‘We’re bad day away from Russians asking, ‘Why are you still (illegally) in Syria?’ – top US commander

‘We’re bad day away from Russians asking, ‘Why are you still in Syria?’ – top US commander

A US special operations commander has admitted that an extended US stay in Syria runs contrary to international law and that Russia would be entirely justified in questioning its presence there.

At the Aspen Security Forum on Friday, Special Operations Command chief Army General, Raymond Thomas was asked whether American forces will remain in Syria, after Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is defeated, possibly, to support the Kurdish forces in the north of the country.

Thomas acknowledged that American forces are fighting in a sovereign Syria, where they will likely “have no ability to stay” if that presence is questioned “in terms of international law,” Thomas said, replying to the Washington Post journalist’s question.

Here’s the conundrum,” Thomas continued. “We are operating in the sovereign country of Syria. The Russians, their stalwarts, their back-stoppers, have already uninvited the Turks from Syria. We’re a bad day away from the Russians saying, ‘Why are you still in Syria, US?’

It has come up in the form of some close calls there, but it will be hard – I defer to the lawyers in the crowd and others in terms of international law on the basis for us staying there other than our CT [counterterrorism] writ. We went there for all the righteous reasons, but if the Russians play that card, we may want to stay and have no ability to do it.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has said that any uninvited foreign troops, including those from the US, are “invaders” who only prolonged the conflict.

Assad has meanwhile invited Russian forces in Syria to join the anti-terrorist operation.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said America’s presence in the war-torn country was illegitimate and accused CIA Director Mike Pompeo – who had criticized Russia’s presence in Syria – of practicing “double standards.”

READ MORE: ‘Russians find any place they can make our lives more difficult’ – CIA chief

Lavrov cited Turkish media reports of “ten US bases already having been set up in Syria” and pointed to the “hundreds of military bases of the United States all over the world.”

US still supports Syrian rebels (terrorists) : Lavrov

US still supports Syrian rebels: Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Moscow, on March 16, 2016. ©AFP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday he thinks the United States continues to support opposition groups in Syria.“I understand that the US supports much more groups than just the ones, which were announced as being left without the American weapons,” he said in an interview with NBC News.

Lavrov says US policy of dealing with ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria doomed from start
The Russian foreign minister disagreed with the host who said the United States’ decision to stop supporting Syrian opposition groups could be seen as a concession to Russia

“This decision was made a few weeks before the meeting of G20 [when the two countries’ leaders had their first personal meeting, which among other things focused on the situation in Syria],” he argued.

The Russian top diplomat refrained from commenting Washington’s statements on its cessation of support to a number of groups in Syria, saying only that what matters most is to develop a common approach to the resolution of the Syrian crisis.

“We certainly concentrate on the de-escalation zones, which are designed to stop the fighting between the government and the armed opposition. For them not to attack each other, and hopefully for them to concentrate entirely on fighting ISIL (terror organization Islamic State, which is outlawed in Russia). Therefore, the logic of the opposition and the government to sign a ceasefire, to enter into cessation of hostilities arrangement is very much our logic,” Lavrov stressed.

Presence of any foreign troops or bases in Syria after the conflict resolution will be legitimate with the Syrians’ consent, Lavrov said.

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ALSO READ  US caves to Israeli interests in Syrian de-escalation deal: report

“After the country has been liberated, after the settlement has been reached to the satisfaction of all the Syrian ethnic, confessional and political groups, the presence of the foreign troops, of foreign bases on the soil of Syria would be only legitimate with the consent of the Syrians themselves,” Lavrov said when asked about Russia’s stance on deployment of US bases and checkpoints in north Syria.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s concern about deployment of two Russian bases in Syria whereas the United States are reported to have deployed about a dozen shows double standards, Lavrov said.

Moscow has no plans to deploy new military base in Syria — Russian Defense Ministry
“So if a gentleman, who represents a country (that) illegitimately have created ten bases in Syria, is concerned very much about two bases which have been established on the basis of our intergovernmental agreement with a government that is a member of the United Nations, than something is wrong with double standards,” he added.

