Monday, May 18, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 18, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Ramadi falls, the US government spins, Shi'ite militias are sent in, and much more.

At the New York Times, Emma Sky contributes "Iraq Shows That 'Tactics Without Strategy Is the Noise Before Defeat" which includes:

Politicians try to use the situation in Iraq for political advantage, without much consideration of Iraqis themselves; Democrats blame Republicans for invading Iraq in the first place, and Republicans blame Democrats for not leaving troops there. The U.S. military blames U.S. government civilians for not doing enough; and the latter blames the former for trying to do too much. We need to honestly examine what took place there so that we learn how and when to respond to instability in the world.

Emma Sky is the author of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq.  And Iraq certainly continues to unravel.

Last June, the Islamic State seized Mosul.

The Iraqi military fled.

In some sort of early anniversary celebration,  the Islamic State -- which still controls Mosul -- seized Ramadi over the weekend.

Oh, and  the Iraqi military fled.

Hamdi Alkhshali and Catherine E. Shoichet (CNN) reported, "The key Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to ISIS on Sunday after government security forces pulled out of a military base on the west side of the city, the mayor and a high-ranking security official said."  Al Jazeera added, "Iraqi special forces soldiers were reported to be fleeing the city on Sunday as the armed group succeeded in breaching their last holdout."

This after how many millions (more) US tax dollars have been spent training them?


In mid-April, Stan noted how, since August, the White House has spent over $2 billion on fighting (with combat, not with diplomacy) the Islamic State.

You can argue that things stand today exactly where they stood a year ago.

No improvement at all.

And you can click here for the Guardian's post of the Iraqi military fleeing Ramadi and the Islamic State.

This fleeing is disturbing.

Especially when you grasp that they didn't just flee open spaces in Ramadi.

Reuters notes, "Earlier, security sources said government forces evacuated a key military base after it came under attack by the insurgents, who had already taken one of the last districts still holding out." They couldn't even hold their own military base.

Every time they flee, the Islamic State gets a stronger foothold and if the military confronts them -- if! -- it's much harder to do that after they've taken a city.


Mosul remains under control a year later.

What does it really say about the Iraqi military and the Iraqi government that they want to act militarily and talk about doing so but they refuse to do so.

There is no progress.

Barack's spent over a billion on Iraq -- between weapons, US forces and 'aid' -- since August and for what?  Where is the progress?

Despite Barack declaring that the only solution was a "political solution," no real work has been spent on that. Instead it's been empty promises and the focus has been on the military which, as we see again today, continues to falter and fail.

What's the end game, Barack?

Is the US going to remain in Iraq forever to prop up the US-installed government?

Reuters notes, "The Pentagon said on Sunday that Islamic State militants had gained the advantage in fighting in Ramadi and that if the western Iraqi city fell, the U.S.-led coalition would support Iraqi forces 'to take it back later'."

Elissa Smith is the person being quoted on "to take it back later."

Someone should ask the Pentagon and the White House what that statement means.

US forces were already flying overhead and dropping bombs during the failed attempt.

If you doubt it:

Eight airstrikes against targets in over recent hours & US support accelerating. spoke w/PM Abadi, readout to follow 2/2
87 retweets 30 favorites

Eight, Brett gasped, pulling furiously at his pud, eight!

So exactly what does it mean when the Pentagon says that US forces will "support Iraqi forces" now?

Because, short of ground troops in combat, what support is there left?

Senator John McCain's long been calling for ground troops.  [For those with short term memories or visiting for the first time, I do not see US troops in Iraq as the answer to anything except the question: "How can you make things even worse in Iraq today?"]  McCain's office issued the following today:

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released the following statement today on the fall of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL):
“Today the black flags of ISIL fly over Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province. Anbar was once a symbol of Iraqis working together with brave young Americans in uniform to defeat Al-Qaeda. Today it appears to be a sad reminder of this Administration’s indecisive air campaign in Iraq and Syria and a broader lack of strategy to achieve its stated objective of degrading and destroying ISIL.
“Nearly 200 Americans gave their lives fighting in Ramadi, yet the Administration continues to denigrate their sacrifice with statements diminishing the city’s importance. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey said Ramadi was just ‘brick and mortar.’ Today, Secretary of State John Kerry called Ramadi a mere ‘target of opportunity,’ never mind the countless Iraqis slaughtered in the aftermath of the city’s fall. The fall of Ramadi, despite Administration statements to the contrary, is a significant defeat.
“Equally disturbing, reports indicate Iranian-backed Shia militias are preparing to launch a counteroffensive in the largely Sunni province. Whatever operational success Shia militias may have in Anbar would be far exceeded by the strategic damage caused by their violent sectarianism and the fear and suspicion it breeds among Iraqi Sunnis. Moreover, the prominent role of these militias continues to feed the perception of a Baghdad government unable or unwilling to protect Sunnis.
“Shia militants and Iranian meddling will only foster the conditions that gave to ISIL in the first place. Defeating ISIL requires empowering Sunnis who want to rise up and fight ISIL themselves, including by integrating them into Iraq’s security forces and providing more robust American military assistance.”

