Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Aleppo almost retaken but Mosul must wait for a while

December 9, 2016

The ongoing downfall of ISIS really only began with the Russian intervention in Syria. Even in Iraq, the gradual success against ISIS only really took hold once the Russians showed the resolve in Syria. It has been a repudiation of the absence of an Obama/Kerry strategy. It has also shown quite clearly that it was the US/NATO/ France/UK/ EU/ Turkey obsession with getting rid of Assad which allowed ISIS to grow and then prevented any effective strategy against ISIS from being implemented.

Now Aleppo and its Al Qaeda/ISIS related rebel groups are on the verge of being driven out by Syrian troops with Russian support. In Mosul what was intended to be a liberation of the city – in time for a Clinton success at the US General election – has progressed much more slowly than expected. It has stalled from time to time and it may not even be complete before Obama leaves office. The retaking of Aleppo cannot strictly be compared with retaking Mosul, but it does reconfirm the differences between first, the resolve of Assad’s Syrian troops and the Iraqi army, and second, the difference between the US and Russian implementation of strategies.

Two Reuters reports today caught my eye:

Syrian army’s Aleppo advance slows, but victory in sight

The Syrian army’s advance in Aleppo slowed on Thursday but a victory was still firmly in sight after President Bashar al-Assad vowed that retaking the city would change the course of the six-year-old war. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the Syrian army, which has captured territory including Aleppo’s historic Old City in recent days, had halted military activity to let civilians leave rebel-held territory. 

The last two weeks have seen rebels driven from most of their territory in what was once Syria’s largest city, the eastern section of which the insurgents have controlled since 2012. Although there are still many rural areas in rebel hands, Aleppo is their last big urban redoubt. The prospect of its fall, following months of government gains elsewhere, has brought Assad closer to victory than at any point since the early months of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and made half of Syrians homeless.

“Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria,” Assad said, speaking in an interview with the Syrian newspaper al-Watan.

Iraqi troops pull out from Mosul hospital after fierce battle

Iraqi troops who briefly seized a Mosul hospital believed to be used as an Islamic State base were forced to withdraw from the site, but managed to establish a base for army tanks nearby after days of fierce back-and-forth fighting, residents said.

The rapid advance into the Wahda neighborhood where the hospital is located marked a change of tactic after a month of fighting in east Mosul in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.

The ferocity of the fighting reflects the importance of the army’s push from southeast Mosul towards the center, their deepest advance in a grueling seven-week offensive to crush Islamic State in Iraq’s largest northern city.

The soldiers seized Salam hospital, less than a mile (just over 1 km) from the Tigris river running through central Mosul, on Tuesday but pulled back the next day after they were attacked by six suicide car bombs and “heavy enemy fire”, according to a statement by the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces.

Coalition warplanes, at Iraq’s request, also struck a building inside the hospital complex from which the militants were firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

The soldiers involved in the action are at the spearhead of a U.S.-backed, 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi forces including the army, federal police, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly Shi’ite Popular Mobilization forces battling to crush Islamic State in Mosul.

Mosul may still take some time but that it will be retaken before too long  seems almost certain.


 

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Reagan (and Pakistan) created the Taliban, Bush (and Saudi Arabia) nurtured Al Qaida and Obama/Clinton allowed ISIS to grow

August 12, 2016

Ronald Reagan (President from 1981 -1989) and Pakistan’s ISI created the Taliban,

