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ISIS’s Barbarism Has a Logic: Charles Krauthammer, National Review, Feb. 5, 2015 — Why did they do it? What did the Islamic State think it could possibly gain by burning alive a captured Jordanian pilot?
How Iran Is Making It Impossible for the US to Beat ISIS: Michael Weiss & Michael Pregent, Daily Beast, Feb. 2, 2015— It was August 2007, and General David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, was angry.
ISIS Is Losing in Iraq. But What Happens Next?: Kenneth M. Pollack, New York Times, Feb. 4, 2015 — In Iraq, the good news always seems to come mixed with bad.
While The Jihadists Make Headlines, Fundamentalist Iran is Making Major Gains: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, Feb. 5, 2015 — The Islamic State’s beheadings not only make for gruesome headlines, they also influence emotionally the leaders of important states where reason rather than emotion should prevail.
Israel Bolsters Ties to Jordan as ISIS Looms: Elise Labott & Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Feb. 6, 2015
Militants’ Killing of Jordanian Pilot Unites the Arab World in Anger: Rod Nordland & Anne Barnard, New York Times, Feb. 4, 2015
How Making Nice With Tehran Boosts ISIS: Ahmad El Assaad, New York Post, Feb. 8, 2014
ISIS Barbarians Face Their Own Internal Reign of Terror: Jamie Dettmer, Daily Beast, Feb. 6, 2014
National Review, Feb. 5, 2015
Why did they do it? What did the Islamic State think it could possibly gain by burning alive a captured Jordanian pilot? I wouldn’t underestimate the absence of logic, the sheer depraved thrill of a triumphant cult reveling in its barbarism. But I wouldn’t overestimate it either. You don’t overrun much of Syria and Iraq without having deployed keen tactical and strategic reasoning. So what’s the objective? To destabilize Jordan by drawing it deeply into the conflict.
At first glance, this seems to make no sense. The savage execution has mobilized Jordan against the Islamic State and given it solidarity and unity of purpose. Yes, for now. But what about six months hence? Solidarity and purpose fade quickly. Think about how post-9/11 American fervor dissipated over the years of inconclusive conflict, yielding the war fatigue of today. Or how the beheading of U.S. journalists galvanized the country against the Islamic State, yet less than five months later, the frustrating nature of that fight is creating divisions at home. Jordan is a more vulnerable target because, unlike the U.S., it can be destabilized. For nearly a century Jordan has been a miracle of stability — an artificial geographic creation led by a British-imposed monarchy, it has enjoyed relative domestic peace and successful political transitions with just four rulers over four generations. Compared to Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, similarly created, Jordan is a wonder. But a fragile one. Its front-line troops and special forces are largely Bedouin. The Bedouin are the backbone of the Hashemite monarchy but they are a minority. Most of the population is non-indigenous Palestinians, to which have now been added 1.3 million Syrian refugees.
Most consequential, however, is the Muslim Brotherhood with its strong Jordanian contingent — as well as more radical jihadist elements, some sympathetic to the Islamic State. An estimated 1,500 Jordanians have already joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Others remain home, ready to rise when the time is right. The time is not right today. Jordanian anger is white hot. But the danger is that as the Jordanians attack — today by air, tomorrow perhaps on the ground — they risk a drawn-out engagement that could drain and debilitate the regime, one of the major bulwarks against radicalism in the entire region.
We should be careful what we wish for. Americans worship at the shrine of multilateralism. President Obama’s Islamic State strategy is to create a vast coalition with an Arab/Kurdish vanguard and America leading from behind with air power. The coalition is allegedly 60 strong. (And doing what?) Despite administration boasts, the involvement of the Arab front line — Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates — has been minimal and symbolic. In fact, we’ve just now learned that the UAE stopped flying late last year. The Obama policy has not fared terribly well. Since the policy was launched, the Islamic State has doubled its Syrian domain. It’s hard to see a Jordanian-Saudi force succeeding where Iraq’s Shiite militias, the Iraqi military, the Kurds, and U.S. airpower have thus far failed.
