Obama’s emerging de facto alliance with Assad

The Daily Beast reports: There’s a battle raging inside the Obama administration about whether the United States ought to push away from its goal of toppling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and into a de facto alliance with the Damascus regime to fight ISIS and other Sunni extremists in the region.

As President Obama slowly but surely increases the U.S. military presence on the ground in Iraq, his administration is grappling with the immediate need to stop the ISIS advance and push for a political solution in Baghdad. The 3 1/2-year grinding civil war is Syria has been put on a back burner for now. Some officials inside the administration are proposing that the drive to remove Assad from power, which Obama announced as U.S. policy in 2012, be set aside, too. The focus, these officials argue, should instead be on the region’s security and stability. Governments fighting for survival against extremists should be shored up, not undermined.

“Anyone calling for regime change in Syria is frankly blind to the past decade; and the collapse of eastern Syria, and growth of Jihadistan, leading to 30 to 50 suicide attacks a month in Iraq,” one senior Obama administration official who works on Iraq policy told The Daily Beast.

In effect, the American government has been in a limited partnership with the Assad regime for almost a year. The U.S., Russian, and Syrian governments made a deal last September to destroy Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons—and relied on Damascus to account for and transport those weapons, in effect legitimizing his claim to continued power.

As far back as last December, top White House officials, including Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, have suggested that the rising threat of extremism was creating a “convergence of interests” between the U.S., Russia, and its allies in the Iranian and the Syrian governments to come to a political deal before the Islamists became too powerful.

“The Russians have a profound interest in avoiding the emergence of an extremist Syria, a haven for extremist groups,” Blinken said at the time. “Many of Syria’s neighbors have the same incentive, and of course we have a strong reason to want to avoid that future.”

But the view that Assad can somehow be a partner of any kind is vigorously disputed by other senior U.S. officials, especially those who work or have worked on Syria policy. They say the problem of extremism in the region can only be solved by removing Assad from power. Not only is the Assad regime a magnet for terrorism, they argue, but Assad and the extremists inside Syria are working together.

“The people who think Bashar al Assad’s regime is the answer to containing and eventually eliminating the Islamic-based threat do not understand the historic relationship between the regime and ISIS. [They] don’t understand the current relationship between Assad and ISIS and how they are working on the ground together directly and indirectly inside Syria,” Robert Ford, the recently departed U.S. ambassador to Syria, told The Daily Beast. “The people who think Assad’s regime survival is essential have not explained how his survival would solve the problem of extremism in Syria.” [Continue reading...]


ISIS and the strategy of managed savagery

Management of Savagery, by Abu Bakr Naji has been described as “al-Qaeda’s playbook.” Although ISIS (often referred to by its adversaries as Da’ish) has ideological differences with al Qaeda and should not be viewed as an affiliate of the older jihadist group, Alastair Crooke believes that Naji’s text outlines the strategy which ISIS is now following in Iraq.

In 2006, in a review of jihadist theorists, Lawrence Wright wrote:

Naji writes in the dry, oddly temperate style that characterizes many Al Qaeda strategy studies. And, like all jihadi theorists, he embeds his analysis in the tradition of Ibn Taymiyya, the thirteenth-century Arab theologian whose ideas undergird the Salafi, or Wahhabi, tradition; bin Laden frequently refers to Ibn Taymiyya in his speeches. The remarks of bin Laden and Zawahiri play only a modest part in Naji’s work. Indeed, Naji is a more attentive reader of Western thinkers: the thesis of “The Management of Savagery” is drawn from the observation of the Yale historian Paul Kennedy, in his book “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” (1987), that imperial overreach leads to the downfall of empires.

Alastair Crooke now writes:

The term “management or administration of savagery,” a term detailed in Abu Bakr Naji’s treatise, in fact refers to that hiatus which occurs between the waning of one power and the consolidation of power of another. What is being assumed here is that a certain chaos will pertain, and that the disputed territory will be ravaged by violence as power oscillates back and forth between the “old” power and its incoming successor (the Islamic State).

