Iraq: Still The Radical Chic Flavor Of The Moment

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August 19, 2014: Kurdish troops have forced ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) fighters out of the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River. ISIL seized control of the dam on August 3 rd . This is the largest dam in Iraq and because of shoddy construction during the 1980s requires constant maintenance to prevent it from failing. If the dam did come down over half a million Iraqis could die from the flood and subsequent water shortages. The Kurds had been defending the dam since the Iraqi Army ran away in early June. ISIL also seized two nearby Kurdish held towns as they went after the dam.

This ISIL advance was not unexpected because the Kurds stretched had themselves thin by trying to replace the Iraqi Army while also building and defending a new fortified border to incorporate Kirkuk and nearby oilfields. The Kurds asked for air support from the United States but did not start receiving it until the 8th. The Americans had already shipped in ammo and light weapons and some additional American trainers and advisors.

ISIL hit the Kurds with multiple columns of vehicles carrying armed men. This force included some suicide bombers and there were more ISIL gunmen coming from more directions than the small Kurdish force could handle. After a day or so of holding off ISIL the Kurds were ordered to withdraw and they did that in an orderly fashion on the 3rd. The Kurds organized a counterattack force and moved to regain the lost territory once the U.S. agreed to resume air support. There are still some ISIL gunmen in the vicinity of the dam, as well as some mines and booby-traps the Islamic terrorists set before they left. Kurdish forces are taking care of this.

In the Euphrates River Valley, near the town of Haditha, local Sunni tribes have rebelled against ISIL to maintain control of another major dam. This is a major setback for ISIL, which expected the Sunni tribes to support them and take care of local security. It’s an old story being replayed. The local tribesmen are not happy with ISIL efforts to force a strict Islamic lifestyle on them. Iraqi and Syria Sunnis have come to prefer educating their daughters and enjoying TV and videos. There is even more tolerance for buying alcoholic beverages from local Christians who have long been allowed to sell this stuff because their religion does not forbid it (and their worship services actually use wine). Also unpopular is the ISIL attitude that anything they do is above reproach. The Sunni tribes that ISIL expected to be allies and take care of administering the newly conquered territories have increasingly refused to go along. While the Sunni tribes like the measure of law and order ISIL has imposed they are not willing to accept all the other features of ISIL rule. The secular Sunnis (mainly the surviving Baath Party organizations) initially believed they could work with ISIL but have since turned against the strict forms of Islam ISIL insists on. Meanwhile ISIL has antagonized many Islamic conservative groups by destroying shrines and even mosques ISIL considers heretical despite the fact that most Sunni Arabs tolerate these places because they are very popular, and bring in a significant amount of tourist business from foreigners and religious pilgrims.

Meanwhile the Sunni tribes have called on the new post Maliki Iraqi government to make peace with the Sunnis, something that the Americans arranged back in 2007 but that the Maliki government reneged on, despite American (and some Shia leaders) warnings that this would result in more Sunni Islamic terrorism.

ISIL leaders are running the new caliphate they declared in July and are calling on all Moslems to follow them. Most Moslems have responded, according to recent opinion polls, by expressing greater fear rather than more admiration for Islamic terrorist groups, especially ISIL. In the meantime (earlier in 2014) al Qaeda leadership condemned ISIL as completely out of control and not to be trusted or supported. While this sort of opposition inspires the most radical Moslems to support or join ISIL, the vast majority of Moslems have been horrified.  In the last year opinion polls show Moslems becoming more hostile to Islamic terrorists in general, seeing them as a cause for concern not as defenders of Islam. The same thing happened back in 2007 when Iraqi Sunnis reached the limit of endless Islamic terrorist violence against other Moslems and turned on Iraqi Islamic terrorists, including groups that would survive and evolve into ISIL. When al Qaeda first showed up in the 1990s as a post-Afghanistan international Islamic terrorist organization they were popular to Moslems in proportion to how far away the al Qaeda violence was. Once al Qaeda began killing people nearby Moslems tended to change their minds and expressed open and extreme dislike for Islamic terrorists. Thus while in 2013 37 percent of Turks were concerned about Islamic terrorism that is now 50 percent thanks to increased ISIL violence on the Syrian border and some inside Turkey itself. In 2013 54 percent of the people in Jordan were concerned versus 62 percent now for the same reason. In Lebanon, where the Syrian violence spilled over quickly after 2011, in 2013 81 percent were concerned about Islamic terrorism versus 92 percent today.

