Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Posted by Charles II on August 13, 2014

Blame Turkey for arming ISIS.

[This is not to say Turkey is primarily to blame. This sounds like a narrative to blame Turkey for something the US either approved or acceded to.]

How US destroyed Iraq

Patrick Cockburn on ISIS.

And especially this:

In the face of these failures Iraq’s Shia majority is taking comfort from two beliefs that, if true, would mean the present situation is not as dangerous as it looks. They argue that Iraq’s Sunnis have risen in revolt and Isis fighters are only the shock troops or vanguard of an uprising provoked by the anti-Sunni policies and actions of Maliki. Once he is replaced, as is almost certain, Baghdad will offer the Sunnis a new power-sharing agreement with regional autonomy similar to that enjoyed by the Kurds. Then the Sunni tribes, former military officers and Baathists who have allowed Isis to take the lead in the Sunni revolt will turn on their ferocious allies. Despite all signs to the contrary, Shia at all levels are putting faith in this myth, that Isis is weak and can be easily discarded by Sunni moderates once they’ve achieved their goals. One Shia said to me: ‘I wonder if Isis really exists.’

Unfortunately, Isis not only exists but is an efficient and ruthless organisation that has no intention of waiting for its Sunni allies to betray it. In Mosul it demanded that all opposition fighters swear allegiance to the Caliphate or give up their weapons. In late June and early July they detained between 15 to 20 former officers from Saddam Hussein’s time, including two generals. Groups that had put up pictures of Saddam were told to take them down or face the consequences. ‘It doesn’t seem likely,’ Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on jihadists, said, ‘that the rest of the Sunni military opposition will be able to turn against Isis successfully. If they do, they will have to act as quickly as possible before Isis gets too strong.’

It would be a really good time to cut a deal with Putin, Assad, Abbas, and Rouhani, and get back to the business of repressing the really dangerous people in that part of the world. Too bad we don’t have a Congress intelligent enough to see this.

6 Responses to “Read these”

  1. Look at the terrain ISIS controls: All flatland. They’ve trapped the Yezidis on the mountaintop, but they can’t go up after them.

    That’s because ISIS are pretty much just Sunni gangsters and Chechen “pros from Dover” running around in Toyota pickup trucks with heavy machine guns mounted in their backs:

    ISIS is a sectarian Sunni militia—that’s all. A big one, as militias go, with something like 10,000 fighters. Most of them are Iraqi, a few are Syrian, and a few hundred are those famous “European jihadis” who draw press attention out of all relation to their negligible combat value. The real strength of ISIS comes from its Chechen fighters, up to a thousand of them. A thousand Chechens is a serious force, and a terrifying one if they’re bearing down on your neighborhood. Chechens are the scariest fighters, pound-for-pound, in the world.

    But we’re still talking about a conventional military force smaller than a division. That’s a real but very limited amount of combat power. What this means is that, no matter how many scare headlines you read, ISIS will never take Baghdad, let alone Shia cities to the south like Karbala. It won’t be able to dent the Kurds’ territory to the north, either. All it can do—all it has been doing, by moving into Sunni cities like Mosul and Tikrit—is to complete the partition of Iraq begun by our dear ex-president Bush in 2003. By crushing Saddam’s Sunni-led Iraq, the Americans made partition inevitable. In fact, Iraq has been partitioned ever since the invasion; it’s just been partitioned badly, into two parts instead of the natural three: the Kurdish north, and the remainder occupied by a weak sectarian Shia force going by the name of “The Iraqi Army.” The center of the country, the so-called “Sunni Triangle,” had no share in this partition and was under the inept, weak rule of the Shia army.

    By occupying the Sunni cities, ISIS has simply made a more rational partition, adding a third part, putting the Sunni Triangle back under Sunni rule. The Shia troops who fled as soon as they heard that the ISIS was on the way seem to have anticipated that the Sunni would claim their own territory someday. That’s why they fled without giving even a pretense of battle.

