Iraq: Momentary Gains for a Jihadist Group

 

Video Transcript:

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham, ISIS, an al Qaeda-related group that is a principal extremist actor in the Syrian civil war and ongoing Iraqi insurgency, seized parts of Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq on Jan. 3. Rather than viewing this as a fundamental power shift between ISIS and Baghdad’s security forces, however, it should be seen as a temporary victory.
Tensions between Baghdad and the Sunni tribes of Anbar province have been simmering through most of last year and boiled over on Dec. 30 when President Maliki ordered a Sunni protest camp to be dismantled by security forces. The arrest of a local senior Sunni politician led to clashes severe enough to prompt Maliki to withdraw security forces from the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation. It was this security vacuum that ISIS used to seize territory in both cities.
It is one thing to grab territory, especially if it is predominantly uncontested, and quite another to hold it against a concerted military operation mounted by the Iraqi security forces. Sources in Iraq claim that roughly 300 ISIS fighters remain in Ramadi while 800 or so are entrenched in Fallujah. While the urban terrain will give ISIS fighters a serious combat boost as the established defenders against the better equipped Iraqi security forces, they won’t have the numbers or ability to hold indefinitely.
ISIS survives in Iraq by being an insurgent group, avoiding direct confrontation and hiding and moving through the population. This territory grab in Ramadi and Fallujah gives them an address, alleviating the Iraqi security forces of one of their most difficult missions of just finding ISIS. Now they can actually concentrate force, and if executed correctly, degrade sizable chunks of combat power in detail.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops and their allies at the end of 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war next door has given ISIS the ability to rebound into a capable regional actor, but at the same time their aggressiveness has them overcommitted, outgunned and alienated on multiple fronts. Other rebel groups in Syria have started serious infighting with ISIS recently after they became disillusioned with their actions and have attacked several units despite the advantage this gives to the Assad regime.
This leaves the recent Fallujah and Ramadi seizures likely to be temporary at best. The only serious complicating factor for the Iraqi security forces is moderating their use of force so as not to antagonize the Sunni tribes further. While these tribes might covertly support ISIS or turn a blind eye to their actions against the Maliki government, they do not want to be drawn into an open civil war. Many of the tribes in Anbar have already come out in support of the government forces, with just a few throwing their lot in with ISIS.
ISIS’s ultimate goal is to destabilize Iraq to the point where they can accomplish their ultimate aim of a regional Islamic Emirate. They can only accomplish this if they can unite a sizable portion of the Sunni population into a sectarian civil war through their own actions or by provoking the Shiite government into actions that accomplish the same. Without this, they will come up short.

Iraq: Iranian Delegation To Ease Kurdish Tension

July 16, 2014 | 1445 GMT
A delegation from Tehran arrived in Arbil, Iraq on July 16 to ease tension between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi government, Andalou Agency reported. The two governments have been at odds over the region’s autonomy, especially the right to export Kurdish oil.

Brazil: BRICS Countries Reach Agreement Over Development Bank

July 15, 2014 | 1908 GMT
An agreement between BRICS countries over leadership and location of the development bank was made July 15, Estadao reported. India will hold the first presidency of the bank while China will host the bank’s headquarters. The first regional office will be in South Africa, Brazil will head the presidency of the bank’s board of directors and Russia will preside over the council of central bank governors. The bank’s presidency is due to rotate every 5 years and will have an initial capital of $50 billion, with another $100 billion contingent reserve arrangement created to help deal with the international market volatility.

 

Iraq: Kurds Struggle To Consolidate Oil Field Gains

July 14, 2014 | 2228 GMT
Once again, internal Kurdish rivalries, spurred by the influence of regional competitors, threaten to undermine Iraqi Kurdistan’s aspirations of greater autonomy. On July 11, security forces loyal to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party seized the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan oil fields in Iraq, but those units may have done so without permission. Indeed, leaders from a rival party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, claim that the Kurdistan Regional Government was not consulted. Kirkuk Gov. Najmadin Karim, an ethnic Kurd aligned with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, even alleged that the occupation bypassed authority in Baghdad, violating federal standards on operations within Iraq’s disputed territories.