From Politics 116 at Mt Holyoke College

The Creation of Taliban goes back to 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In 1973, The Soviet Union brought their soldiers into Afghanistan claiming to rebuild the crushing economy. However, the Soviet was resented by the Mujahidin (from whom the Taliban evolved from). At the same time, the Soviet Union and United States were engaged in a cold war. The U.S. was genuinely interested in counter power against the Soviet Union. Thus, Soviet Union’s entrance in Afghanistan signaled the Soviet’s increase in power and strength gaining more power and strength so the United States decided to intervene.Because the United States did not want to see the Soviet Union take control over Central Asia, the U.S. decided to fund troops to fight against the Soviet Union. These troops were called the Mujahedeen. The Mujahedeen were armed and supported by several countries including, the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Under Reagan’s presidency Congress which was led by Democrats, decided to form a partnership with the ISI which would recruit the Mujahideen with the support of the Pakistani military extreme views of Islam, led the Mujahedeen to fight ferociously against the Soviet Union. these extremist succeeded in driving Soviet militants out (1989). This unforeseen defeat caused the Soviets to lose billions of Dollars, and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union After the war, Pakistan was left alone to deal with the problems associated with the post war. Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. declared a war against Afghanistan. at this point the U.S. realized the seeds they had sown. Taliban was a creation of the Pakistani intelligence agency (the ISI) but was funded by the U.S. The U.S. provided $3 billion to build this Islamic group by providing provided ammunitions, which they forgot to keep track of after the Soviet war. Thus, the U.S. was taken a back when the millions worth in weapons that they had provided were now being used against them. Since the Taliban was a creation of the Pakistani intelligence agency. Pakistan has been reluctant to fight them. It is said that a lot of Pakistani and other military personal were known to be siding with the Taliban. It has further been said that the U.S. is responsible for providing the Taliban with logistical and military advice, along with military hardware . Therefore the Unites States and Pakistan are accountable for the Creation of Islamic extremist Group called `Taliban’.

The success against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and the need for further jihad gave rise to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida in 1989. George Bush Sr. who was already involved with Saudi support for the Taliban as Vice President under Reagan came into his own as a godfather for Al Qaida as President from 1989-1993. Through the CIA and its many arms, Bush Sr. and Saudi Arabia provided the money and the training. Al Qaida did not become an “enemy” of the US until 2001 when the campaign in Afghanistan was launced in retaliation for the 9/11 atrocities.

BBC (June 2004):

Al-Qaeda, meaning “the base”, was created in 1989 as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden and his colleagues began looking for new jihads.

The organisation grew out of the network of Arab volunteers who had gone to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight under the banner of Islam against Soviet Communism. During the anti-Soviet jihad Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA.

The “Arab Afghans”, as they became known, were battle-hardened and highly motivated. In the early 1990s Al-Qaeda operated in Sudan. After 1996 its headquarters and about a dozen training camps moved to Afghanistan, where Bin Laden forged a close relationship with the Taleban.

The US campaign in Afghanistan starting in late 2001 dispersed the organisation and drove it underground as its personnel were attacked and its bases and training camps destroyed.

It was the US occupation of Iraq and their support for the Shi’ite government of Nouri al-Maliki from 2003 – 2011 which provided the motivation for the Sunni backlash. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was leading an Al Qaida faction and, the Guardian writes, “after the US invasion in 2003, he was quickly drawn into the emerging al-Qaida in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, getting involved first in smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq, then later as the “emir” of Rawa, a town near the Syrian border. There, presiding over his own sharia court, he gained a reputation for brutality, publicly executing those suspected of aiding the US-led coalition forces – the same brutality that has become familiar to those living in Syria under his group’s control”. By various accounts he was detained at the US Camp Bucca as a low level prisoner from 2004 either for less than a year or upto 2008. 

Possibly he was in detention till 2008, since it is only after 2009 that ISIS takes off and it is only after 2011, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are in place, that ISIS expands –  violently and explosively – in Syria and Iraq. Obama and Clinton lost interest in Iraq and dropped the ball on ISIS. They (and Saudi Arabia) were so focused on creating regime change in Syria and toppling Assad that they lost sight of the support (money and training) being provide by the US for anti-Assad groups which included ISIS affiliated groups. David Mizner writes:

“The August 5, 2012 DIA report confirms much of what Assad has been saying all along about his opponents both inside and outside Syria,” says “terrorism analyst” Max Abrams.

The report concerns a period in time when the escalating violence in Iraq had ceased to be a prominent topic in the US press and when its coverage of the war in Syria — mirroring the discussion in Washington — focused on the Assad government, not the forces aligned against it. This may be hard to imagine now that ISIS has become the US government’s favorite monster, but during these months President Obama and his team gave major speeches on Syria that didn’t even mention the group.

Even after ISIS took Fallujah in January 2014, discussion of the group in establishment outlets was scarce. It wasn’t until later in 2014 — after continued battlefield victories and heavily publicized beheadings of westerners — that Islamic State became Public Enemy Number 1.

