17.06.2014 Author: Petr Lvov

War in Iraq: Lessons for Moscow and Tehran

5543Throughout the 14th and 15th of June there was very conflicting information coming out of Iraq and neighboring countries about how ISIS forces were moving toward Baghdad and how exactly the al-Maliki government could organize the defense of the capital and a counter-offensive.

One thing is abundantly clear; the civil war that is raging in Iraq will continue to expand. The group “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) after the capture of Mosul and Tikrit is preparing for a move on Bagdad, and to this end is regrouping its forces for an attack on the Iraqi capital. While several Iraqi divisions and police forces where fleeing from Mosul and other cities in the north and central regions of Iraq in a panic, ISIS not only captured hundreds of millions of dollars, but weapons worth billions of dollars also fell into its hands. It is clear that the sudden collapse of the situation in the country with the actual collapse of the ruling al-Maliki Shite regime in Bagdad is not without the treasonous participation of the Sunni military and the secret games of the Qataris, Saudis along with Turkish and American intelligence services. The United States and its allies publically renounce the words from Islamic extremists, but in actual fact continued its guardianship of the jihadists.

In this situation, Iran was forced to intervene in Iraq again, as it was under Saddam, so that it would not become a US-Wahhabi bastion on the road to Khomeini expansion in the Arab world with the intent of creating a Shiite arc from Tehran to Beirut. In the country Islamic Revolution Guards (IRG) were introduced, including brigades of special forces in the form of “Al-Quds,” (Jerusalem) created to fight against Israel in favor of pro-Iranian Shiite groups in Arab countries like that of “Hezbollah” in Lebanon.

I must say that the actions and goals of ISIS and its radical allies are not a mystery, as the project is a recreation of the “caliphate” and “war against the infidels” and is the brainchild of Washington, U.K, Saudi and Pakistani intelligence, which created it back in the mid-80s to fight the USSR in Afghanistan. Eventually, with the participation of Qatar, the movement was evolved into a tool in the struggle against Russia and was actively used in Chechnya and the North Caucasus region as a whole. At the same time it seeks to undermine a united Europe which is increasingly competing with the United States in economic terms and where Washington plays the role of American lackey against Russia and China. Currently it is especially obvious that the U.S. uses the E.U. against Moscow in the Ukrainian crisis.

It is clear that the rapid capture of Mosul is a finely designed and well-organized operation not without operational assistance of certain external forces directed against the Shite regime of al-Maliki and Iran, and with long-term aspirations against Syria, where ISIS was defeated by Assad’s army Assad. As a result, in just five days of fighting, the Iraqi army has taken a powerful blow and its morale has all but completely eroded. The defeat of the Iraqi armed forces showed to the entire world the instability of the regime and that it is nothing more than a satellite state of two masters, the United States and Iran, which for months has not worked on the restoration of a unified Iraqi state and the reconciliation of the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities, but instead occupied itself with the theft of oil revenues, corruption and power struggles. The personal and narrow interests of the Iraqi Shiite “elite” have led to a complete collapse of the Iraqi state.

It is sad that regardless of the outcome of the ongoing armed conflict, Anglo-American plans for the breakup of Iraq into several states, Iraqi Kurdistan has already become de facto independent.

Moreover, in the course of recent events the Kurds occupied Kirkuk with the surrounding rich oil deposits, which they have long since claimed. Moreover, the Kurds consider it to be their historical capital. And there is no need to harbor any illusions that, on the 12th of June with al-Maliki troops fleeing from the ISIS onslaught, Kurds will never leave.

The one thing that is quite obvious now, the territory which is being formed is a “Sunni caliphate” and consists of five Sunni western, northern and central provinces of Iraq and eastern parts of Syria, which fell out of Damascus control during the Islamist insurgency with the aid of those same sponsors, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Under these conditions of simultaneous opposition of the Kurds (who outwardly are positioning themselves as allies of al-Maliki) and the Sunnis, Shiites also must also be separated from the rest of Iraq. To place the entire territory of Iraq under their control will not work for them. Jihadists have already taken a strong bastion for its provisional capital. Mosul as a big city with a half million inhabitants would be extremely difficult to liberate by the al-Maliki Shiite troops given the very low combat capability of the Iraqi armed forces. Moreover, there is almost nothing left of them but a new army of hastily recruited and insufficiently trained Shite volunteers from the south. After all, Iraqi troops unsuccessfully for a period of 6 months stormed Fallujah in the Sunni province of Anbar, which the Islamists took in early 2014. Mosul became a powerful springboard for further offensive by the jihadists. In addition, the city is located at the crossroads of an of an important transport and communications hub. Islamists now have complete freedom to move from Iraq to Syria. The fall of Mosul has resolved the problem of financing for ISIS as it captured huge amounts (430 million USD) and will allow it in a short time to further fund mobilization in their ranks and go on the offensive. The embittered and impoverished people in the region, where wars and revolutions are occurring over and over again, make it fertile ground for recruiting an army of “jihadists.” Moreover the flow of Qatari and Saudi infusion does not stop.

