Subscribe via RSS Feed

Our man in Baghdad

[ 130 ] June 12, 2014 |

Hardened by years of battle in neighboring Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is routing the forces of a modern nation-state and gathering land with the ultimate goal of establishing an alternate form of governance, an Islamic caliphate.

“This is not a terrorism problem anymore,” says Jessica Lewis, an expert on ISIS at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. “This is an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain.”

In capturing Tikrit, famed as the hometown of Saddam Hussein, Islamist militants whom the secular dictator had not tolerated were moving south down Iraq’s main highway toward Baghdad. Lewis cited reports that Abu Ghraib, the city just to the west of the capital, was also under assault from ISIS forces that have held Fallujah and much of Ramadi since January.

“We are using the word encircle,” Lewis tells TIME. “They have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, and they have an aspirational goal to govern. I don’t know whether they want to control Baghdad, or if they want to destroy the functions of the Iraqi state, but either way the outcome will be disastrous for Iraq.”

ERBIL, Iraq — Kurdish officials said on Thursday that their forces were in firm control of the strategic oil city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq after government troops had abandoned their posts, introducing a new dimension into the swirling conflict propelled by Sunni militants pressing south toward Baghdad.

“The army disappeared,” said Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk, two days after militants aligned with the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria swept across the porous border from Syria to overrun Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and then began a thrust toward Baghdad, capturing the town of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, on Wednesday. The apparent involvement of Kurdish pesh merga forces drew new lines in the patchwork of allegiances and alliances, adding disciplined troops whose allegiance to the central government in Baghdad is limited. With its oil riches, Kirkuk has long been at the center of a political and economic dispute between Kurds and successive Arab governments in Baghdad

Suggested thesaurus for op-ed auto-column generation this week:

Resolve, dithering, Munich, plenty of blame to go around, leadership, surgical strikes, limited aid, Vietnam, Caliphate, exterminate the brutes, next six months.

Comments (130)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Whatever says:

    I’m sure it’s all the fault of a YouTube video…

    • MAJeff says:

      Please proceed, Governor….

      • Whatever says:

        Not to worry – we’ve placed the filmmaker into indefinite preventive detention, so the jihadist offensive in Iraq will soon peter out.

        • timb116 says:

          dumbest comments about a real situation ever

          • Barry Freed says:

            My thoughts exactly.

          • Whatever says:

            Funny, I think the comments are real dumb too, but the Obama Administration actually used them.

            Libya’s doing almost as well as Iraq these days, I hear…

            • Whatever says:

              “The future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

              B.H. Obama, September 25, 2012, before the UN General Assembly

              • toberdog says:

                What’s your point?

                • Barry Freed says:

                  Moozlims.

                • Inner Partisan says:

                  Paying a modicum of respect to other people’s religious beliefs and engaging in the bare essentials of international diplomacy is un-american and practically treason; the kind that only a weak, namby-pamby socialist like the Kenyan Usurper would ever even consider.
                  Unless it’s the religious beliefs of fundamentalist, evangelical Christians, of course. Not paying the utmost respect giving preferential treatment to their religious beliefs is an outright attack on the First Amendment.

              • Joshua says:

                Obama is obviously wrong, is Pam Geller in Iowa now?

            • toberdog says:

              Before the Benghazi incident, there WAS a YouTube video, it DID make some people very mad, and the intelligence agencies DID think that there was a connection between the video and Benghazi.

              • Whatever says:

                “the intelligence agencies DID think that there was a connection between the video and Benghazi.”

                If they truly thought that, given all the evidence to the contrary, they are stunningly incompetent.

                • Larry says:

                  Yes. Yes, they are. But not as stunningly incompetent as you are disingenuously stupid.

                  The Quietest American today is George W. Cheney Rumsfeld Bush. How’s that disbanding the Iraqi Army working for you now?

                  If only Obama had given it six more months.

                • toberdog says:

                  My point wasn’t to defend the intelligence agencies – they’ve proven their incompetence over and over and over again – but to point out that your comparison between the current events in Iraq and Benghazi is deeply, deeply stupid.

                • timb116 says:

                  Not only that, but there were demonstrations in Cairo, Yemen, Indonesia, and Tunisia about that video AT THE SAME TIME as the attack. Wingnuts are so good at looking through a straw

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  given all the evidence to the contrary,

                  You mean like the series of demonstrations against the video that turned into attacks on embassies, like those in Cairo and Sudan?