Barzani’s newfound control over the oil fields directly challenges the interests of his historical Kurdish rivals in eastern Iraq. Kirkuk province has long been directly influenced by outgoing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which has expanded its political and security presence throughout Kirkuk for years.

 
Leaders in Arbil continue to promote the formal integration of disputed regions into Iraqi Kurdistan. Aside from autonomous crude oil export options, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan increasingly finds itself at odds with Barzani’s party, which Turkey supports. Arbil continues to flirt with the prospect of Kurdish independence, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s influence in oil-rich Kirkuk province gives the party key leverage over Barzani. The deployment of unauthorized oil protection units may have been an attempt by Barzani to prevent future challenges from his newly emboldened rivals.

 
For the moment, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leaders seem hesitant to escalate the dispute. Both parties have larger issues to manage in the short term, such as confronting Sunni Arab militancy on their southern borders and making sure that another Kurd succeeds Talabani in Baghdad. The short-term value in consolidating a unified Kurdish front is to draw important energy and budgetary concessions from the Iraqi government.

 
The question of who controls Kirkuk’s hydrocarbon infrastructure may be the most incendiary factor that threatens to reignite the historical dispute between Iraqi Kurdistan’s political factions. Baghdad and its Shiite allies in Tehran want to limit Kurdish autonomy and expansionism. Internal Kurdish disputes give them an opportunity to divide the ruling elite in Arbil. Given the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s history of close ties with Tehran (and Baghdad to a lesser extent), these two Shiite powers will likely attempt to manipulate growing Kurdish divisions and challenge Barzani’s ambitions.

Iraq Reverses Course – Parliament to Meet Early Next Week

 

Members of Shi'ite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq carry coffins of fighters from their group who were killed during clashes with militants of the Islamic State, during a funeral in Najaf
Members of Shi’ite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq carry coffins of fighters from their group who were killed during clashes with militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), during a funeral in Najaf July 7, 2014. Iraq’s new parliament put off its next session for five weeks on Monday, extending the country’s political paralysis amid a Sunni Islamist insurgency which claimed the life of an army general near Baghdad. Citing the politicians’ failure to reach “understanding and agreement” on nominations for the top three posts in government, the office of acting speaker Mehdi al-Hafidh said parliament would not meet again until August 12. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani (IRAQ – Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS OBITUARY)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s parliament Tuesday officially rescheduled its next session for early next week after criticism over initial plans for a five-week break, amid pressure for political leaders to agree on a new government that can confront militants who have overrun much of the country’s north and west.

Acting parliament speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh said in a statement that after considering the “national interests,” the next session will be on Sunday instead of Aug. 12.

He warned that any delay in forming a new government “will jeopardize Iraq’s security and democracy and will increase the suffering of Iraqis.” He also called on all political rivals to “shoulder their responsibilities and set aside their differences to fight terrorism to put Iraq back on democracy path.”

Al-Hafidh’s statement made official what he had said late Monday was a “preliminary agreement” among political leaders to skip the long break and move the next session up to Sunday.

Lawmakers are under pressure to quickly form a new government that can unite the country and roll back the insurgents. The legislature held its first session since April elections last week, but failed to agree on a new speaker, president and prime minister.

Despite the decision to meet Sunday instead of next month, it still appears unlikely that political leaders will be able to bridge their differences in time to settle on names for the top leadership posts — particularly the prime minister, with incumbent Nouri al-Maliki resisting a campaign to replace him.

Al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc won the largest share of seats in April’s election, securing 92 out of parliament’s 328 seats. But he is far short of the majority needed to govern, which means he needs allies to cobble together a coalition government.

His opponents — and many former allies — want him removed, accusing him of monopolizing power during his eight years in office and contributing to the current crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with Sunnis. But he has vowed he will not abandon his bid for a third consecutive term.

Related video

Iraqi parliament delays next session until August

Mourners carry the coffin of a Shi'ite volunteer from the brigades of peace who joined the Iraqi army and was killed during clashes with militants of the Islamic State, during his funeral in Najaf

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s deadlocked parliament on Monday postponed its next session until mid-August, prolonging the country’s political impasse despite urgent calls for a new government that can confront Sunni extremists who have overrun a large part of the country.

