Thursday, June 12, 2014

Binocular Snapshot for 06/12/2014


LastDayWatchers watch what is really going on

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, they said.

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.

The Iraqi government has signaled to the U.S. it would allow airstrikes against insurgents and asked Washington to speed the delivery of promised weapons.

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.

That raises the prospect of both the U.S. and Iran lending support to Mr. Maliki against ISIS insurgents, who are seeking to create a caliphate encompassing Iraqi and Syrian territory.

Gen. Qasem Sulaimani, the commander of the Quds Forces and one of the region's most powerful military figures, traveled to Baghdad this week to help manage the swelling crisis, said a member of the Revolutionary Guards, or IRGC.

Qassimm al-Araji, an Iraqi Shiite lawmaker who heads the Badr Brigade bloc in parliament, posted a picture with Mr. Sulaimani holding hands in a room in Baghdad on his social-networking site with the caption, "Haj Qasem is here," Iranian news sites affiliated with the IRGC reported on Wednesday. "Haj Qasem" is Mr. Sulaimani's nom de guerre.

At stake for Iran in the current tumult in Iraq isn't only the survival of an Shiite political ally in Baghdad, but the safety of Karbala and Najaf, which along with Mecca and Medina are considered sacred to Shiites world-wide.

An ISIS spokesman, Abu Mohamad al-Adnani, urged the group's Sunni fighters to march toward the "filth-ridden" Karbala and "the city of polytheism" Najaf, where they would "settle their differences" with Mr. Maliki.

That coarsely worded threat further vindicates Iran's view that the fight unfolding in Iraq is an existential sectarian battle between the two rival sects of Islam-Sunni and Shiite—and by default a proxy battle between their patrons Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"Until now we haven't received any requests for help from Iraq. Iraq's army is certainly capable in handling this," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afgham said Wednesday.

Iran's army and border guards have been placed under full alert along the country's long border with Iraq

Iranian media reported.

Iran's President Hasan Rouhani cut short a religious celebration on Thursday and said he had to attend an emergency meeting of the country's National Security Council about events in Iraq.
"We, as the Islamic Republic of Iran, will not tolerate this violence and terrorism….We will fight and battle violence and extremism and terrorism in the region and the world," he said in a speech.

Iran's chief of police, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, said the National Security Council would consider intervening in Iraq to "protect Shiite shrines and cities."

ISIS's rapid territorial gains in the past few days appeared to have caught Iranian officials by surprise and opened a debate within the regime over whether Iran should publicly enter the battle, citing the country's strategic interest and ideological responsibility. Iranian officials also privately expressed concern about whether Mr. Maliki was capable of handling the turmoil.

"The more insecure and isolated Maliki becomes, the more he will need Iran. The growth of ISIS presents a serious threat to Iran. So it would not be surprising to see the Guards become more involved in Iraq," said Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp.

Quds Forces have been active in Iraq since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and have helped create, train and fund Shiite militias that fought U.S. military forces. Their reach and influence extends from Iraq to Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

The two IRGC battalions moved to Iraq on Wednesday were shifted from the Iranian border provinces of Urumieh and Lorestan. Their task is to help secure the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf and tighten security around Baghdad, according to IRGC members in Iran.

These aren't just any old Iranian troops. They're Quds Force, the Guards' elite special operations group. 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." Suleimani, the Journal reports, is currently helping the Iraqi government "manage the crisis" in Baghdad.

According to the Journal, combined Iranian-Iraqi forces have already retaken about 85 percent of Tikrit, a city in north-central Iraq and Saddam Hussein's birthplace. That alone demonstrates the military significance of Iranian intervention: Iraqi forces have previously floundered in block-to-block city battles with ISIS.

Iranian intervention in the conflict could convince Sunni Iraqis who don't currently support ISIS to shift their allegiances. 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. Many Iraqis don't like the idea of a foreign power manipulating their government, particularly Iran (memories of the Iran-Iraq war haven't faded).

Iranian participation in actual combat risks legitimizing ISIS' propaganda line: this isn't a conflict between the central Iraqi government and Islamist rebels, but rather a war between Sunnis and Shias.

 Iraq’s security forces abandoned their posts in Mosul as ISIS militiamen took over army bases, banks and government offices. The jihadists seized huge stores of American-supplied arms, ammunition and vehicles, apparently including six Black Hawk helicopters and 500 billion dinars ($430m) in freshly printed cash. Some 500,000 people fled in terror to areas beyond ISIS’s sway.

The scale of the attack on Mosul was particularly audacious. But it did not come out of the blue. In the past six months ISIS has captured and held Falluja, less than an hour’s drive west of Baghdad; taken over parts of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province; and has battled for Samarra, a city north of Baghdad that boasts one of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines. Virtually every day its fighters set off bombs in Baghdad, keeping people in a state of terror.

It was barely a year ago, in April 2013, that ISIS announced the expansion of its operations from Iraq into Syria. By changing its name from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) by adding the words “and al-Sham”, translated as “the Levant” or “Greater Syria”, it signified its quest to conquer a wider area than present-day Syria.

Run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi jihadist, ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000-5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

It is ruthless, slaughtering Shia and other minorities, including Christians and Alawites, the offshoot to which Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, belongs. It sacks churches and Shia shrines, dispatches suicide-bombers to market-places, and has no regard for civilian casualties.
Rather than fight simply as a branch of al-Qaeda (“the base” in Arabic), as it did before 2011, it has aimed to control territory, dispensing its own brand of justice and imposing its own moral code: no smoking, football, music, or unveiled women, for example. And it imposes taxes in the parts of Syria and Iraq it has conquered.