In this period, according to its literature, the ISIS will have limited aims: achieving internal security and preserving it; fixing its frontiers; feeding the population; establishing Shariah and Islamic justice — and most importantly fixing the establishment of a “fighting society,” at all levels within the community.

According to The Management of Savagery, in this stage, security will require the elimination of spies and “deterring the hypocrites with proof and other means and forcing them to repress and conceal their hypocrisy, to hide their discouraged opinions, and to comply with those in authority, until their evil is put in check.” In short, we might expect that this will comprise ISIS’ aims for the coming period.

In other words, any move on Baghdad, which Da’ish insists will come, is unlikely to be imminent, but will have to wait until the area already seized is ‘secured’, and its frontiers controlled.

This phase also marks the “plundering the financial resources” for the purposes of the “project.” The implication here is that ISIS has as its aim eventually to become financially self-sufficient. Indeed, it clearly has been pursuing this objective in Syria (taking oil fields, seizing the arms warehouses of the SNC, and selling to Turks much of the industrial infrastructure of Aleppo and northern Syria).

This also suggests that, whilst ISIS is not presently contesting militarily the Peshmerga takeover in Kirkuk (with its substantial oil resources), it is only a matter of time before Da’ish seeks to acquire such an obvious source of funding – just as it has fought other jihadist groups in Syria for control of Raqa’a’s oil revenue.

But this second phase (administering the violent hiatus until the State is consolidated) — more ominously — signals the start of “massacring the enemy and making him frightened.” The literature underlines that anyone who has actually experienced conflict (in contrast to those who simply theorize about it) understands that slaughter and striking fear into the hearts of the enemy is in the nature of war.

The point is made by citing the Companions (of the Prophet) who “burned (people) with fire, even though it is odious, because they knew the effect of rough violence in times of need.”

The author of The Management of Savagery treatise bluntly states that there is no room for “softness”: “Softness” is the ingredient for failure: “our enemies will not be merciful to us, so it compels us to make them think one thousand times, before they dare attack us.”

It is here that we see the second key Zarqawrist notion: the reading given by ISIS to the military campaigns conducted by first Caliph. This “reading” highlights (and seeks to legitimize) the need to use “rough violence” during this period of hiatus, when Islamic power was not yet fully consolidated. It was a moment, following the death of the Prophet that several Arab tribes refused to pay Zakat to Abu Bakr (as they had earlier to the Prophet when he was alive), and held (in accordance with the prevailing Arab tradition) that their tribal allegiance to the Prophet naturally expired with the leader’s death. There followed the brutal Wars of the Ridda (or the Wars of Apostasy).

What is significant here, too, is the narrow construction placed on apostasy — a definition to which Da’ish adheres closely.

In sum, the beheadings and other violence practiced by ISIS are not some whimsical, crazed fanaticism, but a very deliberate, considered strategy. The military strategy pursued by ISIS in Iraq, too, is neither spontaneous nor some populist adventure, but rather reflects very professional well-prepared military planning. [Continue reading...]

While the re-creation of the caliphate is ISIS’s stated goal, its desire to establish an Islamic state and its declaration that it has already succeeded in accomplishing this goal, begs the question of how it envisions governance. If Naji serves as a reliable guide, it sounds as though the jihadists want to assert ideological control while handing over administrative responsibilities to hired employees.

Lawrence Wright writes:

Alone among Al Qaeda theorists, Naji briefly addresses whether jihadis are prepared to run a state should they succeed in toppling one. He quotes a colleague who posed the question “Assuming that we get rid of the apostate regimes today, who will take over the ministry of agriculture, trade, economics, etc.?” Beyond the simplistic notion of imposing a caliphate and establishing the rule of Islamic law, the leaders of the organization appear never to have thought about the most basic facts of government. What kind of economic model would they follow? How would they cope with unemployment, so rampant in the Muslim world? Where do they stand on the environment? Health care? The truth, as Naji essentially concedes, is that the radical Islamists have no interest in government; they are interested only in jihad. In his book, Naji breezily answers his friend as follows: “It is not a prerequisite that the mujahid movement has to be prepared especially for agriculture, trade, and industry. . . . As for the one who manages the techniques in each ministry, he can be a paid employee who has no interest in policy and is not a member of the movement or the party. There are many examples of that and a proper explanation would take a long time.”