                  Is that the sort of evidence that is “to the contrary?”

                • pillsy says:

                  Not so much as you might think. Later reports indicate that anger over the video did play a role in the attack on the Benghazi compound, even if it wasn’t the sole cause, or even the primary one. Nor was this the only area where early information from the intelligence agencies was misleading, as they seriously overstated the links between al Qaeda and the militia responsible for the attack.

                • Ralph Hitchens says:

                  Well, over a decade ago CIA railroaded all opposition from within the Intelligence Community, practically manufactured “evidence” on Iraq’s supposed nuclear program, and uncritically accepted the word of a highly suspect single source to justify their unswerving faith in Iraq’s BW program, thereby justifying an otherwise pointless invasion of Iraq. This was a couple of years after CIA, sitting on a key piece of information & not sharing it with FBI, caused the death of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Incompetence in those quarters has a long history.

              • Barry Freed says:

                All toberdog says is true. And it has fuck all to do with the situation in either Syria or Iraq.
                Whatever is trolling.

            • Col Bat Guano. says:

              What’s your preference in dead American personnel? 5000? 10000? We know you like to stack them high.

  2. joe from Lowell says:

    Between 2008 and 2011, the table was set for Malaki to reach out the Sunnis and make a political accommodation – to really make the government in Baghdad an institution for both Shiites and Sunnis.

    And he didn’t just fail to do that, he quite dramatically decided to be a Shiite ruler and screw the Sunnis.

  3. joe from Lowell says:

    So now what do the Iranians do?

    • Whatever says:

      Mobilize, probably.

    • Barry Freed says:

      That is a central question. Pasdaran military advisors at the very least I would think

      • joe from Lowell says:

        You know, I’ve been predicting that an American-Iranian alliance would emerge at some point in the next few decades. Maybe this is the spark.

        • Barry Freed says:

          It kind of did happen, or kinda almost did happen, at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan late 2001, early 2002. If anything Bush’s stupid Iraq war has brought our interests into even closer alignment.

          • steve says:

            Though his “you’re next” aproach to Iran basically destroyed the nacent cooperation and led the Iranians to seriously escalate their quest for the bomb. Oh and he did a great deal of damage to the reform movement there too. Idiot couldn’t see the strategic possibilities.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            There are just so many areas of common interest between us and Iran, that it’s not an accident that events throw us together like that.

            Furthermore, Iran and India have good relations, and India is another country we’re destined to get closer to.

            • Barry Freed says:

              There are just so many areas of common interest between us and Iran, that it’s not an accident that events throw us together like that.

              I agree and I’ve long thought the same. 1953 was such a stupid move that’s continued to haunt us but there’s no reason we can’t move past it.

        • Ronan says:

          How could an alliance develop in any meaningful way, though ? Considering the deep ties the US has with Saudi ? (I could see them collaborating more on specific projects ie some aspects of regional security, but not so much beyind that ..)

    • Morbo says:

      150 Quds members for starters. Probably going to recall some militias from Syria.

      • steve says:

        Hmm…wonder if the FSA or whoever the “moderate” rebels are will take advantage of that. Might also see if the ISIS forces left their rear flank exposed. I am sure the Kurds in NE Syria are already exploring opportunities to consolidate their autonomous region while ISIS and the Syrian state are preoccupied.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          ISIS has been taking a lot of losses in Syria lately.

          Perhaps this is something like the Huns being chased out of Asia by the Mongols, and falling on Eastern Europe.

    • ironic irony says:

      Go after the rest of MEK? /snark even tho it’s not really funny

  4. Major Kong says:

    I don’t know whether they want to control Baghdad, or if they want to destroy the functions of the Iraqi state

    So they’re the Tea Party?

  5. FMguru says:

    Two divisions (30,000 men) routed and sent fleeing by 800 militants. Yeah, that’s a horse we should be backing. To be fair, that’s a military that we only spent a decade and hundreds of billions of dollars training and equipping.

    Big credit to the Obama administration for taking one look at this mess and deciding to sit this round out.

  6. Barry Freed says:

    This has very broad implications for the region. ISIS is starting to bulldoze the Sykes-Picot border posts. I wonder what Iran will do. This is also a potential game changer in Syria. Does anyone know approximately how many Iraqi Shi’ite fighters are in Syria aiding the Assad regime? Because I bet they’re all looking to get home ASAP.

