February 25, 2014:
In Anbar there are nearly 400,000 civilians displaced by the increased ISIL
(the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also called ISIS)
activity in western Iraq so far this year. Some 85 percent of the population in Fallujah have pulled out. There has not been a lot of fighting in Fallujah in the last three days. That’s because of an army ceasefire granted to the pro-government Sunni tribes that are trying to persuade ISIL to get out of Fallujah. The tribal leaders want to avoid a lot of damage to the city, which is what would happen if the army, with its artillery, tanks and air support, resumed fighting.
While the ISIL offensive in Anbar grabs most of the media attention what really matters is the increased operations of the army, police and pro-government militias against ISIL throughout western and northern Iraq. The ISIL is taking a beating everywhere. ISIL will survive as an organization. Islamic terrorist groups have a talent for putting a positive spin on major defeats. Decisive victory over ISIL will be the result of grinding the Sunni fanatics down over months and years. The fact that there are a growing number of Sunni tribes backing this effort is a major indicator of the damage done to ISIL. Terrorist related violence left about a thousand dead in January, continuing a trend begun a year ago that left nearly 9,000 dead in 2013. The January death toll is the highest since April 2008. Most Iraqis, particularly Sunni Arabs, are fed up with the futile terrorism of ISIL. The Sunni Arabs also want a better economic and political deal from the Shia majority but are increasingly concentrating on avoiding getting killed as collateral damage to ISIL terrorism.
ISIL is taking a beating in
as well as in
In Syria the civil war among the rebels (everyone versus ISIL) has declined to a lot of local truces and decisions to continue fighting a subdued ISIL only when necessary. Meanwhile in Iraq the situation is a little different.
Since January 1st ISIL has been trying to seize cities in Western Iraq (Anbar province). ISIL has been losing ground in both Syria and Iraq but considers its continuing survival a victory and a sign that their murderous tactics are approved by God. In Syria ISIL is hated because ISIL wants to unite Syria and Iraq in an ISIL dominated religious dictatorship. Most Syrians don’t want to become part of some Iraqi empire. That has been attempted several times in the past and has never worked out.
The main thing that’s hurting ISIL in Syria and Iraq is their savagery. In addition to slaughtering Moslems who don’t agree with them, they have also been particularly brutal against Christians in Syria and Iraq. What outrages al Qaeda leaders is the tendency of ISIL to publically execute (often by beheading) Moslems. This stuff ends up on the Internet and turns many Moslems against al Qaeda.
In Iraq is has apparently triggered the long feared resumption of the Shia militia retaliation against Sunni civilians. In the last few months there have been more and more attacks on Sunni civilians and mosques. The Shia militias know better than to publicize this activity. They did that back in 2005 and for two years they got a free ride from the new Iraqi government. But after the Sunni tribes turned on al Qaeda in 2007 the Iraqi government asked, then demanded that the Shia militia shut down the death squads. When some Shia militias refused, the new Iraqi security forces won their first big victory by going in, largely by themselves, and fighting the outlaw Shia militias and shutting those militias down. The government is not making any such threats again, at least not yet.
The United States asked Iraq to comment officially on reports that Iraq had signed an agreement in late November to buy $195 million worth of weapons and ammo from Iran. This is forbidden by international sanctions. Those sanctions have not prevented a lot of “smuggling” between Iran and Iraq. Much of this “illegal” trade apparently has official approval and assistance. State owned Iranian defense firms agreed to send assault rifles, machine-guns, mortars and ammo for these weapons in addition to ammunition for 125mm tank guns and artillery. In addition the Iranians are providing night vision goggles and communications equipment.
February 22, 2014: The army has gone along with a request by pro-government tribes around Fallujah and agreed to halt operations against ISIL fighters in Fallujah for 72 hours. The tribes believe they can get ISIL out of the city will less damage and loss of life. Elsewhere in western Iraq (Anbar province) an army helicopter was shot down (killing four soldiers) over the town of Karma. ISIL gunmen briefly occupied Karma before troops drove them out.
February 21, 2014: Some 40 ISIL gunmen, riding in a convoy of SUVs entered the town of al Sainiyah, which is 180 kilometers north of Baghdad and in the province north of Anbar. The ISIL men set off a bomb at the police station and fought police and soldiers all night before retreating back to Anbar the next day.
February 20, 2014: The government announced cash rewards for Iraqis who capture ($25,000) or kill ($16,666) a foreigner fighting for ISIL. This is meant to encourage the pro-government Sunni tribes in Anbar who are working with the security forces to suppress the ISIL there. These rewards are a clever idea, because one thing most Sunni and Shia can agree on is that armed foreigners are a bad thing. Offering large cash rewards for bringing in one of these guys, dead or alive, does not face the usual “revenge” aspect of rewards. When rewards are offered for nailing another Iraqi you run a big risk of triggering revenge efforts by your victim’s family, friends, gang or whatever. There’s much less of a problem with this angle when the victim is a foreigner who has come to Iraq to, basically, kill Iraqis. ISIL compounds the sin of recruiting foreigners by not trying terribly hard to avoid killing Sunnis as well as Shia. Government and media reports indicate that nearly all the suicide bomber attacks in Iraq in the last few months have been carried out by ISIL recruited foreigners (usually from other Arab states in the region) who volunteered for such duty.
February 15, 2014: Prime minister Maliki visited Anbar to hold meetings with local Sunni leaders.
February 14, 2014: Iraq has ordered 500 AGM-114K/R Hellfire II missiles. Iraq has some helicopters, trainers and recon aircraft that can be
(or already have been)
equipped with Hellfire.
February 13, 2014: ISIL gunmen invaded the town of Sulaiman Bek (160 kilometers north of Baghdad). This Sunni majority town (population 25,000) is in Salaheddin province, which is just north of Anbar. There was a garrison of soldiers, as well as police, in the town but the security forces apparently panicked at the appearance of the ISIL men. The next day more troops showed up and pushed the ISIL out of the town. Then the soldiers pulled out and the ISIL came back. Finally the troops went in again on the 18th and drove ISIL out for good, killing at least 15 of the Islamic terrorists in the process. In the five day operation at least four civilians were killed and, apparently, very few police and soldiers.
February 11, 2014: In Baghdad the offices of a newspaper were bombed, apparently in retaliation for publishing, on February 6th, an unflattering cartoon of Ayatollah Khamenei (the chief cleric of Iran’s religious dictatorship). The paper had published an apology for the cartoon on the 9th but as the wheels turned inside the Iranian government the order eventually came down that the newspaper had to be punished. At least no one was killed. This is not the first time there has been physical retaliation against Iraqi media for publishing anti-Iran content. Such retaliation attacks have been on the rise in the last few months, as has the hostility coming from largely independent media in Iraq.
February 10, 2014: ISIL pulled out of the eastern Syrian province of Deir Al Zor after weeks of battles with other rebel factions. This province borders Iraq and occupies the central third of that border.
North of Baghdad an ISIL terrorist training camp had a bad day. An instructor showing other terrorists how to make car bombs made a fatal mistake and the explosives he had installed in a car went off killing him and twenty other Islamic terrorists. Police quickly responded to the explosion, arresting 12 wounded terrorists and ten others who had not yet fled the scene.
February 8, 2014: In Anbar the provincial governor gave the ISIL men in Fallujah one week to surrender or get out of the surrounded city (if they can). Local officials, both Sunni politicians and tribal leaders have been trying to persuade ISIL to leave Fallujah peacefully and avoid a battle for the city that would leave the place in ruins.