The Neocons Get A War Chubby

Yesterday, Eli Lake breathlessly weighed Nouri al-Maliki’s request for American air strikes to assist in the battle against ISIS that his army appears unwilling to fight. Today, jonesing for more war with Jihadists, he and Tim Mak report that “if Obama changes his mind, U.S. jets could be flying over Iraq in less than a day”:

U.S. air bases, housing dozens of American fighters and bombers, are well within striking distance of Iraq. High-flying spy drones like the Global Hawk can just as easily fly over Iraq as Afghanistan or any other conflict zone in the region. The aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush is a few days’ sail away, in the North Arabian Sea. And it boasts dozens more fighters on board.

That’s why a number of retired high-ranking U.S. Air Force officers, including Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who served as the Air Force’s first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, say any strikes, if ordered, could begin almost immediately. “If you can provide me with the appropriate intelligence we can start doing (air strikes) within 24 hours,” he told The Daily Beast. “There are a variety of means do this, whether you are talking about long-range, high-payload aircraft or smaller aircraft. With the requisite intelligence information you can start again in 24 hours.”

Mercifully, the piece includes some warnings about the unintended consequences of deciding to “re-enter the Iraq War.” Even McCain and Butters are leery of air-strikes, which would sink the US right back into the Iraqi quicksand.

Reihan, meanwhile, has the great idea to see what the architects of the original Iraq catastrophe would have us do, because Ken Pollack and the Kagans – yes, the Kagans! – are still the “experts” we should defer to. He manages to shoe-horn in some Scowcroft while he’s at it, but never addresses the fact that Maliki and the American people were deeply opposed to the occupation continuing, that no protections were even given to US soldiers in such a scenario, and, more crucially, that if our leverage with 100,000 troops had failed to sway Maliki, why would a few hundred be salient now – especially since he has become rightly despised by his Sunni enemies?

In case anyone believed that the right had learned anything from Iraq, the editors at NRO also come out strongly in favor of re-entering the war they helped start:

Maliki needs help now, and the U.S. needs to give it to him. The Obama administration, asked about the country’s impending collapse, noted that it has sent Maliki a few hundred missiles, some rifles, and lots of ammunition. It’s possible ISIS will overextend itself, but all the ammunition in the world may not be enough for the Iraqi army, such as it is, to retake the cities ISIS controls and stamp out the insurgency.

The Iraqi government has a long list of weapons and support it needs. The U.S. ought to meet those requests, at least. The Maliki government may need U.S. advisory support — and possibly even other measures — to stop ISIS’s advance and retake the cities that have been overrun. This is anathema to the Obama administration: It much prefers handwringing to intervention. But deliberation now (not unlike in Syria) will allow the Islamists to solidify their position and amplify their influence.

The Iraqi government has a 250,000 strong army, trained and equipped by the US. But sectarianism meant that, when it came to the defense of Mosul, most of them took off their uniforms and joined the ISIS brigade.Do these delusional partisans actually believe that “advisory support” can somehow reverse this core dynamic?

George Will sums up the position of the right-wing id:

The president is in fact implementing the foreign policy he promised. It was entrenchment by one word, retreat by another. He is implementing the foreign policy that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton facilitated without expressing any qualms. He is implementing a policy that the American public has said in polls it wants right now. It wants it at least until it gets queasy by looking at the pictures they have been seeing tonight.

And one might think an alleged Tory like Will would understand the futility of trying to control an endless sectarian civil war in a country we neither understand fully or could control while occupying with 100,000 troops. But what’s conservative coherence worth when you can bash Obama so easily? In Malkin Award-worthy screed, Robert Tracinski does Will one better and proclaims that Obama wanted America to fail:

So were the Democrats right? Was Iraq a lost cause, inevitably, all along? There’s one big problem with this narrative: Iraq has fallen apart on President Obama’s watch, as a consequence of his own policy of willful neglect. I would say that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that doesn’t quite seem to cover it. Instead, I would characterize this as a wish-fulfilling prophecy. If Iraq is falling to al-Qaeda, it’s because this administration deliberately chose to throw away the victory handed to them by George W. Bush. The left thought we should have lost the war in Iraq, they wanted us to lose it—and finally they’re getting the outcome they wanted.

Yes, the Iraq War was a victory. How on earth did we manage to forget that?

My first take on the debate over whether to re-intervene in Iraq is here.

Will Samarra Be An Inflection Point?