    If ISIS were smart/capable/evil enough they’d hit some choice Hezbollah targets in Lebanon soon to draw them away from helping Assad too.

  7. ISIS is making a risky play. By trying to become an actual government, with a regular army and courts and government buildings and stuff, they lose the big advantage they had as insurgents, which is to say they stop being hard to find. Once they are in charge, they cede that advantage to every other group that hasn’t made the big time yet. Those other groups, aren’t all Sunni, and aren’t going to magically go away or peacefully integrate into whatever theocracy ISIS is trying to build.

    • Kurzleg says:

      Great point. I don’t know if the 800 is representative of the meager size of their force, but if so, I think they’ll find the battle was the easiest piece of what they’re attempting.

      • timb116 says:

        800 to start with. Most likely several thousand as of today, as deserters and Sunni militias come on board

        • Larry says:

          I read at War Is Boring that the local Sunni militias and extended Sunni families joined in the fray from within the attacked cities, making an overall in-city Sunni uprising a very real threat. Very few army bases of whatever country’s army could withstand an uprising from the majority of a city’s population. So the army packed up their bags and left.

  8. Mudge says:

    Lets’ be realistic. The Bush regime, in order to avenge Daddy Bush’s embarrassment and to get Iraqi oil as outlined in Cheyney’s still secret energy policy meeting, and using 9/11 (poorly) as an excuse, invades Iraq and removes the only force that could keep the Shia and Kurds under control, Saddam Hussein. The country has no democratic history and has two ethnic groups, Kurds and Arabs, and two schismatic religions, Sunni and Shia versions of Islam, who distrust if not despise each other.

    An we are surprised the band-aid did not hold?

    • Unemployed Northeastern says:

      “The country has no democratic history and has two ethnic groups, Kurds and Arabs, and two schismatic religions, Sunni and Shia versions of Islam, who distrust if not despise each other. ”

      Don’t forget about the arbitrarily drawn borders made by an imperialist European power!

      • Mudge says:

        And don’t forget that Saudi Arabia will bankroll the Sunnis and Iran will bankroll the Shia. The Kurds just have oil for their bankroll.

        • Unemployed Northeastern says:

          Heck, Turkey might bankroll the Sunnis and/or the Shiites just to keep any notions of a Kurdistan – which would logically take about half of Turkey – off the table.

          • daveNYC says:

            Or they might bankroll the Kurds with the understanding that any Kurdistan will be carved out of Iraqi real estate. It’d be stupid, but it’s possible.

            • Unemployed Northeastern says:

              Oh, I think Turkey is hyper-sensitive to the fact that about half of the Kurd’s traditional territory is within their borders.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                If the Turks were really smart, they’d do an about face and become the Kurds’ patron, maybe even work for a joint Turkish-Kurdish state.

                Don’t think of it as losing your ethnic-based national identity; think of it as gaining the Kirkuk oil fields.

                • Unemployed Northeastern says:

                  That’s a good point, actually. If/when Iraq does go to pot, they can gain some more territory and a lot more oil pelf.

                  On the other hand, the Kurds already in Turkey have long bristled at the non-Kurdish folk who run the country.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  It would have to be a genuine partnership of equals, not merely Kurds submitting to Turkish rule.

                  How does the name “Turkurdia” grab you?

      • Ronan says:

        The borders of the modern Middle East were going to have to be drawn arbitrarily at some stage. It would have been better if not done in the context of European power politics and regional crises..but there was probably no easy option there..

      • ajay says:

        Don’t forget about the arbitrarily drawn borders made by an imperialist European power!

        Name me a country that doesn’t have arbitrarily drawn borders made by an imperialist European power. Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and Madagascar come to mind, I suppose. Not many others.

        Certainly most countries in Europe had at least some of their borders arbitrarily drawn by an imperialist European power. UK, Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine…

        • Unemployed Northeastern says:

          Japan, China, there’s a decent argument that most of modern Latin America’s borders came from internecine fighting as opposed to the old Spanish viceroyalties, Mexico’s northern border was determined by the US, the numerous countries in Oceania…

        • GFW says:

          I’m kinda confused by your first four examples – all of which are nations whose borders align very well with geography. Are you saying it’s arbitrary that Australia and NZ aren’t one nation? Or arbitrary that Australia isn’t two, three or four?

