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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Islamic State focuses on Diyala Province

Link: Suicide bomber kills 14 in Iraq

Operative from the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization continue to utilize suicide bombings in their efforts to take control of strategic areas of Iraq.  In recent weeks, the IS has increased its activity in Diyala Province, just east of Baghdad.  Normally, the media focuses on events on Baiji, Anbar (Ramadi) and Salah ad-Din (Samarrah) Provinces, although the IS has been active in Diyala for many months.  This week, an IS suicide bomber killed fourteen people at a gathering of Sunni tribal leaders in Baqubah.  Analysts might be tempted to assume that this event will drive the Sunni community further away from the IS and its mission.  But to predict the actions of the various different Iraqi groups is dangerous business.  During my career, I learned to never forget that different cultures respond in different ways to particular stimuli.  Its very possible that the IS is using violence to portray strength, which in turn might (ideally) frighten the Sunni community into joining their cause.  One thing is certain - if the Sunnis of Iraq sense that an IS victory is inevitable, you can guarantee that they will start setting up their tents under a different flag.

Diyala Province presents a strategic target for the IS for a number of reasons.  The people of Iraq are already aware of IS aggression in Anbar and Salah ad-Din Provinces, not to mention the initial incursion into northern Iraq, which resulted in the occupation of Mosul and Tikrit (since retaken), and the apparently never-ending struggle for Baiji and its oil refinery.  Adding Diyala Province to the mix, effectively surrounds Baghdad, and provides a visual impression of IS domination.  Also, the IS would like nothing better than to see the Iranians decide that Iraq isn't worth the sacrifice, and stop its support for the government in Baghdad and the various Shi'a militias that have actually had some battlefield success against IS forces.  Since Diyala Province shares a lengthy border with Iran, no doubt the Iranians will feel a bit of pressure, as the boundaries of Iran have not been legitimately threatened since the 1980 to 1988 Iraq-Iran War.  You can be sure that the IS will turn up the heat in just the right way, so that the Iranians will be forced to consider just how much their involvement in Iraq is worth.  Its actually a bit of a gamble; the IS military campaign in Diyala might also force Iran to recognize how much its national security equities are inexorably tied to a peaceful Iraq.  We've always considered the possibly that Iran might tip over the entire table by launching a full invasion of Iraq.  We believe that the Iranian military has the capability of destroying IS' conventional military capability, as long as the Syrian border does not present a problem.  Chasing the IS into Syria will only grant them a reprieve.  If the Iranians were to invade Iraq with their regular Armed Forces, they should be prepared to finish the job, which may require an incursion into Syria, all the way to the doorsteps of Aleppo and Damascus.  You would be hard pressed to find someone as opposed to the current Iranian regime as we are, but it would be nice to see someone with a pair of balls, no matter from what corner of the ring the emerge.  And the Iranians have been known to pull a few surprises.  Its probably unlikely that the Iranians would commit their regular Armed Forces in this manner, but its getting more and more difficult everyday to handicap this conflict.

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