(when the air attacks began.)
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has suffered heavy losses (thousands of casualties) in the last month and their recruiting efforts have become more energetic. This is especially true in Syria, but losses are mounting in Iraq as well. ISIL has also become more reliant on terror attacks, as using large groups of gunmen to seize territory or attack security forces simply provides an excellent target for air strikes. The heavy losses in Kabane (Syria) is a painful reminder that when the opposition has air support, you have to slow down and take more time to weaken and defeat the enemy. So now there are more terror bombings, assassinations and small scale ambushes and roadside bombs in play. Most of the air attacks are provided by the United States, which has spent about $500 million on defending Iraq since August 8
American troops (especially Special Forces) returning to Iraq after having served there before (especially before 2008) immediately noted some similarities. For one thing, many of the Sunni Islamic terrorists involved before 2008 are still there and working with ISIL. The Sunni tribes that supported the Sunni Islamic terrorists then are again doing so, although less enthusiastically and increasing reluctance. The Shia militias, whose terror campaign against Sunni tribes caused the tribes to accept an American sponsored peace deal in 2007, are now back in action. So are the Americans, but not in sufficient numbers to do much of the fighting. Despite that the Sunni tribes are again seeking a peace deal. The one they had in 2007 was reneged on by the Maliki government after the Americans left. Maliki also dismantled and disarmed the Shia militias. Maliki, like many Shia Arabs, did not trust the Iraqi Sunnis or the Shia militia leaders (who were usually sponsored and financed by Iran). Turns out the Americans were right about the Sunni Arabs and are helping the new (non-Maliki) government to make new deals with the Sunni tribes. Many Shia Arabs feel that the Sunni Arabs still believe that one way or another the Sunni minority will eventually be back in charge. That is not paranoia, it’s what many Sunni Arabs openly discuss among themselves. But ISIL has turned off the Sunni tribes, just as their predecessors did in 2007. The Shia militias are being allowed to reform, often with quiet help from Iran. Maliki’s fears were not unfounded, but those fears allowed the Sunni Islamic terrorists to rebuild their old coalition while rampant corruption crippled the Iraqi security forces.
ISIL is very vulnerable if it has to operate among a hostile population. Most of the territory ISIL controls is populated by Sunni Arabs. ISIL prefers to kill or drive non-Sunnis out of areas they govern. Most Sunni Arabs back the idea of Sunnis, especially Sunni Arabs, being in charge. This situation is particularly acute in Iraq where most Sunni Arabs believe Iraq will not work if Sunni Arabs are not giving the orders, as they had for five hundred years. Despite being a minority, since the 16th century the Sunni Turks (until 1918) relied on the Baghdadi Sunni Arabs to help run things in what is now central and southern Iraq. For about a decade after 1918 the British occupied Iraq and also depended on the Sunni Arabs to keep the peace. Then the British left but had to re-occupy Iraq during World War II because the Sunni Arab government (not the king they brought in as part of a constitutional monarchy) tried to ally itself with the Nazis. At the time many Arabs admired Nazism. The Brits again conquered the country, using three divisions and taking three weeks to do it. The Brits found another bunch of Sunni Arab notables and told them they could run things if they stayed away from the Nazis.
That 1941 deal lasted until the 1950s when the Sunni Arab politicians and generals decided that this democracy stuff wasn’t working for them. The royal family was massacred and parliament purged of “disloyal” elements. The Sunni Arabs were now firmly in charge, via a series of dictators, until Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003. Despite the subsequent elections too many groups in Iraq, not just the Sunni Arabs, believe a dictatorship (with them running it) would be the best solution for the nation's ills. As long as there is the possibility of some group seizing control, Iraq's democracy is in danger. After all, Iraqi had a democracy before (from 1932-58). That one was a constitutional monarchy. There were elections, political parties, and a parliament that passed laws. But it all ended in the 1950s when Sunni Arab generals shut down the democracy (actually, they pretended the parliament still worked but the legislators merely followed orders). Saddam ran this military government with disastrous results. Yet some Iraqis (mostly Sunni Arabs but even a few Shia Arabs) still admire Saddam and consider his blood-soaked reign a "golden age."