          I seem to recall something about part of the US-Canada border being arbitrated by Germany at some point, so that would be a good example.

          I’m sure J. Otto could tell us how half the borders in Africa were arbitrarily drawn by Europeans.

          • GFW says:

            Doh! Misread you. Your first four were intended precisely as the few exceptions. Never mind.

          • stickler says:

            There’s a monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I on San Juan Island in Puget Sound, honoring his work arbitrating the end of the “Pig War” and the border dispute in 1872.

            And half the borders in Africa? More like almost all of them. And, like Iraq, often drawn to intentionally include hostile tribes or religions so as to make them easier to rule (cf., Nigeria).

        • shah8 says:

          Western SA countries except Colombia drew/fought for their own borders.

    • Joshua says:

      I don’t think anyone with a functioning brain is surprised. But that still leaves a lot of people.

      I’m still not sure if Cheney and friends wanted to occupy Iraq forever by force or if they believed their own BS about Iraq turning into a wingnut paradise that would be happy to have us forever.

      The idea that this is on the current administration because we should have stayed there forever… well that means we learned exactly the wrong lessons from this disaster. Again.

      • I think the answer is, to them it didn’t matter, my own uninformed speculation follows. Getting Iraqi oil was a secondary goal. the primary goal was shutting down Iraqi production, which made everyone else’s oil far more valuable, because of scarcity and war based speculation. To Cheney and Bush and every major oil company, Iraq was not playing by the rules, Bush saw Saddam’s existence as a continuing embarrassment and for that, they needed to be punished. For the Bush administration, wrecking Iraq was the goal, and whatever happened next was a stupid afterthought that killjoys like the American public were forcing them to pay attention to. I mean sure, they loved the “reconstruction” with it’s nearly unlimited opportunities for corruption but that was peanuts compared to the killing oil companies were making.

      • timb116 says:

        We were kicked out of our bases in Saudi Arabia. The Western Iraqi desert was supposed to be our Diego Garcia for the Gulf and to threaten Iran. The un-nationalized oil industry would pay for it.

        Shitty plan; worse execution.

      • njorl says:

        It depends on the wingnut. Rumsfeld wanted to destroy the Iraqi state and leave immediately. Cheney wanted a permanent military base from which the US could prevent consolidation of oil reserves under any single local government.

    • invades Iraq and removes the only force that could keep the Shia and Kurds under control

      Kurds weren’t under control. They were de facto independent.

    • Kurzleg says:

      The Schismatics is an awesome band name!

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Things fall apart, the band-aid does not hold…

    • joe from Lowell says:

      the only force that could keep the Shia and Kurds under control, Saddam Hussein

      I don’t think there’s anything special about Saddam. If he’d still been in power in 2011, he would have been facing an Arab Spring uprising just like the other secular dictators in the region (Mubarak, Assad, Ben Ali, Gadhaffi, Saleh…)

  9. Crunchy Frog says:

    “This is not a terrorism problem anymore,” says Jessica Lewis, an expert on ISIS at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. “This is an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain.”

    Does the word “terrorism” have meaning any more? When it was used in the 1970s it had a very specific meaning – acts designed to terrorize a populace into doing something. The acts themselves were not expected to yield direct results – killing a few people doesn’t by itself change social governmental structures, but terrorizing a populace can cause change to occur.

    Of course “terrorist” quickly became a bad name, so it got used a lot, and overused. Israel probably was the first to basically use this as a blanket term for large groups of people (“look at those baby terrorists” – from a cartoon at the time) but it was Rove and the Bush administration that really went overboard with the “War on Terror” and “either you’re with us or with the terrorists” (sorry, “terraists” per Bush-speak). Anyone resisting the violent and deadly foreign occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was of course so-labeled, as was anyone committing petty crimes at the same time.

    So it’s interesting to hear someone actually point out that not every violent act in the middle east is either terrorism or defending against terrorism.

    • Malaclypse says:

      (“look at those baby terrorists” – from a cartoon at the time)

      That was Doonesbury, and it was the US giving a briefing on Vietnam, actually.

      • Matthew Stevens says:

        No, it was about the invasion of Lebanon, I believe. It went something like this:

        “What’s all this talk of ‘terrorist’? Wasn’t Begin a terrorist, too?”
        “Begin wasn’t a terrorist. He was a freedom fighter.”
        “Oh.”
        (turning to a military officer) “Report, colonel.”
        “We killed XXX terrorist women and YYY terrorist babies.”

