Posted: December 24, 2016 Filed under: History, Religion, Terrorism | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Al-Qa'im (town), Bahrain, Bashar al-Assad, Christian, Christian cross, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Mosul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Shia Islam, Sunni Islam
Thousands of Assyrian Christians fled their homes in northern Iraq when ISIS militants took control in August 2014.
Reuters reports: Several hundred Iraqi Christians flocked on Saturday to a northern town recently retaken from the Islamic State group, celebrating Christmas for the first time since 2013, their joy tainted with sadness over the desecration of their church.
“This is a dark cloud over Iraq. But we will stay here in our land no matter what happens. God is with us.”
— Bishop Shemani, Christmas Eve sermon in Bartella.
Once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, Bartella emptied in August 2014 when it fell to ISIS’ blitz across large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. Iraqi forces took it back in the first few days of the U.S.-backed offensive that started in October.
Women holding candles ululated as they went into the town’s Mar Shimoni church, expressing their joy at returning to the place where many of them said they had been baptized.
“This is the best day of my life. Sometimes I thought it would never come,” said Shurook Tawfiq, a 32-year-old housewife displaced to the nearby Kurdish city of Erbil.
The church was badly damaged during ISIS’ time in control of the town, with crosses taken down, statues of saints defaced and the chancel burnt.
A new cross has been affixed on top of the chapel, while a decorated plastic Christmas tree now stands near the massive gate. Soldiers stood guard nearby and others were posted on rooftops.
A peal of festive bells rang out over the town, which is still largely empty, with many houses reduced to rubble by the fighting that raged two months ago.
“It is a mix of sadness and happiness,” Bishop Mussa Shemani told Reuters before celebrating the Christmas Eve Mass.
“We are sad to see what has been done to our holiest places by our own countrymen, but at the same time we are happy to celebrate the first Mass after two years.”
The region of Nineveh is one of the most ancient settlements of Christianity, going back nearly 2,000 years.
At Mar Shimoni, the congregation sang and prayed in Syriac, a language close to the one spoken by Jesus.
“It’s the church where I was baptized, where I was educated, where I was taught the faith,” said Bahnam Shamanny, the editor of Bartelli al-Syriann, a monthly local newspaper. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: August 9, 2015 Filed under: Global, Religion, War Room | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Baghdad, Car bomb, Daily Express, David Cameron, High-value target, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Islam, Islamic state, James Foley, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Shia Islam, Special Air Service, Sunni Islam, Syria, United Kingdom, United Kingdom Special Forces
‘A Good Day’s Work’: SAS sniper gunned down a knife-wielding Islamic State maniac just as he was trying to brutally behead a father and his young son.
Nick Gutteridge reports: The brave British marksman saved the terrified eight-year-old and his father after taking out the crazed jihadi with a head shot from 1,000 metres away.
The special forces crack shot then killed two other members of the hated terror group, who were also taking part in the sick planned execution.
“Through binoculars the soldiers could see that the crowd were terrified and many were in tears….They were both wearing blindfolds and looked terrified…A tall bearded man emerged and drew a long knife…He began addressing the crowd and slapping the father and his son around the head and kicking them on to the floor.”
ISIS militants had decreed that the little boy and his father must die after branding them “infidels” because they refused to denounce their faith.
They were just seconds from death when the hero sniper intervened to stop the barbaric killing in the Syrian desert. The pair were part of the minority Shia sect of Islam which ISIS considers to be heretical.
“Standing either side of the executioner were two other Isis fighters, both armed with AK47s…The ISIS thug who was about to decapitate the father was shot in the head and collapsed…Everyone just stared in confusion. The sniper then dispatched the two henchmen with single shots – three kills with three bullets…”
They were saved from a cruel and painful death at the hands of the fanatics after an Iraqi spy tipped off British special forces to the planned execution.
Special forces troops who arrived at the killing site, where ISIS was carrying out a series of rigged ‘trials’ of locals, discovered a gruesome scene with several headless bodies already lying bloodied on the desert floor.
The dramatic rescue operation took place last month near the Syrian border with Turkey, where an elite SAS unit had been conducting covert patrols.
Defence sources described how the SAS unit moved into a position just outside a village where ISIS members were holding the ‘trial’ in front of a crowd of locals who had been forced to attend at gunpoint.