ISIS seizes Syria’s largest oil field

The Wall Street Journal reports: Militants from the Sunni extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State have captured Syria’s largest oil field and now hold nearly half of the northeastern province of Deir-Ezzour after monthslong battles with other rebel factions, according to opposition activists, rebels and local residents

The fighting has intensified in recent days on the back of gains in neighboring Iraq by the militants, who formerly called themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.

Videos posted on jihadist websites showed black-clad fighters who identified themselves as belonging to the Islamic State standing at the entrance of a facility leading to the Al-Omar oil field in eastern Syria.

“They fled like rats,” says one of the fighters, referring to members of its rival, the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which captured the field, considered the largest in Syria in terms of production, from regime forces in November.

Earlier, several Syrian opposition activists posted a video showing tribal elders in the town of Al-Ashara in Deir-Ezzour on Thursday submitting themselves to the rule of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose group on Sunday declared the creation of a caliphate governed by its militant interpretation of Islamic law. [Continue reading...]


Syria rebels will ‘lay down arms’ if no aid to fight ISIS

AFP reports: Rebels from northern and eastern Syria on Wednesday threatened to lay down their arms in a week if the country’s exiled opposition does not help them fight the jihadist Islamic State (IS).

“We, the leaders of the brigades and battalions… give the National Coalition, the (opposition) interim government, the (rebel) Supreme Military Council and all the leading bodies of the Syrian revolution a week to send reinforcements and complete aid,” the statement said.

“Should our call not be heard, we will lay down our weapons and pull out our fighters,” it added.

The statement comes three days after IS declared the establishment of a “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq, referring to an Islamic system of rule that was abolished nearly 100 years ago

“Our popular revolution (against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad)… is today under threat because of the (Islamic State), especially after it announced a caliphate,” said the statement. [Continue reading...]

The former US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford tells Channel 4 News, people who say it’s impossible to tell the between good and bad rebels in Syria are being “intellectually lazy.” “We should be supporting moderate groups,” he says.


Sunni militant groups in Iraq ordered to swear allegiance to ISIS

BBC News reports: The radical al-Qaeda offshoot Isis has told other Sunni rebel groups which joined the uprising in Iraq to swear an oath of allegiance and give up arms.

The group declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria it controls and changed its name to the Islamic State.

Other rebel groups are trapped between the Islamic State which has taken over their areas, and a Shia-dominated government they are fighting against.

The Islamic State has suppressed other groups in parts of Syria it controls.

It has imposed a monopoly of its rule, by force if need be.

Most recently, it took over the important town of al-Bu Kamal controlling the Syrian side of the main border crossing with Iraq after three days of violent clashes with other Syrian rebel groups. It is now reported to be manning checkpoints and detaining suspected rivals.

Now, the same process of monopolising control seems to be under way in Iraq.

The other Sunni rebel groups, made up of former Iraqi military personnel, tribal elements and adherents of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, face a dilemma.

Tribal and rebel military sources say that after two days of talks in Mosul, they have been told that they must take an oath of allegiance to the new caliphate, and that only fighters from the Islamic State are allowed to bear arms.

Even if they take the oath, other fighters will still have to hand in their weapons.

As one senior rebel source put it, “our revolution has been hijacked”.

But he said the other groups did not intend to engage in what they believed would be a losing battle with the Islamic State, which is rapidly consolidating its grip on the mainly Sunni areas that fell to its advance three weeks ago.

The non-Isis rebels are dismayed, and bitter that the Americans, who are giving $500m (£290m) to similar rebel groups in Syria, regard them as terrorists because they joined the insurgency against the US forces here, but later fought and expelled al-Qaeda. [Continue reading...]


The ISIS threat: How great is it, who should respond, and how?

The crisis in Iraq can be resolved quite easily. All we have to do is master time-travel.

