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.

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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:

Dr. Sebastian Gorka: Hillary Clinton’s Disclosure of Nuclear Response Times During Debate Was ‘Unconscionable’

hc-640x480Breitbart, by John Hayward, October 21, 2016:

On Friday’s Breitbart News Daily, Breitbart News National Security editor Dr. Sebastian Gorka, author of the best-selling book Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War, talked about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s clash over Russia at the third presidential debate.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, if there is anybody who’s been in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, it is Hillary Clinton. Everybody needs to have out there, the millennials that they know, their nephews, their nieces, just watch Clinton Cash on YouTube,” Gorka said. “The fact that 20 percent of our uranium was sold to Kremlin front companies, in a deal that was signed off by Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, means if there’s anybody who can be bought by the Kremlin, it’s Hillary Clinton.”

“That happened when her husband was receiving $120 million speaking fee from the same companies that bought the uranium,” Gorka noted.

“I have to give great credit to your callers,” he told SiriusXM host Alex Marlow. “Your show is really about the callers. They see through this. They understand that there’s the mainstream media spin, and most often, it is 180 degrees out of phase with reality. If Trump were some kind of puppet for Moscow, wouldn’t this man have casinos in Kaliningrad? Wouldn’t he have giant Trump Towers in Moscow? He doesn’t. That tells you everything you need to know. Reality is completely the reverse of what anybody else inside the mainstream media would have you believe.”

One of those callers joined the conversation at that point to observe that audiences for mainstream media outlets like CNN were given a very different perspective on the debate than people who watched it without such a media filter.

“I think that the real story will be that there is, perhaps, a majority of people out there who simply have had enough,” said Gorka. “Look at the viewing figures for stations like CNN. I think it tells you everything. Look at the figures for Breitbart, the viewers and clicks. I think that’s the hidden story of this election – that the mainstream media believes they still dominate, but I think in two weeks’ time, two-and-a-half weeks’ time, there’s going to be potentially a very big surprise for those people who think they still speak for America and can control what America sees, whether it’s the debates, whether it’s any kind of reporting on any issue, whether it’s the border, or the economy.”

“Just the polls themselves – look at the poll figures, and then look at the Trump rallies,” he suggested. “Again, spin versus reality. Look at the fact that Hillary seems to be leading everywhere, if you listen to the polls, and then just watch the turnout for her campaign events. I think that tells you everything you need to know.”

Gorka was pleased that national security has been such an important theme in the 2016 presidential debates, pausing to issue a disclaimer that he has provided national security advice to Donald Trump in the past, “long before anybody took him seriously.”

“I’m not part of his campaign, but I’ve spoken to this man on more than one occasion about the big issues, such as ISIS, North Korea, Russia, and Iran,” he clarified.

With that disclosure made, Gorka faulted Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and theiradvisers for clumsy handling of major foreign policy issues, agreeing with Donald Trump’s criticism that Clinton and Obama constantly telegraph their moves to the enemy.

“It’s not just Hillary. It’s her coterie. It is the liberal elite. The Obama administration has done exactly the same,” he noted. “Every major deployment in Iraq, every major operation, has been announced in advance, which is anathema to just the most basic principles of warfare. And it’s fascinating. This isn’t a new thing. Her husband did exactlythe same thing, during the Balkan wars. Your callers may not recall, but he actually announced before our engagement in the Balkans, he said, ‘I refuse, and I will never put boots on the ground in Yugoslavia.’ Doesn’t that sound familiar? Haven’t you heard somebody else say that, in this current presidential campaign?”

“Telegraphing in advance what you’re going to do is dynamite for the opposition, for your enemy, because then they will prepare to exploit that against you,” Gorka explained. “Look, even after the WikiLeaks became more and more uncomfortable for Hillary, what did we have the vice president do on national television? Announce that, well, they’ve decided Russia is behind all of this, and we’re going to launch a cyber-attack against them, at a time of our choosing. If you read that in a Tom Clancy novel, you’d say, ‘Has Tom lost it?’ Nobody does this.”

“Mr. Trump’s point that he understands we are at war – I can assure your listeners, he knows we are at war, and he wants to win this war, but he’s not going to tell the enemy what we’re going to do. It’s a very, very, valid point,” he said.

