Saturday, July 18, 2015

World War III: Retaking Anbar Province

(Eleventh in an occasional series as time and events allow)

Before retaking the province of Anbar, the capital city of Ramadi had to be retaken first. The campaign was expected to last two weeks.

"Iraq turns to militias for drive to retake Ramadi; Shi’ite forces deployed in lead role" by Loveday Morris Washington Post   May 27, 2015

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Shi’ite militias on Tuesday launched an offensive intended to put a stranglehold on Islamic State fighters in Ramadi, taking over the lead from Iraqi security forces that lost the western city to the extremists a week ago.

The operation to cut supply lines and besiege the city from the northeast is ‘‘led and managed and planned’’ by a loose formation of Shi’ite militia groups and volunteers known as popular mobilization units, said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for them. There is ‘‘coordination and cooperation’’ with other military forces, he said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had initially refrained from sending the Shi’ite militias to the western province of Anbar, of which Ramadi is the capital, amid sensitivities over dispatching them to a majority Sunni area. Local Sunni tribes, fearing both the Islamic State’s advance and potential militia abuses, had been split on whether the Shi’ite paramilitaries should join the battle.

However, they were ordered to the province last week after the fall of Ramadi highlighted weaknesses in Iraq’s regular security forces, and the local council requested the militias’ assistance. US officials have indicated that they do not object to the mobilization units’ involvement in an Anbar offensive as long as they work under the command and control of the Iraqi government.

On a front line in Anbar, where rows of scorched palm trees bore evidence of months of heavy fighting, army soldiers said Monday they had no doubt that the militias were necessary to retake the province from the Islamic State.

‘‘Of course we can’t fight without the popular mobilization,’’ said Captain Hussein Najib, with an artillery unit from the Iraqi army’s 11th Division in Garma, west of Ramadi. ‘‘The mobilizations are Iraq’s unity; they are our right hand.’’

Their religious fervor is needed in the face of the Islamic State’s extremism, added one of his men. ‘‘They fight with faith,’’ said 27-year-old Ali Abdulzahra. ‘‘We need their energy.’’

In an indication of the religious overtones of Iraq’s war against the Sunni extremists, the offensive to besiege Ramadi has been named ‘‘Labayka ya Hussein’’ — invoking the name of one of Shi’ite Islam’s most revered figures. A Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, described the openly sectarian code name as ‘‘unhelpful.’’

The United States has stepped into that a time or two. Operation Iraqi Liberation? OIL? (They soon changed it to Freedom)

The operation, launched early Tuesday, aims to secure areas in neighboring Salahuddin province, where a fierce battle has raged for the oil refinery in Baiji, before moving on to Ramadi, Assadi said.

‘‘It will finish the liberation of Salahuddin and besiege Ramadi, not liberate it yet,’’ said Assadi. ‘‘We expect it will only take a few days, less than a week.’’

Assadi said militia forces have received new supplies of ‘‘modern weapons’’ that would ‘‘surprise the enemy,’’ but he declined to give further details.

The operation for Ramadi itself would be led by the ‘‘sons’’ of the city, said Moeen al-Kadhimi, an official with the Badr Organization, one of Iraq’s most prominent Shi’ite militias.

He said he expected the offensive to be completed within the next two weeks.

The United States and Iraq have traded blame for the fall of Ramadi. Iraqi politicians have hit back at comments by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter that Iraqis lacked a ‘‘will to fight.’’

Assadi blamed the United States for failings in the Iraqi military, pointing out the US role in building it after dismantling Saddam Hussein’s army after the 2003 invasion.

‘‘This is the army that you have trained for eight years,’’ he said, addressing the US government. ‘‘You worked for eight years and made them weak, through policies that were adopted by you. I say that the Iraqi army, supported by the popular mobilizations, do have the will to fight.’’

Warren said on Tuesday that the withdrawal from Ramadi was caused by low morale in addition to problems with the command structure. Iraqi forces in the city, including its elite Golden Division fighters, crumbled in the face of multiple car bombs in a nearly four-day offensive by the Islamist militants.


Thus, even as more troops arrived and US-led airstrikes were increased, the rebels still gained ground. The fall of Ramadi represented a huge victory for the Islamic State and a profound blow to Iraq’s US-backed government:

"Bloody purge follows taking of Iraq city, residents say; Rebels reportedly toss bodies in river; Shi’ite militias gather near area" by Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub Associated Press  May 19, 2015

BAGHDAD — Islamic State militants searched door-to-door for police officers and progovernment fighters, residents reported, and threw bodies in the Euphrates River in a bloody purge Monday after capturing the strategic city of Ramadi, their biggest victory since overrunning much of northern and western Iraq last year.

