The Ever-Imploding Iraq, Ctd


Maliki’s forces may have halted, or at least slowed, ISIS’s advance:

Security sources said Iraqi troops attacked an ISIL [ISIS] formation in the town of al-Mutasim, 22 km (14 miles) southeast of Samarra, driving militants out into the surrounding desert. They said army forces reasserted control over the small town of Ishaqi, also southeast of Samarra, to secure a road that links Baghdad to Samarra and the now ISIL-held cities of Tikrit and Mosul further north. Troops backed by the Shi’ite Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia also retook the town of Muqdadiya northeast of Baghdad, and ISIL was dislodged from Dhuluiya after three hours of fighting with tribesmen, local police and residents, a tribal leader said.

It was far from clear whether government forces could sustain their reported revival against ISIL, given serious weaknesses including poor morale and corruption, and the risk of Iraq sundering into hostile sectarian entities remains high. ISIL insurgents kept up their assaults on some fronts.

Where the current US thinking stands:

The biggest questions center on whether the United States will carry out air strikes, either with warplanes or unmanned drones, against militants of [ISIS], which moved swiftly to seize the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit this week and now threaten Baghdad. Such attacks, an option the Pentagon described on Friday as “kinetic strikes”, could be launched from aircraft carriers or from the sprawling U.S. air base at Incirlik in Turkey. The carrier USS George H.W. Bush and its strike group are already “in the region,” the Pentagon said on Friday.

Last night, Clinton basically agreed with Obama’s reluctance to get re-involved with Iraq or to further support the Maliki government:

“You’d be fighting for a dysfunctional, unrepresentative, authoritarian government,” she said on Friday at George Washington University. Clinton talked at length about the unfolding crisis in Iraq, where the extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has moved from Syria, taking hold of cities north of Baghdad. “There’s no reason on earth that I know of that we would ever sacrifice a single American life for that,” Clinton added.

Amen. Meanwhile, Kilgore is not liking the deja vu:

Moqutada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, which may be reforming; Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has now called Iraqis to arms to resist the ISIS breakup of the country; the Kurdish Peshmerga militia, which just seized the oil city of Kirkuk that the semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government has long coveted; the “holy sites,” which Shi’a revere but that the ISIS would just as soon destroy as “idolotrous.” And yes, among the bad returning memories is the daily hectoring from John McCain about the need for U.S. troops in Iraq forever—this time, presumably, in a more explicit and highly ironic alliance with Tehran, which many of McCain’s neocon buddies would love to see reduced to radioactive ash.

The Obama administration seems to be treating the Iraq crisis as it would an adverse breakdown in the military balance in Syria, not as some sort of implicit repudiation of the U.S. decision to shut down its part of the Iraq War. That makes sense. But it will be interesting to see how U.S. public opinion reacts to any sort of return engagement with Iraq in all its complexity. The bad memories are just too recent to have faded entirely.

To wit, Aaron Blake notes that if Obama does attack, the US public will likely respond in kind:

[A] Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found his ratings in this area sinking to a new low. Just 41 percent approved of his job on international affairs, down six points in three months and currently five points below his overall approval rating. Layered on top of Obama’s weakness on foreign affairs is the long-standing unpopularity of the war in Iraq. As of March 2013, just 38 percent said the costs of the war were worth the effort and 58 percent said they were not.

Back in Iraq, the government has instituted a social media blackout in an effort to cut down ISIS’s communication network, though as Craig Timberg notes, it’s unclear how effective that will be:

Regions beyond government control often rely on alternative sources, such as satellite links and fiber-optic lines coming from telecommunications providers in Turkey, Iran and Jordan, analysts said. Service in semiautonomous Kurdish regions, for example, appeared to be flowing without a blip.

“It kind of echoes the larger themes in Iraq, of how little the Iraqi government controls in that country,” said Doug Madory, a senior analyst with Renesys, a New Hampshire-based company that tracks Internet performance worldwide.

Read all Dish coverage of ISIS here. Mackey is live-blogging the latest developments.