American officials claimed the ascendancy of ISIS had caught American intelligence by surprise. Yet in the 2012 report — which was circulated widely through the US government — the DIA foresaw the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria. It also said that Islamic State of Iraq could “return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi” and declare an “Islamic state” in western Iraq and eastern Syria.

More than that, the report says the creation of an Islamic state was precisely the goal of the foreign governments that support the opposition:

If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).

US Defense Intelligence clearly puts the cause for the rise of ISIS on the policy being followed by the US in Syria (by Obama and Clinton), and not primarily on what was happening in Iraq. Mizner again:

While American politicians and pundits have blamed the ascendance of ISIS on former Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki and Assad — or on the removal of American troops from Iraq — the DIA report reminds us that the key event in the rise of ISIS was the corresponding rise of the insurgency in Syria. Brad Hoff of the Levant Report, the first journalist to analyze the DIA report, says it shows that “A nascent Islamic State became a reality only with the rise of the Syrian insurgency . . . there is no mention of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst.”

Maliki warned that the war in Syria could engulf Iraq, yet the United States and its allies kept supporting the insurgency. The American bombing of ISIS, relatively light and sporadic, has only intensified the belief of many Iraqis that the United States doesn’t want to defeat the group.

The US has a well established track record now of creating the very monsters which then becomes their greatest enemies. Obama – in spite of his reputation of over-analysing issues – clearly did not foresee how his inaction in Iraq, and his misguided regime-change actions in Syria, would cause the explosive growth of ISIS. And Clinton, who had little understanding of the complex relations in the Middle East, couldn’t cover for Obama’s blind spots and had no real strategy of her own to bring to the table. Furthermore, Obama and Clinton (and later Kerry) have done little, if anything, to stop ISIS being financed from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

obama no strategy

While Trump’s claim that Obama and Clinton “founded” ISIS is not strictly true, there is little doubt that the Obama/Clinton inaction in Iraq, and their misguided actions in Syria, led directly to the growth of ISIS and the current miserable situation in the Middle East. The Obama/Kerry combination has continued with the Assad obsession and their strategies (or lack of strategies) have been largely ineffective against ISIS. It is only Russian intervention which has perhaps turned the tide.


 

The incontrovertible truth is that Iraq would have been a better place without Blair

July 6, 2016

There will be reams written about Chilcot but my view of Tony Blair does not change very much. If anything, I am more than ever convinced of Blair’s poodle-like fawning in Bush’s presence and his glorified image of himself.

“Flawed intelligence” and “actions in good faith” are Tony Blair’s defence. Certainly Blair’s character was (and still is) seriously flawed. That he has native cunning and intelligence is apparent but it is seriously skewed. Greed and self-glorification would seem to be his primary goals. “Good faith” is defined as being based on “sincere beliefs or motives without any malice or the desire to defraud others” and that certainly does not apply. He had malice aplenty and he wanted to impress Bush. His own country and his own soldiers and all of Iraq’s population were just collateral damage along the way to satisfying his enormous ego.

Would Iraq have been better off today with Saddam still around? That is impossible to answer. In fact, that is the wrong question. But it is incontrovertible that Iraq would have been better off without Tony Blair or George Bush.

Just as the real question today is whether the Ukraine or the Middle East would not have been better off without the sanctimonious interference of the EU, Obama and Kerry?


 

How is Europe going to stop ISIS in Libya?

March 28, 2016

ISIS is shifting to Libya (which is in chaos thanks to the European-led fiasco there), and another 800,000+ refugees can be expected to swamp Italy. And “Europe”, in the shape of the EU, is both unprepared and has no strategy to face that challenge when (not if) it comes.

The Russian intervention has succeeded not only in stopping ISIS advances but turning it into a clear retreat. The Russians have apparently a more determined – and more competent and effective – Syrian army on the ground than the US has with the Iraqi army.

Iraq Syria map

The next target for the Syrian army and Russia after retaking Palmyra could be Raqqa or possibly Deir al-Zour. The Iraqis and the US are making, comparatively, slow progress in retaking Mosul. But at least ISIS is not expanding territory in Iraq.

Once ISIS loses control of Raqqa and Mosul, its remaining territory in Syria and Iraq will be less than the critical mass it needs to sustain operations. Its oil earnings would also dwindle without the physical control of territory.