About 500 civilians and soldiers died in the killing spree since the final push for Ramadi began Friday, authorities said.

Responding to a call from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, hundreds of Iranian-allied Shi’ite militiamen rushed to a military base near Ramadi, the capital of overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province, to prepare for an assault to try to retake the city, Anbar officials said.

The order came despite Obama administration concerns that the presence of Shi’ite fighters in the Sunni-dominated region could spark sectarian bloodshed. Until now, the defense of Anbar has been in the hands of the Iraqi military fighting alongside Sunni tribesmen.


The militants are now believed to control more than 60 percent of Anbar, which extends from the western edge of Baghdad all the way to Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Sunday’s defeat in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, recalled the collapse of Iraqi forces last summer in the face of a blitz by the extremist group, when it took the northern city of Mosul and vast regions of the country. Later, the Islamic State declared a caliphate in areas under its control in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Backed by airstrikes from a US-led coalition since August, Iraqi forces and allied militias have recaptured some of the areas seized over the past year. But the new defeat in Anbar calls into question the Obama administration’s hopes of relying solely on air power to support Iraqi forces in the battle against the militant group.

The White House conceded Monday that the loss of Ramadi was a setback but reassured Baghdad that it will help Iraqi forces take it back.

‘‘Our aircraft are in the air right now and searching for ISIL targets. They will continue to do so until Ramadi is retaken,’’ said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, using one of the acronyms for the group. They are also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The US-led coalition launched eight airstrikes in the Ramadi area over the past 24 hours as part of an intensified campaign.

Shi’ite militias have been key to victories against the Islamic State on other fronts north of Baghdad in recent months. But they have also been accused of extrajudicial killings of Sunnis, as well as of looting and torching Sunni property — charges militia leaders deny.

In the face of the Islamic State’s brutality, some Sunnis appeared ready to accept help from the Shi’ite militiamen.

The fall of Ramadi prompted Iran’s defense minister, General Dossein Dehghan, to visit Baghdad for urgent talks. He met with Abadi, who praised Iran’s support for Iraq in the face of the militants.

The loss of Ramadi was a stunning defeat for Iraq’s security forces and military, which fled as Islamic State extremists overwhelmed their last positions despite the support of US-led airstrikes. Online video showed Humvees, trucks, and other equipment speeding out of Ramadi, with soldiers desperate to reach safety gripping onto their sides.

It was not immediately clear how many people remained in Ramadi — once a city of 850,000 that has been draining population for months with the extremists besieging it. An enormous exodus took place in April, when the United Nations estimates some 114,000 residents streamed out of Ramadi and surrounding villages.

Residents said militants were going door-to-door with lists of government sympathizers and were breaking into the homes of policemen and progovernment tribesmen, particularly those from the large Al Bu Alwan tribe. Homes and stores owned by progovernment Sunni militiamen were looted or torched.

The residents spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals by the militants....



"The fall of Ramadi was a stunning loss and a major blow to the US-backed strategy against the Islamic State group. Over the past months, the combination of regular troops, Shi’ite militias, and Kurdish fighters backed by US-led airstrikes have managed to seize back territory from Islamic State across northern and western Iraq. But on Sunday, the security forces and Sunni militiamen who had been battling the extremists in Ramadi for months collapsed as Islamic State fighters overran the city. The militants gained not only new territory but also large stocks of weapons abandoned by the government forces as they fled. The city’s fall is a major test for Abadi...."

The reason the Iraqi army kept failing was simply a lack of munitions, a lack of resolve, and a lack of recruitment. Adding to the problem was the nearly 3 million internally displaced Iraqis, more than the height of the bloody sectarian fighting that followed the US invasion. On top of that, one thousand four hundred sixty six Iraqis lost their lives in June.

Thus it was that the Obama turned to the same strategy exercised by the Bush administration in 2007 as the Islamic State threatened not only Baghdad but the region's water supply

Finally, there was a victory on the battlefield. The key northern refinery town of Beiji was recaptured as Iraqi and Kurdish forces rolled back ISIS in many parts of the country with the help of US-led airstrikes, and with more help on the way from Britain things were looking very good indeed. 

It was a desert mirage. The ISIS attacks not only increased but expanded. Iraqi forces seemed helpless against such a formidable enemy. Even as President Obama defended his policy, a subtle strategic shift was underway:

"US shifts plans to help Iraq fight Islamic State" by Michael R. Gordon New York Times   June 10, 2015

WASHINGTON — In a significant shift of strategy in Iraq, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar province and send 400 American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi and repel the Islamic State.