First, Senator Lindsey Graham is running for the Republican's presidential nomination.  Theodore Schleifer (CNN) reports, "If he was elected president, Graham said he would increase the number of boots on the ground from 3,000 to about 10,000 in order to stymie the growing threat posed by the Islamic militant group, ISIS."

Second, as the press release noted,  the administration is down playing the fall of Ramadi.

At the US State Dept this afternoon, spokesperson Jeff Rathke was spinning madly.

QUESTION: Could you give us a review of, I guess, what would be the good, the bad, and the ugly of your fight against the Islamic State this weekend? Specifically on Ramadi, what you’re doing now to reverse this setback, and where you stand with the Iraqi forces on trying to --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Okay. Well, the news about Ramadi, of course, got a lot of attention over the weekend. I would point out a couple of things. First, Ramadi has been contested for the last 18 months. ISIL first moved openly into Ramadi on January 1st, 2014, and Iraqi forces and local fighters have fought back against them throughout this period. Starting late last week, ISIL launched a series of suicide vehicle bombs that had a large impact, and this also – and since then we’ve also heard from ISIL’s own comments that the suicide bombers were foreign fighters.
We’ve always known that the fight would be long and difficult, especially in Anbar province, and so there’s no denying that this is a setback, but there’s also no denying that the United States will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi. As of today, we are supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and the Government of Iraq with precision airstrikes and advice to the Iraqi forces. Our aircraft are in the air searching for ISIL targets, and they will continue to do so until Ramadi is retaken. Since the beginning of May, we’ve conducted 35 airstrikes in Ramadi, and that includes nine over the last 24 hours, and those strikes will continue. My colleagues at the Pentagon will have more details, perhaps, to share about that.
But we believe that the Iraqi Security Forces have the capacity and the will to retake Ramadi, with coalition support, and as we’ve always said, this fight against ISIL will be difficult and would take time.
I would – just one larger context point I would say: There’s also no question that overall, since the formation of the international coalition to fight ISIL that ISIL has been driven back in Iraq. It has lost as much as 25 percent of the area that it once controlled. And I would also highlight that on Saturday, thanks to the skill and extraordinary competency of some of our forces, a major ISIL leader who was responsible for its funding mechanism, through the oil sales, was eliminated from the battlefield and significant intelligence gains were achieved. And so while this was an American operation, it was also done in close coordination with our Iraqi partners.


QUESTION: Before we get to --

QUESTION: Can I ask one real simple (inaudible)? You said, “We believe the Iraqi military have the capacity and the will to take back Ramadi.” Why do you believe that?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve been working with Prime Minister Abadi and with the Iraqi Security Forces since the formation of his government, and through our joint operation centers we’ve been intensifying our training and equipping program with the Iraqi Security Forces. We’ve also seen Prime Minister Abadi reach out to the Sunni population of Iraq. We – and in addition, he has worked to build bridges and is working now to – with the Popular Mobilization Forces, to focus on retaking Ramadi. So we think this is – that they are capable of doing that.

QUESTION: But at the same time, for a --

QUESTION: One follow-up from me, if I may, and it’s the only one I’ll ask you. You believed that the Iraqi forces were capable of defending Iraq when the United States withdrew all of its forces in December of 2011. You had at that point been involved in training and equipping the Iraqi forces in a massive way, for multiple years, and you were wrong. They didn’t have the will to fight, and they didn’t seem to have the ability to defend their territory – witness ISIL’s rise. Why are you right now that they have the ability and the will – your words – to take back Ramadi when you were wrong in the previous judgment?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think there’s a very different situation Iraq right now. First of all, if you look at the shared understanding among Iraq’s leadership of the need to fight ISIL, that ISIL is the primary threat, and the focus on that, I think that’s different. Second, you see Prime Minister Abadi reaching out across sectarian lines to all communities in Iraq in ways that we hadn’t seen before. And also you have – I think the experience over the last 18 months has focused Iraqi minds, and especially the Iraqi leadership, on the urgent task of confronting ISIL. I think that’s what we see as different.
Brad, did you have further --

QUESTION: Just last week you mentioned that – I asked if Ramadi was a strategic priority, and you said that it was important. Is regaining control of that city now a strategic priority?

MR RATHKE: Well, as we discussed last week, I think we’ll let the Iraqis define their strategic priorities. Clearly, it is important to retake Ramadi, and we are confident that Ramadi will be retaken. And I would point out that over the weekend, there – in consultation with the leaders in Anbar, with Anbari leaders as well as the tribes there, Prime Minister Abadi has ordered the Popular Mobilization Forces to assist in that fight. This was a unanimous vote, and I think that’s also a clear indication of shared purpose.