    So, Iraq is now partitioned on more natural, sensible lines, thanks to ISIS. It’s going to be a messy transition, as Iraqi transitions tend to be, with mass executions of collaborators like those already happening in Mosul and Tikrit.

    But in the long run, ISIS has simply swept into a power vacuum, like it’s done from the start.


    ISIS now controls most of Anbar as well as a huge chunk of eastern and central Syria. It’s a de facto Sunni state, straddling the Syria/Iraq border between Kurdish and Shia territory.

    And that’s as far as it will go. ISIS has done well to take back its natural constituency, the Sunni center of Iraq. It will push against the Shia to the south, but they’ll fight much better on their own turf. And if it has any sense, it won’t even try to push against the Persh Merga. I used to see the Pesh Merga every day, and they ain’t nobody to mess with.

    As Brecher/Dolan also points out, ISIS got its start in Jordan, but was no match for the Jordanian intelligence service, so its leaders took it to Syria. When Syria proved to be too hard a target, ISIS moved into the Sunni portions of Iraq. This should tell us all something.

    • Charles II said

      Don’t underrate them. ISIS was the force behind the Sunni uprising. They fought the American army. They may take Aleppo. They are well-armed, and those arms can buy loyalty from Iraqi Sunnis who have had it with Baghdad.

      I would trust Patrick Cockburn, who wrote:

      The very speed and unexpectedness of its rise make it easy for Western and regional leaders to hope that the fall of Isis and the implosion of the Caliphate might be equally sudden and swift. But all the evidence is that this is wishful thinking and the trend is in the other direction, with the opponents of Isis becoming weaker and less capable of resistance: in Iraq the army shows no signs of recovering from its earlier defeats and has failed to launch a single successful counter-attack; in Syria the other opposition groups, including the battle-hardened fighters of al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, are demoralised and disintegrating as they are squeezed between Isis and the Assad government. Karen Koning Abuzayd, a member of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry in Syria, says that more and more Syrian rebels are defecting to Isis: ‘They see it’s better, these guys are strong, these guys are winning battles, they were taking territory, they have money, they can train us.’ This is bad news for the government, which barely held off an assault in 2012 and 2013 by rebels less well trained, organised and armed than Isis; it will have real difficulties stopping the forces of the Caliphate advancing west.

      The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This doesn’t mean the jihadis didn’t have strong indigenous roots, but their rise was crucially supported by outside Sunni powers.

      The West needs ISIS to take down Assad. So, their decision to operate in Iraq came as a blow. They control substantial oil production, which they are laundering through Turkey. Their interest in Kurdistan seems to be to shut down or take over production there. If they do, Turkey has a petroleum deficit, which it can only make up by buying from ISIS. Indeed, I would guess that if ISIS’ flow from Syria were shut off, it would start a crisis in Turkey. See here for non-black market figures– 17% comes from Iraq (Kurdistan)– and $1M/day is coming from black market sources. That would be over 10K barrels/day even at world prices, but ISIS petroleum is cut-rate. At a minimum, that’s 1% of Turkey’s consumption, and more likely 3%. That doesn’t sound like much, but oil markets are typically so inelastic that small shortages can cause extreme price spikes. So, there’s a serious risk of Turkey reversing course and taking on ISIS in Iraq simply to control oil flow.

      • ISIS couldn’t topple Assad even with Saudi and US help. That’s why its leaders moved to Iraq.

        ISIS has wound up being a boon for the Kurds in the short term. Maliki was doing his best to keep the Kurds’ oil from getting on the market, but with ISIS out taking over key oil cities, the remaining Shiites governing Iraq that Maliki’s gone are now going to have to cut deals with both the Kurds and the Sunnis, and the Kurds’ price for playing nice will be unimpeded oil shipments.