With the U.S. again carrying out air strikes and aerial reconnaissance in Iraq ISIL is looking to Syria for more progress. The majority of veteran ISIL men have experienced American air power and would rather avoid having to deal with it again. This means more new ISIL recruits are seeking to fight in Syria rather than Iraq. Thus there have been major ISIL operations in eastern Syria during the last week. The Sunni tribes of eastern Syria have rebelled against ISIL rule and the Islamic terrorists have responded with mass executions. This has left over 700 Syrian Sunni Arabs dead so far, many of them by beheading. ISIL is doing the same thing in northwest Iraq because ISIL forces are limited and they really only control most of Mosul and the main roads (along with key towns and villages on those roads). Now ISIL is essentially moving off these highways and raiding towns and villages full of infidels (non-Moslems, especially Christians and Yazidis). These raids often involve mass murder, with the survivors fleeing to whatever safety they can find.

Despite all the ISIL related violence the Iraqi economy continues to thrive. That is mainly because Iraq is producing 3.5 million barrels of oil a day, more than the Saddam ever achieved. Iraqi oil production had been stuck at 2.5 million barrels a day since the 1980s (production had peaked in the late 1970s at four million barrels a day). Iraqi has nine percent of the world's oil reserves, but decades of war and mismanagement had prevented necessary maintenance and construction in the oil fields. For the last few years the oil regions have been safe for foreign oil production companies to bring in their experts, and cash, in to get the job done, so Iraqi production has been steadily increasing. The goal is ten million barrels a day by the end of the decade. The Kurds plan to start exporting 80,000 barrels a day in by 2014, largely with the help of Turkish investors. Kurdish production is currently 120,000 barrels a day. The remaining problem is how to deal with the corruption that has diverted so much oil income into the pockets of thieving politicians and government officials. In Iraq, corruption is like the weather; everyone talks about it but not enough people do anything about it.

Iraq complained of illegal use of its air space by foreign aircraft in the north. This is in reference to NATO nations flying in military supplies for the Kurds. The Iraqi government, as part of its months long feud with the Kurds over Kurdish attempts to sell oil pumped out of Kurdish territory has withheld military supplies sent by the United States for the Kurds. The U.S. went by the book with this stuff and had been trying to get the Kurds and the Iraqi government to play nice. This approach was not working. The Kurdish government in the north had corruption problems, but much less so than with the Shia Arab run central government. The lesser degree of corruption in the north meant that the Kurds were able to control (and practically eliminate) terrorist violence (and much crime in general) in their territory. The Kurds were unhappy with the U.S. for treating the Iraqi government with such respect. The Kurds saw the Iraqi Shia politicians as a bunch of thieves who were only marginally better than the Sunni Arab politicians they replaced in 2003. At the least the Shia Arabs did not have such a hostile (and murderous) attitude towards the Kurds as the Sunni Arabs had (and still have, as ISIL is dominated by Iraqi Sunni Arabs). The inability of the Shia Arabs to maintain effective security forces caused the Americans to change procedures and support the Kurds directly. After all, the Kurdish forces were the most effective in Iraq and at this point even the Shia Arabs were willing to concede that.

What is going on here is the continuing dispute over how much autonomy the Kurds are officially allowed in the north. As a practical matter the Kurds have been ruling themselves in the north since late 1991 when, with the help of U.S. and British warplanes they managed to keep Iraqi troops out of four provinces in the north. This area long comprised about ten percent of Iraq, or 40,000 square kilometers. Because of recent fighting with ISIL the Kurds now control about 16 percent of Iraq. This are now contains nearly nine million people which 25 percent the Iraqi population and includes a lot of recent refugees.