Marlow brought up an overlooked moment from the third debate, when Clinton inadvertently revealed some sensitive information about U.S. response times to nuclear attack. Gorka said he wanted to address this issue “in a certain way, if you’ll permit me, as somebody who actually cares for the security of the Republic and who lives in the national security arena.”

From that perspective, he declined to comment on “the veracity, or lack thereof, of what she said.”

“Just one thing has to be drawn, one conclusion has to be drawn: the whole platform of the Hillary campaign, that Mr. Trump is not fit to serve as commander-in-chief, he’s not stable, he can’t be trusted – all of that applies to her, and solely to her,” Gorka said. “Anybody who puts Top Secret/SCI super-classified information on a private homebrew server, and then talks about our nuclear reaction times on live television, in front of tens of millions of people – that woman should not be allowed – I know this is a line Mr. Trump has borrowed from me, but I have to use it – that individual should not be allowed to run for local dog catcher, let alone the most powerful person in the world. It is unconscionablewhat she did on national television, and the fact the liberal media is giving her heat on that tells you everything you need to know.”

Gorka turned to the chaos currently engulfing two key cities in the Middle East, Iraq’s Mosul and Syria’s Aleppo.

“What we have is this group of – a very heterogenous military force has deployed to Mosul. Again, this was announced weeks in advance by the current administration. We have the Sunni elements of the standing Iraqi army. We have elements of the Kurdish Peshmerga. And, on top of that – this is perhaps the most problematic – we have so-called ‘mobilization forces,’ which are made up Shia former militias, working together, hopefully, to take Mosul with our brave men, and some of our women, as well, as advisers providing training, providing intelligence, and also bombing capabilities for those forces,” Gorka explained.

“The idea is to recapture the second-biggest city in Iraq, which isn’t just important for the size of the city, but because this is the location where, in June 2014, the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared formally the re-establishment of the Caliphate, the new empire of Islam,” he noted. “So Mosul is very, very important. The problem with this operation is the very mixed nature of who’s fighting. They have very, very different interests in terms of the future of Iraq.”

“And the biggest problem of all: you can launch an attack to capture a city – but what happens if you capture it?” he asked. “Are you going to stay there? Are the local Sunnis going to allow Shia or Kurds to stay in the region? And what happens when the fighters come back? It’s like squeezing a balloon. You can push the fighters out, but sooner or later, if you haven’t killed all of them, they will be back.”

As for Aleppo, Gorka called it a “tragedy,” saying that “the last five years in Syria are truly a humanitarian disaster.”

“Here again, we have reality, and we have spin,” he said. “The idea that somehow, we’re going to have a cooperative Russia assist us in stopping the killing and bring stability to that nation is a fantasy. The whole Obama administration’s policy is based on an article of faith that is, again, just phantasmagorical – the idea that Assad must go.”

“Whatever the desperate situation in Aleppo, Assad is not going anywhere,” Gorka noted regretfully. “As long as that man enjoys the support not only of Russia, but Iran and even China, this is a head of state that isn’t going anywhere – unless, of course, America wishes to go to war with Russia, China, and Iran, which is not advisable right now.”

“So we have to stabilize the region. We have to realize that only a political resolution is realistic. And unfortunately, the current powers-that-be in Washington simply do not understand that,” he said.

Dr. Gorka’s parting thought was to “reinforce that November the 8th is primarily about one issue, as far as I’m concerned, and I think most Americans agree with me: it’s about which person do you think is going to keep you and your family safe.”

“So when you’re going to the polling booth, and please bring as many people with you as you can, remember it’s a choice between Hillary – Servergate, Benghazi, nuclear launch times – and a man who believes we are at war with the jihadists and wishes to win. It really is quite that simple, Alex,” he said.

LISTEN:

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Top 5 Clinton scandals you’re missing due to media bias

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Warning: rough language:

Also see:

A ‘lasting defeat’ of the Islamic State will be elusive

islamic-state-convoy-anbar-e1440694626820-1023x312LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY BILL ROGGIO, October 18, 2016:

As the Iraqi government and Coalition forces launched the offensive to retake Mosul, the US military has optimistically said that the campaign will deal a “lasting defeat” to the Islamic State. But, if the recent history of the fight against jihadist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is any indicator, a lasting defeat of the Islamic State will remain elusive.