The battle for the city is on, raising both the likelihood and the stakes of an ugly sectarian conflict as Shia militias rush to defend holy shrines that they fear ISIS’s Sunni jihadists will destroy:

iraqisissamarra3Thousands of Shia fighters have rushed to the central Iraqi city of Samarra to defend two shrines that were blown up by insurgents eight years ago, triggering the sectarian war that almost destroyed the country. Convoys of fighters were seen being escorted north by Iraqi police trucks from Baghdad early on Friday and many have now reached the city where insurgents – led by the Sunni militant group the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (Isis) – were in control after a lightning strike south.

The volunteer Shia fighters were quickly assembled after Iraqi forces abandoned their positions in most of the area, leaving only a small number of troops to guard the Imam al-Askari shrines. Samarra is the fourth northern city to have all but fallen out of government control. The embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, appears to have drawn battle lines further south in Taiji, hoping to defend Baghdad against insurgents who have occupied the north virtually unopposed.

How ISIS behaves in Samarra might give us a clue as to its endgame:

ISIS operations around Samarra during this phase of its northern offensive will be an important indicator of its ultimate intent and its estimate of its own capabilities. If ISIS means to continue a blitzkrieg offensive toward Baghdad it will likely need to bypass Samarra to maintain momentum and conserve forces. But Samarra is extremely significant in itself.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s destruction of the al-Askari Shrine in 2006 ignited the sectarian civil war that had been simmering before then. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will surely feel a great deal of pressure to prevent a repetition of such an event and may well attempt to concentrate forces to prevent it. Iraqi forces, militias, and Iranian proxies have long been in Samarra precisely to protect the shrine. ISIS could therefore attack the shrine for any of several reasons. It could seek to draw the ISF into a meeting engagement in hopes of defeating arriving ISF troops piecemeal. It could intend to destroy the rebuilt shrine to inflame the sectarian war even further. It could even find irresistible the prospect of fighting the actual Iranian forces and proxies thought to be in the city. Any or all of these conditions could lead to a major battle in Samarra, or the ISIS command might instead decide to bypass the shrine and continue south.

Last night, The Guardian’s live blog ran an account from one Samarra resident who seemed pretty happy to see the ISIS militants:

Everyone in Samara is happy with the fighters’ management of the city. They have proved to be professional and competent. We have water and power; there is a shortage in fuel because Maliki’s forces have cut the bridges between Samara and Baghdad. The fighters themselves did not harm or kill anyone as they swept forward. Any man who hands over his arm is safe, whatever his background. This attitude is giving a huge comfort to people here.

Four days ago, Maliki’s military dirty force raided Al-Razaq mosque in the city, brought a few locals whom they picked up from different parts in Samara and killed them in the mosque. What do you think the people feeling would be towards these military forces? We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can’t stand any more.

ISIS Against The World


More Iraqi towns fell to “worse-than-al-Qaeda” overnight. The above chart from Hayes Brown and Adam Peck illustrates how ISIS is really at war with everybody:

ISIS is the most committed to taking on every single other actor. Their single-minded focus on creating an Islamic state in the “Greater Syria” region — which generally is considered to include Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and parts of Jordan — has led them to completely ignore the borders drawn between the modern states that lie on the territory. As a demonstration of their commitment to the metaphor, ISIS fighters on Tuesday symbolically bulldozed a wall between Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, Adam Taylor presents the new rules under which citizens of Nineveh, now effectively a province of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, are living. These include amputations as punishment for stealing, a ban on alcohol and cigarettes, a pledge to destroy the graves and shrines that Shia Muslims revere but which Sunni fundamentalists like ISIS view as idols, and instructions to women not to leave the house except when absolutely necessary (in Islamic dress, of course).

If history is any guide, this means ISIS will lose. No Jihadist group as extreme as this has ever managed to sustain popular support for very long. Al-Qaeda collapsed in Jordan because of this – and in Iraq, the insane puritanism of the Sunni extremists actually played a part in creating the Sunni Awakening.

Douglas Ollivant considers how this state of affairs might end:

So what could be game changers?

If the United States (or, perhaps, another Western nation) were to launch airstrikes against ISIS convoys and on support bases in western Iraq (or, for that matter, eastern Syria) it could stop the insurgency in its tracks. However, such a step appears unlikely, at least on a scale that would truly shift the chessboard.

Less dramatic, but probably of greater long-term effect, would be a breakthrough in the political stalemate in Baghdad involving at least one major faction from each of the three ethno-sectarian groups (Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds). Should this crisis cause cooler heads to decide it is better to hang together than hang separately, then this may be just the crisis that Iraqi politics needed.