There are differences of opinion on whether or not history has to be reversed back to 2003 or 1914, but either way, the ability to go back into the past is key.

If time-travel can be accomplished through an act of will, we can remain hopeful that this great challenge will soon be surmounted. After all, there is a growing movement of people who clearly want to re-live the past, so maybe we can all soon get back there, reverse the mistakes which were made and reset history on a more reliable course.

Meanwhile, just in case the time-travel solution happens not to bear fruit, it might be worth considering some kind of Plan B.

Among young Americans — those whose interest in the future can be assumed to be far greater than their interest in the past — the World Cup is apparently almost twice as interesting as events in Iraq. Maybe the 2018 World Cup in Russia will be a game-changer on the geopolitical landscape.

Maybe the assessment that the danger posed to America by ISIS is now greater than that posed by Al Qaeda in the summer of 2001 is an overstatement. After all, while Al Qaeda’s focus was on provoking and challenging American power, ISIS is much more intent on establishing and expanding its caliphate than in seeking military engagement with the U.S..

The fact that ISIS has already drawn the support of hundreds of Westerners flooding initially to Syria, does not necessarily mean many of these individuals will be returning to their countries of origin to engage in terrorism. After all, one of their favorite ways of declaring their commitment to their Islamic state is to destroy their passports. With a measure of realism, they seem to be showing that they have already arrived in the place where they expect to fight and die.

Among critics of the war in Iraq there seems to be far greater concern about the danger of the U.S. once again becoming militarily engaged in Iraq, than there is concern about ISIS. Indeed, few seem to want to say much about the group other than assert that it wouldn’t have come into existence had it not been for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. True. But the invasion did happen and ISIS does now exist and is growing in strength — and the clock cannot be turned back.

Claims that ISIS poses a threat to the world may be viewed with some justified skepticism, but when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says that the group now threatens every state in the region, that sounds to me like an accurate assessment.

Iraq is a state on the brink of collapse. The Kurds are already constructing their own borders and there are no indications that a unifying government can be formed in Baghdad.

Military intervention by Russia and Iran might save Maliki yet destroy Iraq.

That an Iranian general has already promised to use “the same winning strategy used in Syria” sends a chilling message to Iraq’s Sunni population as a whole.

Americans who imagine that so long as our borders are secure, we can ignore what happens elsewhere in the world are living in denial about the interconnected planet on which we live.

Anti-interventionists who imagine that the only issue that matters in relation to Iraq is that the U.S. not get sucked in, are unwilling to confront the fact that ISIS will have to be confronted.

If you want to place your confidence in Russia and Iran, then remember Grozny and Aleppo and picture what might become of Mosul.

ISIS could not have advanced this far without the support of a wider Sunni insurgency and rather than the Russians, Iranians, Maliki’s security forces, Shia militias, or the U.S., it is the Sunnis who need expose the fact that this newly constructed Islamic state has no real foundations. But this isn’t going to happen without Iraq’s Sunni population receiving a tangible reward. The longer that takes to materialize, the less chance there is that it’s going to happen.


ISIS’s rapid rise illustrates how far jihadism has evolved

Hassan Hassan writes: As the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant has declared its leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi a caliph, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a couple of colleagues during my first year of university in Damascus in 2000. The school curriculum in Syria steered clear of almost all sensitive issues, and it was natural for new university students to find themselves exposed for the first time to “serious” issues such as the caliphate and sectarian divisions in the Muslim world. Such discussions were mostly hushed, often discussed in coded language among trusted colleagues or friends.

“Ana mubayi’,” or I have a pledge of fealty [to a caliph], said one of my colleagues. It was strange to hear such a sentence in a secular country like Syria. He added, with a smile that suggested a suddenly shaken certainty as to whether it was safe to have said it, that pledging allegiance to the caliph could be done without even meeting him because it would be deemed sinful if he didn’t declare allegiance. The supposed caliph was Mullah Omar, the Afghan spiritual leader of the Taliban.