What’s missing, of course, are serious boots on the ground, such as Syria’s once-ascendant non-jihadist rebels, which Obama contemptuously dismissed and allowed to wither. And the Kurds, who are willing and able to fight, yet remain scandalously undersupplied by this administration. Missing most of all is Turkey. It alone has the size and power to take on the Islamic State. But doing so would strengthen, indeed rescue, Turkey’s primary nemesis, the Iranian-backed Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus. Turkey’s price for entry was an American commitment to help bring down Assad. Obama refused. So Turkey sits it out. Why doesn’t Obama agree? Didn’t he say that Assad must go? The reason is that Obama dares not upset Assad’s patrons, the Iranian mullahs, with whom Obama dreams of concluding a grand rapprochement.
For Obama, this is his ticket to Mt. Rushmore. So in pursuit of his Nixon-to-China Iran fantasy, Obama eschews Turkey, our most formidable potential ally against both the Islamic State and Assad. What’s Obama left with? Fragile front-line Arab states, like Jordan. But even they are mortified by Obama’s blind pursuit of détente with Tehran, which would make the mullahs hegemonic over the Arab Middle East. Hence the Arabs, the Saudis especially, hold back from any major military commitment to us. Jordan, its hand now forced by its pilot’s murder, may now bravely sally forth on its own. But at great risk and with little chance of ultimate success.
Michael Weiss & Michael Pregent
Daily Beast, Feb. 2, 2015
It was August 2007, and General David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, was angry. In his weekly report to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Petraeus wrote: “I am considering telling the President that I believe Iran is, in fact, waging war on the U.S. in Iraq, with all of the U.S. public and governmental responses that could come from that revelation. … I do believe that Iran has gone beyond merely striving for influence in Iraq and could be creating proxies to actively fight us, thinking that they can keep us distracted while they try to build WMD and set up [the Mahdi Army] to act like Lebanese Hezbollah in Iraq.” There was no question there and then on the ground in Iraq that Iran was a very dangerous enemy. There should not be any question about that now, either. And the failure of the Obama administration to come to grips with that reality is making the task of defeating the so-called Islamic State more difficult—indeed, more likely to be impossible—every day.
There are lessons to be learned from the experience of the last decade, and of the last fortnight, but what is far from clear is whether Washington, or the American public, is likely to accept them because they imply much greater American re-engagement in the theater of battle. As a result, what we’ve seen is behavior like the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the desert sand, pretending this disaster just isn’t happening. But at a minimum we should be clear about the basic facts. In Iraq and Syria, as we square off against ISIS, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend, he is our enemy, too. In 2007, there were 180,000 American troops in Iraq. Under Petraeus’s oversight, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the elite forces responsible for hunting terrorists around the world, was divided into two task forces. Task Force 16 went after al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that eventually would spawn ISIS, while Task Force 17 was dedicated to “countering Iranian influence,” chiefly by killing or capturing members of Iraq’s Shia militias—though in some cases, it even arrested operatives of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) who were arming and supervising those militias’ guerrilla warfare against coalition troops.
At one point, in the summer of 2007, Petraeus concluded that the Mahdi Army, headed by the Shiite demagogue Muqtada al-Sadr, posed a greater “hindrance to long-term security in Iraq” than al Qaeda did. As recounted in The Endgame, Michael Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor’s magisterial history of the Second Iraq War, two-thirds of all American casualties in Iraq in July 2007 were incurred by Shiite militias. Weapons known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, were especially effective against the U.S. forces. They were Iranian designed and constructed roadside bombs that, when detonated, became molten copper projectiles able to cut through the armor on tanks and other vehicles, maiming or killing the soldiers inside. So it came as a surprise to many veterans of the war when Secretary of State John Kerry, asked in December what he made of the news that Iran was conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, suggested “the net effect is positive.” Similarly, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey—formerly the commander of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad—told reporters last month, “As long as the Iraqi government remains committed to inclusivity of all the various groups inside the country, then I think Iranian influence will be positive.” Whatever the Iraqi government says it is committed to, “inclusiveness” is not what’s happening on the ground.
