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Monday, June 1, 2015

Iran patiently winning battle of influence in Iraq.

Link: U.S. losing battle of influence in Iraq to Iran.

For some time, analysts, were trying to understand the Iranian strategy regarding the current conflict in Iraq.  The Iranians, with so much to win or lose, appeared content to allow the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) tackle ISIS, with the only assistance from Iran coming in the form of the Badr Corps and a few other Shi'a militias.  For roughly the last decade, the Shi'a militias have existed solely (or so they claim) for the purpose of protecting holy Shi'a sites in Iraq and for the personal safety of His Eminence Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani, who holds a tremendous amount of influence among the Shi's community of Iraq.  In fact, Sistani is an important figure to the United States and Europe as well.  He has always been a pragmatic, moderating presence and manages to keep the popular and dangerous Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a bit of a box.  Sadr is very dangerous; he is tied to the most anti-U.S. elements in the Qom-based Iranian religious leadership, and appears to be waiting for Sistani to expire, when he will take his place as a real trouble-maker in the region.  During the current conflict, Sadr has been conspicuous in his good behavior, although some could argue that he hasn't done enough to support the Iraqi government and military.  We expected much more involvement from Iran, given the Shi'a make-up of the present government in Baghdad.  From our optic, serious Iranian military intervention would have pushed ISIS out of western Iraq, but its possible that we are overestimating the strength of the Iranian military or even underestimating the staying power of ISIS.  Either way, it now appears that the Iranians made the smart choice by utilizing the militias in both a diplomatic and military manner.  The militias voiced opposition to the U.S.-led air campaign (which was reciprocated), and laid low while ISIS retook Ramadi.  Then, when it became necessary for the ISF to organize a multi-pronged offensive operation, which required the assistance of ground support more than air cover, the militias made themselves available, and have been performing admirably in both Anbar and Salah al- Din provinces.  The current successful military operations have had more to do with the militias than the air coalition, which continues to be hampered by not only weather anomalies, but by political constraints (it is our understanding that all the members of the coalition reserve the right to beg-off any operation after learning its intended target, a circumstance that speaks volumes).

U.S. Secretary of Defense served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President Clinton from 1993-96, and as Deputy Secretary of Defense from Oct 2011 to Dec 2013 under President Obama.  Carter (no relation to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) studied Physics and Medieval History, and was a research associate in Theoretical Physics at Rockefeller University from 1979-80.  Although he has accumulated an admirable amount of experience working in the Department of Defense over the past three decades, he has never been in uniform and has never held a command.  He has become more visible in the public eye since becoming Secretary of Defense, and appears to be sincerely engaged to fully implement U.S. policy regarding the conflict in Iraq.  The problem is, the United States doesn't seem to have much of a policy.  We have sponsored a hit-and miss air coalition that has proven to be ineffective against ISIS use of complex Suicide Vehicle attacks.  Certainly the recent ISIS offensive in Anbar and Salah al-Din were in no way impacted by air coalition activity.  Carter has been given very little to work with, while the Iranians continue to use the militias like chess pieces on a game board.  The Iranians can easily resupply the militias and continue to supply strategic advisors to assist the militia leadership.  They work closely with the ISF, while the U.S. is limited to a host of intel folks and diplomats in the big cities, and a contingent of instructors sitting out at al-Asad Airbase in central Anbar Province.  The Iraqi people see he Iranians as being much more engaged in the struggle, and the U.S. as sniffing around, waiting for the orders to leave (again).


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