Just as the US support of opposition groups crippled Assad and allowed a vacuum for ISIS to fill, the European-led fiasco in Libya has only produced chaos with no clear group in authority. This has been exploited by ISIS. For some time now, ISIS has been preparing for shifting from its HQ in Raqqa and has been establishing a new HQ in Sirte (Surt) in Libya. ISIS has already established its version of Sharia rule in the area by carrying out executions and floggings in the town and in the surrounding areas all the way to Ajdabiya. Controlling the Gulf of Sirte would allow the development of new source of oil revenues to make up for the loss of revenues in Iraq and Syria.

Libya map

The US, Europe  and NATO are not doing much at this point in Libya to prevent ISIS from coming in. (There are reports of some special forces and snipers from the US and the UK operating in Libya but there is certainly no concerted effort to stop ISIS). The Russians do not have the same interest to intervene and so Libya is left wide open to ISIS by a bungling Europe. With the current chaos in Libya and the pressure it is facing in Iraq and Syria, I would not be surprised to see ISIS suddenly abandon Syria and expand in Libya. I suspect that the trigger could be the loss of Raqqa.

There are also reports that Boko Haram (which has allied itself with ISIS) is facing pressure from the Nigerian army and is also planning a shift northwards to Libya.

As ISIS expands territory in Libya (and perhaps also Boko Haram), a new wave of refugees into Europe can be expected. The French Defence Minister has estimated that this number could be another 800,000 people. There could be more if Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians and Somalis also start using the route through Libya to Italy. Italy could be swamped this autumn just as Greece has been in the last 6 months.

The Russians have no great objections to additional pressure on Europe. In any case, they would be disinclined to intervene in Libya. The US will not intervene (even though they backed the ill-conceived European adventure to remove Gaddafi). There is no European planning – let alone any strategy – for this scenario. I see no European initiative which can be as decisive in Libya as the Russians have been in Syria.

How is Europe going to stop ISIS in Libya?


 

Syrian forces (with Russian support) advance into Palmyra but Iraqi forces (with US support) make slow progress in Mosul

March 27, 2016

Earlier this week there was a great deal of publicity from the Pentagon about a strike which had killed the No.2 in the ISIS “cabinet”, again. (The No. 2 was also killed in August last year and in 2014).

AtlanticIn August of last year, U.S. officials announced the death of Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, the No. 2 to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and something of a weapons and logistics manager for the terrorist group. It was the second time in less than a year the ISIS leader’s top deputy met with an early demise. On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter added Haji Imam, the Islamic State’s finance chief who went by several names, to the growing list of seconds-in-command to die at the hands of American forces. …. 

What Kerry didn’t mention was that, for at least the third time in 18 months, ISIS would need a new No. 2.

I wondered why there was so much publicity about this event in a week which saw Syrian forces advancing on Palmyra and Iraqi forces advancing on Mosul. Surely the retaking of Palmyra and Mosul would be of much greater significance than the killing of not-indispensable individuals?

But then the reason for the PR blitz by the Pentagon became clear. The Syrian advance on Palmyra backed up by Russian air strikes was moving steadily forward. The Iraqi advance on Mosul, backed by US air strikes, was bogged down. A few IS snipers and some land mines were holding up the entire Iraqi advance. The impression that Russian strategy was, once again, showing up US strategy was unpalatable for Obama and the Pentagon, and so the killing of the ISIS No. 2 was pushed forward to demonstrate US successes.

In any event it was a bad week for ISIS on the battlefields of the Middle East but their guerrilla war in Europe hit Brussels. The recapture of Palmyra by Syrian troops is now imminent. The recapture of Mosul by Iraqi troops may take a little longer. The eventual recapture of Mosul will happen, I think. Even if the Iraqi troops fail – which is not at all impossible – the Peshmerga are close behind. To lose Palmyra and Mosul would be a debilitating blow for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It will surely accelerate their shift into Libya.