Al Qaeda came in after 2003 and added Islamic radical terrorists to all those terrorists that the Sunni Arab nationalists and Saddam supporters had recruited. This backfired, as al Qaeda represented a form of political action that the post–World War II Sunni Arabs had abandoned and even gone to war with. Islamic radicalism was never all that popular in Iraq. But now, in the name of restoring Sunni rule Islamic terrorists were allowed to do as they pleased. This led to all non-Sunni Arabs becoming "legitimate targets" that should all be killed or driven out of the country. Such threats are nothing new and have been getting worse for over a century. Thus the old Islamic State of Iraq (which eventually became ISIL) is still a coalition of most of the Sunni Islamic terror groups operating in Iraq who want the Sunni Arab minority back in power at any cost.
ISIL deliberately employs terror as a tactical and strategic weapon. This has been the custom of the Iraqi and Syrian Sunni Arabs for centuries. The Iraqi Sunni, who dominate the ISIL leadership, consider this terror a necessity. The late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was notorious for his use of terror (by his secret police and criminal gangs working for the government) to control the Shia majority as well as the Kurds (who were about as numerous in Iraq as the Sunni Arabs). This meant publically murdering or mutilating opponents. The killers were encouraged to be creative in order to enhance the fear their actions generated. After Saddam was overthrown in 2003 his followers continued to use these tactics in a terror campaign to regain control of the government. ISIL is the current manifestation of that effort. ISIL also embodies the long sought (by Sunni Arabs) unification of Iraq and Syria. That has not happened so far because the non-Sunnis in the two countries have opposed such a merger and still do.
Iraqi security forces and militias (both Shia and Sunni) have succeeded over the last month in halting the ISIL advances. The new government has followed American advice and allowed more competent and reliable army and police commanders to purge the forces of the most inept officers. There is still a lot of corruption, but the quality of the leadership is higher and more effective. These forces are stopping ISIL attacks and troops are running away less often. Desertion is still a problem but many officers prefer to be rid of men who are not willing to fight. Corrupt officers keep deserters on the payroll and pocket the pay of these missing soldiers.
The militias are full of untrained but eager men and the Americans are helping organize training for the militiamen. The Americans are also upgrading the army training and continuing to monitor the leadership. This annoys many officers, often because the damn Americans are also noting corrupt practices. Being an officer is an opportunity to get rich but the new government is talking about cracking down on corruption and the Americans have a growing list of dirty officers.
The Sunni tribal militias are still not trusted but so far the Sunni tribes have provided solid support in keeping ISIL out of their territory. The tribes are not happy with ISIL lifestyle rules and bad behavior in general. Then there is the ISIL habit of murdering tribal leaders who oppose them. This was a problem before 2008 and apparently many Iraqi Islamic terrorists have not come to realize that this sort of behavior backfires. Despite all that the Shia fear that the tribes could flip again if ISIL made them an attractive enough offer. For the moment the Sunni tribes are helping defeat ISIL and these Sunnis expect payback. That was the American brokered deal from 2007. The Shia broke their word once and it’s up to the Shia to play it differently this time around.
Despite the many Arab states involved with the sixty nation anti-ISIL coalition, many Arabs still support ISIL goals of establishing religious dictatorships in places like Syria. This is part fantasizing and part fear of Iranian plans to make Iran, and Shia Islam, the leader of the Islamic world. Sunnis are over 80 percent of Moslems and the more conservative Sunnis (like the Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia and all Sunni Islamic terror groups) are violently opposed to Shia domination. It is not unusual for religious fanatics to not get along with others of the same faith and that is what is happening here. Many Arabs disagree with ISIL methods but not with ISIL goals. Thus recent ISIL boasts of reintroducing slavery (of non-Moslems, especially “pagans” like Yazidis) may appall many in the West, but slavery still exists in many parts of the Arab world. To placate foreigners most Arab nations have outlawed slavery, despite the fact that it still exists and with much local support.
Iran continues to be an unofficial member of the anti-ISIL coalition. The Iranians appear to believe that the U.S. air strikes and all the military aid (from Iran, the U.S. and other NATO nations) going to the Iraqi Kurds, plus a new government in Iraq, will be able to deal with ISIL in Iraq. Iran has been very active in supporting the Shia Arab government in Iraq against ISIL, but not very public about it. This is because many of the things that ISIL is hated for (restrictions on women and on what people drink and do for entertainment) are the same things that have long been enforced in Iran (and Saudi Arabia). It is possible for Iran to condemn the ISIL tendency to slaughter lots of people just for being different (not Islamic or not Islamic enough) but they are reluctant to go into much detail, as least in the media. Iran would like ISIL to just go away, permanently and with great violence if necessary. Iranian aid can make a big difference, even if the Iranians don’t send in troops to fight. Iranian trainers, military advice and cash are another matter. This sort of thing worked wonders in Syria. Performing similar magic in Iraq means shoving corrupt Iraqi officials and officers out of the way and taking care of Iraqi troops with Iranian cash. More important is training these Iraqis using experienced (in that sort of thing) Iranians. This is insulting to many Iraqis, especially senior politicians. But at the moment it may be preferable to being murdered by ISIL gunmen. Meanwhile Iran continues to blame the West for “creating” ISIL thus ignoring the fact that the growing Sunni/Shia conflict that Iran sponsors heavily has more to do with ISIL than anything the West does.
