Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

As we worry about Iran's efforts to entrench their influence in Iraq by sponsoring Iraqi Shia militias, I noted that using these militias as shock troops against ISIL could kill two birds with one stone. So far, so good.

The militias Iran has formed to spearhead the assault on Tikrit have been enduring rather heavy casualties:

After two days of little activity on the battlefield, Iraq’s interior minister, Mohammed al-Ghabban, confirmed Monday that the offensive has “temporarily stopped.” The steady flow of coffins arriving in Iraq’s Shiite holy city of Najaf suggests a reason for the pause; cemetery workers say as many as 60 war dead have been arriving each day....

The cemetery’s reception office has recorded 127 battlefield deaths since the start of the Tikrit offensive at the beginning of the month. But that does not include numbers for the largest Shiite militias — the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades — which record their figures separately. ...

“Between all the main four washing stations, it’s now around 40 to 60 martyrs from Tikrit a day,” said one manager, Fadl al-Zubaidi. Just a smattering are from the army, he said; most victims are Shiite volunteers or members of the Shiite militias that are spearheading the fight.

The article says this does not bode well for the more complicated task of taking Mosul. I disagree.

The Tikrit offensive has 20,000 Shia militia backed by 4,000 Iraqi troops. The Iranian-led Iraqi militias are using Pasdaran "scream and leap" approaches from the Iran-Iraq War, it seems. We are attempting to train Iraqi regulars to fight with our air power. That's a big difference.

As I've noted about Iran's Syria efforts, our CIA would do well to put out propaganda praising the efforts of these militias, thanking Iran for leading them, and defending the glories of heavy casualties in the name of Allah.

If Arabs believe (rightly) that Iran is willing to fight to the last Arab, that can't hurt us, right?

I don't mean to be callous about our ally Iraq's losses, but too many inside Iraq aren't our allies and if they kill each other off while discrediting Iran, I'm not going to cry crocodile tears over them.

UPDATE: The top Shia cleric in Iraq--no friend of Iran's--has noted the blood-letting at Tikrit:

"(The) leaders must have more professional and correct military planning in advancing to liberate areas that remain under control of the criminal IS," Sistani's spokesman Sheikh Abdul Mehdi Karbala'i said during a Friday sermon.

He also wants more Sunni Arab participation with Iraqi forces.

And on the Iran threat, retired General Petraeus is on that:

I think Iraq and the coalition forces are making considerable progress against the Islamic State. In fact, I would argue that the foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran.

While he recognized the need for motivated militias to halt the ISIL advance, he understands that they are dangerous in the long run. That was my position post-Mosul:

So militias are always a potential problem in the long run. But in the short run you have to survive.

I've long considered the Shia factions backed by Iran to be the biggest threat (see here and here for example).

UPDATE: Strategypage says that the Iraqis aren't suffering heavy casualties:

American advisors say most Iraqi troops are not yet ready to handle large-scale urban warfare. The militias are trained for a more primitive style of combat that means taking a lot more casualties to advance. Iran has trained these guys to think of this as a religious war, of Shia against fanatic Sunnis who see Shia as heretics to be murdered on sight. Iran has trained the militia to see this as a very personal battle in which death is martyrdom and as much a reward as victory. The problem is that ISIL trains their people the same way so the U.S. (and many Iraqi Army commanders) expects an epic bloodbath made even more horrific by mass murder of Sunni civilians. Neither has occurred. ISIL did not put that many gunmen into harm’s way and the Iranian advisors taught the militiamen to at least be careful, cautious and keep moving forward. Iran has supplied artillery (usually rocket launchers) and some armored vehicles (plus mechanics to get Iraqi ones operational) and this has turned the Tikrit Offensive into a slow, boring but relatively bloodless operation.

I admit that was my impression at first--both my expectation of heavy casualties and then my surprise that the news didn't indicate heavy casualties--until I read that Washington Post article about heavy Iraqi militia casualties. What gives?