On Oct. 16, the US military made the claim that the Mosul operation will “deliver ISIL [Islamic State] a lasting defeat” [emphasis mine]:

Tonight Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of Iraqi operations to liberate Mosul from ISIL. This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat. The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead. We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality.

Keep in mind that many analysts were quick to pronounce the Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, as defeated after the US surge that began in 2007 rooted out the jihadists from its sanctuaries across Iraq. By 2010, Iraqi and US forces killed the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir, Abu Omar al Baghdadi, and War Minister Abu Ayyub al Masri a.k.a. Abu Hamza al Muhajir, and the group was driven underground. But these setbacks did not deter the Islamic State of Iraq. Its new leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi rallied the Islamic State of Iraq’s remaining forces and reconstituted the organization. In Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq took advantage of the Syrian civil war to rebuild its strength. By 2012, it created the Al Nusrah Front, its branch in Syria, and was launching large scale raids inside Iraq, such as the one in Haditha in March 2012, that presaged the events of 2014, which saw Iraqi forces defeated in Anbar, Salahaddin, Ninewa, and Diyala.

The Islamic State is not alone in its phoenix-like rebirth after losing ground to local forces backed by the US. Al Qaeda branches in Somalia, Yemen, and Mali, have experienced major setbacks and lost ground it held, only to regroup and retake territory. The same is true with Boko Haram in Nigeria and Taliban branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each of these countries have been in a state of perpetual war for well over a decade due to jihadist insurgencies.

In Iraq, the political and security situation is ripe for an eventual Islamic State (or whatever jihadist entity may follow it) comeback. There are large rural areas in Iraq still under Islamic State control today, and it is highly unlikely that Iraqi forces will root out the Islamic State from all of these areas. Syria remains a security nightmare, and even with recent Islamic State losses, it still controls large areas. Iraq remains a fractured state divided between the Shia-led government, which is under pressure from Iran, the marginalized Sunnis that make up the recruiting base for the Islamic State, and the Kurds, who seek independence. The Islamic State has deftly taken advantage of Iraq’s political and sectarian fault lines to stoke the fires of conflict. Iran’s machinations in Iraq and its Shia militias provide the Islamic State all of the recruiting fodder it needs to convince Sunnis to join the fight.

The fight in Iraq, as in other jihadist theaters, ebbs and flows. For the Islamic State, it is currently retreating from many of the cities and towns in Iraq and Syria that it once held. But do not expect a lasting defeat of the Islamic State. The Islamic State has survived the full might of the US surge, and was able to regroup, wage a terrorist insurgency, and build an army that overran large areas of Iraq and Syria, all over the course of four years.

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

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:

Turkey’s New Territorial Claims Threaten NATO

turkey-islamic-2Will Russia help give a new birth to a resurgent Ottoman Empire? It’s a tricky bit of diplomacy, but their recent successes suggest they could do so — and thereby destroy the major international alliance controlling Russian aggression.

CounterJihad, October 13, 2016:

A significant claim is being pushed by the Turkish government, one that could redraw the lines of the old Ottoman Empire:

Тhe spat erupted after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the country and the region by surprise last month by calling into question the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which defined modern Turkey’s borders.  He declared Turkey had been blackmailed by foreign powers into giving up vast swaths of territory that were once part of the Ottoman Empire….

[A]ccording to visiting Carnegie Europe scholar Sinan Ulgen[:]  “The message should be seen more of a signal in relation to Turkish polices towards the south, Syria and Iraq. I read it as a backdrop to a policy that tries to build domestic support for a more long-term presence, particularly in Syria, by pointing out, at allegedly past historical mistakes,” Ulgen said.

Turkish forces are currently in Syria and Iraq. But the Turkish presence at the Bashiqa base, close to the Iraqi city of Mosul, has become the center of a deepening dispute with Baghdad. The base is ostensibly tor training Sunni militia to fight Islamic State.

On Tuesday, Erdogan dismissed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s calls to withdraw Turkish troops, telling him “he should know his place.”