A third possibility, much as we might hate to admit it, would be a resurgence in the Assad government in Syria that permits it to attack ISIS bases on their side of the Iraq-Syria border, forcing ISIS to shift forces from Iraq to defend their safe havens in Syria. The Assad government might truly enjoy the opportunity to turn their rhetoric on fighting terrorism into some sort of reality.

Peter Beamount counts the opposing forces:

Estimates put the fighting strength of Isis in Syria and Iraq at around 7,000 but its numbers in Iraq appear to have been bolstered by other groups, including local Sunni militants and Ba’ath nationalists particularly in Tikrit. Despite claims that they have captured helicopters in Mosul, it seems unlikely they would be able to deploy them. Lightly armed with Toyota pickup technicals, RPGs and small arms, Isis has captured some armoured Humvees, although there are suggestions that some equipment has been sent back to Syria. While they have been able to operate easily in largely Sunni areas where they have some support from a population angry and alienated from the Shia-led government in Baghdad, the capital is a different proposition. One district alone, Sadr City, has a Shia population of some 1 million and since the sectarian war that ended in 2008, the sprawling suburbs have been divided along sectarian lines with checkpoints and barriers.

Malaki controls roughly 250,000 forces of unknown readiness and ability. And the Kurds?

Although some 35,000 Kurdish peshmerga are incorporated into the Iraqi security forces, other peshmerga remain outside with published estimates varying from 80,000 to three times that number. Two years ago a Kurdish official suggested the peshmerga numbered 190,000. Increasingly well equipped – including with 2,000 armoured vehicles and rocket artillery systems – they are regarded as motivated, well trained and experienced.

“The Syrian war,” Totten declares, “is no longer the Syrian war. It’s a regional war”:

It spilled into Lebanon at a low level some time ago. It sucked in Iran and Hezbollah some time ago. Now it is spreading with full force at blitzkrieg speed into Iraq and has even drawn in the Kurdistan Regional Government which managed to sit out the entire Iraq war. This could easily suck in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel before it’s over. Or maybe it won’t.

In the future we might see the events of the last few days as the beginning of the end of Iraq as a state, or at least the beginning of the end of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose American-trained army has proven utterly useless. Or maybe he’ll survive in an Iranian-backed rump state. Maliki wants an American-backed rump state. … But we are not going to save Iraq and we are not going to save Syria. It’s over. That’s what the Middle East wanted, and it’s what the Middle East is going to get.

And Aryn Baker notes: “It’s not looking good for the 49 Turkish citizens taken from the country’s consulate in Mosul, or the 31 Turkish truck drivers who were also kidnapped.” But the biggest wild card remains Iran. Thomas Erdbrink (NYT) doesn’t confirm reports that the Revolutionary Guard is already fighting in Iraq, but he relays some Iranian officials’ thoughts on the situation:

Should the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria manage to consolidate its power in northern Iraq, Iran would be confronted with the fresh headache of propping up yet another weak ally, along with Syria. But there is a huge emotional difference between Iraq — the site of the defining battles of the Shiite faith and where the holiest of Shiite saints are buried — and the Syria of President Bashar al-Assad, more an ally of convenience, with only the shrine of Zeinab. “I propose we help Iraq by repeating our good experience,” said Hossein Sheikholislami, an aide to the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, and an important figure in Syrian affairs. “Of course, if they ask officially for our help we can send experts to train the trainers, just as we did in Syria.”

Other analysts dismiss both the militants and the costs of intervening in Iraq. “This group is not as big and powerful as they seem,” said Mashallah Shamsolvazein, a reformist journalist and analyst of Arab affairs. “If needed, we can enter Iraq and wipe out ISIS easily, but that won’t be necessary.”

If this does become a second Iran/Iraq war, as he fears, Juan Cole remarks on how dramatically the US position has changed since the first one:

In the looming second Iran-Iraq War, the US will be de facto allied with Iran against the would-be al-Qaeda affiliate (ISIS was rejected by core al-Qaeda for viciously attacking other militant vigilante Sunni fundamentalists in turf wars in Syria). The position of the US is therefore 180 degrees away from what it was under Reagan. In fact, since ISIS is allegedly bankrolled by private Salafi businessmen in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Oil Gulf, the US is on the opposite side of all its former allies of the 1980s. In some ways, some of the alleged stagnation of US policy in the Middle East may derive from a de facto US switch to the Iranian side on most issues, at the same time that US rhetoric supports Iran’s enemies in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

It is possible that a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda-like groups in Iraq and Syria could clarify their budding new relationship and lead to a tectonic shift in US policy in the Middle East. One things seems clear. Without Iran, the US is unlikely to be able to roll by al-Qaeda affiliates and would-be affiliates in the Fertile Crescent, who ultimately could pose a danger to US interests.