The crack team considered calling in an air strike using a Reaper Drone, but the elite troops feared many of the innocent civilians who had been forced to watch the executions might also be killed.
Instead the SAS unit decided on a risky long-range kill using the team’s sniper.
Speaking to the Daily Star Sunday, one source said: “There were several decapitated bodies already lying on the ground. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: June 9, 2015 Filed under: Diplomacy, Think Tank, War Room, White House | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Baghdad, Humvee, Iran, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Islamic state, Mosul, Ramadi, United States
Figuring out that you are pursuing a losing strategy is more difficult than outsiders might believe.
Peter D. Feaver writes: President Obama is under fire for explaining the lack of progress in the fight against the Islamic State on the fact that he does not “yet have a complete strategy.” This apparently candid concession echoes the one he made 10 months ago when he acknowledged that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to confront the Islamic State.
“The problem with the strategy is that it is not working, in the sense of advancing U.S. interests in the region and achieving the stated objectives.”
Critics are understandably lambasting the president for the apparent dilatoriness, and I have some sympathy for the critique. If you begin the clock with President Obama’s remarkable January 2014 dismissal of the Islamic State as a “jayvee threat” — something the White House still pretends the president did not say, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — and trace the president’s response to the growing Islamic State threat, the charge of delinquency is almost impossible to deny.
“In the absence of U.S. leadership, local partners did not step up quickly enough to stop the Islamic State when the threat could be easily contained. Now rolling back the group’s advances requires more punch than the locals can deliver without a substantial increase in American commitment.”
Yet, in this instance, I think the critics and the president are both wrong. The problem is not an absence of strategy, it is that the strategy that does exist is failing and the administration is not yet willing to admit that fact.
[Read the full text here, at Foreign Policy]
The strategy is pretty self-evident: U.S. forces are operating under stringent self-imposed limitations so as to incentivize local partners (the Iraqi government, Sunni tribes, and moderate rebels in Syria) to do more. The United States is prepared perhaps to do a bit more if local actors do a lot more, but if local actors do not step up, the United States is not prepared to do more. On the contrary, the United States is prepared to accept hitherto “unacceptable” setbacks — the fall of Mosul, the fall of Ramadi, the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, the regional expansion of Iranian-backed terrorist organizations and militias, and on and on — rather than intervene more decisively.
“This is a recognizable strategy. There is even a catchy name for it: leading from behind.”
The problem with the strategy is that it is not working, in the sense of advancing U.S. interests in the region and achieving the stated objectives (“destroy and degrade ISIL”). In the absence of U.S. leadership, local partners did not step up quickly enough to stop the Islamic State when the threat could be easily contained. Now rolling back the group’s advances requires more punch than the locals can deliver without a substantial increase in American commitment.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: May 24, 2015 Filed under: Diplomacy, War Room, White House | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Ashton Carter, Baghdad, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Iraqi security forces, Islamic state, John McCain, Martin Dempsey, Ramadi, United States, United States Department of State
and Janet Hook
report: Defense Secretary Ash Carter held open the possibility of a strategy shift by the White House on Iraq, a few days after recent setbacks in Iraq and Syria revived sharp criticism of the Obama
administration’s approach in combating extremist groups there.
Islamic State forces last week captured the key Iraqi city of Ramadi and also expanded their reach in Syria. Critics and even allies of the administration took to Sunday television talk shows to call for a strategy change by the administration to stem the advance of Islamic State forces.
“We have under-resourced the strategy. We need to provide more firepower support…ISIS is a threat not only to Iraq and Syria. It is a threat to us.”
— Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense from 2009 to 2012
Among the calls: More aggressively arming Sunni tribes and Peshmerga forces who oppose Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.
“If there comes a time when we have to change the kinds of support we give we will make that recommendation.”
Mr. Carter said in an interview with CNN aired Sunday.
[Read the full text here, at WSJ]
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) said on ABC’s “This Week” that the battle in Ramadi was among the many reasons why he doubted the Obama administration’s claim that U.S. efforts have succeeded in degrading the strength of ISIS.
“The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight and withdrew from the site…We can give them training, we can give them equipment. We obviously can’t give them the will to fight.”
— Defense Secretary Ash Carter
“I don’t see evidence of that,” said Mr. Thornberry. “I see ISIS gaining territory in Iraq and Syria.” What is more, he said, “their ideology, their approach, their brand is growing faster than their territory.”