      • Oh, yes — the Western media’s been hyping ISIS’ successes and ignoring its failures. Here’s a choice example:

        But what about the other part of the headline, the alleged I.S.I.S. juggernaut allegedly bearing down on Baghdad? Well, that turns out to be even more absurdly over-hyped. Here’s what you get when you try to find details about the jihadi gains promised in the headline:

        As lawmakers took stock, militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were already moving into Dhuluiya, a Sunni town 46 miles northeast of Baghdad.

        Oh, so I.S.I.S. is threatening to overrun Dhuluiya? It would hardly be surprising if they did, since Dhuluiya is [voice rises to Sam Kinison screech] FAMOUS AS ONE OF THE MOST HARDCORE SUNNI TOWNS IN THE WHOLE FRIGGIN’ TRIANGLE. Here’s an excellent description of what it was like years ago, by a really good NYT staffer named Sa’ad Al Izzi.

        Keep in mind, Al Izzi is describing Dhuluiya as it was in 2009, long before I.S.I.S. even existed:

        One of the first things I saw then on the way to [Dhuluiya] was a charred Russian armored vehicle abandoned on the side of the road by the Iraqi Army. Someone had painted on it: “Saddam’s hell is better than the Americans’ paradise.”

        …At the town’s central mosque, [I was] welcomed by a cleric…His eyes were narrow, traced with eyeliner in the manner of hard-line Sunni fundamentalists…

        As we talked, I noticed that many of the cars lined up in front of his mosque for Friday Prayer were 2002 Hyundai Accents with Baghdad license plates. It wasn’t a coincidence. The cars, it was well known, were distributed exclusively to members of the Mukhabarat, Saddam’s intelligence service, and other security officials of his government. Many in Dhuluiya worked for Saddam; others perhaps gravitated there when Baghdad fell.

        In other words, Dhuluiya was a stronghold of Sunni diehards years ago, a place where Saddam’s hardcore security goons fled after the fall of the capital. If I.S.I.S. is even a fraction as scary as the media’s making it out to be, it should have strolled into a town like that to the proverbial cakewalk and showering rose petals that Richard Perle promised America’s troops would experience when they entered Baghdad — as easily as the Mississippi flowed into New Orleans during Katrina.

        Well, it turns out that I.S.I.S. couldn’t even manage to hold Dhuluiya for more than a few hours, according to the NYT’s story from July 13 2014

        The local tribes [in Dhuluiya] are divided over ISIS, but a majority oppose the group and called for help from the army. Some troops were sent from the two nearest bases in Samarra and Balad, but the soldiers from Balad, who were closest, could not get across the river quickly because ISIS militants had bombed the most convenient bridge.

        The militants attacked Dhuluiya around 4 a.m. and took over the police station, killing six police officers….“They brought a big pickup truck and loaded it with explosives and then blew apart the west side of the bridge so no support will come from Balad,”…Later, the ISIS militants appeared to withdraw from the town’s center and are now holding only about 20 percent of Dhuluiya…

        Police officials suggested that the militants withdrew from the town’s center because they knew that sooner or later the army forces would arrive and they would not be able to fight them off.

        This is a story of weakness, really stunning weakness. I.S.I.S. zips into this town full of its natural allies in the middle of the night, and is so afraid of the possible appearance of the pitiful Iraqi Army that it uses its only really effective weapon, the pickup truck, as a VBIED on a bridge in the hope of delaying Army troops.

        Then they “withdraw from [Dhuluiya’s] center out of sheer terror—“because they knew that sooner or later the army forces would arrive.” Some friggin’ martyrs! Running from the “sooner or later” show-up of the worthless Shia Army, which would’ve been a lot later than sooner, going by that mob’s track record. God, I get tired of being right. I’ve been saying for weeks that I.S.I.S. was over-hyped but I have to be honest here: This is a level of weakness I never expected to see from them. This is downright pathetic.

        That was in July. In the weeks since then, the Iraqi army has solidified its hold over Dhuluiya and retaken three other cities in the Sunni Triangle.