Ulgen went on to point out that Turkey has historical claims not only to Mosul, currently contested in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).   Both Mosul and oil-rich Kirkuk were part of the original design of the modern-day Turkey.  The Turks’ traditionalists and nationalists view the treaty that gave them away as having been forced on them at the end of World War I.

If Russian diplomacy can broker a deal that allows Turkey to expand into Iraq and Syria, it could cement Turkey’s move into Russia’s sphere.  Until recently, that looked unlikely at best.  Last year, Turkmen fighters shot down a Russian jet over repeated incursions by the Russian air force.  At that time, relations between the two nations became quite tense.  Russia is backing Iran’s play in the region, apparently in the hope that a powerful Shi’a Iran will create a buffer zone between Russia and the Sunni jihadist forces that have acted to inflame Muslim minorities in Central Asia.  Likewise, the war in the Middle East draws attention away from Russia’s strategic moves in Eastern Europe, such as last week’s deployment of nuclear missileson the very borders of Poland and the Baltic States.

Turkey’s latest move appears likely to inflame Iraq’s government, and Russia’s ally Iran intends to control Iraq at the end of this conflict.  Surrendering territory, especially oil-rich territory, may be a difficult negotiation.  On the other hand, Kirkuk is also disputed with the Kurds, and whichever government formally holds it after the war is going to have to fight to keep it.  Iran may be willing to be persuaded to concede the fight to Turkey in return for a more firmly-controlled corridor between Tehran and the Levant.

That will require some subtle diplomacy to negotiate, but right now Russia is having significant success in its diplomatic moves.  In the wake of a new energy deal between Turkey and Russia, the Russian diplomatic corps seems to have a lot of momentum on its side.  Turkey was already looking away from NATO and Europe in the wake of its Islamist purge following an alleged attempted coup.  Should Russia be able to get a process of negotiation going between Turkey, Iraq and Iran on the issue of Turkish territorial expansion, Russia would assume the leadership role in the region.  Should it actually resolve the negotiations successfully, it could expect Turkey to become part of the Russian sphere of influence.  That would potentially derail NATO, as NATO’s decisions must be taken by a unanimous vote.  If Turkey becomes as strong a Russian ally as China, NATO could become as useless an organ for opposing Russian ambition as the United Nations Security Council (on which Russia has a veto).

American diplomacy is meanwhile spinning its wheels.  The United States broke off talks with Russia, and then called for war crimes investigations into Russia and Assad for their campaign in Syria.  American Secretary of State John F. Kerry also accused Russia of interfering with America’s elections.  However, it appears that Kerry now wants a new push for a cease-fire in Aleppo, which would require Syria and Russia to sign on.

American diplomatic weakness is partially a function of American military weakness in the region.  Russian diplomatic success is partially likewise a function of its deployment of air and naval-gunnery forces, as well as its so-far successful alliance with Iran.  Better American leadership might help, but for now, the situation is rapidly sliding away from America and towards the Russians.

Hillary raises eyebrows with Muslim claim

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Trump defends policies on vetting, investigating immigrants from dangerous countries

WND, October 10, 2016:

Were Muslims partially responsible for American independence?

Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows with a questionable claim during Sunday’s fiery presidential debate by stating Islam was always part of American history – even since the Revolutionary War.

After recycling the Khizir Khan controversy, the Democrat nominee claimed “we’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington.”

Several conservatives found humor in this seemingly overlooked part of colonial American history.

But Clinton’s pronouncement was designed to put Donald Trump on the defensive because of his earlier proposed shutdown of Muslim immigration. Paying tribute to American Muslims, Clinton mourned, “We just lost a particular well-known one with Muhammad Ali.”

She accused Trump of being “short-sighted” and “dangerous,” even putting American security at risk.

The former Secretary of State intoned:

What do YOU think? Who won 2nd debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Sound off in the WND Poll!

“We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines. I’ve worked with a lot of different Muslim groups around America. I’ve met with a lot of them and heard how important it is for them to feel they are wanted and included and part of our country, part of our homeland security. And that’s what I want to see.

“It’s also important to know I intend to defeat ISIS as part of a coalition with majority Muslim nations. Right now a lot of those nations are hearing what Donald says and wondering, ‘Why should we cooperate with the Americans?’ And this is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists. Violent jihadist terrorists. We are not at war with Islam. And it is a mistake and it plays into the hands of the terrorists to act as though we are.”