The Iraqi government recently scored a victory in their campaign to prevent the Kurds in the north from selling any more of the oil the Kurds are now pumping and shipping out via Turkey. This win came in the United States where lawyers representing Iraq convinced an American court to block the sale of a million barrels of Kurdish oil in the United States. As of August 1st this leaves a tanker carrying a million barrels of Kurdish oil stranded in a Texas port while lawyers representing Iraq and the Kurds continue to argue over whether the autonomous Kurds of northern Iraq can actually own and can sell oil pumped from Kurdish controlled oil fields. The U.S. court, for the moment, agrees with Iraq that all oil pumped in Iraq (which the autonomous Kurdish territory is still technically part of) is owned by the Iraqi government. The Kurds point out that the share of Iraq oil income promised them has been plundered by corrupt Arab politicians in the Iraqi government and that the only way to get their fair share is to pump it, ship it and sell it themselves. The Kurds currently have three tankers at sea filled with their oil but the Iraqi government has lawyers standing by to halt any sale of this oil.

Since air strikes resumed the U.S. has only carried out about half a dozen a day. One continuing problem is getting someone on the ground to confirm the legitimacy of many targets. ISIL is using a lot of captured Iraqi Army equipment and the Kurds have some American gear as well. Many of the American military “observers” who have arrived in Iraq recently are apparently there to handle calling in air strikes from the ground. U.S. Army Special Forces are especially good at this.

August 18, 2014: The U.S. has carried out 35 air strikes against 90 ISIL targets in northern Iraq over the last three days. This was largely in support of Kurdish efforts to clear ISIL out of the Mosul dam and the surrounding area. The Kurds seized control of key dam installations today.

The U.S. imposed sanctions on the chief ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani. This means Western financial institutions cannot do business with Adnani, who is an Algerian and has been active as an Islamic terrorist since the early 1990s. Adnani managed to obtain asylum in France but was prosecuted for Islamic terrorism there in 2006 and last year fled house arrest in France to join ISIL.

August 17, 2014: The U.S. carried out 14 air strikes near the Mosul dam in support of Kurdish forces who are clearing out the ISIL gunmen who have occupied the dam for two weeks. The Kurds have reached the dam and are in the process of gaining complete control. Today the Americans announced they would be carrying out more air strikes each day.

Saudi Arabia agreed to abide by new UN sanctions against Islamic terrorist fund raisers. These new rules were adopted on the 16th and pressure was applied to the wealthy Gulf oil states to enforce them. The Arabian Peninsula is where Islam was founded in the 7th century and where the highest concentration of the world’s oil supply is found. That meant there were always some wealthy Arabian families willing to fund Islamic terrorist groups, even those as extreme as al Qaeda or ISIL. But now Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the two major sources of Islamic terrorist funding, agree that outfits like ISIL are a threat to even Islamic conservatives and must be destroyed. The Saudis and Kuwaitis won’t be able to stop all the ISIL donations but can reduce the flow of cash. 

August 16, 2014: Kurdish troops began fighting the ISIL gunmen defending the recently captured Mosul dam. The Kurds say they have a plan for retaking the dam quickly and that plan includes the use of American air strikes, which the Kurds lost access to after all American forces were withdrawn from Iraq in 2011.

August 15, 2014: The U.S. announced that the effort to rescue Yazidi refugees trapped on Mount Sinjar was a success and is complete.

August 14, 2014: Embattled prime minister Nouri al Maliki agreed to abide by the Iraqi constitution and not try to use force to remain in charge. Maliki, who has been running things since 2006, was recently replaced by another member of parliament who simply had more votes and got himself elected to replace Maliki. The incumbent refused to recognize this then, in part because of political pressure from the U.S., Iran, the other Gulf Arab oil states and senior Shia clerics in Iraq, agreed to go peacefully. Maliki has presided over a corrupt government where plundering the vast oil income has become the primary activity of senior politicians. Maliki got this all organized so he had lots of wealthy and powerful supporters who did not want Maliki replaced with someone else who would probably replace all the Maliki cronies with a new crew of crooks. In the end greed did not triumph over concern for national survival, at least at the top. Most Iraqis are opposed to all the corruption and the inept government it produces. His replacement, Haider al Abadi is also a member of the Dawa party and probably will keep lot of the corrupt Maliki henchmen around, or at least safe from prosecution. Abadi has 30 days to form a new government.