Paul Iddon remembers the last time American and Iranian interests coincided:

Iran-U.S cooperation post-1979 isn’t at all unprecedented. In November 2001 the Iranian Qods Force then commanded by Pasdaran commander Yahya Rahim Safavi cooperated with United States Special Operations forces in the liberation from Taliban rule of the city of Herat in Afghanistan. …

Common interests between Tehran and Washington in the immediate post-9/11 period briefly trumped long-held animosities as mutual cooperation was feasible and desirable. Iran was then under the more reformist-oriented Khatami. Its president today is one who was elected on the grounds of his advocacy of more productive relations between his regime and the United States. One could argue the finer points of what such a cooperation between U.S. and Iran in Iraq now could entail but for once one thing is sure in that region, that an ISIL victory today in Iraq is detrimental to the majority of Iraqi’s, the majority of Iranians and the United States.

(Map via The Guardian)

Iran Is Already Fighting In Iraq

Farnaz Fassihi reports:

Two battalions of the Quds Forces, the overseas branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps that has long operated in Iraq, came to the aid of the besieged, Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki[.] Combined Iraqi-Iranian forces retook control of 85% of Tikrit, the birthplace of former dictator Saddam Hussein, according to Iraqi and Iranian security sources.

They were helping guard the capital Baghdad and the two Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, which have been threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda offshoot. The Sunni militant group’s lightning offensive has thrown Iraq into its worse turmoil since the sectarian fighting that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Shiite Iran has also positioned troops along its border with Iraq and promised to bomb rebel forces if they come within 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, of Iran’s border, according to an Iranian army general. In addition, Iran was considering the transfer to Iraq of Iranian troops fighting for the regime in Syria if the initial deployments fail to turn the tide of battle in favor of Mr. Maliki’s government.

Beauchamp adds:

The Quds Force is one of the most effective military forces in the Middle East, a far cry from the undisciplined and disorganized Iraqi forces that fled from a much smaller ISIS force in Mosul. One former CIA officer called Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today.”

But the escalation from a country many Iraqis still remember fighting a war against could get out of hand, and fast:

Shia Iran’s intervention could infuriate the Sunni Muslims whose allegiance ISIS needs to win in the long run.  The internal Iraqi conflict is firmly sectarian: ISIS is a Sunni Islamist group, and the Iraqi government is Shia-run (a majority of Iraqis are Shia). … The perception that the Iraqi government is far too close to Iran is already a significant grievance among Sunnis. That’s part pure sectarianism and part nationalism.

Hayder al-Khoei observes that Iraq’s Shia don’t really have a choice but to accept the help:

[T]here is an ideological difference between the Shia of Iraq and the Shia of Iran. The religious establishment in Iraq and Iran don’t see eye to eye when it comes to the role of the clergy in the state. But in the south there is a sense—it’s not as desperate as in Baghdad—but the Shia in general now recognize the important [role] that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are going to play in making sure that their cities do not fall to ISIS. They may not like the Iranians, they may be ideologically opposed to the Iranians, but in terms of threat perception, it’s a matter of survival.

ISIS was definitely picking the fight:

The al Qaeda affiliated ISIS considers Shias heretics who deserve to be killed, and is taking forth its campaign to liberate Iraq from what it sees as Shia domination; the group has said it will destroy Shia shrines along the way, stoking fears in Tehran of an attack on Shia Islam’s holiest sites, Najaf and Karbala.

Social media sites have quoted Suleimani saying if ISIS destroys the holy shrines, it will face Iran’s ire. Asked what the manifestation of that rage will be, the former Iranian diplomat laughed nervously. “They [ISIS] know that we’re not kidding around, so we shouldn’t worry about them doing anything stupid. And if they’re foolish enough to even approach the shrines, they have to be prepared for anything.” The diplomat paused. “Battles, attacks, raids, massacre. All the options will be on the table.”