    • Joshua says:

      Anyone resisting the violent and deadly foreign occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was of course so-labeled…

      Right, “anyone” even included Iraqi citizens who were fighting explicitly because they objected to the American occupation. I remember asking a lot of people if they would say the same of Americans if the roles were reversed.

      I don’t think many people fully appreciate the utter insanity and black hole of facts and logic that was the Bush Administration. It really was dark times. I think we were all so relieved to be done with it and move on.

    • Major Kong says:

      “terrorist” = anyone we happen to point a gun at over there

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Anyone resisting the violent and deadly foreign occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was of course so-labeled

      Labeled by whom?

      Yes, terrorism still has a meaning. We don’t have to give in to the linguistic power grab that the Bush-era hawks made.

      We can, like Lewis, actually use the word correctly, and discuss what is and is not terrorism.

  10. low-tech cyclist says:

    In some other dimension, Thomas Hobbes is laughing.

    Saddam was a bastard, but Iraq was a functioning state under Saddam. We got rid of that state, that government, and got chaos. Then we tried to cobble together a new government in its place.

    The idea that this would work is absolutely ludicrous. You can’t just say, “folks, here’s your new government, carry on as before.” ‘Before’ has been swept away, and nobody knows what to think about this new thing that calls itself a government. Nobody knows whether to believe in it.

    And of particular relevance, few are sufficiently invested in its success to fight and die for it, as recent events have demonstrated.

  11. TT says:

    Iraq: People who knew, and know, what they’re talking about said that invading the country and toppling the existing government would unleash violent ethnic and sectarian chaos that would eventually draw in the entire region, drain US military and economic resources, and get a lot of people unnecessarily killed. Conservatives, centrists, and other VSPs dismissed this view. The consequences of doing so were predictable, predicted, and horrific.

    Austerity: People who knew, and know, what they’re talking about said that cutting government spending in the midst of the worst recession in 80 years and when interest rates and inflation were close to zero would not increase confidence or act as a hedge against “hyperinflation” but simply further immiserate millions and millions of already desperate people suffering the overwhelming brunt of that recession. Conservatives, centrists, and other VSPs dismissed this view. The consequences of doing so were predictable, predicted, and horrific.

    Abortion: People who knew, and know, what they’re talking about said that placing ever greater and more unreasonable restrictions on abortion would just drive it further underground and put poor pregnant women with no other options at the mercy of grotesque, incompetent, and/or malevolent opportunists like Kermit Gosnell. Conservatives, centrists, and other VSPs dismissed this view. The consequences of doing so were predictable, predicted, and horrific.

    Wall Street: People who knew, and know, what they’re talking about said that deregulating the financial sector would lead to enormous economic and political power concentrating in the hands of people who had no incentive whatsoever to restrain themselves, take the long view, not gamble, not leverage themselves to mind boggling degrees, and act in the best interest of the economy and nation. Conservatives, centrists, and other VSPs dismissed this view. The consequences of doing so were predictable, predicted, and horrific.

    These four issues have a few things in common. First, the authors of these disasters have had nothing in the way of second thoughts about what they have wrought, in fact insist that the only “responsible” way forward is to triple-, quadruple-, or quintuple-down on the original disaster because freedom, confidence, credibility, resolve, etc. Second, the authors of these disasters have spent the past decade-plus (in the case of Iraq), generation-plus (in the case of abortion and Wall Street), and six years (in the case of the recession and austerity) blaming the victims of their malevolence, or those who warned against it, or those who are trying to clean up the unfathomable messes made–anybody but themselves, of course, since they are responsible, patriotic, the adults in the room, and “everybody knows” what they know and what they know is right. Third, owing to their positions in media, politics, business, and academia they are making a lot of political headway in placing that blame on those not responsible for the disasters they have wrought, in fact they are never going away. Fourth, the good news is that just because they’re never going doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten.

  12. Dr. Ronnie James, DO says:

    Still a bargain at $6 trillion!

  13. mojrim says:

    A couple of errors in that: Iraq is neither modern nor a nation state. It’s a post-colonial hollow state with a sprinkling of imported hardware. It was doomed from the start.

  14. help 2010 says:

    Hi there would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re working with?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot
    faster then most. Can you recommend a good internet
    hosting provider at a honest price? Many thanks, I appreciate it!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Switch to our mobile site