Friday, November 27, 2015

No Blitz, But It Is Krieg

The Iraqi offensive at Ramadi is actually making progress. We will see more progress.

It's been a long time coming, but the Iraqis do seem to be making progress toward taking Ramadi:

Security forces have been making progress in retaking Ramadi. Since September the city has been surrounded and troops have cleared ISIL forces out of more than half the city. There are about 5,000 ISIL gunmen in Anbar and that number appears to be declining. Several recent ISIL defeats in Syria and Iraq have been bad for morale and suddenly ISIL seems to have fewer people to send out to fight. ...

American and Iraqi officials have been insisting that Ramadi will be retaken by the end of the year. Such claims are often based on intel that is not available to the public. For a long time it was believed this was just wishful thinking but now the Iraqis are closing in and ISIL is not responding.

Like at Sinjar in the north, at Ramadi the ISIL forces don't appear to have the same devotion to fighting and dying as they once did.

As I noted here, it is good to see that ISIL jihadis are willing to retreat. Jihadis can be demoralized. Contrary to the notion that fighting jihadis just creates more jihadis, defeating them will discourage them, depress recruiting, and get them to run. The Strategypage post continues:

North of Mosul Kurdish and Yazidi forces drove ISIL out of Sinjar after a two day battle. Most of the 500 ISIL men defending the town fled as it became obvious that the attackers were surrounding the town and not taking prisoners. This lack of resistance was surprising especially when it was discovered the ISIL had dug over thirty tunnels under the town for their fighters to live in and fight from. ... While the Kurds mobilized and trained more fighters (including many Yazidi men) [to retake Sinjar] ISIL has been in decline. ISIL is not getting as many recruits, is suffering more desertions (despite executing those who try to leave) and ISIL morale and motivation has noticeably declined.

But at Ramadi, retreating is not as easy since the Iraqis spent time surrounding the city first, which this news reports:

Iraqi forces have cut Islamic State's last supply line into the western city of Ramadi by seizing a key bridge, Iraqi officials and a military officer said on Thursday.

The capture of Palestine Bridge, straddling the Euphrates river in northwestern Ramadi, means Iraqi forces have the city surrounded. They will now move to clear the city of the Sunni militants one neighborhood at a time.

So the situation around Ramadi is good. But unless there is some plan for a war of movement (as I've been hoping for and expecting from the Jordanians to the west), cleaning out Anbar province and moving on Mosul is going to take a very long time at this pace.

Yet the ground victory should happen. This is a good sign on that front (back to Strategypage):

North of Baghdad (Tikrit) soldiers and Shia militia repulsed an ISIL attack on two oilfields. This is increasingly common and it is now the exception when Iraqi troops flee contact with ISIL. It does still happen, but the government now allows officers to be punished for such failures of leadership.

This is also a good sign since Iraqi government forces need local Sunni Arabs to cooperate against ISIL:

In Anbar Iraqi special forces carried out an operation that rescued 220 civilians held hostage by ISIL. The hostages were from a pro-government Sunni tribe in the area and ISIL was holding the tribal members to coerce the tribe into not fighting with ISIL.

This is also good news for the long-term issue of blunting Iranian influence in Iraq and keeping Iraq as an asset in the war against jihadis:

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the head of the Iran backed Shia militias in Iraq said that if Iran ordered him to overthrow the Iraqi government he would do so. This confirms what Iraqi leaders have long feared. The Shia militias are supposed to be under the control of the Iraqi government, if only because the militia members are paid by the government. Yet the Shia militias often refuse orders from the government and are demanding more money while refusing to account for how they spend it. This sort of behavior is a major reason why the Iraqi government is so cooperative with the Americans since Iran is now seen as a greater threat than ISIL.

I've certainly been concerned that Iran would gain influence in Iraq. But I was never unduly worried--as long as we gave Iraqis an alternative to risking domination by dangerous and non-Arab Persians (despite the common Shia religious bond).

Despite my worries that it is taking so long to defeat ISIL in Iraq, the silver lining is that Iran has had the time to show their true colors. Iran has fanboys in the militias (as Iran had with that walking piece of breathing garbage Moqtada al-Sadr during the Iraq War insurgencies phase), but the government knows not to trust Iran or their militias who would replicate Hezbollah in Lebanon if they can.

So Iraq will need to tame and dismantle the militias loyal to Iran after ISIL is defeated. We need to help with this rather than (again) walking away before the job is completed.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi government also mistrusts the Kurds, which hampers cooperation. That will be more critical when ISIL-held Mosul is the objective. Fortunately, we have a lot of influence with the Kurds. So both sides need us and we can use this to keep either side from doing anything too counter-productive.

Do read all of Strategypage's post, which covers a lot of ground.

I've long had confidence that we could beat ISIL in Iraq. Even after the initial thrust into the north, I expressed my confidence that the Iraqi government could hold Baghdad and prevent a complete ISIL victory. As time goes on, the balance of forces has been shifting in favor of the Iraqi forces and their allies.

And now that balance is starting to show on the ground in Iraq.