Thursday, March 12, 2015

Iraq Sidelines US in Tikrit Offensive Amidst Accusations US is Arming ISIL

Iraqi Success in Tikrit, Leaves Washington on the Sidelines

A mostly successful offensive has been waged to drive out ISIL from the Iraqi city of Tikrit, spearheaded by the Iraqi army and Iranian backed militias, representing a bright spot in the campaign to eradicate the ISIL insurgency from Iraq. 

“Iraqi forces raised the national flag over a number of landmarks in Tikrit, working with Iran-backed Shiite militias to chip away at Islamic State’s once firm grip on the strategically important Sunni city” (WSJ, 3/12/15)

According to US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, there were present in the offensive “approximately 1,000 Sunni tribal fighters, 3,000 Iraqi Security Force members and 20,000 Shiite militiamen-whom he described as “Iranian-trained and somewhat Iranian-equipped.””

Gen. Dempsey went on to state that “he was certain the Iraqi security forces and allied militias would be able to retake Tikrit,” however there is something that the General, and the United States in general, is worried about, “[Dempsey] added that the U.S. was concerned about how Iran and the Shiite militias would use their influence in the aftermath.”

The truth is that Gen. Dempsey and the US are actually concerned over the fact that Baghdad had not asked US support for the offensive, instead relying on their own forces and help from neighboring Iran. 

“The United States says Baghdad did not seek aerial backup from the coalition in the Tikrit campaign. Instead, support on the ground has come from neighboring Iran, Washington's long-time rival in the region. Tehran has sent an elite Revolutionary Guard commander to oversee part of the battle.” (Reuters, 3/11/15)

The growing influence of Iran and the increased cooperation between Iran and Iraq worries the United States, as well as does the joint Sunni-Shiite cooperation in a country whose sectarian divides are a result of the US-led invasion and subsequent policies; further Sunni-Shia and Iranian-Iraqi cooperation are anathema to the US which seeks to limit Iranian influence in the region while increasing its own.  If continued successes are made by the Iraqi army and Iranian-backed militias without the aid of the US aerial bombings the US could see itself fully pushed out from the subsequent offensive to retake Mosul, likely to occur after Tikrit and surrounding cities are fully cleared of ISIL forces.

This rejection of US inclusion by Iraq represents the growing mistrust that senior Iraqi officials have towards the US-led efforts against the ISIL militants, concerns they have been voicing for quite some time now.

Iraqi Authorities Claim US is Arming ISIL

In October of 2014, a video was uploaded to YouTube which showed an airdrop of US weapons in the hands of ISIL militants.  The Pentagon would claim that “one of those bundles drifted off course,” saying that the weapons ending up in ISIL hands was a blunder. 

In November of 2014, the head of Iraq’s security and defense committee claimed that “Some countries are delivering weapons to ISIS by using airplanes in Tel Afar airport, near Mosul,” without naming which countries. 

Later that month, Asia News Agency and Fars News Agency reported that Iraqi intelligence was claiming the US was supplying ISIL forces “The Iraqi intelligence sources reiterated that the US military planes have airdropped several aid cargoes for ISIL terrorists to help them resist the siege laid by the Iraqi army, security and popular forces,” the report quoted an Iraqi security source who stated that “What is important is that the US sends these weapons to only those that cooperate with the Pentagon and this indicates that the US plays a role in arming the ISIL.”

In January of this year Iraqi MP Majid al-Ghraoui said “The information that has reached us in the security and defense committee indicates that an American aircraft dropped a load of weapons and equipment to the ISIS group militants at the area of al-Dour in the province of Salahuddin.”  The MP also noted that this was not an isolated occurrence, “This incident is continuously happening and has also occurred in some other regions.”  Providing a reasoning behind this US assistance to ISIL Ghraoui added, “The U.S. is trying to obtain more benefits and privileges from the government to set military bases in Iraq.”

Commenting on this incident, Professor Tim Anderson of the University of Sydney noted “Photos were published of ISIS retrieving the weapons. The US admitted the seizure but said this was a ‘mistake’.”

In February of this year Iraqi MP Hakem al-Zameli said that Iraq’s army had shot down two British planes that were carrying weapons for ISIL, “The Iraqi Parliament's National Security and Defense Committee has access to the photos of both planes that are British and have crashed while they were carrying weapons for the ISIL… There are proofs and evidence for the US-led coalition's military aid to ISIL terrorists through air(dropped cargoes)… The US drops weapons for the ISIL on the excuse of not knowing about the whereabouts of the ISIL positions and it is trying to distort the reality with its allegations,” al-Zameli said.

Another member of the Iraqi parliament Jome Divan stated that “The international coalition is only an excuse for protecting the ISIL and helping the terrorist group with equipment and weapons,” adding that “The coalition has not targeted ISIL's main positions in Iraq.”

