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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Battle Of Baghdad.....The End Of the Beginning

Links:  A. Iraqi Army Struggles On In Anbar
            B. Suicide Attack In Baiji

I'm hoping to eventually stumble onto a blog that is exclusively devoted to disseminating articles about Iraqi military engagements.  I am fascinated with the Iraqi Defense Force and its attempt to combat the Islamic Front in Anbar Province.  The conflict in Syria is ugly, disorganized, and hidden most of the time.  But for us armchair generals, Iraq presents the opportunity to watch at least one army as it pursues strategic goals.  The Iraqi Army is attempting to engage and destroy elements of the Islamic State in The Levant (IS) in Anbar Province.  Over the past month we have taken a close look at the strategies of both parties as the Iraqis seek to defend greater Baghdad.  Since its initial military movements in northern Iraq, the IS has presented a difficult target.  I had fallen into the trap of expecting IS forces engaged in Iraq to resemble the IS elements that had been engaged in Syria since 2012.  I was taken by surprise with the IS and its use of heavy weaponry (artillery in particular).  I had grown accustomed to groups of men riding around in Toyota pick-ups that had been rigged with an anti-aircraft or large caliber machine-gun in the bed.  From the beginning, the IS has shown a military sophistication in Iraq that includes the ability to effectively use artillery, strategically move large numbers of fighters from one area to another, and to control extensive resupply lines.  Most importantly, the IS has demonstrated the ability to adapt.  The IS appears just as comfortable using guerilla tactics as they do utilizing heavy weaponry and fighting in larger units.

The IS rarely makes a public statement without barking something or other about the creation of an Islamic Fundamentalist Nation.  They seem to prefer the word, "Caliphate", but who gives a shit.  This beast, which rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has a true organizational structure.  If we were in a boardroom and I had a flip chart, I could probably draw a nice diagram (and one of the numerous people sleeping would fart in appreciation).  We have the political IS and the military IS; the talented folks in CTC at Langley have the complete political picture, no doubt.  At the moment we here at MB are solely concerned with the military wing of the IS.  Link A seems to be a carbon copy of a situational update that I read last week in the NY Times.  Who controls Fallujah, the IS or the Iraqi Army?  And Ramadi?  The truth is that the only time the Iraqi Army makes any headway in Anbar is when they participate in a U.S.- planned ground attack (with armor) coordinated with allied air attacks.  The current state of the Iraqi Air Force seems to be a complete mystery.  They were supposed to receive 18 F16s over a period of two years.  The pilots are currently training in the United States, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a typical show of Iraqi ingratitude, complained about the F16 and purchased five second-hand Sukhoi (Su) 25's to counter the IS threat.  (Entertaining side note: Iran generously "gave" Iraq a handful of Su-25's as well, as a show of solidarity against the IS.  And by the way, the majority of the Su-25's that arrived from Iran were ex-Iraqi Air Force planes that had fled Iraq at the start of the Gulf War, rather than face sure death in combat with U.S. Air Force F16s.)  So we know that the Iraqi Air Force has a few Migs and Su-25s, not to mention a handful of Russian Helicopters.  Does anyone know if the Iraqi Air Force is participating in the allied air campaign?

Link B is a reminder that the IS is very familiar with urban-warfare tactics.  The suicide car bombs were a specialty of Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Iraqis are experiencing them all over again.  Even though the heavier elements of the IS forces are engaged with the Iraqi Army in Anbar (and with allied air attacks in Syria), the plan to seed the poorer Sunni neighborhoods of greater Baghdad is in full swing.  From today onward, You can be sure that any mortars launched toward government buildings, military targets, or foreign diplomatic property in Baghdad, will originate from the poor Sunni bedroom communities of Baghdad.  And the car bombs will be built in the same neighborhoods.  The IS is conducting this war in a very sophisticated manner, successfully engaging in what is a three-front war (In September Secretary of Defense Hagel was quoted as saying that the goal was to force the IS to fight a three-front war).  The current areas of conflict include Syria, Anbar Province in eastern Iraq, and Kurdistan/northern Iraq.  I am surprised at the IS's ability to function so effectively.  I had anticipated that IS fortunes would suffer somewhere, but it hasn't happened.  They are hanging tough in Kobani, staying on the offensive against regular Syrian forces, threatening again in northern Iraq, and giving the Iraqi Army fits in Anbar.  Just this morning I learned that the IS had restarted the "Great Yezidi Roundup of 2014".  Yee Ha.  You would think that after a while they would run out of Yezidis. 

I'm going out on a limb and predicting that as the days go by, the focus of this conflict will become less on Syria and more on Iraq.  The IS is determined to capture Baghdad.  It hasn't always been a target, but once it became apparent that Baghdad could be captured, the IS created a plan.  Seed the poorer neighborhoods with operatives, play-up the Sunni/Shia conflict, conduct daily car bombings and mortar attacks, and destabilize the city.  With no U.S. ground forces, the IS will have little trouble taking Baghdad one street at a time, the same MO presently in use in Ramadi and Fallujah.  I think we can call the last week of October 2014, the end of the beginning of The Battle of Baghdad.

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