Reuters: Syrian army, with Russian air support, advances inside Palmyra

Syrian government forces advanced into Palmyra on Saturday with heavy support from Russian air strikes, taking control of several districts in a major assault against Islamic State fighters, Syrian state media and a monitoring group said. ……. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the biggest assault in a three-week campaign by the Syrian army and allied militia fighters to recapture the desert city and open up the road to Islamic State strongholds further east. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said Syrian soldiers and allied militias had taken control of one-third of Palmyra, mainly in the west and north, including part of the ancient city and its Roman-era ruins. Soldiers were also fighting on a southern front, he said.

Syrian media and Arab television channels broadcasting from the slopes of Palmyra’s medieval citadel, one of the last areas of high ground seized by the army on Friday, said troops had advanced inside Palmyra and had taken several neighborhoods. 

The recapture of Palmyra, which the Islamist group seized in May 2015, would mark the biggest reversal for Islamic State in Syria since Russia’s intervention turned the tide of the five-year conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

Times of OmanIraqi forces make slow progress against IS 

Iraqi forces made slow progress against IS in the north of the country on Friday in the second day of an offensive touted as the beginning of a broader campaign to clear areas around the city of Mosul. Backed by Kurdish forces and a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched the assault at dawn on Thursday, recapturing three villages in the Makhmour area south of Mosul, according to peshmerga commander Najat Ali and an Iraqi army source.

The Iraqi army source, who is taking part in the offensive, said troops were preparing to attack another village on Friday but were being held up because the militants had rigged streets and buildings with explosives. “The mining has slightly slowed down the army,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak to the media. ….. 

Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether the army, which partially collapsed when IS overran a third of the country in June 2014, will be ready in time.

The fall of Ramadi: Is it “very serious” or just a “tactical setback”?

May 22, 2015

What is clear is that 2,500 soldiers of the Iraqi “army” entrenched in Ramadi ran away when faced by 200 ISIS fighters. They left their heavy weapons behind. They did not even make any sustained effort to evacuate the city.They left the civilian population to flee as best they could. Today there are reports that virtually all those left behind have been slaughtered by ISIS.

But the spin doctors are in full flow. The Iraqi forces were not driven out. They drove away – of their own free will.

They were just tired of being in Ramadi.

BloombergObama Dismisses Fall of Ramadi in Iraq as ‘Tactical Setback’

The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to Islamic State was only a “tactical setback” and not a sign the U.S. and its allies are failing in the fight against extremists, President Barack Obama said in an interview published Thursday in the Atlantic magazine.

“I don’t think we’re losing,” Obama said in the interview conducted by Jeffrey Goldberg Tuesday at the White House. “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.”

Nothing to worry about then. Obama the brave has all under control.

CNNU.S. calls fall of Ramadi ‘very serious’

A senior State Department official acknowledged Wednesday that ISIS’s seizure of Ramadi, Iraq, over the weekend was major blow in the fight against the terror organization.

His comments came, however, on the very same day that the Chairman of the Joint Chief Staffs Gen. Martin Dempsey insisted Iraqi forces chose on their own to leave.

“The ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi,” he told reporters while on a trip to Brussels.

Just as with Tikrit, Obama will do little beyond making token gestures about retaking Ramadi. He is waiting for the Iran -backed Shiite cavalry to come riding in to redress the situation

Iran to the rescue as Obama’s moribund ISIS “strategy” stalls

May 19, 2015

Back in September last year, Barack Obama first admitted he had no strategy “yet” for ISIS and then announced his “hands-off” air-strike strategy

“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy,”

But what his strategy has achieved so far is an ISIS which hunkers down during air-strikes and then rolls over new strategic targets whenever the opposition is the Iraqi army or other Sunni opponents. Resistance and attrition only occurs when ISIS faces Assad or Iran-backed Shiite groups. If and when ISIS is stopped it may be enabled by US led air-strikes, but it will actually be achieved only by Iranian-supported boots on the ground. ISIS will not be stopped by a Sunni force. And that does not make Saudi Arabia very happy. I have a hypothesis that Barack Obama’s strategies both in domestic and foreign policy are driven primarily by the avoiding of his fears. In Iraq and Syria his strategy plays into Iran’s hands.

