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

March 14, 2015 / /

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

Iraqi offensive to dislodge Islamic State from Tikrit appears to stall

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

Iraqi forces pause in battle to drive Islamic State from Tikrit

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Iraq militia leader hails Iran’s ‘unconditional’ support

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

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

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

Qods Force-Led Assault Force Meets Heavy Resistance in Tikrit

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

11 MAR

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

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

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

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

longwar

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

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

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Kurdish Insurgency

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

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Southeast Insurgency

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

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Charm Offensive

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

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the “Reformers”

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

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Nuclear Weapons Program

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

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

Other Related Articles:

ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts

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

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

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

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

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

Tikrit Update as of 22 JUL 14

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

State of the Iraqi Air Force and Special Operations Forces

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

ISIS: Regained the Initiative in Northern Iraq

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

UN recognizes ties between Ansar al Sharia in Libya, al Qaeda

Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL)

Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL)

Long War Journal, By

The United Nations Security Council today added Ansar al Sharia in Libya to its al Qaeda sanctions list. “As a result of the new listings,” the UN announced, “any individual or entity that provides financial or material support to” Ansar al Sharia Libya, “including the provision of arms or recruits, is eligible to be added to the Al Qaeda Sanctions List and subject to the sanctions measures.”

The UN notes that the Ansar al Sharia chapters in Benghazi and Derna are associated with one another, but lists them separately under a heading that reads, “Entities and other groups associated with Al Qaeda.”

Despite their separate listings, the two Ansar al Sharia groups operate together and have published their propaganda under a shared brand. Ansar al Sharia fighters from both Benghazi and Derna participated in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US Mission and Annex in Benghazi. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed during the assault.

According to the UN, both Ansar al Sharia groups in Libya are “associated” with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an official branch of al Qaeda that remains loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri. They are both also tied to Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia, which orchestrated the assault on the US Embassy in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012.

The UN added Ansar al Sharia Tunisia to its al Qaeda sanctions list in September. The UN found that, like its sister organizations in Libya, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia has “links to” AQIM.

There are well-established ties between Ansar al Sharia in Libya and Tunisia. The UN notes in its designation that Ansar al Sharia in Libya has a “support network in Tunisia.”

In addition, the Benghazi chapter is tied to Al Mourabitoun, which is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former AQIM commander who established his own jihadist group. Belmokhtar is openly loyal to Zawahiri and, according to a previous designation by the UN, still works with AQIM despite his differences with the group’s leadership.

Earlier this month, Agence France Presse obtained a copy of a dossier that was submitted to the UN to justify today’s action. The documents provided to the UN show that 12 of the 24 jihadists who participated in the January 2013 siege of the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria were trained in Ansar al Sharia camps in Benghazi.

Belmokhtar commanded the terrorists responsible for the In Amenas siege and claimed responsibility for the raid on behalf of al Qaeda.

Britain, France, and the US moved to have Ansar al Sharia Libya added to the UN sanctions list earlier this month, and all 15 members of the UN Security Council had until today to agree to the sanctions. A consensus was reached and the sanctions were approved.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised the UN’s decision in a statement. Hammond said that the Ansar al Sharia groups in Benghazi and Derna both “have links with Al Qaeda and are responsible for acts of terror in Libya, including bomb attacks, kidnappings, and murder.”

Ansar al Sharia camps in Derna and Benghazi have been used to funnel foreign fighters to Syria, according to the UN. The camps in Benghazi have also shipped jihadists off to Mali.

Today’s action by the UN confirms The Long War Journal’s reporting and analysis. Numerous pieces of evidence tie the Ansar al Sharia organizations in Libya and Tunisia to al Qaeda’s international network. See, for example, LWJ reports:

State Department designates 3 Ansar al Sharia organizations, leaders
Senate report: Terrorists ‘affiliated’ with multiple al Qaeda groups involved in Benghazi attack
Ex-Guantanamo detainee remains suspect in Benghazi attack
Al Qaeda and the threat in North Africa
From al Qaeda in Italy to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia
Al Qaeda ally orchestrated assault on US Embassy in Tunisia
Al Qaeda’s plan for Libya highlighted in congressional report

EMET Briefing with Thomas Joscelyn on the New Caliphate: ISIS

Published on Aug 18, 2014 by emetonline

EMET is proud to host Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the senior editor of The Long War Journal. Mr. Joscelyn gives a briefing about recent events in Iraq and Syria and the (so-called) new Islamic State.

http://emetonline.org/event/emet-briefing-thomas-joscelynon-new-caliphate-isis/

Also see:

Jihadists ‘are thinking in terms of generations’

Long War Journal:

 

The Long War Journal‘s Thomas Joscelyn appears on FOX News to discuss the Bowe Bergdahl – Taliban prisoner exchange and the five dangerous Taliban leaders who were released, the first American suicide bomber in Syria, and the overall war