However, Trump did not back down. He called the late Capt. Khan an “American hero” but quickly pivoted to the question of the Iraq War, saying Khan would still be alive if he had been in command because Trump opposed the invasion.

Trump accused Clinton of having “voted for the war without knowing what she was doing” and called it a “disaster.” He also said American Muslims need to report suspicious activities to law enforcement in order to prevent attacks like those which occurred in San Bernadino.

Trump did not defend a Muslim ban in explicit terms, but explained he favored “extreme vetting.”

He slammed Hillary Clinton for favoring a 550 percent increase in the Syrian refugee program beyond what the Obama administration has authorized.

Trump warned of dire consequences unless American security was prioritized.

“People are coming into our country and we have no idea who they are,” he said. “Where they are from, what their feeling about our country is. And she wants 550 percent more. This is going to be the great Trojan Horse of all time.”

Trump slammed the moderate Muslim nations Hillary Clinton praised as American allies for not doing more to solve the refugee crisis.

“I believe in building safe zones, in having other people for them,” Trump said. “As an example, the Gulf States who are not carrying their weight but have nothing but money.”

For her part, Clinton claimed she would “not let anyone into our country that I think poses a risk to us.”

However, the former secretary of state claimed sad pictures of Syrian refugees moved her to welcome more migrants. She also pinned the blame on Russia for the Syrian crisis.

“There are a lot of refugees, women and children,” Clinton said. “Think of that picture we all saw of that 4-year-old boy with the blood on his forehead because he had been bombed by the Russian and Syrian air forces. There are children suffering in this catastrophic war. Largely I believe because of Russian aggression. And we need to do our part. We are by no means carrying anywhere near the load that Europe and others are.”

Pete Hoekstra: Obama-Clinton Foreign Policy ‘Not Only Engaging with Radical Jihadist Groups Overseas,’ but Allowing Them to ‘Spread Their Doctrine Around the United States’

T.J. Kirkpatrick-Pool/Getty Images

T.J. Kirkpatrick-Pool/Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Oct. 4, 2016:

Pete Hoekstra, former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, appeared on Breitbart News Daily Tuesday morning to discuss his Washington Examiner op-ed, “Obama Rolls Dice on Foreign Policy in Secretive Presidential Decree.”

Hoekstra told SiriusXM host Alex Marlow that a presidential directive is “developed by an inter-agency group within the executive branch, usually headed by the State Department, and it then outlines U.S. foreign policy in whatever area it was tasked to study.”

“In this case, back in 2009 and 2010, this group got together, and they articulated a new policy for the United States government towards the Middle East, especially toward various Muslim groups in the Middle East,” Hoekstra continued. “This directive, we believe, specifically directed U.S. government agencies – State Department employees, ambassadors, and those types of things – to begin engaging with radical jihadist groups, believing that if we would engage with radical jihadist groups, they would change their behavior toward the United States.”

“It led to the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt. It led to the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya. Libya obviously ended up with catastrophic results, and we almost lost Egypt at the same time,” he recalled.

Marlow found it remarkable that so little was being made of Hillary Clinton’s role in crafting Obama’s disastrous foreign policy in the current election cycle.

“You’re absolutely right,” said Hoekstra, elaborating:

Take a look. When President Obama – we completed this study at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, where I now spend my time – in 2008, 2009, when this President and Hillary Clinton took over the government, there were roughly 3,300 people per year who were losing their lives as a result of radical jihadism. Today, that number is approaching almost 30,000 people per year. Iraq is a failed state. Syria is a failed state. Yemen is a failed state. Libya is a failed state. And Afghanistan is a failed state.

“The media doesn’t want to talk about it,” he observed. “Obviously, Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to talk about it because their role in national security has destabilized the Middle East and northern Africa. It has led to increasing deaths in massive refugee flows throughout the Middle East, Europe, and again Northern Africa.”

When Marlow observed that regime-change philosophy under both Bush and Obama has been criticized by some conservatives, Hoekstra noted there were some important differences between the two administrations:

Under the Bush administration, at least we removed dictators who were hostile to the United States – Afghanistan and Iraq.