“Not to mention that hundreds and hundreds of military bases of the United States all over the world and all around Russia seemingly do not cause any concern to Mr. Pompeo or anybody else,” Lavrov said.

Syria’s government did not ask the US’s help in the fight against terrorists, so the presence of US troops in that country is illegitimate, he said. Russia assumes that this presence is justified by a sole goal, which is the fight against so-called Islamic State and other terrorists.

On Tuesday, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency published a map of Syria with locations of US bases and outposts. The agency said that the US had deployed troops and hardware at two bases and eight outposts in northern Syria held by Kurdish Democratic Union party

Pentagon Establishes Ten Illegal US Military Bases in Northern Syria

Pentagon Establishes Ten Illegal US Military Bases in Northern Syria

By Russia Insider, July

No fewer than eleven illegal military bases within Syria’s borders. Turkey Reveals The Extent of Illegal US Military Base Building in Syria

Let us be under no illusions.

Washington objective is to fracture and break up Syria as well as establish a permanent military presence in both Northern and Southern Syria. 

(Michel Chossudovsky, GR, Editor)

*  *  *

Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency has publicized the locations of 10 US bases in northern Syria, many of them previously unknown to the wider public.

For Turkey revealing the extent of increased US support for the Kurdish YPG militia—which Turkey insists is one and the same with the Kurdish PKK group it faces at home—serves to mobilize its public against the US.

Blowing the cover of the Americans is just a cherry on top.

The angle US media is centering on is just how upset the US is with Turkey for publishing this. Pentagon has asked US outlets not to reprint the information published by Anadolu and claimed doing so would endanger lives of US soldiers.

The Daily Beast:

Spokesmen for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, and for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, asked The Daily Beast not to publish the detailed information reported by Anadolu.

“The discussion of specific troop numbers and locations would provide sensitive tactical information to the enemy which could endanger Coalition and partner forces,” wrote Col. Joe Scrocca, coalition director of public affairs.

“Publishing this type of information would be professionally irresponsible and we respectively [sic] request that you refrain from disseminating any information that would put Coalition lives in jeopardy.”

RT:

“While we cannot independently verify the sources that contributed to this story, we would be very concerned if officials from a NATO ally would purposefully endanger our forces by releasing sensitive information.”

However, we’d like to point out there is a party that has far more reason to be upset than the US. That would be Syria itself.

Along with the base at Al-Tanf the the US now has at least 11 permanently manned installations on the territory of Syria — all of them illegal.

All images in this article are from the author.

Are the Kurds crazy?

Read on and we’ll tell you


By Ziad Fadel, Syrianperspective

The media is abuzz with news that the Caliph of Cockadoodledoo is not dead, but alive, somewhere in Syria.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that area in Syria will be where American forces and allies are operating.  After all, what could possibly be more dramatic than Donald Trump’s victory over the modern world’s eidos of evil, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdaadi.  His triumph will be greater than Obama’s when the former president basked onanistically in his own self-made glory after assassinating the malevolent, Usaamaa Bin Laadin.

I reported that Al-Baghdaadi was killed 1 year ago by the Syrian Air Force at Al-Mayaadeen.  I hold to my report and consider the issue closed.  It is my argument that the Saddamist Iraqi officers running ISIS are deliberately concealing his death the way the Taliban concealed the death of their leader, Mullah Umar.  If I am wrong, then, I will own up to it.  Yet, I can sense the vibrations of falsehood and deceit all around me.  Is it possible that the Caliph is the ultimate “one hit wonder”?  He has only been seen one time since his sleep-inducing speech at the Al-Noori Mosque in Mosul.

Isn’t it interesting how “sources” emanating from the Kurds in Iraq are trumpeting his rebirth.  Why, it would seem the Americans are planning to bomb Al-Raqqa and conveniently find that one of their bombs landed right on the cringing Caliph turning him into thousands of unidentifiable particles.  Pieces of his body will be flown to England or Germany where unnamed, anonymous, forensic specialists will be able to “confirm” the identity of this blackguard whose rise to eminence was engineered by United States and whose demise was concocted by his self-same creators.  I don’t know about you, folks, but, I think the fiction writers at Langley are working hard to make all this happen.