The administration has scaled back its near-term ambitions by delaying plans for an offensive to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. It has agreed to expand and speed shipments of military equipment to Iraqi security forces and step up training for fighters from Sunni tribes.
Mr. Carter offered a withering critique of the will of Iraqi defense forces in the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: March 12, 2015 Filed under: Think Tank, War Room | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Badr Organization, Baghdad, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Iraqi security forces, Islamic state, Shia Islam, Sunni Islam, Tikrit
As the U.S. leads from behind, Tehran creates a Shiite arc of power. What could go wrong?
While Washington focuses on Iran-U.S. nuclear talks, the Islamic Republic is making a major but little-noticed strategic advance. Iran’s forces are quietly occupying more of Iraq in a way that could soon make its neighbor a de facto Shiite satellite of Tehran.
That’s the larger import of the dominant role Iran and its Shiite militia proxies are playing in the military offensive to take back territory from the Islamic State, or ISIS. The first battle is over the Sunni-majority city of Tikrit, and while the Iraqi army is playing a role, the dominant forces are Shiite militias supplied and coordinated from Iran. This includes the Badr Brigades that U.S. troops fought so hard to put down in Baghdad during the 2007 surge.
“The irony is that critics long complained that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a strategic opening for Iran. But the 2007 surge defeated the Shiite militias and helped Sunni tribal sheikhs oust al Qaeda from Anbar. U.S. forces provided a rough balancing while they stayed in Iraq through 2011. But once they departed on President Obama’s orders, the Iraq government tilted again to Iran and against the Sunni minority.”
The Shiite militias are being organized under a new Iraqi government office led by Abu Mahdi Mohandes, an Iraqi with close ties to Iran. Mr. Mohandes is working closely with the most powerful military official in Iran and Iraq—the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran’s official news agency last week confirmed Western media reports that Gen. Soleimani is “supervising” the attack against Islamic State.
“The strategic implications of this Iranian advance are enormous. Iran already had political sway over most of Shiite southern Iraq. Its militias may now have the ability to control much of Sunni-dominated Anbar, especially if they use the chaos to kill moderate Sunnis. Iran is essentially building an arc of dominance from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut on the Mediterranean.”
This is the same general who aided the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq. Quds Force operatives supplied the most advanced IEDs, which could penetrate armor and were the deadliest in Iraq. One former U.S. general who served in Iraq estimates that Iran was responsible for about one-third of U.S. casualties during the war, which would mean nearly 1,500 deaths.
“Iran’s military surge is now possible because of the vacuum created by the failure of the U.S. to deploy ground troops or rally a coalition of forces from surrounding Sunni states to fight Islamic State. With ISIS on the march last year, desperate Iraqis and even the Kurds turned to Iran and Gen. Soleimani for help. The U.S. air strikes have been crucial to pinning down Islamic State forces, but Iran is benefitting on the ground.”
Mr. Soleimani recently declared that Islamic State’s days in Iraq are “finished,” adding that Iran will lead the liberation of Tikrit, Mosul and then all of Anbar province. While this is a boast that seeks to diminish the role of other countries, especially the U.S., it reveals Iran’s ambitions and its desire to capitalize when Islamic State is pushed out of Anbar province. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: February 21, 2015 Filed under: Religion, War Room | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Al Asad Airbase, CNN, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Iraqi security forces, Khan al Baghdadi, Peshmerga, United States Armed Forces, United States Marine Corps
Anbar provincial council chairman Sabah Karkhout said he was advised by his field commanders near the al-Baghdadi front line that ISIS militants killed at least 40 police officers and tribesman, and that most of the victims were “burned to death.”
ISIS seized control of most of the town last week. It’s just nine miles north of the Ayn al-Asad airbase, where some 400 U.S. military personnel are stationed to train Iraqi pilots in the fight against ISIS.
CNN cannot independently confirm that the people were burned to death.
Iraqi Security Forces have given accounts in situation reports obtained by CNN that speak of Iraqi forces and tribesmen killed by ISIS, but it was not clear whether their bodies burned before or after their deaths.
ISIS has not published any images of the reported killings as they have frequently done in the past.
At a news briefing Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said he’d heard about the reported killings, adding that the United States had purported images of the incident that were being analyzed. Read the rest of this entry »