Ali Hashem notes that Iranian involvement might be as much about Syria as it is about Iraq:

What seems clear is that Iran wants to invest in the Iraqi crisis to help end the Syrian war. It hopes to do so by bringing together states fighting each other via proxy in Syria in a unified front in Iraq, given the international consensus on backing the Iraqi fight against ISIS.

No, We Don’t Need To Go Back Into Iraq

Dexter Filkins assigns three reasons for the continuing disintegration of a country destroyed by the US invasion and occupation. The first two are the sectarian implosion in Syria and the sectarian authoritarianism of Nouri al-Maliki. But he then blames the Obama administration for not fighting harder to keep a minimal force in Iraq over Maliki’s and the American people’s wishes as the occupation came to a merciful close in 2011. IRAQ-UNRESTSomehow, that residual force would have restrained Maliki in his Shiite excesses, as the US did from 2006 onward, in the middle of a swirling civil war. The old guard in Washington will jump at this conclusion – with the neocon right and neocon left (what else do we call the liberals who never see a conflict in which the US should not be involved for the betterment of humankind?) rallying behind a new interventionism or, worse, a Captain Hindsight desire to pummel Obama again, while offering no real alternative.

It’s always a tempting idea that if we had stayed a little longer, all would have been well. It’s worth recalling the neocon desire to stay in Iraq for decades if necessary, in order to somehow forcibly impose a democratic structure on a sectarian, authoritarian and pathological non-state. But this is based on the fundamental illusion that the surge achieved anything of substance in altering sectarian divisions or Islamist extremism and thereby we ever had a success to sustain. We didn’t. We were able to temporarily pacify – by bribes and military maneuvering – a civil war that had always simmered below the Iraqi surface and had flared brutally even as we had 100,000 troops in the country. The idea that a few hundred could have prevented Iraq’s return to its historic sectarian entropy strikes me as absurd. It is not crazy for a Maliki ally to air this idea to Filkins in order to exonerate Maliki in the ensuing blood bath. What’s crazy is to take it at face value.

Yes, we broke Iraq in 2003. But another eight years of occupation, and billions in expense, fulfilled what obligation we had to the place. Does its disintegration mean more peril for the US?

We cannot know. But right now, it is a classic battleground for the ancient Shia-Sunni religious war still raging in the Middle East – with Iran and Saudi Arabia deep in the conflict. We have and must have no dog in that fight. And if we were to intervene again, we would only increase the likelihood of our being a target for some of the extremists now thriving there – on both sides. Mercifully, they hate each other more than they hate us – unless we give them yet another reason to turn their attention to the West.

The interventionists, remember, wanted us backing the Sunnis in Syria and now want us to back the Shia and Kurds in Iraq to prevent a newly fanatical Sunni insurgency. It makes you dizzy after a while. After a while, we’d just be taking turns backing one side or another, all the while painting a giant target on our own back.  But the hegemonic impulse to take every problem in the world as our own remains strong – especially among elites who love the idea of throwing their weight around in a world they have demonstrated they do not understand and cannot control.

I fear that the sane, smart decision to tell Maliki that we are not coming over the horizon to save him may not hold against the interventionists within the administration or against the Washington elite’s desire to keep running the world as they used to. If Obama succumbs, as he did in the disastrous Libya intervention, then much that he has achieved in de-leveraging the US from its neo-imperial burden would be at risk.

This is their religious war, and not ours. Neither an American soldier nor an American cent should be spent to alter its trajectory.

ISIS Economics

Max Fisher examines the economic angle of ISIS’s machinations in Syria and Iraq:

There is reason to be skeptical that ISIS can really re-start eastern Syria or northern Iraq’s oil fields, much less move and sell the oil, but the fact that the group has this ambition at all is telling. As the chaos of Syria’s war breaks apart the state and its ability to function economically, ISIS is moving in to replace the state and its tax collectors, then using that revenue to launch its invasion of northern Iraq, which just so happens to be rich in oil itself. …

This money goes a long way: it pays better salaries than moderate Syrian rebels or the Syrian and Iraqi professional militaries, both of which have suffered mass desertions. ISIS also appears to enjoy better internal cohesion than any of its state or non-state enemies, at least for the moment. It rules over an area the size of Belgium.

The conflict is likely to drive up already high oil prices, it but won’t necessarily result in a major market disruption:

So far, the only oil-related casualty of the fighting has been the pipeline that runs from Kirkuk to Ceyhan in Turkey. The pipeline, which has been out of commission since March because of sabotage, was expected to be repaired and back online and carrying up to 250,000 barrels a day.