Although a final decision by the White House has yet to be announced, the plan follows months of behind-the-scenes debate about how prominently plans to retake another Iraqi city, Mosul, which fell to the Islamic State last year, should figure in the early phase of the military campaign against the terrorist organization.

But the fall of Ramadi last month effectively settled the administration debate, at least for the time being. American officials said Ramadi is now expected to become the focus of a lengthy campaign that will seek to regain Mosul at a later stage, possibly not until 2016.

The Islamic State’s capture of Ramadi last month also punctured the administration’s narrative that the militant group was on the defensive. Suddenly, it appeared that the terrorist group, not the American-led coalition, was on the march....

Have you had it with the lies yet?


"A year after militants captured Mosul, Iraq remains in disarray" by Vivian Salama Associated Press  June 11, 2015

BAGHDAD — The Islamic State gave only three options for the soldiers and police officers guarding Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, when they neared it a year ago: Repent, run, or die.

Many ran. Those who resisted died, often gruesomely in mass killings filmed and uploaded to the Internet, only fueling fear of the extremists.

The collapse of Iraqi security forces, which received billions of dollars in aid and training from the United States during its occupation, haunts this divided country today, a year after the Islamic State seized Mosul and a third of the country. Its sectarian divides grow deeper as millions remain displaced, as military gains have seen militant counterattacks, and as a US-led airstrike campaign appears not to have changed the stalemate.

What can change the situation is unclear, as lower oil prices sap the Iraqi economy and the Iraqi people as a whole continue to suffer.

‘‘There’s no salary, no job, no life,’’ said a 31-year-old former soldier named after the country’s former dictator Saddam Hussein, who saw his young son killed as his family fled Mosul for Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region. ‘‘And if you have a child and he gets sick, you can’t treat him.’’

Look, Saddam is still alive!

On June 10, 2014, the Islamic State took full control of Mosul. Weeks later, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi purportedly spoke at Mosul’s main mosque and the group declared a ‘‘caliphate’’ over territory it controlled, demanding the loyalty of the world’s Muslims. A US-led air campaign began in August targeting the group; the number of strikes has reached around 1,900.

While Shi’ite militias advised by Iran and Iraqi forces have recaptured Tikrit, Hussein’s hometown, the battle on the ground appears at best locked in stalemate. Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite who stepped down in August amid calls for his resignation, is widely blamed for the corruption and incompetence in Iraq’s armed forces after he replaced top Sunni commanders with his loyalists. Entire units collapsed and soldiers stripped off their uniforms as they fled, leaving behind large caches of US-supplied weapons.

Maliki was run out because he told U.S. troops to get out. When he won reelection, the U.S. had to use ISIS to remove him from power.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed to empower Sunni tribesmen through the formation of a national guard, which would oversee security in the Sunni heartland — areas predominantly under Islamic State control today. But the force has failed to get off the ground and many remain suspicious of the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

Worked for Bush (or so says the conventional myth), remember?

Economically, Iraq finds itself unable to pay for the war it needs to fight. Plummeting oil prices — down 43 percent from a year ago — have dealt a major shock to Iraq, which relies on oil for 90 percent of its revenues. Unemployment stands at 25 percent.

Meaning the economy is in awful shape, even worse than in Hussein's time. 

And they called it liberation.

At least 40 percent of the country’s workforce — about 5 million people — is employed by the government, which is struggling to pay salaries. That includes civil servants in Islamic State-held areas, who still receive salaries, which are then taxed by the militants, according to residents in Mosul and Fallujah who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Meanwhile, nearly 3 million Iraqis now live in refugee camps or squat in unofficial shelters.


 Displaced civilians from Ramadi, Iraq, were staying last month at a camp in Amiriyat al-Fallujah, west of Baghdad.
Displaced civilians from Ramadi, Iraq, were staying last month at a camp in Amiriyat al-Fallujah, west of Baghdad (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press/File).

According to the United Nations, 8.2 million Iraqis — about a quarter of the country’s population — will need humanitarian assistance this year.

‘‘We will be lucky if we get half of them back to their original homes,’’ said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s former national security adviser.

Yeah, kind of undermines the stated effort of regime change, and yet who benefits from the reshaping of the Middle East?


