The situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate. From the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw:
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Mosul is in the hands of al-Qaeda groups and former members of Saddam Hussein’s defunct ruling party and military, confirmed the spokesman of the Civil Committees that are now in charge of Iraq’s second-largest city.
Ghanim al-Aabed named the head of the new caretaker government in Mosul as Hashem Jamas, a former top general in Saddam’s army.
He added that the aim of the ongoing fighting, as the Sunni insurgents advance toward Baghdad, is to topple Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government.
Aabed refuted wide media reports that al-Qaeda breakaway. the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL), was behind the swift military advances that began in Mosul and continue toward Baghdad.
He named Ansar al-Sunnah and Ansar al-Islam, both known for ties to al-Qaeda, as two of the jihadi groups involved in the fighting. The unlikely coalition includes fighters of the Sunni Naqshbandi sect, which had many officers in Saddam’s army.
“But not with ISIS,” he added. “The reports in the media about that are not correct.”
Islamists are also in control of other major cities like Tikrit – Saddam’s birthplace — as well as Hawija, Fallujah and Ramadi, plus parts of Diyala province.
On a passing note unless you think it’s merely a coincidence that the heads of Iraqi Kurdistan’s two major political parties are the hereditary leaders of the Iraqi Kurds’ two major tribal factions IMO caution should be exercised in thinking of what’s going on there as democracy. The source for the report above is affiliated with the KDP’s boss and current president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani. Barzani’s nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, is vice president.
Meanwhile Young Shi’ite Iraqis are turning out to defend against the advance of the ISIS terrorist army:
Hundreds of young Iraqi men gripped by religious and nationalistic fervor streamed into volunteer centers Saturday across Baghdad, answering a call by the country’s top Shiite cleric to join the fight against Sunni militants advancing in the north.
Dozens climbed into the back of army trucks, chanting Shiite slogans and hoisting assault rifles, pledging to battle the Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has launched a lightning advance across the country.
“By God’s will, we will be victorious.” said one volunteer, Ali Saleh Aziz. “We will not be stopped by the ISIL or any other terrorists.”
The massive response to the call by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued via his representative Friday, comes as sectarian tensions are threatening to push the country back toward civil war in the worst crisis since U.S. forces withdrew at the end of 2011.
Could unseasoned untrained volunteers do better against the ISIS advance than the at least notionally trained Iraqi army? Could they do worse?
In Washington, if there may be need to airlift in hand surgeons to repair the repetitive stress injuries cause by marathon finger-pointing, there is equally no lack of prescriptions on how the U. S. should respond. President Obama is determined to keep the American profile low:
WASHINGTON — President Obama vowed again Friday to help Iraq’s government fight insurgents who are closing in on Baghdad, while a senior defense official told USA TODAY that American air power options are currently limited.
“The United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately, it’s up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems,” Obama told reporters at the White House.
Obama also said: “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.”
A senior defense official said U.S. air power options in Iraq are limited because the closest aircraft that could wage a bombing campaign against Islamist militants who have captured several of the nation’s largest cities are at least 800 miles away.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post retired Gen. James Dubik recommends sterner measures:
So, what can we do now? Providing Iraq more “military stuff” isn’t a real answer, nor is the reintroduction of large numbers of U.S. or coalition troops. We have no easy options, but to start, the United States and its allies must commit to preventing an ISIS victory and assist the government of Iraq in halting and reversing ISIS’s progress. Although the long-term solutions for Iraqi stability are diplomatic and political, unless the Iraqi government can stop the ISIS offensive, such actions will be moot.
Halting the offensive is Iraq’s nearest-term objective. What is needed is a coordinated air and ground action consisting of both a heavy dose of precisely applied firepower and a sufficiently executed ground defensive. The Iraqis are incapable of such action alone. The firepower will have to be delivered by United States and allied aircraft augmented by Iraqi assets. The Iraqis will also need a small group of advisers to target air support correctly and to help identify or create capable, well-led units that are properly employed and backed by sufficient sustainment capacity. The advisory and support effort must be substantial enough to help the Iraqis conduct an initial defense and then plan and prepare a series of counter-offensive campaigns to regain lost areas. This will be a multi-year effort, but it cannot become a second surge.
carried on in the context of a vigorous diplomatic and political campaign to, in essence, get the Iraqi prime minister to relinquish much of his authority.
Michael Gerson points out the risks of risk aversion:
But risk aversion, it turns out, can multiply complication. Because the United States refused to coordinate an effort to arm the responsible opposition in Syria, there has been no pressure for the regime to engage in serious peace negotiations. Bashar al-Assad has found barrel bombs more effective. In Geneva talks last November, American officials were left with no plan except to (pathetically) hope for Russian and Iranian diplomatic favors, which never came. Countries such as Turkey and the Gulf states, left leaderless in the region, have often funneled support to radicals. The United States has supplied weapons to the Iraqi government to fight militants in western Iraq while (incoherently) refusing to arm people fighting the same enemy 100 miles to the west in Syria. Now a few thousand militants, with roots in the Syrian conflict, threaten to destroy the Iraqi government, along with the remnants of U.S. credibility in the region.
This should be the end of illusions. Sometimes risk aversion can be a very risky option. The mere containment of Syrian chaos would have required a more activist U.S. policy — coordinating Middle Eastern and European powers to create a balance of forces on the ground that might have encouraged a power-sharing agreement among less horrible regime elements and less horrible opposition groups. Some variant is still Syria’s best (but fading) hope.
The editors of the Washington Post are concerned about the position the president is staking out:
The temptation to let Iraq fend for itself is strong and, given the history, understandable. Some may even see a chance for stability in reconfiguring the country along its sectarian Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish lines. But there are no neat dividing lines. A breakup of Iraq is likely to bring endless violence to its people and many others around the world. Not to do everything possible to avert that outcome would be a dereliction, and one that Americans might greatly regret for years to come.
The editors of the Christian Science Monitor urge caution.
Jessica Lewis, who has been studying ISIS and has warned about the likelihood of events not unlike those unfolding in Iraq now urges action much along the lines of that proposed by Gen. Dubik:
There are no political solutions available to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki —ISIS doesn’t engage in peace talks. What is needed is a coherent military strategy to halt the present ISIS offensive, and a concerted effort to rebuild Iraqi security forces so that they are armed and trained well enough to oust ISIS from territory it now controls.
In other words, Iraq needs the United States. U.S. Special Operations forces would provide invaluable early-targeting support to Iraqi army units preparing for battle. Airstrikes on ISIS strongholds between Mosul and Bayji would help Iraqi ground forces maneuvering to retake Mosul and Tikrit. The U.S. Army could also provide logistics and other support to the Iraqi military. The Iraqi forces will require additional training, maintenance assistance and battlefield planning support before launching a full counteroffensive. The U.S. can provide it. Drone strikes and other measures suited for combating a terrorist group won’t suffice against ISIS. This is a terrorist army, bent on having its own country.
I would like to see President Obama make a clear, unambiguous statement of the U. S. interests in the region and in Iraq in particular. I don’t find strategic ambiguity called for in this particular situation. Whatever our position we should “suit the action to the word”, as Shakespeare put it.