It was recently revealed that Israel had quietly and anonymously contributed some vital targeting information for the air campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. It wasn’t that the U.S. doesn’t have spy satellites and agents that could have provided this, but the Israeli fleet of spy satellites does not have worldwide responsibilities and spend most of their time over Middle Eastern nations and have been doing so for a long time. Moreover the Israeli espionage network in the region is second to none. Thus the Israelis had data right now that it would take weeks, months or longer for American satellites and agents to collect. The Israeli contribution were kept quiet and Israeli data had been “scrubbed” to remove any evidence that it was from Israel. But none of the Arab nations contributing warplanes to the operation were surprised and, except for Iran (which openly insists ISIL is an invention of the Americans, British and Israel) no one complained.
October 21, 2014: Several mortar shells fell in the Green Zone of Baghdad. This is nothing new. Iraqi security personnel took over all security for the Green Zone back in 2010. This 10 square kilometer (four square mile) sanctuary in downtown Iraq was long a sanctuary for Americans and senior Iraqis. Most Baghdad residents wanted the Green Zone, and the way it disrupted major traffic patterns, eliminated after the Americans left. But rich and powerful Iraqis wanted to live in the Green Zone, as protection from criminals and terrorists (both of whom murder, kidnap and rob the rich). So the Green Zone lives on, under Iraqi management. Since 2010 there have been occasional rockers or mortar shells fired into the Green Zone. It is a large target, with a lot of open space, so there are rarely casualties.
Turkey finally agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish militiamen to travel to Syria via Turkey to reinforce Kurds in Syria who are being attacked by ISIL. Mainly this means the battle around the Syrian town of Kobane. In the last few weeks Western and Arab warplanes have made over 150 air attacks against ISIL in and around Kobane, causing heavy casualties among the Islamic terrorist forces. This has led to ISIL aggressively recruiting new fighters among the Sunni tribes in eastern Syria. It also means that ISIL in Syria has not forces available to help ISIL in Iraq.
October 18, 2014: The government finally announced the new ministers for Defense (a Sunni) and Interior (a Shia, who now controls the national police). The Sunni politicians demanded control of some key ministries and they got them although not always with Sunni politicians most Sunnis support. There is still a lot of suspicion and animosity between Sunni and Shia politicians. Despite facing a common threat in the form of ISIL, those old divisions still get in the way.
Iraq announced that it had given permission for foreign warplanes to move through Iraqi airspace to and from bombing missions in Syria. One exception was UAE (United Arab Emirates), which is currently feuding with Iraq.
October 17, 2014: In Yemen AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) announced that is now fully backed ISIL. AQAP didn’t say it had joined ISIL, but urged all Moslems to support ISIL in its fight against the West and its Arab allies who were now bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
October 16, 2014: ISIL has increased terror bombings in Baghdad, killing over 150 people in the last five days alone. ISIL related deaths will likely be over 2,000 for October.
October 14, 2014: North of Baghdad security forces defeated a major ISIL effort to take an oil refinery. Such attacks used to succeed but ISIL is running into more determined opposition more often.
October 12, 2014: In the west (Anbar province) ISIL seized one of the few large military bases in the vicinity of Ramadi (the provincial capital). Anbar officials insist that ISIL controls 80 percent of the province and that the government has been slow, or ineffective, to resist ISIL advances. Some Anbar officials are calling for foreign intervention to prevent the entire province from coming under ISIL control.
U.S. officials confirmed that on October 7th ISIL forces got within 25 kilometers of the Baghdad airport before American air strikes (including those by AH-64 helicopter gunships) drove the Islamic terrorists back.
October 10, 2014: American C-130 transports began delivering air-dropped supplies to Iraqi troops in the north who are currently besieged by ISIL. The Iraqis are organizing relief forces to break those sieges.