"Obama looks at adding bases and troops in Iraq" by Peter Baker and Helene Cooper New York Times   June 12, 2015

WASHINGTON — President Obama is open to expanding the American military footprint in Iraq with a network of bases and possibly hundreds of additional troops to support Iraqi security forces in their fight against the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State, White House officials said Thursday.

Meaning the war never ended like Obama and the pre$$ claimed. We never really left, and now must invade Iraq for a THIRD TIME!

As Iraqi forces struggle on the battlefield, aides said Obama would consider establishing a series of outposts at which US advisers would work with Iraqi troops and local tribesmen. The bases would be run by Iraqis, and the Americans would not engage in ground combat. They would, however, play a more active role closer to the front lines.


"President Obama has not pushed hard for the bill lately. And while lawmakers say they don’t want to give up their check on a commander-in-chief’s authority to use military might, they have little interest in having what would be the first war vote in Congress in 13 years. After Obama ordered airstrikes in August over Iraq and in September over Syria against Islamic State militants, lawmakers complained that he was justifying the action with dusty war powers written to authorize conflicts after 9/11. Today, there is hardly a word about it on Capitol Hill. Obama has insisted that he is on firm legal footing in sending more than 4,000 US troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces and launching thousands of airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. But he also has said that he would welcome a new authorization." 

No, Congre$$ doesn't have time to check this president's war making, but it will damn well pick through that Iran peace agreement!

White House officials stressed that no proposal has been presented to Obama and added that they anticipated no decision in the next few weeks. But the prospect of further escalation came a day after the administration announced the opening of a new base in Anbar province, an Islamic State stronghold, with an additional 450 US troops, bringing the total in Iraq to 3,550, the size of a typical Army brigade.

Administration officials said they would evaluate whether that new Anbar base makes a difference in coordinating the war effort, If it does, they would consider replicating the approach in other parts of the country. Although officials said it was possible other bases could be opened without sending more US troops, they acknowledged that more bases could require additional deployments.

It is going to be the slow and steady incremental re-occupation of Iraq!

For Obama, who has long resisted being drawn into another ground war since pulling out all forces in 2011, the latest developments represented another incremental step back into a sectarian conflict he had once hoped to be done with by the time he left office. Supporters of a more robust effort against the Islamic State group called it a welcome if inadequate step to make good on the White House’s vow to defeat the militants, while critics warned of sliding into a broader, bloodier, and ultimately ineffective campaign.

“The reason that we would consider expanding the training operation and the advise-and-assist operation that’s underway will be because it’s been an effective element of our strategy,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. But Earnest emphasized that it was still hypothetical.

“There are no immediate or specific plans to do that,” he said.

As we saw with Bush (and to a lesser extent, Obama's attempted attack on Syria that the Congress rejected), just the fact that it is being discussed means they have decided to go ahead. They bring it up to prepare your mind for the eventuality.

General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly raised the idea of establishing a network of what he called “lily pads” in Iraq while on a trip to Italy on Thursday. He said he did not envision another military base in Anbar, but Pentagon planners were looking at more northern areas for additional sites.

RelatedUS military’s ‘lily pad’ expansion may prove costly

In lives and treasure.

“You could see one in the corridor from Baghdad to Tikrit to Kirkuk to Mosul,” Dempsey told reporters aboard his plane.

What are they doing, reading Nazi battle plan play books now?

The model would be the new base already being built at al-Taqqadum, an Iraqi post near the town of Habbaniyah in eastern Anbar. The US troops being sent there are to set up the hub primarily to advise and assist Iraqi forces and to engage and reach out to Sunni tribes in Anbar, officials said. One focus for the Americans will be to try to accelerate the integration of Sunni fighters into the Iraqi army, which is dominated by Shi’ites.

As the arrangements at al-Taqqadum show, even deploying small teams of advisers at a new base can involve much greater troop commitments. The number of Americans actually involved in advising the Iraqis at the base would be just a small fraction of the 450 announced by the administration.

While US officials said earlier this week that 110 would be directly involved in training and advising, on Thursday they said there would be just 50 advisers.

They will be split into two teams, special operations forces who will work with Sunni tribes, and advisers who will work with the Eighth Iraqi Army Division.

The rest are to provide support, logistics, and force protection.

That's all?


Furthermore, a team was dispatched to wage a war of propaganda (ma$$ media just not getting it done). ISIS would soon have their revenge:

"Afghanistan, Iraq bombings kill 54; One attack hits checkpoint at US military base" by Rahim Faiez Associated Press  July 13, 2015

KABUL — A wave of bombings killed at least 54 people in Afghanistan and Iraq on Sunday, authorities said.