That was around a year before the September 11 attacks in the US. This view of global jihadist groups was, I believe, pervasive within circles that were susceptible to foreign ideas and was being expressed at a time when satellite channels had just become popular in the region – especially Al Jazeera – that broadcast glimpses of jihadists in some mountains in Afghanistan, dressed in white and riding horses, reminiscent of a bygone period in Islamic history.

This story is relevant today, as some observers of jihadists in the region tend to play down the dangers of the ISIL announcement. The move is much more than whether the Islamic State, as it is known now, will hold on to the territories it currently controls or whether it will push into neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

A month ago, Barack Obama cited the weakening of “Al Qaeda central” as one of his administration’s achievements. Commentators then highlighted that while that may be true – a more dangerous trend has taken place during his presidency, the rise of local jihadi groups in many more countries than Al Qaeda ever operated. After the announcement of a caliph this week, the one thing Mr Obama bragged about has been rendered hollow, as the Islamic State has all but taken on Al Qaeda’s role as a leader of jihad. Some may celebrate the fact that the Islamic State has harmed Al Qaeda more than the war on terror has, but the only difference is that the Islamic State is the extreme of the extreme and is more invigorating for jihadists than Al Qaeda. [Continue reading...]


ISIS is dead, long live the Islamic State

Following the announcement by ISIS spokesman Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami of the creation of a caliphate, Aaron Zelin writes: The Islamic State’s announcement of the re-establishment of the caliphate has been a long time coming. It has also been a hope and dream for many Muslims over the decades, even if most do not necessarily agree with the Islamic State’s ideological leanings. The contemporary run-up to this announcement dates to Oct. 15, 2006, when the Islamic State of Iraq was first created and the movement for the first time attempted to establish institutions and governing structures. More recently, on March 25, 2014, the Islamic State and its key influencers online floated a trial balloon hashtag in Arabic, #We_Demand_Shaykh_al-Baghdadi_Declare_The_Caliphate, to get feedback on how individuals would react to such a declaration. Of course those who supported ISIS at the time were thrilled with the possibility, while those who opposed the group took issue.

The announcement of the caliphate’s creation on the first day of Ramadan, which is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, was no doubt meant to invoke the religious significance of the event. But the Gregorian date has significance as well: The June 29 announcement came one day after the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, which marked the beginning of World War I. While many historians point to Ataturk’s abolishment of the caliphate on March 3, 1924, as the end of the last line of caliphs, Islamic State followers see this as just the logical conclusion of a process that started a decade earlier with WWI, which led to the partition of the Middle Eastern states — a narrative that resonates for many in the region. Therefore, the June 29, 2014, announcement has been framed as an end to a century-long calamity, and as marking the return of dignity and honor to the Islamic umma.

The Islamic State can and will argue that it is the heir of past caliphates, especially the original Rashidun Caliphate (632-661). The Islamic State will also claim that it has been able to achieve what no other Islamist movement, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, has been able to do in the past century: fill the void left by the abolition of the caliphate and create a Muslim renaissance. It can now also argue that — unlike the past failed attempts to resurrect the caliphate by the Khilafat Movement in British India and the stillborn Sharifian Caliphate in what is today Saudi Arabia — the Islamic State was actually able to deliver a success for Muslims, and provide them with hope and strength once more.

In addition to the chorus of Muslims worldwide rejecting — and some even mocking — the Islamic State’s announcement, those in the leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates are in a precarious position. On the one hand, they are happy with the Islamic State’s recent advances in Iraq and do not in theory have an issue with a caliphate — though they may publicly argue it is too soon, or they may have privately hoped they would be the ones leading its reinstitution. On the other hand, Adnani’s proclamation could severely debilitate al Qaeda, which has been hit hard by the group’s advances in the past 15 months. Most notably, the Islamic State is eclipsing the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, gaining a military edge with foreign fighters and with defections of some members of other al Qaeda branches in Afghanistan, North Africa, and Yemen.