That might remain the only petroleum casualty. Iraq’s biggest oil fields are far to the south, closer to Basra than to Baghdad. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces are modest in size, and any attempt to reach the south might stretch their supply lines and put them up against tougher foes. The 2.5 million barrels a day exported via terminals and tankers in the Persian Gulf seem relatively secure.

But ISIS is hardly the only reason oil supplies are on the rise:

[S]tarting in 2011, the disruptions often began to exceed 2 million barrels a day. Among the culprits were the Arab Spring and follow-on uprisings, the chaos in Nigeria, Iran sanctions and of course Russia president Vladimir Putin’s crypto-invasion of Ukraine.

Then last July, Libyan militants stormed oil export facilities and shut them down. As of now, the country pumps just one-eighth of the 1.6 million barrels of oil a day it produced before Muammar Qadhafi’s ouster in 2011. All in all, about 3.5 million barrels of oil a day have been off the market around the world since last fall. Those barrels have offset a 1.8 million-barrel-a-day surge of supply from the US.

The Kurds Dig In

Unrest in Mosul

Today in Kirkuk, the Iraqi army fled and Kurdish forces took their place to try and hold the city against the ISIS onslaught. The fall of Mosul might actually end up benefiting the Kurds:

Ironically, ISIL’s takeover of Mosul may now present a “golden opportunity” to advance long term Kurdish objectives, according to some Iraqi Kurdish politicians. With Baghdad’s request for military backup in a campaign the Iraqi army alone is almost sure to lose, Erbil now has the green light to send its troops into disputed territories and stake its claim. …

Unsurprisingly, the fall of Mosul has raised alarms in Ankara; the Turkish press is rife with fears that the involvement of Peshmerga troops would embolden Kurds to further their secessionist ambitions, or worse yet, that the PKK may be invited to join the fight as a counterweight to ISIL.

Juan Cole expects Shiite militias to soon come into play as well:

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his colleagues in Najaf, the seat of Shiite religious authority, issued a statement roundly condemning the Iraqi political class for its divisions and wrangling and calling on them to unite to protect Iraqi citizens from the terrorist groups that had taken over Ninevah Province (i.e. Mosul and environs). Sistani also expressed condolences for the Iraqi troops killed by ISIS fighters and pledged the religious authority’s support to the Iraqi army in this struggle. It is more or less a declaration of Shiite jihad on ISIS.

In a penetrating analysis of the situation, Mushreq Abbas explains why the Iraqi forces in Mosul collapsed:

The best explanation of the collapse of the Iraqi military — which spilled over on the same day to the cities of Siniya and Beiji in Salahuddin province, as well as Hawija, Sulaiman Bek and Rashad in Kirkuk — is a fundamental flaw in planning, leadership and training. These have been defects in the Iraqi security forces over the past few years, despite their receiving sophisticated equipment and weapons.

Throughout the years, Baghdad has failed to produce a professional army or provide efficient training programs, hence the clear hostility between the population in Sunni areas in general and the army, whose members mostly hail from Shiite areas in central and southern Iraq. This failure is definitely linked to the inability to represent all demographics within the military, something the Sunnis have complained about for years. Meanwhile, the pressures to which the army and police forces were subject in the months that followed the outbreak of fighting in Anbar since late 2013 have in turn affected the efficiency of the security establishment.

Fred Kaplan is more succinct, blaming Maliki’s divisive approach to governance:

One problem always was, and still is, that Maliki had no interest in conciliatory politics on a national level. And that’s why he’s now facing a monumental, even terrifying armed insurgency. His troops in Nineveh province simply folded when they came under attack, not because they weren’t equipped or trained to fight back but because, in many cases, they felt no allegiance to Maliki’s government; they had no desire to risk their lives for the sake of its survival.

Omar al-Jaffal solicits the perspective of one of the soldiers who fled, which illustrates the confused and leaderless state of affairs:

At 3 a.m. on June 10, Twitter users affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) began tweeting that ISIS had control of security centers in Ninevah. An officer from the army’s 2nd division in Ninevah province, who spoke to Al-Monitor by phone on condition of anonymity, said, “It was during these hours exactly that the army was without leadership.”

“We received messages stating that parts [of the city], that were under our control, had fallen. But we were without leaders and had no orders to act,” the officer said. “The soldiers were perplexed,” he noted, adding, “We put the options in front of them and said: ‘Whoever wants to fight, fight; whoever wants to flee, flee.'” He continued, “At 4 a.m., another officer and I decided to change out of our military uniforms. We took a civilian car and headed to the Kurdistan Region [of Iraq].” Speaking from Erbil, the officer said, “No one understands exactly what happened.”