Iran’s influence in Iraq since ISIS sacked Mosul last June has resulted in a wave of sectarian bloodletting and dispossession against the country’s Sunni minority population, usually at the hands of Iranian-backed Shia militia groups, but sometimes with the active collusion of the Iraq’s internal security forces. Indeed, just as news was breaking last week that ISIS’s five-month siege on the Syrian-Turkish border town Kobane finally had been broken, Reuters reported that in Iraq’s Diyala province at least 72 “unarmed Iraqis” —all Sunnis—were “taken from their homes by men in uniform; heads down and linked together, then led in small groups to a field, made to kneel, and selected to be shot one by one.” Stories such as these out of Iraq have been frequent albeit under-publicized and reluctantly acknowledged (if at all) by Washington both before and after Operation Inherent Resolve got underway against ISIS.
For instance, 255 Sunni prisoners were executed by Shia militias and their confederates in the government’s internal security forces between June 9 and mid-July, according to Human Rights Watch. Eight of the victims were boys below the age of 18. “Sunnis are a minority in Baghdad, but they’re the majority in our morgue,” a doctor working at Iraq’s Health Ministry, told HRW at the end of July. Three forensic pathologists found that most of the victims in Baghdad were shot clean through the head, their bodies often left casually where they were killed. “The numbers have only increased since Mosul,” one doctor said. On August 22, 2014, the Musab Bin Omair mosque in Diyala—the same province where last week’s alleged executions occurred—was raided by officers of the security forces and militants of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of the Righteous), which slaughtered 34 people, according to HRW. Marie Harf, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said at the time: “This senseless attack underscores the urgent need for Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum to take the necessary steps that will help unify the country against all violent extremist groups.”
Since then, however, U.S. warplanes have provided indirect air support to Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist entity, both of which were at the vanguard of the troops that ended ISIS’s months-long siege of Amerli, a Shia Turkomen town of about 15,000, in November 2014. These militias have also been seen and photographed or videoed operating U.S. Abrams tanks and armored vehicles intended for Iraq’s regular army, which means that there are now two terrorist organization, Sunni ISIS and Kataib Hezbollah, armed with heavy-duty American weapons of war. The Hezbollah-ization of Iraq’s military and security forces has been overseen by the IRGC-QF, another U.S.-designated terrorist entity, which is headed by Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, a man personally sanctioned by the Treasury Department for his role in propping up Bashar al Assad’s mass murderous regime in Syria. Suleimani is the same Iranian operative Petraeus once called “evil” because of his well-documented role orchestrating attacks on U.S. servicemen. The most notorious episode happened in Karbala in 2007—in a raid that was carried out by Asaib Ahl al-Haq and resulted in the death of five G.I.s One of the founders of this militia and a main perpetrator of the attack, Qais al Khazali, was captured by coalition forces and subsequently released in a prisoner swap for a British hostage in 2009. Today, al Khazali moves freely around Iraq, dressed in battle fatigues, commanding Asaib militants…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Kenneth M. Pollack
New York Times, Feb. 4, 2015
In Iraq, the good news always seems to come mixed with bad. The good news right now is largely on the military front. Iraqi, Kurdish and American forces appear to be turning the tide against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. American air operations have inflicted heavy losses on the group — killing its fighters, destroying its equipment, disrupting its command and impeding its movements. As a result, the Islamic State is more and more on the defensive. It has not made any significant conquests since the summer. During the past month, it mounted a major offensive in western Anbar Province but achieved only modest gains.
American military officials in Iraq tell me they are confident that a smaller, revamped Iraqi Army will be ready to begin big operations to retake Iraq from the Islamic State in the next four to eight months. Kurdish and Iraqi forces have largely secured Baghdad and its environs, made gains in the cities of Baiji and Samarra, cut off the road by which the Islamic State was supporting its garrison in Mosul from its base in Syria, and are encroaching on Mosul itself. In six to 18 months, the Islamic State may be driven out of Iraq altogether. That would seem to be a good thing — a stunning reversal from just six months ago, when the Islamic State swept across northern Iraq like a juggernaut.
The problem is that political progress in Iraq has not kept pace with the military campaign. In fact, political reconciliation between the Sunni and Shiite communities is at a standstill. A military victory under these circumstances could turn into a “catastrophic success.” Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite communities are captive to the mistrust from the 2006-8 civil war, inflamed by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s violent treatment of the Sunnis from 2010 to 2014 and the subsequent Sunni embrace of the Islamic State. The government’s security forces, both army and police, are overwhelmingly Shiite. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has done a heroic job replacing many Shiite loyalists and political hacks at the top of the military chain of command with more competent officers, including many Sunnis. But the enlisted ranks and junior officers remain disproportionately Shiite. On top of that, many of Iraq’s recent conquests were won by Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The government does not like to admit it, but these Shiite militias often lead Iraqi attacks and form the backbone of their defenses.
In these circumstances, offensive operations into the Sunni heartland — Anbar, Nineveh and Salah al-Din Provinces — could be disastrous. The Sunni populace is terrified by reports of Shiite troops and militiamen conducting brutal ethnic cleansing operations. Without a new power-sharing agreement, promises that they will not be mistreated, and a program for reconstruction, the Sunnis may well see Iraqi government forces (and even the Kurds) not as liberators, but as a conquering Shiite army. If that is the case, they will defend the Islamic State and, even if it is defeated, resist the Shiite forces. Military victory would not end the slow-burning Iraqi civil war, but inflame it. Unfortunately, there is little prospect that the Iraqis will reach a reconciliation to avert the danger of catastrophic success on their own. Mr. Abadi is a good man in a difficult position. He understands the importance of political reconciliation, but he is badly constrained in his ability to deliver. Many of the most important Shiite leaders oppose reconciliation because they distrust the Sunnis. Others will block anything Mr. Abadi does so that they can undermine him and take his place. Mr. Abadi is further constrained by Iran, which seems interested in reconciliation, but only on its own terms.
For its part, the Sunni leadership is fragmented as a result of Mr. Maliki’s campaign against it. Many Shiite leaders shrug off calls for compromise with the Sunnis by claiming that they have no strong, legitimate Sunni partner to bargain with. Yet the government isn’t doing enough to help unify them. Despite Baghdad’s claims to the contrary, there has been little outreach to the Sunni tribes. The Iraqis are not going to solve these problems by themselves. Someone is going to have to help them. That someone can only be the United States. The United States still retains credibility with Iraqis because we pulled off the same feat in 2008, pacifying Iraq militarily and setting it on a path toward political stability (if only after our disastrous mistakes, which pushed Iraq into civil war in the first place). We are the only country that can do the job, and we need to do it, or Iraq will unravel again and President Obama’s judicious decision to recommit to Iraq will be for naught…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Prof. Hillel Frisch
BESA, Feb. 5, 2015
The Islamic State’s beheadings not only make for gruesome headlines, they also influence emotionally the leaders of important states where reason rather than emotion should prevail. To counter the jihadists for their beheadings, the United States and its allies, as they wage an aerial bombing campaign against the Islamic State (formerly ISIS), are equally busy appeasing Iran, which they believe erroneously is on their side against the Sunni Jihadist movements. This is unfortunate for while the jihadists have effectively been contained, as the IS withdrawal from Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish town on the Turkish-Syrian border demonstrates after nearly five months of trying to overrun the town, Iran has been scoring major regional gains. It does so through its proxies, the Shiite Ansar al-Islam, better known as the Huthis, in Yemen and through Hizballah in Lebanon. Both these movements are no less fanatical and brutal than their jihadist rivals. The Huthis’ official slogan is “Death to America, Death to the Jews.”
In Yemen, the Huthis after taking over San’a, the capital and most of the country, imposed a three week siege on the presidential palace which forced the elected President’s abdication. They have now given political parties a three day moratorium to meet their demands without making any concessions of their own. A blood bath is in the offing after which Iran’s reach will include not only the Hormuz straits but Bal al-Mandab, the narrow straits between Yemen and east Africa through which 14 per cent of the world’s energy flows and a major international artery of trade to the Suez canal. In Lebanon, Hizballah is extending its reach deep into the Lebanese army as the latter becomes increasingly embroiled in the fight against the Jihadist groups, mainly Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qa’ida affiliate. The growing alliance between the militia and the army under the Iranian mantle, which has included high-ranking and high profile visits of leading Iranian politicians, diplomats and military advisors to Lebanon and its army over the past several months, has emboldened Hizballah to explore the possibilities of opening a second Shiite front against Israel from Syrian controlled Golan Heights. Its leader Nasrallah threatens to strike against Israel that would include an attempt to wrest territory in the Galilee in the north of Israel.