Foreign Policy: To date, the Obama administration’s claims of progress in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) have been accompanied by qualifications and caveats. In January, the Pentagon claimed to have killed 6,000 IS fighters since the September start of “Operation Inherent Resolve,” a statistic that became less impressive when later that month it was reported that roughly 5,000 foreign fighters had joined IS since October. At the Munich Security Conference in February, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the anti-IS coalition had “taken out half” of the terrorist pseudo-state’s senior leadership, a boast that was subsequently discredited as inexact at best. In early April — a month before the Islamic State captured Ramadi — Vice President Joe Biden declared: “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed. Thousands of ISIL fighters have been removed from the battlefield. Their ability to mass and maneuver has been greatly degraded. Leaders have been eliminated.” Add to this the analytical disputes over the Pentagon’s claim that the Islamic State has lost 25 percent of its territory since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, and it is easy to see why skeptics believe the current strategy is insufficient to achieve the president’s stated goals of degrading and defeating the terrorist proto-state.

Now Ramadi has fallen to ISIS after it was abandoned without resistance by Iraqi Sunni forces. The US has been sending very confused messages with, on the one hand, increased air sorties against Ramadi while, on the other, sending diplomats (including John Kerry) to spin the story that Ramadi was not very important anyway. In the meanwhile Iran, through its Shiite Prime Minister, has called in the Shiite militia to retake Ramadi. The Shiite militias will now probably succeed in retaking Ramadi – as ISIS melts away to open another front, somewhere else, against the Iraqi Army.

Reuters:

Thousands of Shi’ite militiamen on Monday prepared to fight Islamic State insurgents who seized the Iraqi provincial capital Ramadi at the weekend in the biggest defeat for government forces in nearly a year.

A column of 3,000 Shi’ite militia fighters assembled at a military base near Ramadi, preparing to take on Islamic State militants advancing in armored vehicles from the captured city northwest of Baghdad, witnesses and a military officer said.

The decision by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is a Shi’ite, to send in the militias to try to retake the predominantly Sunni city could add to sectarian hostility in one of the most violent parts of Iraq.

Washington, which is leading a campaign of air strikes to roll back Islamic State advances and struggling to rebuild Baghdad’s shattered army, played down the significance of the loss of Ramadi, the capital of the vast western Anbar province.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was a “target of opportunity,” that could be retaken in a matter of days, and U.S. officials insisted there would be no change in strategy despite a failure to make major advances against Islamic State.

Warplanes in the U.S.-led coalition had conducted 19 strikes near Ramadi over the past 72 hours at the request of the Iraqi security forces, a coalition spokesman said.

The Shi’ite militia, known as Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilization, “reached the Habbaniya base and are now on standby,” said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout.

It may only be a temporary alliance between the US and Iran for retaking Ramadi, but it will only reinforce my view that Iranian strategy is a relatively low-cost, proxy strategy which has succeeded in absorbing and diverting Obama’s strategy to its own advantage.

“Ghost” armies of Iraq and Afghanistan continue a long tradition

January 12, 2015

There have been recent reports about large numbers of “ghost” employees in the military and police forces of Iraq and Afghanistan, who exist on paper to extract (or account for) large amounts of external funding.

The Iraqi Army was recently revealed to have 50,000 “ghost” soldiers who conducted “ghost” exercises with “ghost” ammunition. But these soldiers were not like Aragorn’s Army of the Dead who swept aside the forces of Mordor. Instead, they melted away into their nothingness when faced by the ISIS fighters in Mosul in June last year.

 

The Unz Review: The Iraqi army includes 50,000 “ghost soldiers” who do not exist, but their officers receive their salaries fraudulently according to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “The Prime Minister revealed the existence of 50,000 fictitious names,” said a statement after a thorough headcount during the latest salary payments. 

The Iraqi army has long been notorious for being wholly corrupt with officers invariably paying for their jobs in order to make money either through drawing the salaries of non-existent soldiers or through various other scams. One Iraqi politician told The Independent a year ago that Iraqi officers “are not soldiers, they are investors”. In the years before the defeat of the army in Mosul in June by a much smaller force from Isis, Iraqi units never conducted training exercises. At the time of Isis’s Mosul offensive, government forces in Mosul were meant to total 60,000 soldiers and federal police but the real figure was probably closer to 20,000. …..