Related: The Golden Era of Afghanistan 

One day, Iraqis will say the same.

In Iraq, a series of bombings across the capital, Baghdad, killed at least 29 people and wounded 81, police officials said.

In Iraq, the deadliest of the attacks took place in the northern Shaab neighborhood when a man wearing an explosive vest detonated himself in a crowded market, killing nine people and wounding 25.

Earlier, at the Aden checkpoint in Baghdad’s Khazimiyah district, a suicide car bombing killed eight people, including five civilians, and wounded 23.

In Baghdad’s al-Askan district, a car bomb killed at least four people and wounded 11 on a commercial street as people gathered after sunset to break their daily fast for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Police also said a roadside bomb on a commercial street in Baghdad’s al-Amal neighborhood killed two people and wounded seven.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Gee, ISIS is usually claiming it as it happens if not before. Hmmm.


It was that when the offensive in Anbar began on July 13, 2015, the war began to heat up. The border with Jordan was closed; however, the effort appeared to be doomed. You can't fight terrorists when you are creating terrorists, although it is a splendid way to keep wars going. 

As the operation to take Anbar moves forward, there is one ancient law of war that can not be avoided: people will die.


"Car-bombing attack at marketplace in eastern Iraq kills at least 80 people" Associated Press  July 18, 2015

BAGHDAD — A suicide car bombing in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province killed at least 80 people gathered at a marketplace to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Iraqi police officials said at least 50 people were also wounded in the attack in the town of Khan Beni Saad. Hospital officials confirmed the death tolls. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to messages posted on Twitter. The claim could not be independently verified but it was posted by accounts commonly associated with the group.

Security has been stepped up in areas across Iraq since the start of Ramadan amid fears that the Sunni militant group would use the occasion to wage an assault on civilians to destabilize the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

Parts of the predominantly mixed Diyala province were captured by the Islamic State last year. Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters have since retaken those areas, but clashes between the militants and security forces continue.

Last August, at least 64 people were killed in an attack on a Sunni mosque. It prompted Sunni lawmakers to pull out of sensitive talks aimed at forming a new government after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was elected.



"Islamic State attack on marketplace fuels anger, acrimony in Iraq" by Qassim Abdul-Zahra Associated Press  July 18, 2015

BAGHDAD — Anger swelled in volatile Dyala province on Saturday as the death toll from an Islamic State attack on a crowded market the day before rose to 115 people. It was one of the deadliest single attacks in the country in the past decade.

The mostly Shi’ite victims were gathered to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ended Friday for Iraqi Shi’ites and a day earlier for Iraqi Sunni Muslims.

No Muslim would do that. 

Police said a small truck detonated in a crowded marketplace in the town of Khan Beni Saad Friday night in what quickly turned celebrations into a scene of horror, with remains scattered across the market. At least 170 people were injured in the attack, police officials said, speaking anonymously because they are not authorized to brief the media.

Men quickly emptied boxes of tomatoes to use them for carrying the bodies of young children, witnesses said, while injured adults lay scattered around the attack scene waiting for medical assistance.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on Twitter accounts associated with the militant group.

Oh, well. Who could ever question that?

Iraq’s speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, said Saturday that the attack has struck an ‘‘ugly sectarian chord,’’ and added that government is making ‘‘attempts to regulate Daesh’s terror from destabilizing Diyala security,’’ referring to the militant group by its Arabic acronym.

Several towns in Diyala were captured by the Islamic State last year. Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters have since retaken those areas, but clashes between the militants and security forces continue.

‘‘We went out to the market for shopping and preparations for the holiday Eid in order to receive holiday cheer,’’ said another resident, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution. ‘‘But this joy has turned to grief and we have lost family, friends, and relatives, all because of this government’s failure to provide us with security.’’

Security forces were out in full force across Diyala on Saturday, with dozens of new checkpoints and security protocols immediately implemented after Friday’s attack.

‘‘This horrible carnage is truly outside all boundaries of civilized behavior,’’ Jan Kubis, the special representative of the United Nations mission in Iraq, said Saturday.

The Sunni militant group has been behind several similar large-scale attacks on civilians or military checkpoints as it seeks to expand its territory. The group currently controls about a third of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared caliphate.

The United States has spent billions arming and training the Iraqi military, but it performed poorly last year when Islamic State militants swept across western and northern Iraq, routing four divisions....

That precipitated the ouster of Maliki, and then U.S. troops were asked back in.


UPDATEIraq ousts police chief after huge blast