QUESTION: Just – you’ve – what do you assess – why do you assess that they lost? I mean, they have better equipment, they have American equipment; they’ve been getting training now from the U.S. military. Why can’t they hold what is clearly, in your words, an important city?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said as well, this is – the city has been contested for some time. I’m not in a position to do a battlefield analysis from here. I think my colleagues in uniform would be better positioned to offer thoughts about the particular circumstances on the ground. As I mentioned, there was a series of large suicide vehicle bomb attacks, which also --

QUESTION: This isn’t new. This tactic has been used elsewhere. Why haven’t they learned to adapt to these yet?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to be – I’m not in a position to do an analysis of their operational tactics from here, so – but go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one last one?


QUESTION: You said that the long-term trend shows ISIL is losing ground, and you cited the area – losing 25 percent. I mean, the majority of Iraq is uninhabitable desert, so I don’t quite understand why you think it’s important to gain 25 percent of arid nothingness and lose a city of a million people. How do you square those two as a positive?

MR RATHKE: I’m not trying to suggest – I’m not trying to downplay the importance of Ramadi. I’m simply pointing out that over the last 12 months, the trend has been for ISIL to be pushed back in Iraq. You see this in Tikrit most recently, and you’ve seen it in other places where the siege – going all the way back into last summer, when there were real fears about whether Baghdad itself might even come under threat. We don’t have those fears now. We don’t see Baghdad as under threat, and we see in a number of places, including in Anbar and other parts of northern Iraq, ISIL being pushed back. It’s not a uniform positive message or a uniform positive picture; there are setbacks like in Ramadi. But we are confident that the Iraqi political leadership and their security forces working with us will be successful.

Again, he was spinning wildly.

And, to be clear, the "real fears about whether Baghdad itself might even come under threat"?

How were those "real fears"?

In real time, we laughed at the notion here.

Why would the Islamic State attempt to seize Baghdad?

How was that ever a "real fear"?

In retrospect, it appears either the White House and the rest of the administration grossly misjudged the Islamic State's intent or else they were trying to drum up fear to justify all the US troops Barack was sending back into Iraq and Barack's putting the US Air Force back into combat in Iraq.

Noting the spin -- which included the denial that Ramadi had fallen, Jonathan S. Landay and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) point out:

It wasn’t clear why the administration clung to an upbeat message three days after the Islamic State overran most of Ramadi and a day after Iraq’s best special forces unit fled the city with other troops, local police and tribal fighters. The message was delivered in nearly identical verbiage by White House, State Department and Pentagon spokesmen and was reinforced by a statement from Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“ISIL’s gains in Ramadi are a serious setback for its long-suffering inhabitants. It is also a setback for the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces),” said Dempsey. “Setbacks are regrettable but not uncommon in warfare. Much effort will now be required to reclaim the city. We will continue to support Iraq’s security forces with U.S. airstrikes, training and equipment.”

Read more here:

At least Gen Martin Dempsey is consistent -- wrong, but consistent.  Back in April, Rebecca noted how  Dempsey declared  that it didn't matter if Ramadi fell.

Let's leave the sweat drenched fantasies and fears of the administration for something a little more factual.  Jim Muir (BBC News) offers an analysis of the events and he notes:

The fall of Ramadi is a disaster for the Iraqi army and government, and especially its Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi.
After the recapture of another provincial capital, Tikrit, at the end of March, he announced the start of a similar campaign to "liberate" Anbar province (the country's biggest) and flew to Ramadi to kick it off.
Now Ramadi has gone, and along with it the military command centre for the whole province. A few days before the final collapse on Sunday, Mr Abbadi said he would not allow it to fall.
It did. 

Muir's not out on a limb.  Nor is he alone in that assessment.  Zack Beuachamp (Vox) observes, "This has significance beyond even just Ramadi: it shows the fundamental weakness of the Iraqi military and its deep dependence on radical Shia militias. It also shows that the campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq, even if it still looks likely to succeed in the long run, will be a long, hard slog."

NINA reports that Hadi al-Amiri is now in Ramadi to lead the militias.  Hadi is a thug, a Shi'ite thug.  He's infamous for many things but his most recent infamy is probably due to his threat, last month, to "mutilate" Americans.  This was his reaction to a bill in the House (which passed Friday, see Saturday's snapshot).  His reaction was to threaten bodily harm to Americans.

Nour Malas (Wall St. Journal) offers:

U.S. and some Iraqi officials fear the deployment of Shiite militias, particularly on a battlefield as chaotic as Anbar. The province is already a home to a volatile mix of Sunni tribesmen and other security units.
American officials also fear that the militias, if not commanded by the government, could inadvertently get caught in U.S.-led airstrikes. And some say their involvement in the fight, after such a desperate government loss, undermines Mr. Abadi’s authority while strengthening the hand of Iran, which has close relationships with some of the Iraqi Shiite militias.

And the violence continues across Iraq with Margaret Griffis ( counting at least 55 violent deaths today.