….. Another source of earnings for officers are checkpoints on the roads which act like customs barriers on national frontiers. All goods being transported have to pay a tariff and this will again go into the pockets of the officer corps. These will have paid highly for promotion, with the bribe for becoming a colonel $200,000 (£127,000) and a divisional commander $2m. This money would usually be borrowed and paid back out earnings.

There have been similar scams in Afghanistan.

The GuardianEach year, foreign donors pay hundreds of millions of dollars to fund salaries for members of the Afghan national police. According to a US government watchdog, however, there is little proof of where the money ends up.

In a report released on Monday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) writes that much of that money may in fact be bankrolling “ghost workers” – fictional employees created to enrich police chiefs.

Business Insider: The U.S. may be unwittingly doling out checks to “ghost workers” of the Afghan National Police who don’t even exist, according to an alert letter sent from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The letter alleges payment of salaries to non-existent members of the police force, and comes as just the latest in a string of fraud, waste, and abuse exposed by SIGAR under the leadership of John Sopko. …… The letter follows a previous report from SIGAR that found $6.3 million in payments going to Afghan police to fix broken vehicles, many of which had been out of service for over a year or had even been destroyed. …….. Previous reports found the Pentagon paid $12.8 million for equipment that went completely unused, records being shredded of $201 million in fuel purchases for the Afghan National Army, and millions from the U.S. military actually ending up in the hands of the Taliban, among many others.

But the use of these “virtual” employees is nothing new. It was probably first invented by the construction industry and construction probably became an industry as early as in the construction of the pyramids in Egypt and the temples of Babylon some 4 -5,000 years ago. (It is perhaps fitting since Old Babylon lay close to present day Baghdad).

The construction industry uses “ghost” workers primarily for the following reasons:

  1. to milk funds for publicly funded projects – especially for job creation projects,
  2. to avoid minimum wage laws,
  3. to avoid taxes or compulsory employee contributions

Construction sites with their large numbers of transient workers are notoriously difficult to check. Even “ghost” sites with “ghost” workers are not unknown. Very often these construction workers are paid daily and in cash. The use of ghost workers then allows the conversion of project funds into untraceable cash, accumulated in slush funds, for various nefarious purposes.

In recent times the growth of the NGO’s acting as contractors, who often get their funding from charities or public monies, has led to the padding of employee numbers and fictitious payrolls.  Even during the Ebola outbreak, local politicians were busy milking the funds available in Sierra Leone with over 6,000 “ghost” workers. So much so that the British government refused to channel its funds through local organisations.

According to report, this is the first time that the British Government has openly condemned the Sierra Leone Government publicly for alleged misuse of the former’s support to the latter. This development, according to report, took place on Monday 8thDecember, 2014. On the same day, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) issued a news release expressing massive corruption and fraud in the National Ebola Response Center (NERC). The Association expressed worries over the widespread of corruption in the handling of the Ebola Funds by authorities in charge. SLAJ was particularly concerned about the disclosures of the NERC’s CEO’s revelation that some 6,000 ghost names were have been discovered in the weekly payment voucher for healthcare workers in the frontline, and the strikes by healthcare workers negatively impacting on the fight against the Ebola.

I first heard about “ghost” locums in the NHS in the UK as a student in the 1960s. In Japan it was obligatory to use local construction crews for the construction and erection of power plant equipment and we were required to hire the entire crew. My best estimates were that the crews – on paper – contained about 20% more names than ever appeared on site. In the US I found that “unionised” power plant sites always needed between 10- 20% more construction workers than non-unionised sites (always through contractors of course). It was a similar story on sites in India and Africa. Through the 1990s it was a lucrative business to start an NGO with funding from abroad (and probably still is). Often the funding was based on covering all “approved” (but ghostly) personnel costs and covering external purchases for approved projects. But here the “head” of the NGO was essentially the owner of an “enterprise”.

“Ghosts” are not going away anytime soon.

US, Iran and Syria are now “allies” against ISIS

June 17, 2014

image: global security

ISIS now controls Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq near Mosul and Saqlawiya west of Baghdad. Fighting is reported in Fallujah, Baqubah and Samarra and within 50km of Baghdad.

But strange bedfellows are emerging.

Iran was once Evil Incarnate and the US was the Great Satan. But the “enemy of my enemy” can lead to once unthinkable alliances.