The Islamic State hopes to put al Qaeda and its branches in the unenviable position of having to reconcile with the reality of the new caliphate, or oppose it and therefore be viewed by global jihadis as hindering the caliphate project and showing its true nature as a sectarian organization that is not working for the best interests of Muslims. That strategy, however, is a gamble: It could open the Islamic State up for an even bigger fall if it does not follow through on its promise to fight enemies on all fronts, and if it fails in governing newly captured areas. There is already insurgent and noncombatant resistance to the Islamic State’s gains in both Syria and Iraq, so the group therefore has a thin needle to thread. [Continue reading...]


Chechen in Syria a rising star in ISIS

The Associated Press reports: A young, red-bearded ethnic Chechen has rapidly become one of the most prominent commanders in the breakaway al-Qaida group that has overrun swaths of Iraq and Syria, illustrating the international nature of the movement.

Omar al-Shishani, one of hundreds of Chechens who have been among the toughest jihadi fighters in Syria, has emerged as the face of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appearing frequently in its online videos — in contrast to the group’s Iraqi leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who remains deep in hiding and has hardly ever been photographed.

In a video released by the group over the weekend, al-Shishani is shown standing next to the group’s spokesman among a group of fighters as they declare the elimination of the border between Iraq and Syria. The video was released just hours before the extremist group announced the creation of a caliphate — or Islamic state — in the areas it controls.

“Our aim is clear and everyone knows why we are fighting. Our path is toward the caliphate,” the 28-year-old al-Shishani declares. “We will bring back the caliphate, and if God does not make it our fate to restore the caliphate, then we ask him to grant us martyrdom.” The video is consistent with other Associated Press reporting on al-Shishani.

Al-Shishani has been the group’s military commander in Syria, leading it on an offensive to take over a broad stretch of territory leading to the Iraq border. But he may have risen to become the group’s overall military chief, a post that has been vacant after the Iraqi militant who once held it — known as Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari — was killed in the Iraqi city of Mosul in early June. The video identified al-Shishani as “the military commander” without specifying its Syria branch, suggesting he had been elevated to overall commander, though the group has not formally announced such a promotion. [Continue reading...]


Iraqi soldiers, failed by senior officers, lacked food and water

The New York Times reports: The forlorn scenes in the ancient Al-Ukhaidir fortress tell of a government force in deep disarray. Flies circle beneath its high ceilings, above dozens of demoralized men who pass the day sleeping on dusty stone floors.

Until late June, this eighth-century redoubt in the Shiite south of Iraq had been a tourist and heritage site. Now the remnants of the Ninth Brigade find shelter within its walls.

These men have no pressing duties, even at a time of Iraq’s grave need. Instead, more than 300 miles from posts they had been ordered to defend, they huddled around visitors to describe an embarrassing retreat.

“We were sold, it was a sellout,” said one of the enlisted men, as a crowd of his fellow guards nodded in agreement. “Everyone here was willing to fight.”

The account of the Ninth Brigade of Iraq’s border guards, confirmed by an official who witnessed many of the events, is a portrait of generals unfit to lead in war and of mismanagement, incompetence and ultimately treachery under the patronage of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. [Continue reading...]


U.S. reluctance to intervene in Iraq may have unintended consequences for Israel

A week ago Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to like the idea of a conflict between ISIS and Iran — a conflict in which the United States should refrain from becoming aligned with Tehran.

“Don’t strengthen either of them. Weaken both,” Netanyahu said.

He may have imagined his anti-interventionism would resonate with several constituencies in the U.S.. But he couldn’t have imagined what might happen next.

With the U.S. reluctant to intervene on behalf of Maliki, he has turned to both Iran and Russia both of which have stepped up to provide military support. Iran may have already conducted air strikes in Iraq.

Now comes a twist which — if the reporting is accurate — will shock the Israelis: a significant boost to Iran’s air force.

David Cenciotti, a highly respected aviation blogger, reports:

On Jul. 1, all the seven operational Su-25 Frogfoot attack planes operated by the Pasdaran (informal name of the IRGC – the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) have completed their deployment to Imam Ali Airbase where they will join the ex-Russian Air Force Su-25s already delivered to Iraq in the air war against ISIS (Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

The aircraft (three Su-25UBKM and four Su-25KM jets, according to ACIG.org sources) will be operated by four Iraqi pilots and 10 Iranian pilots.