Al Qaeda remains in Afghanistan despite drawdown plans

Naseer Ahmed/Reuters

Naseer Ahmed/Reuters

LWJ, By 

Eli Lake’s report at The Daily Beast, titled “As Obama Draws Down, Al Qaeda Grows in Afghanistan,” is today’s must read article. A quick excerpt:

As President Obama outlines what he promises to be the end of the war in Afghanistan, new U.S. intelligence assessments are warning that al Qaeda is beginning to re-establish itself there.Specifically, the concern for now is that al Qaeda has created a haven in the northeast regions of Kunar and Nuristan and is able to freely operate along Afghanistan’s only major highway–Route One, which connects the airports of Kandahar and Kabul.

“There is no doubt they have a significant presence in northeast Afghanistan,” Mac Thornberry, the Republican vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Daily Beast. “It’s a lot of speculation about exact numbers, but again part of the question is what are their numbers going to be and what are there activities going to be when the pressure lets up.”

If Thornberry’s warnings prove correct, then Obama is faced with two bad choices. He either breaks his promise to end America’s longest war or he ends up losing that war by withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan too soon, allowing al Qaeda to re-establish a base of operations in the country from which it launched 9/11.

For years, the official intelligence community estimate was that a little more than 100 al Qaeda fighters remained in Kunar Province, a foreboding territory of imposing mountains and a local population in the mountains at least that largely agrees with al Qaeda’s ascetic Salafist philosophy.

But recent estimates from the military and the U.S. intelligence community have determined that al Qaeda’s presence has expanded to nearby Nuristan and that the group coordinates its operations and activities with allies like the Pakistan-based Taliban and Haqqani Network.

 

Read the whole thing. Long War Journal readers will know that for years we have reported on al Qaeda’s extensive presence in Afghanistan; al Qaeda’s collusion with the Taliban, Haqqani Network, the Pakistani Taliban, and other groups; and US and Coalition efforts to dismantle the network using targeted raids.

And we’ve repeatedly criticized the often-repeated meme that al Qaeda has just 50-100 fighters in Afghanistan. Using press reports, press releases from the International Security Assistance Force, and al Qaeda’s own statements, we have detected the presence of al Qaeda and allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, and Lashkar-e-Taiba in 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Sadly, in June 2013 ISAF stopped issuing press releases on its raids that targeted al Qaeda, cutting off one important source of information that detailed al Qaeda’s presence.

Now, I’d argue that al Qaeda isn’t expanding into Kunar and Nuristan, but has merely capitalized on the US pullback from Kunar that took place beginning in 2009 [see this report from 2011 for some background on the withdrawal]. Keep in mind that the US began this withdrawal even as special operations forces were actively targeting what ISAF identified as al Qaeda “camps” in the province. For more on this, see LWJ report, ISAF captures al Qaeda’s top Kunar commander, from April 2011.

It seems that some US officials are finally starting to come around to the analysis of al Qaeda’s presence that has long been provided by The Long War Journal. Unfortunately, that may be too little and too late, as President Obama has set the stage for the US to exit Afghanistan and significantly reduce, if not end, its capacity to target al Qaeda and allied groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Long War Journal’s reply to Marie Harf

harfBy THOMAS JOSCELYN & BILL ROGGIO:

Our coverage of a recent press briefing conducted by the State Department’s deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, has struck a nerve. Since we published our piece on Friday, Jan. 24, Ms. Harf has responded to us in emails and on Twitter. We have published a reply from Ms. Harf, in full, here.

She says that we have “misconstrued” or “entirely misread” her comments. On Twitter, she accused us of making “false claims.”

Ms. Harf is flat wrong. We quoted Ms. Harf’s full comments, at length, for all of our readers to see. And our characterization was entirely accurate.

Ms. Harf’s response is telling and actually reinforces both of our key points. Zawahiri is operationally tied to terrorists in Syria and Ms. Harf mistakenly tried to dismiss his relevance. More importantly, the Obama administration has not offered a precise definition of al Qaeda’s “core” – even though this concept is the linchpin of the administration’s assessment of the al Qaeda threat. We encourage journalists to ask more questions about what administration officials mean, precisely, when they speak of al Qaeda’s “core.”

Al Qaeda, Zawahiri, and Syria

In her response, Ms. Harf does not dispute our well-documented claim that Zawahiri is, in fact, operationally tied to terrorists inside Syria. In her initial briefing she tried to downplay this possibility. She now claims, however, that our criticism of her comments is “patently false” because she said, in effect, “I didn’t know and that I needed to check with our team.”

We put Ms. Harf’s words (“Not to my knowledge”) in bold in our original piece, making it easy to see that she was speaking from her own personal knowledge. Still, it is absolutely clear from the transcript that Ms. Harf was trying to downplay the idea that Zawahiri had any operational relevance – not only in Syria, but also elsewhere.