Wladimir van Wilgenburg talks to Mosulites who claim that ISIS was welcomed there:

“The Iraqi army oppressed the people, they stole their money,” said Ali Ahmed, a driver, who was shot while fleeing Mosul. According to Ahmed, the local population in Mosul welcomed ISIS. “The people in Mosul do not like Daash [an acronym for ISIS’s Arabic name: Dawlat Islamiyya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham], or Maliki, but they now feel better under Daash, and water and electricity returned.”

Ahmed al-Ghadra, 74, a former resident of Mosul, told Al-Monitor the army mistreated him. “The Arab Iraqi people want Maliki to go to prison. He is a traitor. Fourteen Daash members come, and the whole Iraqi army flees. The people of Mosul do not want the Iraqi army in Mosul. I’m an old man, and they stopped me for one hour at a checkpoint, using bad language.”

More witnesses confirm that ISIS treated the civilian population well, and told them that they would only punish those who work with Maliki.

But Human Rights Watch warns that civilians face threats from both sides:

“I don’t feel safe at all,” the Mosul resident told Human Rights Watch. “I fear ISIS, they might kill me for any reason: because I worked as a government employee … if they noticed that I don’t go to the mosque and pray as they want everyone to, [or] if my beard wasn’t long enough.” He did not know whether ISIS had killed any civilians or soldiers since it took over the western part of the city. Another Mosul resident told Human Rights Watch that as of June 10, he had heard that ISIS had killed “only five or six people” who stole police cars to sell them later or sell them as parts, and killed an army colonel named Rayan, who was a former SWAT officer based in Mosul.

Two other Mosul residents told Human Rights Watch they feared the government’s response. Between June 6 and June 8, according to Mosul residents and local media reports, the government carried out what appeared to have been a series of indiscriminate attacks.

Previous Dish on the Iraq crisis herehere, here, and here.

(Photo: Peshmargas of Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government patrol on the region to prevent infiltration of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant militants who seized Mosul, in Iraq on June 12, 2014. By Onur Coban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)

A New Iraqi Refugee Crisis

The International Organization for Migration reports that over 500,000 Iraqis fled the city of Mosul in the days leading up to its capture by ISIS jihadists yesterday:

The situation for those who remain is grim. “The violence has resulted in a high number of casualties among civilians. The main health campus, a group of four hospitals, is inaccessible, as it is in the middle of an area in which there is fighting,” the IOM continues, adding that some mosques have been converted to clinics to treat casualties. “Western neighborhoods of Mosul are also suffering from a lack of drinking water, as the main water station for the area was destroyed by bombing. Families are also running low on food, particularly families hosting IDPs in their homes. Few areas are receiving electricity, and when they do it is for only one to two hours a day. Most generators are not working because there is no fuel.”

The Ever-Imploding Iraq, Ctd


The Iraqis are requesting help in recapturing Mosul and other northwestern cities from ISIS, but Ed Morrissey doubts there’s anything we can do:

We pulled out all of our forces three years ago when the Obama administration failed to negotiate for a residual force for this exact scenario. In order to land an effective fighting force to defend Baghdad and retake Mosul, we would need to commit tens of thousands of troops and a large amount of materiel in a big hurry. Logistically speaking, that would be a feat worthy of George S. Patton and the Battle of the Bulge in order for us to get to Baghdad before ISIS does, especially with Iraqi security forces collapsing.

Politically speaking, it’s a dead letter. Obama just coughed up five prizes to the Taliban in his haste to get the US out of Afghanistan. Does Iraq really expect Obama to restart the Iraq War all over again after spending his entire national political career speaking out against it?

Let’s get a few things clear here. The American people – much more than Obama – wanted to get out of Iraq completely; and the Maliki government – much more than Obama – wanted the same.  Since the failure of the surge to create anything like a multi-sectarian government, this unraveling was only a matter of time. I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen as we were pulling out, or a year ago. No doubt the Syrian implosion has had an impact. But this is Iraq: a country created to be divided, and requiring brutal authoritarianism to stay in one piece. The idea that the US can actually do anything about this is fantasy.