Nasrallah has hardly contained his threats to the Israeli front. In another speech, he threatened the small Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain that lethal squads could infiltrate the country and create extensive havoc if its suppression of the Shiite majority and arrest of Shiite political leaders continue. Bahrain’s Sunni Kingdom has faced a strong, often violent Shiite opposition since the outbreak of the Arab Spring four years ago, which it has suppressed with the help of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, all of which are Sunni. Nasrallah, following in the footsteps of several Iranian leaders, has also accused the beleaguered Kingdom of naturalizing Sunni Pakistanis and Afghanis, many of whom are members of its security forces, in a bid to transform the Sunni minority that rules the country into a majority. These gains, the takeover of Yemen, which from the vantage point of Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf States, is the second Arab state after Iraq to fall under Iran’s control, and its increasing hold on Lebanon, would not have been possible had Iran not been emboldened itself by the feeling that its expansion on both the military nuclear program as well as its increasing regional reach is being met by a West which appeases Iran rather than confronts it.
Instead of pressuring Iran, President Obama has vociferously objected to attempts in the Congress to increase sanctions in anticipation of the June deadline in coming to an agreement over the nuclear issue and Department of State Secretary Cary has had several high-profile meetings with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Zarif characterized as fruitful and cordial. What else then could Iranian leaders think after endless negotiations with Iran during which Iran develops its military nuclear capabilities? How could it think otherwise as the United States continues its drone attacks against al-Qa’ida and allying Sunni tribes in Yemen? US policy of appeasing Iran and its allies makes no sense. In Iraq and Syria it may be attacking the Islamic State, but in appeasing Iran, it is driving moderate Sunni states and tribes in Iraq and Yemen to ally with same Jihadists they are attacking. This policy of appeasement towards Iran is seemingly justified by a wider doctrine that the US has to retrench from overextending military engagements that characterized the previous decade by balancing “offshore” between Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the major regional players in the area, irrespective of the degree of friendship these actors display towards the US. The promoters of this doctrine argue that these actors will constrain each other to produce a modicum of stability at little to no expense to US blood or treasure. The doctrine might have theoretical appeal, but it is hardly realistic, principally because two of the actors, Iran and Turkey have imperial ambitions based on imperial pasts and a radical theocratic outlook. This is especially true of Iran.
Iran’s eventual nuclear breakout and its growing regional reach through vicious proxies can only destabilize the region through nuclear proliferation. The propensity for existing oil states to bandwagon with Iran, may enable Iran to control most of the world’s oil resources – to the detriment of vital United States and European interests. Moreover, there is a danger that a state like Saudi Arabia going nuclear could fall under the Jihadists. United States policy should change course in two significant ways. First, give primacy to meeting the Iranian threat by confronting it rather than appeasing its leaders. Second, let Iran confront the Jihadist problem rather than free-ride at the United States’ expense. Despite the beheadings, Western interests would be better served if the Jihadists in Iraq and Syria turned into Iran’s Vietnam, the costs of which would force the Iranians to abandon its nuclear military program and bring an end to its bid for regional hegemony that would only spread mayhem in the region.
Israel Bolsters Ties to Jordan as ISIS Looms: Elise Labott & Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Feb. 6, 2015—The crucial security relationship between Jordan and Israel is gaining new meaning after the brutal execution of a Jordanian pilot at the hands of ISIS.
Militants’ Killing of Jordanian Pilot Unites the Arab World in Anger: Rod Nordland & Anne Barnard, New York Times, Feb. 4, 2015 —There was one sentiment that many of the Middle East’s competing clerics, fractious ethnic groups and warring sects could agree on Wednesday: a shared sense of revulsion at the Islamic State’s latest atrocity, burning alive a Jordanian pilot inside a cage.
How Making Nice With Tehran Boosts ISIS: Ahmad El Assaad, New York Post, Feb. 8, 2014—Take it from me, a leader of a Lebanese political party and a Shia Muslim: The supposedly Shiite regime in Iran is a bully, and repeated failures to stand up to it play into the hands of Sunni extremists.
ISIS Barbarians Face Their Own Internal Reign of Terror: Jamie Dettmer, Daily Beast, Feb. 6, 2014—The internal bloodletting among ISIS factions has begun, and could get much worse.
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