Responding to the recent ISIL setbacks AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), based in Yemen, has declared that it will assist ISIL in launching revenge terrorist attacks in the West. While this is mostly hot air, AQAP does have a terrorist infrastructure that has made several attempted attacks on the West. While nearly all of them failed, several came close to succeeding. ISIL also has a lot of (mostly young) supporters in the West and not all of them are Moslem immigrants. ISIL is the radical chic flavor of the moment. AQAP is under heavy attack in Yemen but still manages to function there.

August 13, 2014: About two dozen American special operations troops (mainly Special Forces) arrived on Mount Sinjar to assess what was needed to get thousands of Yazidis out of there and safe from ISIL attack. This follows days or American and NATO air drops of food and water. The Special Forces found that there were far fewer Yazidis still on Mount Sinjar than aid groups and the media had been reporting. This was normal and American air reconnaissance had already shown there were fewer Yazidis up there than most people believed.

August 12, 2014: Another 130 American special operations troops arrived in Iraq. The U.S. insisted these were not combat troops but were in Iraq to observes, assess and advise. There are now about a thousand U.S. military personnel inside Iraq, about a third of them up north with the Kurds.

August 11, 2014: President Fuad Masum, a Kurd who became head of state on July 24th, did not select incumbent Nouri al Maliki to be the new prime minister but instead chose a Maliki ally Haider al Abadi. This was what the Americans, Iranians (and other neighboring states) preferred. Most Iraqis saw this as a step in the right direction. For a few days Maliki threatened to use force to stay in power. 

August 10, 2014: Kurdish troops retook two towns that ISIL had seized earlier in the month. These two towns were 45 kilometers from the Kurdish capital (Erbil).

August 9, 2014: The initial American air strikes were concentrated on ISIL forces trying to advance into Kurdish territory.

August 8, 2014: The U.S. resumed air strikes in Iraq. This includes armed UAVs. The U.S. has been operating more than a dozen unarmed UAVs a day over Iraq since June. The main rationale for the resumption of air strikes is the growing proof that ISIL is slaughtering minorities (Shia, Yezidis and Christians) on a large scale (thousands dead so far) and promising to kill even more. This appalls most Moslems, who learned over a thousand years ago that the quickest way to start a war with more powerful infidel (non-Moslem) states was to persecute peaceful infidel groups ruled by Moslems. Early on Islam was spread largely via conquest. But after a few centuries that fell out of favor as unconquered areas learned how to resist and defeat Moslem armies. At that point the Islamic states settled down to old school expansion (via missionaries and preaching). But ever since then there has always been a minority of Moslems who believed in the original use of force to convert. This is one of the main sources of periodic (every few generations) outbreaks of Islamic terrorism and extreme militancy. 

One of the targets American air strikes were aimed at were ISIL men using American made artillery against the Kurds. In June ISIL captured about fifty Iraqi Army M198 155mm towed howitzers and began looking for someone to operate this stuff. That was not difficult. This was because Sunni Arabs got most of the leadership (officer, senior NCO) and technical (like operating artillery) jobs during the decades of Saddam’s rule. ISIL has a large pool of experienced users of artillery. While most Iraqi artillery was Russian, they also had over a hundred Western 155mm models, like the South African GHN-45. This weapon was not only similar to the M198 but superior in some ways (like longer range). The main reason the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi armed forces after 2003 was the fact that nearly all the key personnel were Sunni Arabs, who had just lost power and access to most of the oil income. That loss of power and privilege made most Sunni Arabs very angry and that’s why to this day most Islamic terrorists in Iraq are Iraqi Sunni Arabs. Thus ISIL knew it had a waiting supply of qualified soldiers who knew how to operate an M198 and many were willing to do it without too much prompting. In 2010 Iraq bought 120 M198 155mm towed howitzers along with thousands of hummers and military trucks, plus infantry weapons, engineer gear and other military equipment. Until the end of the 20th century the M198 was the standard towed 155mm howitzer for the United States and many NATO counties.

August 7, 2014: The U.S. began air dropping supplies of food and water to refugees fleeing ISIL gunmen in northern Iraq.

 

 

 

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