Like the Mummy played by Boris Karloff in the classic original or the Mummy produced by Hammer Films and played by Christopher Lee, this Caliph is about to undergo a rare treat:  Resurrection of the Body!  Hollywood can do anything, even at Shepperton Studios outside London.  Like Lazarus or a myriad movie psychopaths, he will undergo extinction and rebirth.  I just can’t wait until it comes to a theater near my home.

There is no question any longer about the Kurds going mad.  They are putting statehood to a referendum which the Iranians have called “ill-advised” and the Turks have called “casus belli”.  Needless to say, the United States, anxious to carve Syria up according to plans made for them by the European settlers of the Zionist Obscenity, is behind all this silliness.  And Kurds have, evidently, swallowed the narrative, hook, line and sinker.  Masoud Barazaani, the Iranian-born septuagenarian leader of the Iraqi Kurds, thinks he’s found that Irish pot at the end of the rainbow. He might be surprised to learn that the pot is one used in British bedrooms and dumped out regularly by Kurdish chamberlains.

It appears to many of us that the Kurds have been enlivened by the promises of Donald Trump.  Unaware that the Kurds have been snookered by the Treaty of Lausanne, (because Mr. Trump simply doesn’t read anything), and have been the victims of an entirely endless concatenation of promises, treaties and covenants, he actually thinks the Kurds are stupid enough to fall for his razz-ma-tazz NYC jive. Well,……….they are!  Jokes about Kurdish ignorance are as common as Polish jokes in the U.S.  And that’s because the Kurds keep doing silly things like believing American and British lies.  If the truth be told, the only man who ever kept his promise to the Kurds was Saddam Hussein who vowed, in private, to kill them all and unleashed his cousin, Chemical Ali, to make good on that vow.

Always stateless, they have pined for their own state since time immemorial.  But, the Good Lord works in strange ways.  You see, God in all his magnificence platzed these unfortunates in an area, not only devoid of any access to the sea, but, also, an area populated by everybody else, including Arabs, Iranians, Ayzidis, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Armenians, Assyrians, Azeris, Greeks and even, probably, Trobriand Warriors, Inuits and Amazons, to name but a few.

They have played important roles in Middle Eastern history by producing some of the greatest leaders in aggressive political Islam, not the least of whom is the legendary general and king, SALAAHUDEEN AL-AYYOOBI, who is actually more popular in Europe than he is in the Arab Fertile Crescent.  Saladin, as he is known in the West, was lionized in the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” directed by Ridley Scott.  The movie drew raves in Kobane, but irked all American Evangelists and Pentecostals who viewed the movie as propaganda for the Koran.  It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the actor who played the role of Saladin was an Arab Syrian named Ghassaan Mas’ood.  Arabs still believe to this day that Saladin was an Arab although you would think that Saladin’s grandfather’s name, Shirkawaih, would be a dead give-away that the Ayyubid king was anything but Arab.

The plan is clear.  I have written about it before.  The army being trained by the Yanks at Al-Tanf on the Jordanteezian border will meet up with the Kurdish heroes after the latter gloriously liberate Al-Raqqa.  Together, these juggernauts will interdict the Baghdad to Damascus Highway and squelch Iranian hopes of reaching the Syrian littoral and/or the boundaries of historic Palestine.  Like the Iranians couldn’t figure that one out.

Well, folks, the big bad army at Al-Tanf is now wedged in between a rock and a hard place.  Iranian-trained Iraqi and Afghan fighters, Hizbollah officers, Syrian Army troops and Popular Defense Committee fighters, all bristling with arms, have now poisoned the well and appear to have junked the entire plan.  With Jaysh Al-Islam now falling apart thanks to Saudi Arabian connivance and unbridled stinginess, it appears that the dream of a Southern Front has given way to a much-needed truce back by the local populations,  It’s all going so dreadfully for the American, Zionist and British planners.  So dreadful that they are packing their bags loaded with Syrian-made rosaries and boxes of baqlaawa.