But a fantasy that the Bloomberg editors embrace:

Much of what is happening in Iraq now is the fault of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has ruled Iraq in far too sectarian a fashion, alienating the very Sunni leaders who helped to subdue ISIL’s precursor in 2007. That complicates matters, and any deal to rescue him should include a binding commitment from him to bring Sunni leaders into the government: These leaders trust the U.S. more than any other player in Iraq.

U.S. involvement would also be needed to overcome the deep tensions and rivalries between the government in Baghdad on one side and the Kurds and Turks on the other. Crushing ISIL may be the one clear common interest they have, yet cooperation is unlikely without diplomatic grease from an outsider, and the U.S. is the only realistic candidate.

They’re really like Charlie Brown and the football.

Something we were incapable of doing with more than a hundred thousand troops in the country is somehow feasible today? The hegemonic knee jerks. Max Boot blames Obama for all of this, of course:

Islamist militants are now in the process of establishing a fundamentalist caliphate that includes much of northern Syria and western and northern Iraq. And that in turn threatens the U.S. and our regional allies because this new Islamist state is certain to become a training ground for international jihadists who will then strike other countries–including possibly ours.

It is harder to imagine a bigger disaster for American foreign policy–or a more self-inflicted one. There was no compelling reason why the U.S. had to pull our troops out of Iraq; if President Obama had tried harder to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement, he probably could have succeeded. But his heart was in troop withdrawal, not in a long-term commitment.

Boot still actually believes that the US should have stayed in Iraq indefinitely. This is a form of madness. Juan Cole, mercifully, provides the perspective that Morrissey and Boot omit:

Those who will say that the US should have left troops in Iraq do not say how that could have happened. The Iraqi parliament voted against it. There was never any prospect in 2011 of the vote going any other way. Because the US occupation of Iraq was horrible for Iraqis and they resented it. Should the Obama administration have reinvaded and treated the Iraqi parliament the way Gen. Bonaparte treated the French one?

I hasten to say that the difficulty Baghdad is having with keeping Mosul is also an indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime (1979-2003), which pioneered the tactic of sectarian rule, basing itself on a Sunni-heavy Baath Party in the center-north and largely neglecting or excluding the Shiite South. Now the Shiites have reversed that strategy, creating a Baghdad-Najaf-Basra base.

And Nader Uskowi stresses that the primary fault lies with Maliki:

After the U.S. withdrawal, Saudi Arabia and Iran have followed sectarian policies in Iraq that have partly caused the present situation; by supporting Sunni militias in opposition to the government and Shia militias in support of it. But at the end of the day, it is the Iraqi government and its leader, who has been in power for two full terms and is trying to stay on for a third term, that should be held responsible for maintaining security and stability in the country.

But what if the country is so constituted that that is impossible without a dictatorship?

(Photo: A picture taken with a mobile phone shows Iraqi soldiers talking as smoke billows behind them on a road in Hawijah, west of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq on June 11, 2014. Jihadists seized all of Mosul and Nineveh province, long a militant stronghold and one of the most dangerous areas in the country, and also took areas in Kirkuk province, to its east, and Salaheddin to the south. By STR/AFP/Getty Images.)

Map Of The Day

screen shot 2014-06-11 at 9.32.30 am

Armin Rosen explains ISIS’s expanding grip on Iraq and Syria:

ISIS operates across a vast geographic area. Jalula, Iraq, the easternmost population center under ISIS’s control, is over 360 miles from Raqqah, Syria, the group’s westernmost zone of control. ISIS sprawls across the Iraqi-Syrian border. It’s attacked inside of Iraqi Kurdistan, sits at the doorstep of Syria’s Alawaite heartland, and has broad operational abilities inside Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, and even its Shi’ite south. ISIS cuts across ethnic and sectarian regions, controlling major cities and desert wilderness.

In analyst Shiraz Maher’s view, ISIS controls more territory than the governments of Israel and Lebanon. It controls nearly a third of Iraq alone, according to the Long War Journal.

And they are far from finished:

Sources told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that gunmen had set up checkpoints around Tikrit, which lies between the capital Baghdad and Mosul, which was [captured] by ISIL [aka ISIS] on Tuesday. “All of Tikrit is in the hands of the militants,” a police colonel told the AFP news agency. A police brigadier general told AFP that fighters attacked from the north,  west and south of the city, and that they were from ISIL. A police major told the agency that the militants had freed about 300 inmates from a prison in the city, the capital of Salaheddin province.

Meanwhile, sources said the nearby city of Kirkuk, home to Iraq’s biggest oil refinery, was also being attacked by ISIL.