The aircraft and support to fly them would be part of a military contract (backed by the U.S.) according to which Iran’s IRGC Air Force will receive six Su-30K multirole jets destined to Iraq.

The Su-30K is one of the best Russian combat jets available and would present a significant extra layer of defense for Iran in the event that Israel ever considers attacking Iran’s nuclear installations.

Meanwhile, a Bloomberg report on Obama’s lack of options in Iraq alongside Russia and Iran’s growing involvement, notes:

The swift action by two of America’s adversaries has prompted Obama’s critics in Washington — and even some members of his administration — to argue that the U.S. must act quickly to avert an extremist takeover of a country it invaded and occupied for more than eight years.

Obama’s ability to influence events in Iraq is limited, though, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

Two U.S. administrations have inspired distrust among both Shiites and Sunnis by invading in 2003, then failing to stabilize the country or compel Maliki to stop his revenge campaign against Sunnis, and finally withdrawing and leaving a polarized state at the end of 2011, the official said.

Now, the administration is exploring a three-pronged strategy, according to U.S. officials involved in the effort. It consists of providing Maliki’s government with limited military aid, pressing him to step down or agree to a more inclusive government and trying with Saudi Arabian assistance to pry Sunni tribesmen away from their de facto alliance with the Islamic State.


Iraq’s parliament fails to agree on formation of new government

The Washington Post reports: The inaugural session of Iraq’s parliament collapsed Tuesday after heated exchanges and a walkout, dampening hopes that the country’s fractious politicians will rise to the challenge presented by the insurgency tearing their nation apart.

Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers left the at times chaotic meeting after less than two hours, with no progress made on forming a new government. After their exit, Mahdi Hafidh, the acting speaker of the newly elected parliament, adjourned the session until next week, citing the lack of a quorum in the 328-member chamber.

The formation of a government is urgent as Iraq confronts the biggest threat to its existence since it won independence in 1932. Al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents have conquered much of the north and west of the country, Kurds have asserted control over the northern city of Kirkuk, and the government in Baghdad has been scrambling to hold together what is left of its collapsing security forces.

The head of the Islamist insurgency, meanwhile, has urged his radical fighters to step up their attacks in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began Sunday.

Caretaker Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is attempting to remain in power despite a groundswell of opposition to his quest for a third term, was among those who attended the parliamentary session in central Baghdad.

It is his future that is the most divisive issue facing lawmakers, but parliament must also make selections for two other top posts — the speaker and the president. There was no indication Tuesday that it was closer to a deal.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni, said that the candidates would be decided in the next “week or two” but that there was little doubt that Maliki would be replaced. “The matter is over. They know they have to choose a new prime minister.” [Continue reading...]


Bomb ISIS or we’ll ask Iran to do it, top Iraqi politician warns U.S.

Mehdi Hasan reports: One of Iraq’s most senior politicians has warned that the country could ask Iran to carry out air strikes against the jihadist group, Isis – if the United States continues to refuse to do so.

Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK, Dr Haider Al-Abadi, a member of the Iraqi parliament and a spokesman for Prime Minister Noori Al-Maliki’s Dawah Party, said the Iraqi authorities feel so threatened by Isis “that we will take any assistance, even from Iran”.

It is believed to be the first time such a senior Iraqi politician has publicly raised the spectre of full-scale Iranian military involvement inside Iraq – in the absence of US military action.

“We are waiting for the Americans to give us support,” he said. “If US air strikes [happen], we don’t need Iranian air strikes. If they don’t, then we may need Iranian strikes.” Turkish air support could also be considered, he added. [Continue reading...]


Russian intervention in Iraq

I guess this news won’t trouble the anti-interventionists too much — some forms of intervention seem more palatable than others.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend: Russia’s deputy foreign minister called on the United States and Europe to take “serious” steps to combat terrorism during a visit to Damascus on Saturday, warning that several Middle Eastern countries are threatened.