In addition to that, the Islamists captured huge amounts of weapons that were supplied to the al-Maliki regime from the U.S. worth billions of dollars. That which the Americans had supplied for years was, in a matter of days, seized by the militants. Entire divisions collapsed and fled leaving equipment, stores of arms and ammunition. There was so much military equipment left, including aircraft and armored vehicles, the Islamists simply not have enough trained fighters to use everything which they had seized. An American Black Hawk helicopter that was captured in Mosul was piloted by somebody of Chechen origin.

In terms of geopolitical and regional significance, it became importance that Saudi Arabia dealt a severe blow to Iran and Syria, recouping their “investment” in extremist and terrorist organizations. And what is most important, Iraqi development plans in ramping up oil production to 8 million barrels a day, are all but over; at least for a substantial period. The intentions of Iran and Iraq by 2020 to hit total production of 20 million barrels per day and become the largest producer of “black gold,” strongly bothered the Saudis. So chaos inside of Iraq favors the interests of the Saudi kingdom.

In this situation Iran just had no other choice but to respond to the defeat of the Iraqi ally. In fact Iran is in a position in which Moscow may well be in whether it wants to be or not, but may be forced to intervene in the Ukrainian war or be faced with an armed conflict on its own territory. The night assaults by Ukrainian radicals on the Russian embassy in Kiev on the 14th and 15th of June is an attempt by any means to force Russia to respond to this provocation by force, thus giving the West reason to impose stricter sanctions by the West against Russia and try to force the Russian government into sending troops, at least partially, in regions of Ukraine.

For Tehran, the situation in Iraq is also a matter of strategy, national security and, most importantly, religion. (Shiite holy sites are located in Iraq and a sacred shrine in Samara almost fell into the hands of ISIS) And of course there is the economy one has to consider, which is based on hydrocarbons, as is the Russian economy. And Iran, just like Russia, was in the situation called “at the crossroads,” it cannot turn back, but to intervene is risky, as that means an escalation and spread chaos in the region, but to not intervene would be impossible and not understood by its own people, as the enemy would be 300 km from the capital.

Russia, by not intervening in the Ukrainian war, violently receives the external Ukrainian “hotbed of war” which is extremely aggressive towards everything Russian and personally towards Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the genocide of Russians in the border areas of the Southeast and the discontent inside by Russian nationalists and “patriots,” not to mention the pro-Western liberal “fifth column.” This is all possible after the Crimean euphoria gradually turned into hostility towards the authorities and considering that the mood quickly changed from excitement to confusion, and then hate that, according to the United States, should pave the way for the increasing potential of a “colored revolution.” But in Moscow it is understood, it is moving away from being drawn into the Ukrainian conflict.

In Tehran this is clearly not the case. After all, open intervention by Iran in the Iraqi conflict, which has de facto already occurred, is the result of the situation confronting Iran on a new level. But in Tehran they understand poorly and naively believe that the United States in talking of possible air strikes against ISIS bases really want to help save al-Maliki. After all, it would automatically mean one thing, helping Iran! A Washington has already foolishly done it once, overthrowing Saddam Hussein regime and bringing to power the Shiites. Opponents of Tehran in the region, the world will react strongly to interference in Iraq, and Iran will need to deal with unforeseen actions by U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel. But Tehran has decided to act on the Syrian scenario sending battalions of Special Forces, “Al-Quds,” to fight ISIS. Troops were dispatched to protect Baghdad and the holy cities for Shiite Muslims, Karbala and Najaf; one battalion is already fighting in the Tikrit area. In addition, Iran has begun to strengthen its border with Iraq by stationing troops at the border, in addition, according to media sources, the air force has been given permission to bomb rebel ISIS positions if they come closer than 100 kilometers of the Iranian border.

Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate. The rich and the middle class have begun fleeing from the country. United States conducted an evacuation of civilian personnel from an airbase in the town of Balad. That is where Americans train Iraqis military elements, including those undergoing training in the operation of drones. This information has been confirmed by the U.S. State Department. In the official declaration, official spokesperson, Jen Psaki, noted that the evacuation of Americans working in Iraq came under the program of supply of military weapons and equipment. Information has been issued that a battalion of Marines from ships with the American 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean passed through Turkey’s airspace and arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. On the 15th of June U.S. carrier battle groups were dispatched to the Persian Gulf. But that is not an indication that the U.S. plans on taking any military action against ISIS. Rather it is an indirect sign of the U.S. preparing an evacuation of the American embassy in Baghdad and the 7.5 thousand American trainers in the Iraqi army and police, civilian employees of U.S. companies and other American citizens.

Even though President Barack Obama said on Thursday that Washington is considering all military options with regards to assistance to Iraq in fighting radical Islamists, apparently, one should not expect a serious reaction from the United States. Everything which is currently happening is unfolding according to the framework of a global plan to foment “manageable chaos” in Eurasia; this is the main objective of the Western leaders. Even preceding current events, before the capture of Mosul, Baghdad had already asked Washington for airstrikes on ISIS bases and other Islamist groups, but the Americans refused. Washington did not appreciate the fact that the al-Maliki regime helped Assad. And it is entirely possible that Washington easily discarded its support of the al-Maliki government and returned instead to plans for the dismembering of Iraq into three parts (Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite) with a further escalation of the conflict in Syria and the deterioration of the situation in Iran. NATO also refuses intervention. The NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that he sees no role for NATO in Iraq and that the alliance doesn’t have a mandate to resolve the situation in Iraq, only to monitor it. The Secretary General called on all parties involved to put a stop to the violence and called for the immediate release of the hostages.

In the meantime, the army of the Islamists seriously strengthened its power. Hundreds of officers and soldiers defected to the side of the Islamists. The ranks of several groups were strengthened by hundreds of released prisoners, many of whom hold radical views. Another recruitment tool for ISIS fighters of other Islamist movements and groups, against the backdrop of such victories, is that it dramatically increases the financial resources flowing to their side.

Kurds only strengthen their position and are in no hurry to attack the Islamists. The President of Kurdish autonomy, Massoud Barzani, ordered militias to strengthen border security of disputed territory and to not allow the Islamists to come through and further delve into Kurdistan. The displacement of Kurdish forces is intended only to defend their territory, including that which is challenged by Baghdad and Erbil (the city of Kirkuk and the Kirkuk oil field).

Meanwhile, the official Iraqi media loudly “reports” about the movement of government troops in a counter-offensive against the militants of ISIS. According to government command, the army regained control over most of the province of Salah ad-Din and “progressing further” in Nineveh province.

The Islamists on the other hand claim that they are almost at Baghdad, and in the course of their offensive have captured tanks, artillery and helicopters. In particular, they state that they have captured a Black Hawk helicopter in Mosul and that it has struck government forces in Samarra while being piloted by a Chechen. The situation in the Iraqi provinces over the past two days has changed at times with lightning speed. Islamists still own the initiative and quickly moving forward, although in some areas they met fierce resistance from Special Forces, Shiite militia and the Iranian military who were sent to Baghdad three days earlier. The fact that Bagdad communicated troops met fierce resistance in Taji is a rather bad sign. After all, this town is literally on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, just 15 km north of the capital. Moreover, Islamist groups appear on the outskirts of Baghdad and in the Shiite areas of the city every day continuing to explode car bombs.

And finally, ISIS militants are sent to Baghdad not only from the north, west and east, but they are already in the south, from where the offensive on the capital are being carried out by groups infiltrating from Anbar province. There is intense fighting is for settlement of Latif. As it is both in the north and the south of the capital, Iraqi aircraft strike columns and the firing positions of the militants.

But it is unlikely to lead to an al-Maliki victory. Iraq has once again been driven into chaos, from which this time it will be almost impossible to escape. 

Petr Lvov, PhD in Political Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.