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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Iraqi Armed Forces, alongside Shi'a militia, making progress in retaking territory from ISIS.

Since the recovery of Ramadi, the Iraqi Armed Forces have continued to put pressure on ISIS elements by clearing ISIS from the Hit District, and moving to isolate ISIS forces in Fallujah.  The Shi'a militias, still fighting under the banner of "Popular Mobilization Units", have also been successful, as ISIS seems to be unable to conduct the daily terror attacks and suicide bombings that were conducted last summer with such frequency.  In particular, Baghdad and Diyala Province are no longer suffering from the terrorist attacks that had become so familiar.  The Iraqi military is determined to consolidate its position in Baiji and to end ISIS operations against Hadithah, but efforts to retake Mosul remain a priority.  ISIS has had the opportunity to consolidate its hold on Mosul and to fortify the city in typical ISIS fashion, which includes booby traps and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  The Iraqi Army currently in the field is not the Iraqi Army that faced off against ISIS outside of Tikrit in 2014.  The Iraqi military of today has become familiar with the strategy and tactics of ISIS, including the use of human hostages and hidden explosive devices, and has turned the table on ISIS attempts to utilize fear and intimidation as a weapon.  The Iraqi military has benefitted greatly from the training providing by U.S. Special Forces.  ISIS was using the same strategies employed by the Iraqi insurgents in 2006-7, which included targeting civilians and taking hostages; the Iraqi Army is using tactics employed by the U.S. Army against the insurgency, which included using superior manpower, weaponry and air elements to constantly harass the enemy into retreating.  The Iranian-supported and Shi'a led Popular Mobilization Forces have been acting in concert with the Iraqi military, and has succeeded in pushing ISIS out of Sammarah.

It is obvious that ISIS has suffered some serious setbacks in Iraq during the first months of 2016.  ISIS has had difficulty resupplying its forces in Iraq, and continued Russian pressure in Syria is forcing ISIS leaders to make difficult decisions regarding reinforcements.  Although ISIS has not been forced to retreat in Syria as it has been obliged to do in Iraq, the issue of supply has become a priority.  ISIS continues to successfully recruit outside of the Middle East, and funding has not diminished.  But the United States and its European partners have had success intercepting and disrupting some of ISIS' funding mechanisms, which has impacted the organization's ability to pay its operatives.  Also, resupplying has been very difficult, and almost always conducted under the cover of night. The overall situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq and moved decidedly in favor of the U.S., Russia, Iran, and Bashar al-Assad.  With the involvement of Russia in Syria, very attempt to degrade ISIS will be an effort in support of al-Assad and his Syrian Ba'ath party.  This conclusion is unavoidable.  Given the nuclear treaty drafted last year and signed by the U.S., major European nations, and Iran, it appears as if the U.S. is interested in furthering the influence and military presence of Iran.  For the moment, the Iranians appear content to meddle with  Iraqi internal political affairs, and will let the Popular Mobilization Units do its fighting.  It will be interesting to see what policy is adopted by the United States, provided a Republican wins the presidency in 2016.  Obviously, its traditional to oppose the Iranians, but if events continue to favor al-Assad, Russia and Iran, it will prove very difficult to revert to previous policy.    

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