“Russia will not stand idle toward attempts by terrorist groups to spread terrorism in regional states,” Sergei Ryabkov told reporters, apparently referring to the rapid advance of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

The Daily Beast now reports: While the Obama administration struggles to speed up delivery of U.S. military assistance to the government of Iraq, Vladimir Putin has already delivered not only fighter jets but also the pilots needed to fly them, diplomatic sources told The Daily Beast.

On Monday, Russian television trumpeted the arrival of the first five of 12 promised Sukhoi Su-25 combat fighter jets to the Iraqi government, saying it had also sent “trainers” to help the Iraqis use them. Gen. Anwar Hama Ameen, the commander of the Iraqi Air Force, told The New York Times the fighter jets would enter the battle against ISIS within a few days, after which the Russian trainers would leave Iraq. He said Iraq had plenty of pilots with “long experience” flying the Su-25. The Russian ambassador to Iraq also said Russian pilots would not fly missions inside Iraq.

Perhaps. But diplomatic sources told The Daily Beast that Russian pilots will fly the planes due to a lack of Iraqi pilots with the proper training. Neither Russia nor Iraq as explained how the Iraqi air force could possibly have pilots trained and ready to fly the Russian fighters. The Su-25 planes were used in the Iraq-Iran war but have not been employed in Iraq since at least 2002, when Iraq’s military was controlled by the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Last week, Gen. Anwar Hama Ameen, the commander of the Iraqi Air Force, told the New York Times:

“We have pilots who have long experience in this plane and of course we have the help of the Russian friends and the experts who came with these aircraft to prepare them.”


ISIS shows off SCUD missile as Caliph Ibrahim promises global conquest

EA Worldview: Trying to capitalize on its offensive in Iraq, the Islamic State held a military parade in Raqqa in northern Syria on Monday.

The Iraqi-led group, which has held Raqqa — the largest city outside regime control — since last year, showed off a SCUD missile and US-made howitzers captured in Iraq’s second city Mosul.

The ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who now wants to be known as “Caliph Ibrahim” — self-anointed ruler of the world — just gave a speech outlining the scope his ambitions:


Sectarian killings return to Baghdad as war rages elsewhere

The Washington Post reports: The burial of Omar Abed Hammoudi was a furtive affair, conducted in haste in the far corner of a cemetery filled with those who died in the last round of bloodletting in Baghdad.

The circumstances of his death suggested that the killings have started again. Snatched from his home by masked and uniformed men in a mostly Shiite neighborhood, Hammoudi, who was Sunni, was found dumped outside a mosque the following day, strangled and with a bullet wound to his head — a sequence of events that chillingly recalled the slaughter of the 2005-07 civil war.

“He was killed because of his sect,” said Hammoudi’s brother, Ahmed, as he hurried out of the graveyard this month with a small group of mourners, too afraid to speak within sight of the nearby security forces, who are deemed loyal to the Shiite-led government.

In the weeks since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — which on Sunday said it would now be known simply as the Islamic State — captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, then surged south toward Baghdad, the sense of panic that gripped the capital has abated. Confidence has grown that the Shiite-dominated security forces, bolstered by thousands of Shiite volunteers, will be able to hold back the advancing Sunni militants even as they sweep through the mostly Sunni provinces of the north and west.

But among the capital’s Sunni minority, the call to arms has induced a different dread — that they will become targets of Shiite revenge. A spate of sinister killings similar to Hammoudi’s has given weight to those concerns, rooted in memories of the darkest days of the civil war. [Continue reading...]

CBS News reports: Iraqi officials say three mortars have landed near the gate of a much-revered Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, wounding at least nine people.

The golden domed al-Askari mosque in Samarra is one of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam. Sunni militants blew up the dome in 2006, helping trigger some of the country’s worst sectarian bloodshed as Shiite extremists retaliated forcefully. A successive series of bombings in 2007 at the site also destroyed all of the original building’s structures, and led to more sectarian violence.

The deputy head of the Samarra municipal council Mizhar Fleih says the attack took place Monday evening and the shells struck a reception area near the gate. He says nine people were wounded.