President Barack Obama is close to a decision on a number of US military steps for thwarting the march of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, now halted at Samarra 70 km short of Baghdad. In a comment Thursday night, June 12, he said: “We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.” He added that he was thinking of “short-term military things.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been appealing to the White House for months for Apache helicopters and Hellfire air-ground rockets to fight terrorists. These Obama may now release, as well as considering token US drone attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq, for which he is most reluctant..
Thursday afternoon, Iran’s most powerful gun, the Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, arrived in Baghdad to take over the push against ISIS, in the same way as he has managed Bashar Assad’s war in Syria, and pull together the demoralized and scattered Iraqi army.
Those steps by Washington and Tehran pave the way for the US and Iran to cooperate for the first time in a joint military endeavor.
Since ISIS forces, albeit boosted by tens of thousands of armed Sunnis flocking to the black flag, are not capable of capturing Baghdad and have halted outside the city, President Obama and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have won a small space for deciding how to proceed.
Khamenei must determine whether Gen. Soleimani with the help of American weaponry can stop al Qaeda, save Maliki from collapse and prevent the fall of Baghdad, and whether it is worth sending an Iranian army division over to Iraq, our intelligence sources reported earlier Thursday. They have since entered Iraq and are fighting ISIS forces.
These moves by Tehran will determined how Washington acts in the coming hours.
The big winner of the ISIS onslaught on Iraq, apart from Al Qaeda, is the semiautonomous Kurdish republic in the north. When the Iraqi army’s 12th division assigned with defending Kirkuk and its oil fields scattered to the four winds Thursday, the Kurdish Peshmerga army rolled right in and snatched the city and oil fields from the control of the Baghdad government, fulfilling an old Kurdish dream.
A U.S./Israel/Iran/Saudi Arabia/Bashar Assad alliance in the Middle East is, if I’m not mistaken, mentioned in chapter nine of the Book of Revelation.
Alternate headline: “Atheist starting to believe in the End Times.”
Iran deployed Revolutionary Guard forces to fight in Iraq, helping government troops there wrest back control of most of the city of Tikrit from militants, Iranian security sources said…
Combined Iraqi-Iranian forces retook control of 85% of Tikrit, the birthplace of former dictator Saddam Hussein, according to Iraqi and Iranian security sources.
They were helping guard the capital Baghdad and the two Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, which have been threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda offshoot. The Sunni militant group’s lightning offensive has thrown Iraq into its worse turmoil since the sectarian fighting that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion…
In addition, Iran was considering the transfer to Iraq of Iranian troops fighting for the regime in Syria if the initial deployments fail to turn the tide of battle in favor of Mr. Maliki’s government.
Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force and the second-most powerful man in Iran, was in Baghdad a few days ago to reassure Maliki that his Shiite patrons will answer the bell for him, just like they did for Assad. As much fun in theory as an IRGC/ISIS slugfest might be for the west, in practice it’s horrific: It’s been happening in Syria for the past few years, with tens of thousands of civilians caught in the middle. There’s really no rooting interest here, either. If Iran succeeds in crushing the jihadis, Maliki and Assad will owe them everything. Tehran will own Iraq and Syria even more than they do now. If ISIS pushes Iran back to Iraq’s Shiite areas and secures the Sunni parts of Iraq and Syria for itself, the U.S. suddenly has to figure out a way to crush a huge Salafist terror statelet run by hardened guerilla jihadis right in the middle of Mesopotamia. Drone operators will be pulling double shifts for the next 20 years. One U.S. counterterror official, having looked at the intelligence on ISIS, told the WSJ, “It makes you want to kill yourself.” That’s the scope of what we’re dealing with here.
According to the sources, ISIS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi recently discussed with his lieutenants the possibility of extending the group’s control beyond Syria and Iraq.
One of the ideas discussed envisages focusing ISIS’s efforts on Jordan, where Islamist movements already have a significant presence. Jordan was also chosen because it has shared borders with Iraq and Syria, making it easier for the terrorists to infiltrate the kingdom…
The ISIS terrorists see Jordan’s Western-backed King Abdullah as an enemy of Islam and an infidel, and have publicly called for his execution. ISIS terrorists recently posted a video on YouTube in which they threatened to “slaughter” Abdullah, whom they denounced as a “tyrant.” Some of the terrorists who appeared in the video were Jordanian citizens who tore up their passports in front of the camera and vowed to launch suicide attacks inside the kingdom.
One obvious possible response here is for Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and maybe even Egypt to send troops to Iraq to crush ISIS. The jihadis are hugely outnumbered: Combined, the Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga in the country top them more than 30 to one. Add multinational Sunni troops and the ratio would skyrocket. I assume it won’t happen, though, partly because the Sunnis would rather let Iran bleed some more in handling this and partly because they may be nervous about being thin on troops at home at a moment when Islamists are running wild in Iraq. The local Islamists might seize on the security vacuum as an opportunity for mass protests or worse, which could destabilize the country. In the eternal game of Middle Eastern jihadi whack-a-mole, there are always more moles. And even if the Sunni states managed to keep order at home, what happens once they’re done with ISIS in Iraq? Do they go home, or push on into Syria to fight ISIS there — which could eventually lead to a direct confrontation between Iran, on Assad’s side, and the multinational Sunnis on the other?
At last check, ISIS was bulldozing border checkpoints between Iraq and Syria to symbolize the creation of a new, transnational jihadi state. Next stop: Caliphate?
Update: By the way, can anyone explain how the U.S. brain trust was “caught off guard” by all this when news about the jihadification of Syria’s rebels and the threat they pose to Iraq has been news for years? In particular:
“These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”
Two years, and no intelligence services locally or internationally had a heads up?
Update: C’mon, you know I’m right.
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