The new legislature held its first session since April elections last week, but failed to make any headway on selecting a new prime minister, president and speaker of parliament.

Lawmakers had been expected to meet Tuesday for a second session, but they called off that meeting since no progress was made over the past week untangling the political situation.

The parliament said in a statement Monday that “after discussions with the heads of the blocs and concerned parties” that the next session will be held instead on Aug. 12. It expressed hope that “another chance will be available for more dialogue and discussions to arrange that meeting.”

Under an informal system that took root after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, the prime minister’s job goes to a Shiite, the president’s post to a Kurd and the speaker of parliament’s chair to a Sunni.

The main point of contention right now is the post of prime minister, which holds most of the power in Iraq.

Incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, whose State of Law bloc won the largest share of seat in April’s election, has vowed he will not abandon his bid for a third consecutive term. But he didn’t win a majority in parliament and so needs allies to form a government, setting the stage for what now appear to be protracted political negotiations.

Al-Maliki is facing pressure to step aside, in part because many in the country accuse him of monopolizing power and contributing to the current crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with the country’s Sunni minority.

The militant offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State extremist group has tapped into the Sunni community’s grievances with al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. Sunnis complain of being marginalized and unfairly targeted by the security forces.

After its initial blitz, the insurgent onslaught has eased since overrunning most of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated areas. But fighting rages daily on several fronts across the country.

One of the most active zones is the Sunni-dominated region west of Baghdad, where on Monday a mortar shell landed near Iraqi troops during a raid on the village of Karma, killing Iraqi army 6th Division commander Maj. Gen. Najim Abdullah Ali.

Ali was overseeing the raid when the round exploded nearby, army spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim said.

Al-Maliki lamented Ali’s death, calling him a “holy warrior” who was “martyred in the battlefield as he was fighting the terrorists.”

Sunni militants seized control of the city of Fallujah, near Karma, and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi in January. The government has since reasserted its control of Ramadi, but Fallujah remains in insurgent hands.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into a checkpoint in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, killing five policemen and three civilians, a police official said. He said 16 people were wounded.

A medical official confirmed the casualty figures.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Iraq: Iran Ready To Send Drones To Help Fight Rebels

June 28, 2014 | 1514 GMT
Iran is prepared to send drones and other military aid to Iraq to help the Shiite government in Baghdad in its fight against Sunni rebels, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Masud Jazayeri said June 28, ISNA reported. Jazayeri also accused the United States and Saudi Arabia of inciting violence and terrorism in the region.

 

U.S.: Obama Requests Funds To Train Syrian Opposition

June 26, 2014 | 2118 GMT
U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve $500 million in funding to train and arm certain “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition, The New York Times reported June 26. The proposed training initiative would be the most substantial effort yet by the United States to affect the Syrian conflict.

 

Iraq: British Foreign Secretary Visits, Pushes For Inclusive Government

June 26, 2014 | 1046 GMT
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, during a June 26 visit to Baghdad, said that the Iraqi state is facing an existential threat, NINA News reported. Political unity is the most important factor in overcoming the challenge posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and its supporters, Hague said. He went on to push for the formation of a unity government that would have the support of all Iraqis and would be effective in halting militant operations.

 

Iraq: Turkey To Help Meet Northern Iraq’s Oil Needs

June 27, 2014 | 1159 GMT
Turkey will meet the Kurdistan Regional Government’s need for an additional 4,000 tons of processed oil after the shutdown of Iraq’s Beiji refinery, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said June 27, Hurriyet Daily News reported. Yildiz said he discussed the issue with Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, when Barzani visited Ankara on June 26. Turkey wants the Kurds and Iraq’s Shiite-dominated central government to resolve their differences so that oil from northern Iraq can be exported through Turkey.

 

Iraq: U.S. Will Deploy More Troops

June 30, 2014 | 2204 GMT
U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered 200 more troops deployed to Iraq to reinforce the U.S. Embassy and to provide additional security at the Baghdad airport, according to a June 30 letter to Congress. The announcement comes as the United States struggles to counter the growing threat posed by the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.