Thursday, June 12, 2014
The Chess Pieces Move In Iraq As ISIS Takes Mosul And Tikrit In Major Offensive
Iraq is falling apart. And al-Qaeda is on the move.
Following a lightning strike that captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, the forces of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) have continued in an unchecked advance to the south. Aside from Mosul, ISIS has taken the entire province of Nineva along with other areas of Salahaddin and Kirkuk provinces yesterday. And in a major coup, ISIS has now captured the Salahaddin cities of Bayji, the site of Iraq's largest oil refinery, and the city of Tikrit, the provincial capital:
The Iraqi army we built up at such a huge cost to the American tax payer is retreating headlong towards Baghdad. Actually, it's less of a retreat and more of a rout.
Mosul, a city of two million people was a particularly juicy plum for the jihadis. As the Iraqi forces were routed, ISIS seized the provincial government headquarters, the airport, TV and radio stations, police stations and military installations where U.S.-supplied weapons and aircraft were based. ISIS doesn't have any pilots on hand, at least at the moment. But they now have an air force.
They also now have quite a bit of money. ISIS reportedly helped themselves to 500 billion Iraqi dinars - the equivalent of $429m (£256m) - from Mosul's central bank, as well as millions from numerous banks across Mosul according to Nineveh governor Atheel al-Nujaifi.
According to the Wall Street Journal, witnesses said government soldiers ran away in disorder, leaving the streets littered with abandoned army vehicles, weapons and uniforms. The soldiers reportedly knocked on doors and begged for civilian clothes so they could escape without being taken by the ISIS fighters.
ISIS also freed hundreds of prisoners being held in Mosul. More than 2,500 prisoners, many of them members of ISIS or other al-Qaeda factions were freed yesterday when ISIS took control of the city. That should more than replenish any casualties they suffered, and provide manpower either for a move on Baghdad or reinforcements for Syria.
As you can see in the map above two things are apparent. First, ISIS has literally erased the border between Syria and Iraq, both artificial countries anyway. ISIS still holds Fallujah, and their western lines st this point extend to the outskirts of Baghdad. At the same time, ISIS is advancing quickly from the north which will soon give them a unified front to assault Baghdad from two directions, perhaps in a matter of days.
This was an amazing strategic coup for ISIS. Shi'ite Iraq was cheerfully letting Iran funnel supplies to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Syrian Army and Hezbollah in Syria.This will effectively cut off a large part of that flow, and may even be decisive in winning the war for the jihadis there. or at least pushing Assad back to the northeastern coastal redoubt I've spoken about before.
ISIS and the other al-Qaeda and Islamist fighters are being heavily backed by the Saudis, Qatar and the other GCE countries..and, as I pointed out the other day, by President Obama, who has been supplying arms and training to ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliates covertly for quite some time now, while lying about it numerous times publicly and without bothering to clear it with congress, of course. As for the Saudis and the other Sunni states, this is there way of attempting to checkmate Shi'ite Iran, since they've realized by now that President Obama never will.
Sponsor putting an Islamist, terrorist affiliated government in power instead of Basher Assad? That would certainly not be an unusual step for this president if you look at his actions on Libya and Egypt.
At this point, thanks to the assistance they've received, ISIS has a solid area of influence in both Syria and Iraq, and may one day put together the unified Islamist state of their dreams, while the Shi'ites will be forced back into their traditional areas in the south...if they can hold them. Since Iraq's two biggest oilfields are in the south as weel as their Shi'ite's holy city of Karbala, they may very well make a stand there.
There are several wild cards going on that bear mentioning.
First, Iran. I would not be surprised at all if Iraqi PM Maliki asks for Iranian support to hang on to things, especially if his calls to President Obama to put U.S. boots back on the ground in Iraq again falls on deaf ears. Either way, we could see a widening of the war. If America goes back in . we could see the ludicrous spectacle of U.S. troops fighting ISIS, whom their own commander-in-chef has armed and trained to preserve the Shi'ite dictatorship we put in power after we took out Saddam Hussein. Or we could see what amounts to simply an extension of the Syrian civil war to Iraq,which was largely a tribal conflict itself anyway.
Of the two scenarios, I would see Iran coming in as the most likely, for domestic American political reasons if nothing else.
Another wild card is the Kurds. In spite of what the map above says about ISIs and allied tribes being 'anti-Kurd' , I wouldn't be surprised if there was something interesting going on behind the scenes. Iraq's Shi'ite government has not been particularly friendly Kurdistan,especially when it comes to th eoil rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds claim as part of their federated area.
In both Syria and Iraq, ISIS and other Sunni jihadis have pretty much steered clear of the Kurdish areas, including Kirkuk. Partly, that's because the Kurds have maintained their own independent fighting force, the Persh Merga who were originally trained by the IDF covertly during the Saddam
' no fly zone' years. They're good fighters, and have close links with the Kurds in Syria, just over the border from Iraqi Kurdistan.
It's not impossible that the Kurds have made an agreement with ISIS, their fellow Sunnis.
The 2nd and 3rd Iraqi Army divisions in Nineveh and the 4th division in Salahadin are where most of the Kurds still in the Iraqi Army serve. To get to Bayji and Tikrit, the 4th division's headquarters, an dadvance as quickly as they did ISIS would have had to run through a lot of Iraqi troops putting up little or no resistance. Did the Kurdish troops, instead of retreating south towards Baghdad decide to go northeast with their arms and equipment instead, back towards Kirkuk and Kurdistan? I've heard several reports of Kurdish troops in Kirkuk, both Iraqi Army and Persh Merga.
The Kurds would also need to strike a deal with ISIS in any case, since while the fields might be in Kurdistan, the pipelines flow though ISIS held territory.
Did the Kurds negotiate a separate peace with ISIS, that in exchange for allowing them to take Kirkuk and form an independent Kurdistan, the Kurds would dissolve and not fight ISIS, either in Iraq or in Syria? It's possible, and if that's true, we may be seeing the historic partition of Iraq.
In any event, this is going to be interesting as it plays out. Stay tuned...