Egypt and Libya, we actually removed a President Mubarak who for – what, 20 or 25 years? – had done everything the United States had asked him to do to maintain stability in the Middle East.

In Libya, we had a wonderful experience where Qaddafi actually flipped sides, turned over his nuclear weapons, paid reparations, and joined us in the fight against radical jihadists. And after eight years of doing everything America asked him to do, Hillary Clinton declared that he needed to go. The United States, along with NATO, we removed Qaddafi, and it has now been a failed state.

The other thing is, which you’ll see on this, is not only are we engaging with radical jihadist groups overseas, in this regime change, we’re also allowing some of these same people to come into the United States, providing them access to the White House, providing them access to the State Department, and allowing them to go around the country and make speeches, and spread their doctrine around the United States.

So this PSD-11 had nothing to do with national security. There’s no sources or methods. It’s just a strategy. But obviously, this is something that we think the Obama administration ought to make public, and I doubt that they will make it public because the results of this policy have not been very good.

Hoekstra suspected this dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy was “probably a creation of Ben Rhodes, the person who worked for the President as an assistant national security adviser”:

This was the whole spin back in 2009, 2010, that there’s this Arab Spring moving through the Middle East, the forces for democracy and reform, free markets, and those types of things.

As David Ignatius – a liberal columnist – wrote, this is really a gamble, a roll of the dice as he described it, by the Obama administration, embracing these forces of change in the Middle East with the expectation that positive things would happen.

Well, if they would have peeled back the layers on these groups at all, they would have recognized it was not a roll of the dice; it was a high-risk, high-gamble, and it didn’t pay off. So the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, decided to throw out 30 years of foreign policy that brought some stability to the Middle East, and the result was, they failed. And the results have been horrendous.

Concerning the seven major Obama foreign interventions Hoekstra covered in his Washington Examiner piece, he said, “The only one that has any tentative success, you could argue, would be Tunisia – but even there, Tunisia is close to the tipping point, in terms of going in the wrong direction.”

LISTEN:

Brutal ISIS Executions, Military Weakness, and A New Refugee Crisis

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America’s policy in Syria and Iraq has been “cool, rational, and wrong.” Is it already too late to fix it?

CounterJihad, Oct. 4, 2016:

The Islamic State (ISIS) has delivered a new propaganda video showing another gruesome mass execution of fellow Muslims.  The group proclaims that the video should serve as a warning to any Muslims thinking of coming to join any of the rebel armies fighting against them in the conflict.  Amid Nazi salutes, ISIS soldiers clad in stolen American-made 3 color DCU uniforms promised to fight the “apostates” whom they painted as being on the same side as the Americans.

Yet the Americans have done but little to support any allies in the region.  As the Economist notes, US President Barack Obama has kept American forces largely out of the conflict except in an advisory role.  This is because, they explain, he views an American intervention as likely to cause more harm than good.  His policy has been throughout “cool,” “rational,” and “wrong.”

As America has pulled back, others have stepped in—geopolitics abhors a vacuum. Islamic State (IS) has taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq. A new generation of jihadists has been inspired to fight in Syria or attack the West. Turkey, rocked by Kurdish and jihadist violence (and a failed coup), has joined the fight in Syria. Jordan and Lebanon, bursting with refugees, fear they will be sucked in. The exodus of Syrians strengthens Europe’s xenophobic populists and endangers the European Union. A belligerent Russia feels emboldened….

None of this is in America’s interest. Being cool and calculating is not much use if everybody else thinks you are being weak. Even if America cannot fix Syria, it could have helped limit the damage, alleviate suffering and reduce the appeal of jihadism…. Mr Obama says that Mr Assad eventually must go, but has never willed the means to achieve that end. (Some rebel groups receive CIA weapons, but that is about it.)… [J]ihadism is fed by war and state failure: without a broader power-sharing agreement in Syria and Iraq any victory against IS will be short-lived; other jihadists will take its place.

Russia has been building pressure on the Obama administration in other ways.  Since the suspending of talks between the US and Russia, the Putin administration has announced major nuclear war games that will move tens of millions of people to civil defense shelters on very short notice.  They have suspended nuclear arms deals with the United States involving plutonium cleanup, suggesting that they fear the US will cheat.  The Russians have also deployed one of their advanced missile systems outside of their homeland for the first time.  The deployment was made without comment, but as one American official noted wryly, ““Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?”  Al Nusra Front is an al Qaeda linked organization that has been sometimes allied with, but more often at war with, the Islamic State.