In other words, it is creating a proto-state on the ungoverned territory straddling the borderlands between Syria and Iraq. “This is a new, more dangerous strategy since 2011,” says Hassan Abu Haniyeh, a Jordanian expert on jihadist movements. If ISIS manages to hold onto its turf in Iraq, it will control an area the size of Jordan with roughly the same population (6m or so), stretching 500km from the countryside east of Aleppo in Syria into western Iraq.

By the end of 2011 American forces had almost eradicated ISI, as it still was, in Iraq. They did so by capturing or killing its leaders and, more crucially, by recruiting around 100,000 Sunni Iraqis to join the Sahwa, or Awakening, a largely tribal force to fight ISI, whose harsh rules in the areas they controlled had turned most of the people against it.

After the Americans left, Mr Maliki disbanded the Sahwa militias, breaking a promise to integrate many of them into the regular army. He purged Sunnis from the government and cracked down on initially peaceful Sunni protests in Ramadi and Falluja at the end of last year. Anti-American rebels loyal to Saddam and even Sahwa people may have joined ISIS out of despair, feeling that Mr Maliki would never give them a fair deal. In 2012 Tariq al-Hashemi, the vice-president who was Iraq’s top Sunni, fled abroad, and was sentenced to death in absentia. Sunnis feel they have no political representation, says Mr Haniyeh. “ISIS and al-Qaeda are taking advantage and appropriating Sunni Islam.”

Whether in Iraq or Syria, ISIS has sought to terrify people into submission. On June 8th, as a typical warning to others, it crucified three young men in a town near Aleppo for co-operating with rival rebels. It has kidnapped scores of Kurdish students, journalists, aid workers and, more recently, some Turkish diplomats.

So far ISIS has been effectively challenged only by fellow Sunnis. It is locked in battle with Jabhat al-Nusra, which al-Qaeda recognises as its affiliate in Syria. The two groups are tussling over Deir ez-Zor, a provincial capital between Raqqa and Anbar, leaving 600 fighters dead in the past six weeks. Since the start of the year, mainstream Syrian rebel groups, who at first welcomed ISIS for its fighting ability, have battled against it, forcing it out of areas in the north-western province of Idleb and the city of Aleppo. Kurdish forces in the north-east have done the same.

Even al-Qaeda has deemed ISIS too violent. Ayman Zawahiri, leader of the core group, has long disagreed with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s leader, warning him that ISIS’s habit of beheading its opponents and posting such atrocities on video was giving al-Qaeda a bad name.

Some reckon that ISIS’s recent push in Iraq may be intended to bolster its rearguard, enabling it to replenish its coffers and armoury, before striking back at the rebel opposition in Syria. The more moderate rebels are ill-equipped to fight for ever against ISIS; they say that half their forces have already been diverted from the fight against Mr Assad to hold ISIS at bay.

But few governments, except perhaps Iran, are keen to arm Mr Maliki’s increasingly nasty and incompetent regime. Last year the United States did agree to sell Iraq more weapons, including F-16 fighter jets. The threat of terrorism against the West may prod Western governments into giving more arms and help to the anti-ISIS Syrian rebels. But helping Mr Maliki more wholeheartedly is another matter. Mr Obama has refused to hit ISIS with drones.

The only solution left is to organize a “popular army” and the enlistment campaign has already started, with the aim of forming a paramilitary organization similar to the National Defense Forces in Syria. It is a return to the notion of self-security which prevailed after the US invasion. It is also a recognition that there is no army, leading to questions like where did US $41 million - that was supposedly spent to strengthen the military over the last three years - go?

1,500 fighters from ISIS succeeded in occupying Mosul, where a military garrison consisting of 52,000 soldiers is stationed, before invading Salah al-Din and controlling many neighborhoods in Kirkuk. Everyone agrees that even Samarra has fallen militarily but it was not taken over by takfiris, not because they could not but because they chose not to. Iraqi military units are fleeing their positions whenever ISIS fighters advance and orders are issued to security forces to withdraw from neighbouring cities.
There is no room for politics, as military action has the last word. The position of the Kurds in this context is noteworthy. Appeals were made from more than one side for Peshmerga forces to take part in thwarting the invading forces. But they refused, arguing that they only defend Kurdish and ethnically mixed areas. It is said that US pressure was exerted on Erbil in this regard which led to an understanding between Maliki and Nijirfan al-Barazani stipulating that Peshmerga forces will take part in the battle to recapture Mosul in return for agreeing to secure exports of oil from Kurdistan.

What are the repercussions of the Shia authority’s appeal to unite in the face of the terrorists? How far will the enlistment campaign, opened to whoever wants to fight the takfiris and protect holy sites, go? To what extent has Saudi Arabia supported ISIS? In light of the kidnapping of the Turkish consul-general in Mosul, what is Turkey’s role in what is happening, as it was quick to summon an emergency meeting of NATO to discuss developments?

What are the implications of ISIS’ victories in Iraq on the Syrian front given the financial and military spoils it gained from Iraq? And finally, will the dark days of the ill-fated sectarian war that ignited the whole region return to Iraq?

And you will see what happen next with 100% accuracy according to God's Word inside the May 15th Prophecy written at LastDayWatchers