        If ISIS had stuck around in Syria, it could have counted on continued if semi-covert support from the US, Israel, and other entities that freak out at the very thought of state-sponsored “Socialist” capitalism as practiced by Assad and the late Saddam Hussein. But by heeding the call of its Saudi puppeteers to move into Iraq and establish a Sunni beachhead around which a new state could coalesce, they’ve pretty much own-goaled themselves. When they’ve got Kurds and Shiites to cooperate against them, you know they’ve screwed up.

      • Just remembered something else, thanks to your very cogent point about how ISIS is yet another US-backed Saudi-run group (like the Taliban) of anti-Commie ‘freedom fighters’ that wound up biting the American (and Israeli) hands that fed it:

        Yes, I’ll say it plain: Israel and the Sunni jihadis in Syria are allies. If anybody had the sense to look carefully at how the IDF has reacted to the Syrian Civil War, god damn it, they’d have seen this years ago. Every time Israel has used its air power against any military force in Syria, it’s been against the Alawites and their Shia allies, Hezbollah. Especially Hezbollah. Never, never once, against these supposedly fearsome Sunni jihadis overrunning Syria. You know why? Because (a) they ain’t that fearsome, just a handful of undisciplined assholes; and (b) more importantly, by being undisciplined thug assholes, they make for wonderful Israeli propaganda, while also (c) bleeding Hezbollah and Assad, who are organized enough to really worry Israel in a way the grab-bag of Sunni militias never could. There’s no moral distinction between Assad and his Sunni enemies. Assad is a mass murderer many times over — but he happens to be an Iranian client and an ally of Hezbollah and those are the only two forces that really worry Israel.

        There, that’s Syria for you in thirty seconds, as seen from Israel. If you want it confirmed, just look at a map — I don’t know why nobody ever looks hard at a map! Look at the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel. Look east, and notice that right under the heavy artillery of the IDF lie the lowlands occupied by Sunni jihadis — sitting ducks for air or art’y strikes — yet who have never once been hit by the IDF. All this time, as the IDF’s planes and tubes blasted Hezbollah every chance they got, they’ve looked down onto the plains east of Golan and gazed upon a patchwork quilt of Sunni thug militias with the fond eye of a poisoner watching his petri dishes of Ricin bubble and fizz.

        Israeli military intelligence has a thousand and one uses for a group like I.S.I.S., and now that Gaza has exploded again, they’ve found a new way to use their little Sunni thug buddies: As a way to smear Hamas, a more serious, sane Sunni militia.

        This is necessary for the IDF because the days of “Israel is always right” are ending, even in the US (which in 1967 infamously allowed the IDF to nearly sink a US warship without any public demur) and have been for some time. The IDF actually needs to pretend to have some justification for killing Gazans nowadays, and ISIS supplies some justification.

      • Charles II said

        Well, I think the Golan area isn’t ISIS, but I could be wrong. This guy shows that area as Free Syrian Army and Syrian Revolutionary Front. ISIS (and al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Mujahedeen), which I seem to remember are all the jihadi groups, but see here) is in the area of the Turkish border.

        As for Dhuluiya, al Jazeera provides a very different picture, and one that sounds more likely. ISIS had 50 vehicles or so. I also think it’s a stretch to say that just because a place is pro-Saddam that it’s also pro-ISIS. When ISIS was Al Qaeda in Iraq, they made a lot of enemies among the Sunnis, Maybe Dhuluiya was a place where they weren’t popular.

        ISIS is a few thousand very experienced guys. They can’t stand before an organized army. Baghdad has thrown militias at ISIS. The militias are good fighters, just green. ISIS’ real strength. is political. They look like they know what they’re doing, so people will flock to them until it becomes apparent that they’re just vicious terrorists, at which point their political strength is done. What Cockburn is pointing out that if they can obtain their military goals before their political strength is exhausted, they could cause real problems. Blowing dams or poisoning the river could turn this into one of the largest humanitarian crises ever.

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