All of this means that America’s window to take a more aggressive approach may be closing, if it has not already closed.  Increasingly Russia and their Iranian allies are looking likely to dominate the northern Middle East from Afghanistan to the Levant.  This President has been badly outmaneuvered.  The next President will have to decide how much he or she is willing to risk in order to try to deal with the feeding of “jihadism… by war and state failure.”

The threat is very real, as estimates are that the assault on Mosul might produce another million refugees headed for Europe and America, or perhaps half again that many.  The failure to take a more aggressive approach may end up bringing a flood tide of human suffering and terror.

After Islamic State, Fears of a ‘Shiite Crescent’ in Mideast

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The mullahs’ regime in Tehran is no less brutal, no less jihadi than the Islamic State – so why on earth should we of the West have anything to do w/propping up Tehran’s puppet regimes in Baghdad, Beirut or Damascus? Besides, bomb Raqqa into the ground tomorrow (not a bad idea!) & the global jihad would hardly skip a beat – that’s because jihad is wherever there is a cell, a community, or a network of faithful, devout Muslims obedient to shariah – and that means, already living among us. Jihad is upon us where we live now, not just ‘over there.’ – Clare Lopez

WSJ, by YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Sept. 29, 2016:

From the point of view of Sunni Arab regimes anxious about Iran’s regional ambitions, Islamic State—as repellent as it is—provides a silver lining. The extremist group’s firewall blocks territorial contiguity between Iran and its Arab proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

This means that now, as Islamic State is losing more and more land to Iranian allies, these Sunni countries—particularly Saudi Arabia—face a potentially more dangerous challenge: a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut that would reinforce a more capable and no less implacable enemy.

Pro-Iranian Shiite militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraq’s Badr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq are filling the void left by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and they are much better equipped and trained than the Sunni extremist group. They are also just as hostile to the Saudi regime, openly talking about dismantling the kingdom and freeing Islam’s holy places from the House of Saud.

That rhetoric only intensified after January’s breakup in diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran.

Many Western officials see these Shiite militias—which currently refrain from attacking Western targets—as an undoubtedly preferable alternative to Islamic State’s murderous rule, and some of the groups operating in Iraq indirectly coordinate with U.S. air power. But that isn’t how those militias are viewed in Riyadh and other Gulf capitals.

Abuses committed by Iranian proxies in Sunni areas are just as bad as those of Islamic State, argued Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and a nephew of the current king.

“They are equally threatening, and one feeds off the other,” Prince Turki said in an interview. “Both of them are equally vicious, equally treacherous, and equally destructive.”

The West, he added, fundamentally misunderstood Iranian intentions in the region. “It’s wishful thinking that, if we try to embrace them, they may tango with us. That’s an illusion,” he said.

Fears over a “Shiite crescent” of Iranian influence in the Middle East aren’t new. They were first aired by Jordan’s King Abdullah a year after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq brought pro-Iranian politicians to power in Baghdad.

In the following years, the huge U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency there kept Iranian power in check. Then, just as the U.S. withdrawal and the taming of the insurgency seemed to herald a new era of Iranian prominence in the region, the 2011 upheaval of the Arab Spring unleashed the Syrian civil war.

The dramatic rise of Islamic State that followed created a Britain-sized Sunni statelet in Syria and Iraq—and severed all land communications in the middle of that “Shiite crescent.”

“Prior to 2011, Iran already had overwhelming influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. So Iran has not significantly expanded its influence in the region, but rather it has been forced to provide military protection to pivotal allies it risked losing,” said Ali Vaez, Iran expert at the International Crisis Group. “If this has caused panic in Riyadh, it’s mainly because the Arab world is in a state of disarray.”

In both Syria and Iraq, however, Shiite militias controlled by Iran now play a far greater role than in 2011. Last month, Iraq ended the brief tenure of the first Saudi ambassador to the country since 2003, expelling him over his criticism of the Shiite militias. These groups, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq, and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas.