The US is talking about some form of military cooperation / coordination with Iran while Syrian planes have attacked ISIS convoys within Iraq.

Fox NewsThe Iranian government, which the White House is now looking to as a possible partner to help counter the insurgency threatening to split Iraq, was cited just months ago by the Obama administration’s own State Department as a prime instigator in that country. Counterterrorism officials warned about Iran’s meddling in Iraq as part of its report on state sponsors of terrorism. 

….. Further complicating the situation, senior U.S. Defense officials confirmed to Fox News that Syrian war planes struck two separate convoys belonging to the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on Saturday. 

According to sources familiar with the incident, the Syrian planes struck with the help of Iranian intelligence. There is no bomb damage assessment from the attack, but it is the first time there have been reports of Syrian warplanes having crossed into Iraq since ISIS fighters swept across Iraq beginning a week ago. 

The strike raises the prospect of the United States, Iran and Syria all battling the same enemy in Iraq. ….. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., ….. likened it to the U.S. aligning with Stalin during World War II, because he “was not as bad as Hitler.” 

In Iraq the government is banning access to social media like Facebook and Twitter which have apparently been very successfully used by ISIS in their little “blitzkrieg” last week and in posting horrific videos of their massacre of captured government soldiers.

Meanwhile the US has sent 275 military personnel to Baghdad to protect US interests.

And will the US come to support Assad against the Saudi supported rebel groups in Syria?

 

Obama is now waiting to be rescued by Iran

June 16, 2014

A week ago only Middle East experts knew much about ISIS. And in less than a week the possible break up of Iraq has becomes more than just a distant reality and is now a “work in progress”. Republicans are blaming Obama for the failure of reaching an agreement with al Maliki and the premature withdrawal of troop. Democrats blame Bush Jr. and Cheney and the neo-cons for duping the US and the world in justifying the 2003 invasion. And they are – of course – both right. The initial invasion “broke”Iraq but Obama is the one who has refused to fix it or even to provide the glue with which to fix it.

Over the weekend the mayhem continued in Iraq as the blood-letting by ISIS plunges to new depths.

Twenty three years after the First Gulf war, George Bush Sr. has returned – reincarnated as an aircraft carrier. In an unusual burst of activity President Obama sent the US navy to the Gulf as NBC reports – “The USS George H.W. Bush — accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun — was ordered to the Persian Gulf Saturday to protect American lives and interests in the region.” The ships arrived on Sunday. The size of the fleet makes one suspect the preparation of an evacuation of Baghdad (shades of Saigon!) rather than any significant military opposition to ISIS. Some staff are already being evacuated from the US Embassy.

President Obama continues to contemplate his dwindling options. Tony Blair is still living in his own deluded fantasies. Blair jets around as a Middle East Peace envoy and is now calling for more bombings and more bloodshed to try and defend his own blood-drenched legacy. But Obama may get help from an unlikely source:

Al JazeeraIran’s president held out the prospect of working with the U.S. in a bid to stabilize strife-torn Iraq on Saturday, but denied reports that troops had already been sent across the border to bolster its failing neighbor’s counter-insurgency efforts.

Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who is presiding over a nascent thaw in Iran’s relations with the West, said if Washington was willing to confront “terrorist groups in Iraq and elsewhere,” then Tehran would contemplate cooperating with its traditional foe over Iraq.

Echoing comments made by President Barack Obama on Friday, Rouhani added that Tehran was unlikely to send forces to Iraq but stood ready to provide help within the framework of international law. Baghdad has not as yet requested such assistance, he added.

The BBC reports that the US and Iran may hold talks about possible cooperation later this week. And this gives Obama the perfect excuse to continue with his “do-nothing” policy as he waits to be rescued by Iran.

BBCWashington is considering direct talks with Iran on the security situation in Iraq, a US official has told the BBC. The move comes as US President Barack Obama weighs up options on action to take in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the US condemned as “horrifying” photos posted online by Sunni militants that appear to show fighters massacring Iraqi soldiers. In the scenes, the soldiers are shown being led away and lying in trenches before and after their “execution”.

But this mending of fences between the US and Iran will not go down very well in Israel. Netanyahu will now be under pressure from his hawks to carry out pre-emptive strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the rapprochement goes too far.


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