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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More Suicide Car Bombs In Iraq

Links: A. Car Bomb in Jurf al-Sakhar
           B. Iraqi Army, Peshmerga Claim Successes

Just yesterday, we examined claims by the Iraqi Army that the strategic Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhar had been retaken from forces of the Islamic State in the Levant (IS).  Occupation of this town has swung back and forth over the past few months, which makes it difficult to gauge the stability of the current situation and therefore importance of this most recent event.  Now we are greeted with the news that just one day after claiming victory, the Iraqi Army and Shi'ite militiamen suffered two disastrous suicide car bombings, killing at least thirty-eight (link A).  The Shi'ite militiamen who are fighting alongside the Iraqi Army (which is heavily Sunni) keep a very low profile.  Many critics contend that the U.S. hesitates to fully utilize air elements in coordination with the Iraqi Army because the U.S. does not want to fight alongside the various Shia militias and the Shia-controlled Iraqi government.  I have no idea if this accusation carries any accuracy, but I can say that for weeks I have been writing about the lack of air support for Iraqi Army efforts in Anbar Province.  I have received a number of emails requesting details on the handful of Shia militias, so I will attempt to bring a bit of clarity to these groups.

The Shia militias active in Iraq have connections to either Iran's Al-Quds organization (Iran's Revolutionary Guard), the Shia-led Iraqi government, or to Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtadah al-Sadr.  The few successes that the Iraqi Army has claimed in the war against the IS have come with the assistance of Shia militias, who have more experience on the battlefield and tend to fight with religious zeal.  Some see a connection between the Shia groups, Iran, and Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, who is an Alawite (Muslim followers of a particular, secretive branch of Shia Islam).  So it should be no surprise that the militias would fight in opposition to the Sunni-led IS.  In fact, for a while, several Shia militias were fighting in Syria alongside the regular Syrian Army (they have since returned to Iraq).  You know the powerful Lebanese-based terrorist organization, Hizbollah?  Well, Hizbollah (also Shia) has long been a client organization of the Iranians and has also been involved in supporting the Assad regime, especially in battles around Damascus.

As clear as mud, I know.  While the Iraqi Army around Baghdad, and the Peshmerga in the north celebrate the recapture of a few towns (link B), let's try and create a mental flow chart.  Let's start with:

Bad Guys

  • Islamic State (IS):  Originally "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the IS stirred up shit in Syria while U.S. troops were in Iraq. Once the U.S. pulled out of Iraq in 2011, the IS started stirring up Iraqi shit as well.  
  • Al-Nusra Front,  Khorasan:  Same folks as IS; don't let anyone tell you different.  They are all ideologically allied to Al-Qaeda.  Everyday we get more propaganda highlighting some imagined "rift" between these players.  They want you to believe that they march to their own drummer; Their shared detestation of Freedom is enough for me to keep them in the same pot.

Good Guys

  • Kurds:  The Kurdish people have been waiting very patiently for centuries to be left alone with just enough land to call their own.  One day the Peshmerga is gonna get the red-ass at all of us, then there will be hell to pay. The Kurds are currently doing our job fighting a ground war against the IS in both Iraq and Syria.
  • Iraqi Army:  The Iraqi Army is a combination of three groups: (1) the original elements trained by the U.S., most of whom deserted at the first hint of gunfire; (2) the Sunni who rushed to join at the first threat to Baghdad by the IS; and (3) recent recruits who are again being trained by U.S. military instructors. Mostly Sunni, the Iraqi Army is still obliged to fight against the Sunni-affiliated IS, and to do this alongside Shia militias who may or may not have participated in slaughtering innocent Sunni villagers at one time or another.  Oh, and the Iraqi Army takes its orders from a Shia-led Iraqi government. 
  • The U.S. and Allies:  The French have proven to be useful and obliging allies in this conflict.  The Qataris and the Emiratis, however, don't want to bomb certain groups affiliated with the IS because of loyalty and personal sympathies with these groups (Al-Nusra front is a great example).  If General George S. Patton were running the show, he would kick the Qataris and Emiratis out of the allied club, and put a boot in their ass on their way out the door.


  • Shia Militias and Iran:  No doubt these guys hate the IS, and they have been conspicuously present at all of Bashir al-Assad's BBQs in recent years, so we know where their loyalties are.  The militias have been invaluable in fending off the IS in Anbar Province, and will be counted on to continue shoring up the Iraqi Army.  I have no clue what to expect from these players once the IS is defeated, but I can guarantee one thing, they won't sit idly by and watch Assad be removed.
  • The New Syrian Army :  What can I say?  They won't be allowed to attack, only to defend.  They want Assad out of power, but the militias want him in power (and Assad wants to stay, I assume).
  • Putin:  Believe me, its tough not putting this sociopathic pig in the "Bad Guy" column, but I really don't know what he has planned.  One thing you can count on, he still wants that military port on the Syrian coast, so he won't give up his boy Assad without a fight.
  • President Obama:  It is not difficult for me to imagine the Apologist-in-Chief caving in and letting "Bashir the butcher" stay in power.  But how can Barrack appease Iran, Putin, and the Shia militias on one hand, and his Sunni allies, his surrogate New Syrian Army, and the Kurds on the other?  This is the very type of precarious diplomatic position that Obama will have trouble negotiating.  This leaves him in the "Unknown" column.

I don't enjoy writing posts that leave more questions than answers, but in this instance, I hope some of the players have come into better focus.  The current conflict includes everything and the kitchen sink, and for the life of me I can't imagine how President Obama got us stuck in the middle of it all.  I really believe that a U.S. military presence in Iraq would have squashed the IS before it grew so powerful, but we were much too busy leaving town.  It's more than a little ironic to name the current U.S. Operation "Inherent Resolve" when a bit more "resolve" in 2011 (to stay the course) could have prevented so much of the chaos in the region today.  I can't recall from history a conflict as messy and tangled as this (maybe back in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries when all the European monarchies were slapping each other around).  But this mess is something to behold.  And deserved or not, it has Obama's name all over it.

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