In Syria, too, the survival of President Bashar al-Assad—allied with Iran but autonomous in many of his policies before 2011—has become impossible without the support of Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy that has grown into a regional military force. Other Shiite militias in Syria are staffed by Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani recruits.

“Iran’s power has spread further afield than before in terms of direct military power. We have never had so many Shiite militias operating in so many different areas, and fighting in traditional Sunni strongholds,” said Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

With Islamic State also under attack by U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish forces and a Turkish offensive, it’s possible that these Iranian proxies and allies would link up along the Iraq-Syrian border in coming months. The question is whether they would be able to hold that land and rule over the remaining Sunni populations without a degree of power-sharing—something that neither Baghdad nor Damascus seem ready for.

Absent that, it is likely that a new insurgency would bubble up soon in those areas—likely fomented by Sunni Arab states eager to break up the region’s “Shiite crescent” once again.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni Iraqi politician and the country’s former deputy prime minister, warned that keeping the Sunnis disenfranchised would lead to precisely such an outcome.

“Unless you start thinking about the conditions that created ISIS in the first place and try to overcome these conditions,” he said in an interview, “there will be a new ISIS again, maybe of a different kind.”

Also see:

FBI Director: ‘Terrorist Diaspora’ Like ‘Never Before’ May Follow Islamic State Defeat

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, Sept. 28, 2016:

Defeating the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) could lead to an increase in terrorist attacks in Western countries rather than a reduction, declared FBI Director James Comey.

“At some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before. Not all of the Islamic State killers are going to die on the battlefield,” he said during a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University Wednesday.

The FBI chief predicted that the U.S.-led coalition would eventually decimate ISIS but added that “through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of really dangerous people and they are going to flow primarily to Western Europe.”

However, he also said that some of those potential terrorists could end up in the United States.

The New York Times (NYT) reports:

He drew a parallel between this scenario and the formation of Al Qaeda more than a quarter-century ago, which drew from fighters who had been radicalized fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“This is 10 times that or more. This is an order of magnitude greater than anything we’ve seen before,” said Comey, later adding, “We saw the future of this threat in Brussels and in Paris [terrorist attacks earlier this year].”

CNN points out, “And just not in the West. There have recently been stepped up ISIS attacks worldwide, including in countries near its home base territory that has been shrinking due to military losses in Iraq and Syria.”

In May, the FBI director told reporters that the number of Americans traveling overseas to engage in jihad on behalf of ISIS has dropped dramatically to an average of one person per month.

Nevertheless, he noted that there are “north of 1,000” cases in which FBI agents are in the process of evaluating a subject’s level of radicalization and potential for violence, of which an estimated 80 percent are linked to ISIS.

He said:

There’s still a presence online, and troubled people are still turning to this and at least being interested in it. But they’ve lost their ability to attract people to their caliphate from the United States in a material way…

There’s no doubt that something has happened that is lasting, in terms of the attractiveness of the nightmare which is the Islamic State to people from the United States.

Various Obama administration officials have predicted that ISIS is on the road to defeat in Iraq and Syria. Some American and Iraqi officials argue that the increase in attacks by the jihadist group are a sign of desperation.

“The FBI director’s warning that the collapse of the caliphate will mean increased attacks in Western Europe and the United States mirrors a consensus among intelligence officials,” reports CNN.

Emmanuel Khoshaba Youkhana, commander of the Christian Assyrian Army known as Dwekh Nawsha, recently told Breitbart News that ISIS “is losing” in Iraq and will “soon be vanquished.”

Nonetheless, he added that their ideology will remain alive and kicking, noting that there is no strategy to defeat the ideals that motivate members of the terrorist group.

The commander’s Christian forces have managed to hold territory in northern Iraq’s Nineveh plains, despite repeated attacks by ISIS.

CNN notes that Abu Mohammed al Adnani, the terrorist group’s chief spokesman and ideologue, tried to reframe how ISIS defines victory in an audio message released at the end of May.

Defeat would not result from losing control of territory but from “losing the will and the desire to fight,” he declared.

One Western counterterrorism official predicted “a metastasis of terror as it becomes increasingly difficult for ISIL to hold on to core territories,” reports the news network.

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Gorka: Director Comey correct about ‘terrorist diaspora’

Also see: