On the front line against ISIS


Scott Atran and ARTIS Research report: According to discussions with U.S. military commanders in Iraq, plans to retake Mosul call for eight to 12 combat brigades (up to 50,000 soldiers or so). These troops would outnumber the estimated ISIS force in Mosul by more than 5 to 1. But unless there is fighting spirit and coordination in the Iraqi Army from the squad level on up, the troops won’t be enough.

It may be wishful thinking to believe that U.S. advisors will make the “massive difference” that some “Iraq experts” suggest. As retired army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis writes in The National Interest: “It is clear that the problems with the Iraqi Army’s disintegration in 2014 when confronted with ISIS, and the conditions affecting the future battle for Mosul, go far deeper than anything a handful of U.S. military advisors are going to solve.”

From the road connecting Makhmour to Aliawa we can see the camp for the Iraqi Army’s 15th Division being set up for the advance on Mosul. Currently designed for 4,500 soldiers, it will likely grow.

ISIS targets the camp frequently. At dawn on March 15, ISIS took advantage of fog and rain to launch a suicide attack. Three ISIS inghamasi rushed the gate; two were killed before reaching it; a third blew himself up at the gate, wounding four soldiers.

At dawn on March 21, five inghamasi died on their way to the camp along with two Iraqi soldiers. General Najat Ali, the Peshmerga commander of the Makhmour front, said that he had warned about the camp’s unsafe location and vulnerability to ISIS attacks. And they keep coming without apparent regard for risk or cost. “They are brave and they fight without calculation,” said one Kurdish communist fighter who fought alongside Peshmerga at Kudilah, but who is usually with the PKK.

He told us that he often hears Shia songs at the camp. “That’s not a good sign of things to come,” he said, because there would be conflict between Shia and Sunni Arabs who some suspect of giving inside information to ISIS, although the few Shia and Sunni Arab soldiers our research team interviewed from the camp deny this is so. The PKK fighter also reminded us that the Sunni Arabs in Mosul initially supported al Qaeda against the Americans, and welcomed ISIS with open arms as a way of taking power back from the Shia, whose installation in power they still blame on the U.S. [Continue reading…]

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