But, what about the Turks?  We are assuming that the clown in the White House has promised the Kurds the world.  What could those promises entail?  Will the U.S. challenge Turkish revanchism in northern Syria?  If the U.S. does that, the entire NATO alliance goes up in smoke.  It’s kind of like wishful thinking.  Trump paraded his anti-NATO message throughout his campaign and this might be his chance to really put the kibosh on the entire alliance.

Will the Turks balk if the U.S. keeps its word to the Kurds?  I don’t know.  Such a scenario seems to be the kind that would cause a fissure in the party ruled by Sultan Erdoghan or, at least, bring about huge demonstrations with Turks and Kurds all demanding the ouster of the Big Cheese in Ankara.  If the Kurds are allowed to announce the creation of their new state, what will Syria and Iran do?  Will they balk at confronting the U.S.?  Will we see the start of a new insurgency aimed at toppling the PKK or PYG or will we see Iraqi forces moving in on Barazaani?

To be brutally frank, I don’t think the U.S. has thought this one through.  It appears that the CIA is taking its cues from Tel Aviv while everybody else is using a Ouija Board.  Inasmuch as the Syrian-Iranian-Russian plans appear to be 10 removes ahead, the American one is best described as retrograde – every step forward characterized by 10 steps backward – and there is no end in sight for the anarchy in American foreign policy.  I only hope that the Kurds wake up before it’s just too late.

Ziad


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Ziad Fadel - SyrianPerspective
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Certified Interpreter for Arabic/English
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Naser Kandil: Ersal, Deir Ezzor, Palestine and Arabism ستون دقيقة مع ناصر قنديل ……الحلقة ال 58

POPULAR MOBILIZATION UNITS: ESTABLISHMENT, WAR ON ISIS, ROLE IN FUTURE OF IRAQ

South Front

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

In June 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS) occupied about one-third of Iraq’s territory, including Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. It meant the radical islamists were close to capturing Baghdad and imposing its authority over all of Iraq. At that point the Iraqi government recognized the real danger of the situation and started forming militia units to liberate the country from IS. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) played a decisive role in that process.

The PMU (Al-HashdAl-Sha’abi) are pro-government forces operating under the formal leadership of the Iraqi military and consisting of about 70 factions. They were formed at the directive of Iraqi religious authorities after IS seized large swaths of territory in several provinces north of Baghdad in 2014.

Establishment history

One of the internal political factors which led to the PMU’s appearance in Iraq was the failure of state capacity in the realm of national security, against the backdrop of the rise of IS influence. The fall of Mosul due to massive corruption and Iraqi army’s inability to carry out its key functions meant then-PM Maliki lost faith in the armed forces. According to former Minister of Interior Mohammed Al-Ghabban, “The PMU is a unique, successful and necessary experience that was produced by the period.”

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

Click to see the full-size image

Having armed loyal Shia militias, in contrast to the doubtfully reliable multi-ethnic Iraq units, turned out to to be a far more effective means of restoring order.

On June 15, 204, the leader of Iraqi Shia Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling for struggle against IS and establishing the PMU. One should note here that Sistani did not limit his fatwa to Iraqi Shia. He insisted on characterizing the national mobilization forces as a national institution with the participation of all ethnic, religious, and social groups.

Composition

The core of the PMU are such armed Iraqi Shia formation as the Badr Organization, Asaib ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, Harakat Hezbollahal-Nujaba, Kata’ib al-Imam Ali, and Kata’ib Jund al-Imam. These units collaborate with certain Sunni tribes in the Salaheddin, Niniveh, and Anbar provinces that were occupied by IS. In addition, PMU includes units consisting of Christians, Turkmen, Kurds, and Yazidis.

