Saturday, June 14, 2014

Head Fake?

Is al Qaeda really planning to drive on Baghdad with their apparently tiny force?

It's embarassing that Iraq's army in the north around Mosul just collapsed. But small aggressive forces have smashed larger ill-trained and demoralized armies before.

But unless the jihadis gained lots of enthusiastic jihadi and Baathist recruits to bolster their ranks, I don't see how they mount a credible drive on the Iraqi capital.

The Iraqis do seem to be stiffening:

A Sunni Islamist offensive threatening to dismember Iraq seemed to slow on Saturday after days of lightning advances as government forces reported regaining territory in counter-attacks, easing pressure on Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government.

We'll see if the Iraqis can hold the line and then drive north (and keep in mind the Iraqis still need to cope with the jihadi gains in Anbar made in January) as the Iraqi army regroups.

But if this news is accurate, it doesn't look like the al Qaeda guys in Iraq are focused on further advances. At least not in Iraq:

Sunni Islamists who have surged out of north Iraq to menace Baghdad and want to establish their own medieval-style state spanning Iraq and Syria, have moved weapons into eastern Syria.

"Our people saw weapons on the road in Syria," he said.

Photos posted on social media by ISIL supporters also appear to show military equipment, including American Humvee patrol cars, being moved.

Reuters cannot confirm they were taken into Syria but the supporters say they were driven across the frontier.

If this was a planned assault to ultimately move on Baghdad, I'd expect the jihadis to use new recruits and seized weapons and supplies to continue the drive south--not dispatch the arms and equipment to Syria.

UPDATE: While this article says Assad might be one winner (the other being Syrian jihadis, obviously) out of the Iraq crisis by undermining Western resolve to arm non-jihadi Syrian rebels, I think the lesson should be the opposite.

After all, much of the hesitation to arm non-jihadis has been the fear that jihadis will get some of the arms and use them in a terrorist attack.

My view has been that the jihadis have had no problem getting arms thus far in the revolution and so our refusal to send arms to non-jihadi rebels just makes the non-jihadi rebels the least equipped side in this fight.

The Iraq crisis reinforces this. Jihadis found another way to get arms--looting Iraqi armories.

By all means, don't send anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian rebels. I think they can live without them. And those are the only really unique weapons that the jihadis can't seem to get.

But the worry that we might be a significant source of weapons for jihadis if we arm non-jihadis is misplaced.