Consider the full context surrounding her claim, “… I don’t know of more of an operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.”

With respect to Zawahiri’s message, Ms. Harf began by saying, “I haven’t seen it.” She soon added, “I haven’t, quite frankly, seen the Zawahiri message.” But she also claimed that “this is not new rhetoric we’ve heard from Zawahiri.”

This is odd and shows how quick she was to dismiss Zawahiri’s importance. If she hadn’t seen, heard, or read a transcript of Zawahiri’s message yet, how did she know it was nothing new?**

Ms. Harf then proceeded to argue that the message she hadn’t seen was unimportant. We will again quote from the transcript of Harf’s press briefing:

…I think [Zawahiri] spends, at this point, probably more time worrying about his own personal security than propaganda, but still is interested in putting out this kind of propaganda to remain relevant.So we’ve seen al-Qaida in the past try to take advantage for propaganda purposes of local – of conflicts in places like Iraq, places like Yemen, and places like Syria, to use that for propaganda purposes. But beyond that, I don’t know of more of an operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.

 

So, from the State Department deputy spokesperson’s perspective, Zawahiri is more concerned about “his own personal security” than putting out propaganda (there is no room for an operational Zawahiri here). Zawahiri’s message was “nothing new,” and simply “propaganda” intended “to remain relevant.” It was also similar to other pieces of al Qaeda “propaganda” because the group tries “to take advantage … of local … conflicts in places like Iraq, places like Yemen, and places like Syria, to use that for propaganda purposes.”

Ms. Harf’s response, therefore, was an aggressive attempt to downplay the operational relevance of Zawahiri and al Qaeda’s senior leadership not only with respect to Syria, but also in other hotspots such as Iraq and Yemen. We obviously disagree.

It was after all of this that Ms. Harf said, “But beyond that, I don’t know of more of an operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.”

Our interpretation of Ms. Harf’s comments was, therefore, spot on. The specific comment we criticized came after a string of similar claims, all intended to dismiss Zawahiri as more or less irrelevant.

Read more at Long War Journal

State Department spokesperson mischaracterizes al Qaeda

download (59)By THOMAS JOSCELYN & BILL ROGGIO:

Yesterday, State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf made two ridiculous claims about al Qaeda during a briefing with reporters. First, she claimed that there are no “operational” links between al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and jihadist groups in Syria. And second, she said that Zawahiri is the only remaining member of “core” al Qaeda. From the briefing[emphasis ours]:

QUESTION: Okay. And then, secondly, there were some reports that Ayman Zawahiri has recorded another message – it’s on militant websites – telling militants to unite in Syria. Are you aware of these and do you have any response?MS. HARF: I haven’t seen it. I think – a few points: Obviously, we are concerned about the terrorist threat in Syria. We’re concerned about al-Qaida affiliated elements from taking advantage of the situation there to conduct terrorist attacks. I haven’t, quite frankly, seen the Zawahiri message. Did you say it was an audio message?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll take a look or a listen to that when I get back.

And look, this is not new rhetoric we’ve heard from Zawahiri. He’s – core al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, besides Zawahiri, has essentially the entire leadership been decimated by the U.S. counterterrorism efforts. He’s the only one left. I think he spends, at this point, probably more time worrying about his own personal security than propaganda, but still is interested in putting out this kind of propaganda to remain relevant.

So we’ve seen al-Qaida in the past try to take advantage for propaganda purposes of local – of conflicts in places like Iraq, places like Yemen, and places like Syria, to use that for propaganda purposes. But beyond that, I don’t know of more of an operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.

QUESTION: So you’re not seeing any kind of operational command and control between core al-Qaida and what the militants in Syria —

MS. HARF: I’ll check with our folks. Not to my knowledge. But again, I want to check with our team just to make sure what the exact – on operational. We certainly know that elements in Syria take – al-Qaida elements in Syria take inspiration from folks like Zawahiri and from some of the language that we hear from him, and that, I’m sure, it’s the same kind of language that’s on this audio that I will take a look at when I get off the podium.

But beyond that, again, we’ve been very clear that because of the Assad regime’s climate it’s created in Syria, we are increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat. Certainly.

First, Harf claims that there is no “operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.” There is plenty of evidence demonstrating that this isn’t true.

Zawahiri stepped into the leadership dispute between the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) last year. He demanded that the leaders of both organizations file a report with him. They each complied. He then issued a ruling in late May that ISIS and its emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, disagreed with and openly defied. The dispute with ISIS is more nuanced than most analysts let on, but it is obviously a very serious disagreement. (We have covered this in-depth, and will have more on this in the near future.)

Read more at Long War Journal