul, according to several Iraqi officials. These people have helped rally their communities to work with Iraqi security forces, the officials said.

In some cases, the unit has entered Mosul and provided arms to local residents to use against Islamic State once the official operation to reclaim the city begins, one intelligence official said.

“This unit gave people in Mosul hope for survival, determination to resist and a sense that someone is helping them,” said Saeed al-Jayashi, a member of Iraq’s National Security Advisory. “This is exactly what makes you win the battle.”

A ranking officer involved in the unit said the agreements with local leaders are a sign that the psychological warfare campaign has vexed Islamic State—something the unit failed to do in previous battles. This has in part influenced the timing of the planned ground assault.

“The psychological operations are not new, but we know the huge effort in Mosul has been fruitful,” the officer said. “The work done by this group has managed to change the views of many people in favor of the Iraqi security forces.”

A mid-ranking Islamic State commander said in an interview over Facebook that the group has made a tactical decision to partially abandon Mosul, recalling their “human resources” to Syria where they hope to strengthen their foothold.

“There will be no big great epic battle in Mosul,” the commander said. “The tactic now is hit-and-run.”

Islamic State was able to conquer Mosul in 2014 in large part because a local Sunni majority was disillusioned with the Shiite-dominated central government and military fashioned by American policies after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Mosul political and security administrations collapsed when the militants arrived.

But more than two years of harsh Islamic State rule, which residents said has led to food and gasoline shortages as well as arbitrary violence and punishment, has weakened support for the group.

Iraqi and American officials preparing the military assault expect a tough fight, with a specific concern that a desperate group of fighters will attempt to use the city’s 1.2 million residents as human shields. Aid agencies and the United Nations are bracing for an expected exodus once the offensive has launched.

Pentagon officials have said there are pockets within Mosul that may be easier to recapture than others. Iraqi forces will begin to tighten a “noose” around Mosul once operations begin, one senior U.S. military official said recently.

U.S. military officials said they are not sure exactly what they will find inside Mosul. Many fighters will disappear into the populace; others will fight to the end. The effectiveness of suicide bombers, roadside bombs and other Islamic State tactics and weapons will determine how well Iraqi forces fight, they said.

Iraq and neighboring Turkey have also clashed over the makeup of the force that will attack Mosul, which is near the Turkish border. But U.S. officials said that will not delay the operation.

Iraqi intelligence officials have attempted to encourage local rebellions against Islamic State in Mosul while instructing residents to remain in their homes and raise white flags once the Iraqi military and its allied Sunni militias push into the city.

The officer said one tactic which has worked to unsettle the militants has been the so-called “M Group.” Secretly directed by Iraq’s military, the group inside the city marks the homes and offices of Islamic State fighters and administrators with the Arabic letter M—the first letter of moqawamma, which means resistance.

The officer said the tag isn’t necessarily for tactical reasons but appears to have frightened militants who he said have fled in droves in recent weeks. Local residents also said they have seen the militants fleeing.

Local cellphone networks, which haven’t worked for more than a year, are increasingly being restored in the towns and villages surrounding Mosul as Iraqi forces have advanced.

One of the Mosul residents, reached by phone, said Islamic State’s visibility in the city has been reduced dramatically. Foreign fighters who patrolled the streets or haunted internet cafes monitoring activity have largely disappeared, the resident said.

Pickup trucks piled with furniture and other belongings of fleeing fighters have replaced similar trucks mounted with high-caliber machine guns, another resident said.

Islamic State has also been beset in Mosul by internal rivalries, Iraqi military officials said.

“There are disputes between local and foreign Daesh militants,” said Sabah al-Noman, a spokesman for Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, which are expected to lead the ground assault on the city. “These disputes have led to executions on a daily basis.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“Daesh now in the city is not Daesh that invaded the city two years ago,” said one of the Mosul residents.

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Also see:

Tehran Visit Showcases Role of Iranian-Backed Militias in Iraq

ali-akbar-velayati-and-kabi-in-tehranSheikh Akram al Kabi just completed a high-profile visit to Iran, in which he pledged loyalty not to his native Iraq but to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

CounterJihad, Sept. 9, 2016:

The Long War Journal has an excellent piece on the recent visit to Tehran of Iraqi militia leader Akram al Kabi, of the Harakat al Nujaba militia.

Militia officials frequently travel to Iran, but the publicity surrounding Kabi’s visit is unprecedented. This indicates the rising clout of the Iraqi cleric among the political elite in Tehran.

Kabi boldly proclaimed his allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, as well as the concept of velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, which is the political and theological basis of the Islamic Republic as established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Kabi echoed Tehran’s propaganda claims, and boasted about targeting American forces during the Second Gulf War. He reiterated his commitment to the “Axis of Resistance,” an alliance of state and non-state actors led by Iran. Kabi vowed that the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the umbrella organization of Iraqi paramilitary groups that includes Iranian-backed groups such as Nujaba, would participate in the anticipated operation to lay siege to Mosul, which has been held by the Islamic State since 2014. Following Mosul, Kabi called for Iraqi militias to shift resources to Syria and chase the Islamic State into the strongholds of Deir ez-Zour and Raqqah. He also threatened to target Turkish forces stationed near Mosul.

The role of velayat-e faqih in Iran’s control of regional militia forces cannot be overstated.  The core theory of the Iranian revolution, it holds that only a specialized class of Shi’ite clerics can properly manage human affairs through government.  Loyalty is thus not properly given to either the elected officials of the semi-modern states of the region, nor to the tribal leaders who are often the real powers in much of the Middle East.  Rather, both the state and the tribe should be subordinated to properly trained religious leaders.  What constitutes a “properly trained” religious leader?  One trained in Iran’s elite schools, of course, preferably holding at least the rank of Ayatollah.

This does not bar the existence of elected governments, to be sure.  Iran has one itself.  However, every aspect of the elected government is placed under the “guardianship” of some cleric or body of clerics.  Iran’s “Guardian Council,” made up of such clerics, determined who was even allowed to stand for office in the last round of elections.  They dismissed 99% of the proposed candidates from the moderate and reformist parties, requiring that those parties recruit cleric-approved hardliner candidates even to participate in the elections.  Thus, while there was still an election, and the ‘moderate and reformist’ parties did fairly well, actual power became even more concentrated among those hand-picked by the clerical leadership.

Kabi, a US-designated foreign terrorist, will be participating in the attack on Islamic State (ISIS) positions near Mosul.  The United States is deploying nearly five thousand troops in the same assault.  Kurdish forces will also be participating.  The aftermath of the battle against ISIS in Mosul will thus be nearly as contentious as the actual battle itself, as Iran, the Kurds, the Turks, and the United States all scramble to try to sort out what the final disposition of the highly-contested and strategic city happens to be.  As the Long War Journal points out, Kabi is vociferously opposed to the United States’ interests, and describes his militia (here labeled “PMF,” an acronym that means “popular mobilization forces”) as a counterweight to American ambitions in Iraq:

During the meeting with Rezai, Kabi claimed that the PMF’s participation in the Mosul operation would foil a U.S. plan to build permanent military bases there. He claimed that the U.S. opposes PMF participation in Mosul because it intends to build such a base. Kabi touted the Iraqi Prime Minister’s decision to deploy PMF forces to Mosul.

Iran clearly intends to use these forces to limit America’s ability to shape the final outcome.  Khamenei’s loyalists are not in any sense swayed to rethink their relationship to the United States, neither by the so-called “Iran deal” nor by the fact that the Obama administration’s policies are supporting Iran’s own ambitions in Iraq and Syria.  They still regard the United States as the enemy, and are acting accordingly.

Also see:

“What A Mess!” – Pentagon At War With CIA In Syria

20160906_syriaZero Hedge, by Tyler Durden, Sept. 6, 2016:

What a mess! In the crazy Syrian war, US-backed and armed groups are fighting other US-backed rebel groups. How can this be?

It is so because the Obama White House had stirred up war in Syria but then lost control of the process.When the US has a strong president, he can usually keep the military and intelligence agencies on a tight leash.

But the Obama administration has had a weak secretary of defense and a bunch of lady strategists who are the worst military commanders since Louis XV, who put his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, in charge of French military forces during the Seven Year’s War. The French were routed by the Prussians. France’s foe, Frederick the Great of Prussia, named one of his dogs, ‘la Pompadour.’

As a result, the two arms of offensive US strategic power, the Pentagon and CIA, went separate ways in Syria. Growing competition between the US military and militarized CIA broke into the open in Syria.

Fed up with the astounding incompetence of the White House, the US military launched and supported its own rebel groups in Syria, while CIA did the same.

Fighting soon after erupted in Syria and Iraq between the US-backed groups. US Special Forces joined the fighting in Syria, Iraq and most lately, Libya.

The well-publicized atrocities, like mass murders and decapitations, greatly embarrassed Washington, making it harder to portray their jihadi wildmen as liberators. The only thing exceptional about US policy in Syria was its astounding incompetence.

Few can keep track of the 1,000 groups of jihadis that keep changing their names and shifting alliances. Throw in Turkomans, Yzidis, Armenians, Nestorians, Druze, Circassians, Alawis, Assyrians and Palestinians. Oh yes, and the Alevis.

Meanwhile, ISIS was inflicting mayhem on Syria and Iraq. But who really is ISIS? A few thousand twenty-something hooligans with little knowledge of Islam but a burning desire to dynamite the existing order and a sharp media sense. The leadership of these turbaned anarchists appears to have formed in US prison camps in Afghanistan.

The US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey armed and financed ISIS as a weapon to unleash on Syria, which was an ally of Iran that refused to take orders from the Western powers. The west bears heavy responsibility for the deaths of 450,000 Syrians, at least half the nation of 23 million becoming refugees, and destruction of this once lovely country.

At some point, ISIS shook off its western tutors and literally ran amok. But the US has not yet made a concerted attempt to crush ISIS because of its continuing usefulness in Syria and in the US, where ISIS has become the favorite whipping boy of politicians.

Next come the Kurds, an ancient Indo-European stateless people spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They have been denied a national state by the western powers since WWI. Kurdish rebels in Iraq have been armed and financed by Israel since the 1970’s.

When America’s Arab jihadists proved militarily feeble, the US turned to the Kurds, who are renowned fighters, arming and financing the Kurdish Syrian YPG which is part of the well-known PKK rebel group that fights Turkey.

I covered the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in eastern Anatolia in the 1980’s in which some 40,000 died.

Turkey is now again battling a rising wave of Kurdish attacks that caused the Turks to probe into northern Syria to prevent a link-up of advancing Kurdish rebel forces.

So, Turkey, a key American ally, is now battling CIA-backed Kurdish groups in Syria. Eighty percent of Turks believe the recent failed coup in Turkey was mounted by the US – not the White House, but by the Pentagon which has always been joined at the hip to Turkey’s military.

This major Turkish-Kurdish crisis was perfectly predictable, but the obtuse junior warriors of the Obama administration failed to grasp this point.

Now the Russians have entered the fray in an effort to prevent their ally, Bashar Assad, from being overthrow by western powers. Also perfectly predictable. Russia claimed to be bombing ISIS but in fact is targeting US-backed groups. Washington is outraged that the wicked Russians are doing in the Mideast what the US has done for decades.

The US and Russia now both claim to have killed a senior ISIS commander in an air strike. Their warplanes are dodging one another, creating a perfect scenario for a head-on clash at a time when neocons in the US are agitating for war with Russia.

Does anyone think poor, demolished Syria is worth the price? Hatred for the US is now seething in Turkey and across the Mideast. Hundreds of millions of US tax dollars have been wasted in this cruel, pointless war.

Time for the US to stop stirring this witch’s brew.

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And if that didn’t 1) drive you crazy, and/or 2) confuse you, here is UK’s Channel 4 to explain in pictures…

Islamic State: From nation-state to terror group

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group's capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

 , August 31, 2016:

Battlefield successes against the Islamic State could force the group to shift away from nation-state status to a less visible terror threat, the commander of the U.S. Central Command said this week.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters.

“As you look across the full battle space, you see that [Islamic State] is under more pressure now than at any other time in the campaign,” Gen. Votel said Tuesday. “We are causing the enemy to have to look in multiple directions and they are struggling to respond under this pressure.”

The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, remains a threat and is adapting to the attacks on its strongholds and the loss of territory. Also, external operations outside Iraq and Syria also are a concern, the general added.

In Iraq, Iraqi government forces are on track to retake the key northern city of Mosul by the end of the year or sooner, while the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria also may soon fall, Gen. Votel said.

“Certainly in both Iraq and Syria, in a lot of locations, we are continuing to target their leadership or continuing to target their revenue-generation sources in both Mosul and northern Iraq and certainly in Syria, so I think we continue to keep them on the horns of a dilemma here,” he said.

Two key setbacks for the Islamic State took place in northern Syria at the towns of Manbij and Jarabulus, forcing Islamic State forces to retreat quickly from those areas. The retreats took place despite calls by Islamic State leaders for the fighters to “fight to the death,” Gen. Votel said, adding that the group is being forced to choose to fortify other locations.

Once Mosul and Raqqa are taken, Gen. Votel said, the Islamic State could evolve away from being a nation-state and revert to being a more of covert terrorist organization without a geographic base.

“And so we should expect that as we come out of the big operations like Mosul and Raqqa and others here, that they will continue to adapt and we will continue to deal with the next evolution of ISIL, whether they become more of a terrorist organization and return to more of their terrorist-like roots,” he said, adding that U.S. and allied forces are anticipating a long fight against whatever emerges after the shift.

“I know I’m giving the impression that when we finish with Mosul or Raqqa that we’re done. We’re not. We will continue to deal with them,” he said.

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NATO News: Aug. 30, 2016. CentralCom Commander, Gen. Votel Briefs Reporters at the Pentagon.

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The Turkey-Russia-Iran Axis

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Dramatic developments alter the strategic balance in the Middle East.

Front Page Magazine, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Aug. 22, 2016:

A techtonic shift has occurred in the balance of power in the Middle East since the failed Turkish coup of mid-July, and virtually no one in Washington is paying attention to it.

Turkey and Iran are simultaneously moving toward Russia, while Russia is expanding its global military and strategic reach, all to the detriment of the United States and our allies. This will have a major impact across the region, potentially leaving U.S. ally Israel isolated to face a massive hostile alliance armed with nuclear weapons.

Believers in Bible prophecy see this new alignment as a step closer to the alliance mentioned in Ezekiel 37-38, which Israel ultimately defeated on the plains of Megiddo.

Today’s Israel, however, is doing its best to soften the blow by patching up relations with Turkey and through cooperation with Russia.

Here are some of the moves and countermoves that have been taking place in recent weeks on a giant three-dimensional chessboard with multiple players and opponents.

Russia-Turkey: It now appears that Russian intelligence tipped off Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan just hours before the planned coup against his regime. When the coup plotters got wind of the Russian communications with Erdogan loyalists at the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), they moved up the coup from the dead of night to 9 PM, when the streets were packed.

For Erdogan, the Russian warning came just in the nick of time, allowing him to flee his hotel in Marmaris minutes before twenty-five special forces troops loyal to the coup-plotters roped down from the roof of his hotel to seize him.

With streets in Istanbul full of people, Erdogan’s text and video messages calling on supporters to oppose the coup had maximum impact.

After purging the military and government of suspected enemies, Erdogan’s first foreign trip was to Russia, where on August 8 he thanked Putin for his help. “The Moscow-Ankara friendship axis will be restored,” he proclaimed.

Two days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted NATO for its “evasive fashion” of responding to Turkish requests for military technology transfers, and opened the door to joint military production with Russia.

Cavosoglu accused NATO of considering Turkey and Russia “to be second class countries,” and pointed out that Turkey was the only NATO country that was refusing to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has also been in talks with Turkey to base Russian warplanes at the NATO air base in Incirlik, Turkey, where some 2400 U.S. personnel have been quarantined since the failed July 15 coup attempt as Turkey continues to demand that the U.S. extradite alleged coup-plotter Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

These talks have alarmed the Pentagon, which on Thursday reportedly ordered the emergency evacuation to Romania of the estimated 50-70 nuclear B-61 “dial-a-yield” gravity bombs stockpiled at the base.

If confirmed, the nuclear withdrawal from Turkey constitutes a major strategic setback for the United States, with Russia poised to replace the United States as Turkey’s main military partner after 60 years of NATO cooperation.

Russia-Iran: The warming of the Russia-Turkey relationship comes as Russia simultaneously is making advances in Iran.

The two countries have a long and often troubled history. The 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty, which ended long-standing tsarist concessions in Iran, also included a mutual defense pact. Triggered briefly during World War II, the Soviets seized the opportunity to foment a Communist coup in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1948 and only withdrew after President Truman threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Successive Iranian regimes remained suspicious of Soviet intentions for the rest of the Cold War.

In recent years, Iran and Russia have joined together to evade international sanctions, with Russian banks clearing payments for Iranian oil purchases and serving as a conduit for Iranian government purchases abroad.

Last week, the specter of the 1921 defense treaty suddenly came alive when the Russia and Iran announced they had signed a new military agreement to allow Russian jets to use the Nojeh airbase in western Iran for attacks on Syrian rebels.

This is the first time that the Islamic regime in Iran has allowed a foreign power to use Iranian territory as a base for offensive military operations against another country in the region, and the move lead to tensions in the Iranian parliament.

For Russia, the move dramatically reduced flight times for the Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers it had been flying against ISIS targets in Syria from Mozdok airbase in Ossetia, 2000 km away. Iran’s Nojeh air base, outside Hamadan, is less than 900 km from the war zone.

The shorter flight times also meant shorter warning for the Syrian rebels. Russian media reports have alleged that the United States has been providing “satellite surveillance data” to the Syrian rebels of the Russian bombing runs, allowing them to disperse “suspiciously too often” before the heavy bombers arrived on target from Mozdok.

The shorter distance cuts the flight time – and thus the warning time – by 60%, according to former Pentagon official Stephen D. Bryen. “The flight from Iran is between 30 to 45 minutes tops. If, therefore, the US is warning the rebels of impending Russian air strikes, the time to get the message to them and to actually be able to move their forces out of harms way, is far less and maybe too short for finding effective cover,” Bryen wrote in a recent blogpost.

Conclusion: Russia is on the verge of realizing a multi-generational dream of reaching the “warm waters” of the Persian Gulf through Iran.

Iran-Iraq: Adding to these dramatic developments was the announcement last week by a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Chris Garver, that Iran now controls a military force of 100,000 armed fighters in neighboring Iraq. While the United States has allowed this Iranian expansion under the pretext Iran was helping in the fight against ISIS, clearly Iran can use this massive organized force to exercise its control over Iraq as well.

While none of these events was directly caused by the United States, clearly the lack of U.S. leadership emboldened our enemies, whose leaders have a much clearer strategic vision than ours of where they want the region to go.

Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to pursue the massive ten-year, $650 billion military modernization program that Putin announced in December 2010, despite reduced oil revenues. Those plans include eight new nuclear submarines, 600 new fighter jets, 1000 helicopters, as well as new tanks and other ground equipment.

Most of the new equipment is based on new designs incorporating advanced technologies, not existing weapons systems.

Just this week, U.S. intelligence officials reported ongoing construction of “dozens’ of underground nuclear command bunkers in Moscow and around the country apparently for use in the event of a nuclear wear. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, called Russia’s evolving doctrine on the first use of nuclear weapons “alarming.”

All of this does not mean that the United States and Russia are headed toward a direct confrontation. The more likely consequence, given the sweeping Russian powerplay with Turkey and Iran, is that the United States will simply abandon the region to Putin’s Russia and his Turkish and Iranian allies.

The consequence of that abandon will undoubtedly motivate Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iran.

Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Obama plays golf. Both leaders will leave ashes in their wake.

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