MP Majid al-Gharawi said that the coalition led by the US is “not serious in fighting against the ISIL organization, because they have the technological power to determine the presence of ISIL gunmen and destroy them in one month."  Iraqi lawmaker Nahlah al-Hababi also stated “The international coalition is not serious about air strikes on ISIL terrorists and is even seeking to take out the popular (voluntary) forces from the battlefield against the Takfiris so that the problem with ISIL remains unsolved in the near future.  The ISIL terrorists are still receiving aids from unidentified fighter jets in Iraq and Syria.”

Also in February, an Iraqi militia called Al-Hashad Al-Shabi shot down a US Army helicopter they claimed was carrying weapons for ISIL in parts of Al-Anbar province.  Photos were again published of the downed aircraft.

In March, Iraqi news agencies published reports which stated that the Iraqi army had arrested four ISIL military advisors, three of them having American and Israeli passports, the fourth being from a Persian Gulf Arab state.

Iran-Iraq Relations at a High Point

Given this, it is not hard to see why Iraq had not asked for US assistance in their push into Tikrit, and instead have employed the help of Iran.  This skepticism towards US sincerity in fighting ISIL and subsequent closer coordination with Iran is what Gen. Dempsey was concerned about when he said the US was worried over “how Iran and the Shiite militias would use their influence in the aftermath.”

As Professor Tim Anderson has pointed out “The head of the US military, General Martin Dempsey, has been sitting in Baghdad twiddling his thumbs. If this [Tikrit] operation is successful, Iraq with Iranian support can do the same for Mosul. Dempsey and John Kerry are trying to put a brave face on not being needed, but the Saudis and Washington pundits are having anxiety attacks. Expect a lot more finger wagging about Baghdad ‘inflaming sectarian tensions’, and accusations of Iranian hegemony. All rubbish. Remember this comes from the main instigators of sectarian bloodbaths and the worst of all hegemons. For the peoples of the Middle East a more independent Iraq and good neighbourly relations between Iran, Iraq and Syria is a light in the darkness.”

Elucidating further on these developments, the Professor adds in a recent article that “Closer cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is anathema to Israel, the Saudis and Washington, yet it is happening. This is not a sectarian divide but rather based on some clear mutual interests, not least putting an end to sectarian (takfiri) terrorism.

“It was only logical that, in the Iraqi military’s recent offensive on ISIS-held Tikrit, the Iranian military emerged as Iraq’s main partner. Washington has been sidelined, causing consternation in the US media. General Qasem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force is a leading player in the Tikrit operation.  A decade after Washington’s ‘creative destruction’ plans, designed to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq, an article in Foreign Policy magazine complains that Iran’s influence is ‘at its highest point in almost four centuries’.”

If the Americans had wanted to increase their influence in the region, perhaps they should have thought about employing mutually beneficial policies towards Iraq rather than inciting sectarian hatred, and as well should have listened to their own citizens who have been speaking out against the long-standing US policy of arming Sunni-jihadi-extremists as a geopolitical weapon against their enemies.

[UPDATE 3/13/15]

Updates on the recent offensive described above, which according to reports has continued successfully with the Iraqi-led coalition liberating several other key areas since the publication of this report, suggest that forecasts for victory in the effort to push ISIL out of Tikrit entirely remain very positive.  However, on par with Iraqi parliamentarian skepticism regarding US sincerity in fighting ISIL in the region, also described above, a new development has come that adds more fuel to that fire.

Iraqi MP Hanan al-Fatlawi has claimed that an airstrike conducted by the US-led coalition has indiscriminately killed Iraqi soldiers.  Iraqi News has quoted Fatlawi as stating that as many as 50 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the US-led strike in Anbar province, while Alalam has quoted Fatlawi as stating that 26 soldiers were killed, and Haidar al-Fuadi as saying that 50 soldiers have been killed.  The US coalition spokesman has denied these reports, saying that none of their strikes has resulted in friendly casualties.

The airstrike occurred near Anbar's provincial capital city Ramadi, which is a ways away from the Tikrit offensive where the Iraqi army is making significant gains.  However, as Iraqi forces, absent the participation of US airstrikes, continue to succeed in their offensive in Tikrit, one wonders if this US-led airstrike in Anbar was either deliberate or a mistaken act of 'collateral damage'.

MP al-Fatlawi is quoted as saying that "This was not the first time, other bombings by the coalitions have occurred in many areas and targeted the Army and the Volunteer Fighters elements." (emphasis mine)  Fatlawi has demanding the government and Parliament “take a stand on the bombing,” urging them to “make up for the dead and wounded’s families,” and has called for a full investigation into the incident.

Fatlawi is thus directly implicating the US-coalition in targeting the Iraqi army, just as the Iraqi's, with the help of Iranian-backed forces, are making significant progress against ISIL in areas like Tikrit.  Given the evidence and widespread accusations by senior Iraqi officials that US-coalition airplanes have been directly aiding the ISIL militants for some time now, also described in the above report, it would be wise to not outright dismiss MP Fatlawi's accusations, and instead  to take his claims very seriously.

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