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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Developments in Iraq, Syria.

Links: A. Iraqi forces confront ISIS in Anbar.
           B. Al-Qaeda celebrates as Assad regime collapses.

In a positive move, the Iraqi military has begun a well-supported effort to recapture the city of Ramadi and roll-up ISIS fighters in eastern Anbar Province. In a surprise development, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are fighting alongside the "Popular Mobilization" (Shi'a militia), and at the same time, enjoying air support from the allied coalition, which continues to wreck havoc with any ISIS attempts to operate during clear weather.  Early indications are that the ISF is having success retaking neighborhood after neighborhood, and that ISIS forces in Ramadi are virtually surrounded.  Since we've been down this road before, the Iraqis know to expect very few if any prisoners, and that the mopping up operation could take weeks.  An important element of the effort to retake Ramadi, is that it is taking place concurrently with operations in Salah ad-Din Province, where the Shi'a militias Asa'aib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and the Badr Organization have been successfully retaking territory northeast of Fallujah. In fact, the Popular Mobilization is active throughout Salah ad-Din Province, as Shi'a militias have retaken territory from ISIS south and southwest of Samarrah city.  The key to current operations against ISIS is the joint-activity of the allied air campaign and the Popular Mobilization.  At times, both the air coalition, led by the United States, and the Shi'a militias, backed by Iran, refused to participate in military operations as long as the other was involved.  It was an odd situation, given that at the time, Iran and the United States were conducting negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions.  Be that as it may, the tide appears to be turning in Iraq (again), especially given that ISIS has been unable to gain complete control of the Baiji refinery, a piece of real estate that may appear to be worth more than it actually is.  But it has become a bit of a rallying cry for the ISF, and they are very determined to relieve its defenders and remove the threat of ISIS control of the entire refinery.  Once Ramadi has been relieved, and the ISF and its militia partners are able to consolidate gains in Salah ad-Din province and around Baiji, then ISIS may be obliged to re-evaluate its long-term strategy.  Almost everyday brings more bad news for Bashir al-Assad in Syria, and its not necessarily ISIS that is causing the trouble.  Jabhat al-Nusrah, considered by many analysts to by Al-Qaeda's "representative" in Syria, has been conducting one successful military operation after another.  In reality, all the Islamic extremist groups who envision some form of a Sunni-based caliphate, are representing Al-Qaeda, including ISIS.  That certainly does not imply that Assad is a friend to the west, it only means that the various Islamic Sunni extremist military groups around the world all have the same goal and the same motivation.  At this point, keeping them separate no longer seems to serve a point.

News from northwest Syria is that Idlib Province has, for the most part, fallen to Jabhat al-Nusrah.  Everyday, village by village, town by town, and province by province, the end draws nearer for Bashir Al-Assad; and once it comes, no doubt there will be a serious vengeance visited upon all those who were loyal to the regime.  And as the situation becomes more desperate, the regime continues to make enemies by its use of weaponized chlorine gas attacks, barrel bombs, and indiscriminate air attacks on civilian areas.  Sooner or later, the last handful of troops loyal to Assad will realize that he and his closest comrades will escape Damascus to end their days in luxury, probably in a villa on the Black Sea.  Its no secret that the Assad family has treated the Syrian treasury as its own personal bank account, not to mention all the cash derived from all manner of bribes.  So the Assad clan will be just fine, but what about the troops who have been loyal to the end?    In Libya, the number of loyal troops disintegrated at the end, and I expect the same situation to happen in Syria.  Assad will have a limited amount of time to decide when to leave, and if he misses the deadline by the smallest of margins, we might just see Bashir lit up like a Christmas tree, inside of a cage.

We have been monitoring the media reports regarding Syria, for any indication that the clocks are ticking in Paris, Moscow, Washington, London, etc., on Bashir al-Assad's Syria. The west was taken by surprise at the swift removal of Gaddafi (no doubt he was surprised by the swift removal of his head), and I wonder if the analysts aren't giving Assad a bit more staying power than he actually has.  True, we had him practically written off once before and he bounced back.  But the giant difference between then and now is Russia. We believe that Putin is willing to allow Assad and his flock of butchers and thieves to go into exile in Russia, but that's about it.  He does not appear willing to expend anymore political capital or money on the Syrian Ba'ath movement.  Assad's predicament isn't complicated; its simply a matter of diminishing returns.  Unless the Syrian military is preparing some awe-inspiring major offensive (it would have to be out of Damascus) to turn the tide of battle, then everyday Assad can expect his loyalists to decrease in number.  A few gone over here, and a few more missing over there.  Don't be surprised to see a Syrian pilot asking for asylum soon, although I don't know if any are left that can pretend to have clean hands, i.e. never having targeted civilians.  The truth is, we're getting a little impatient.  We want to know what will happen "apres les deluge", so we are discreetly trying to nudge Assad in the right direction.  "Hey Bashir, I understand that Black Sea caviar is the richest.  Don't take any chances, Bashir; you already have no chin, how will you look with no head?  Be careful, Bashir, I opened the refrigerator this morning only to find a frozen Jabhat al-Nusrah guy inside.  Oh, that was your doing?  Sorry....."  

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