Badr Organization. This formation was created in 2003 from the Badr Brigades, the paramilitary organization of the Shia Islamist party “Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq” (ISCI). Its leader is Hadi Al-Amiri. At present it is not only a military organization but also a political party with 22 seats in Iraqi parliament. Its military units are 10 to 15 thousand troops strong. Its units were spotted in every PMU operation against IS.

Asaib ahl al-Haq (League of Righteous People).  This group was formed in 2006 and is closely tied to Lebanese Hezbollah. Its ideology supports the official line of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Its leader is Qais al-Khazali. As of 2016, it had about 10 thousand troops. Its subunit, called Haidar al-Karar Brigades, is operating on Syria’s territory.

Kata’ib Hezbollah (Battalions of the Party of God). This organization was formed in 2003 in order to resist the US invasion of Iraq. Led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and has up to 30 thousand troops. Its fighters also support government forces in Syria.

Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions). Militarized Iraqi Shia militia. Formed in 2013 to defend “Shia holy sites around the world” and preserving the country’s unity. Led by Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani who used to be a member of Iraq’s Supreme Islamic Council. These units also fight in Syria in support of the government, mainly in Damascus province. No information on personnel strength.

Harakat Hezbollahal-Nujaba (Movement of the Party of God’s Nobles). Formed in 2013 in response to the drawn-out war in Syria and to disputes with Asaib ahl al-Haq leadership. The two groups still maintain close ties and often cooperate on the battlefield. Led by Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi whose ideology is consistent with that of Ayatollah Khamenei. No information on strength. These units also operate in Syria.

Kata’ib al-Imam Ali (Imam Ali Battalions). Armed wing of the Iraq Islamic Movement. Formed in June 2014 in response to IS aggression. Led by Shibl al-Zayd who earlier fought in the Mahdi Army under Moqtada al-Sadr. Its distinguishing feature is a unit formed from Christians, the Spirit of God Jesus Son of Mary Battalions. No data on strength. Its units participated in liberating Palmyra, battles for Tikrit, and the siege of Mosul.

Kata’ib Jund al-Imam (The Imam’s Soldiers’ Battalions). Its leader ‘Abu Ja’afar’ Ahmed al-Asadi is the PMU press secretary. Its ideology is consistent with that of Khamenei. No data on strength. Its units participated in the liberation of Baiji (2014-15).

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

Ahmed al-Asadi

By various estimates, the PMU today is 60-90 thousand strong. The national mobilization reserve on Iraq’s territory is up to 3 million, including women. National mobilization forces also include support units (combat engineers, medical, logistics, media). Most PMU fighters have significant combat experience amassed during the US invasion of Iraq.

The PMU is headed by Falih al-Fayyadh whose deputy and military commander is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an engineer. In military respects the PMU are subordinate to the Iraqi army and executive authority. One should also add that the PMU has several HQs in Baghdad and Najaf.

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

Falih al-Fayyadh

Iraqi government is supporting the PMU both militarily and financially. Its budget is about 1.16 trillion Iraqi pounds. Iraq’s population is making major financial contributions to the PMU. Weapons and munitions come mainly from neighboring Iran. The government of Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian Arab Army have sent their best-trained officers and junior commanders to the PMU units in order to increase their combat effectiveness.

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis

Weapons and equipment

PMU have a large number of Soviet-made APCs provided by the Iraqi army, and also many repaired and overhauled armored vehicles. Armor provided by Iran (such as BMP-1s, as well as T-55 and T-72 tanks and their clones) is also found in PMU. Moreover, PMU has been observed using US-made armor (M1 Abrams, M113 APCs, Humvees, MRAPs). PMU manufactures and makes extensive use of improvised rockets and munitions, and also perform major engineering preparation of the battlefield, including river crossings, fortifications, and airfields.

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

Click to see the full-size image

Operations

Since the moment of its creation, PMU conducted many defensive and offensive ops against IS. The first major success is the lifting of the blockade off Amirli, in Salahaddin province in June-August 2014. Turkmen units and fighters from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq particularly distinguished themselves in this fight. From October through December 2014, PMU liberated Dhuluʿiya and Jurf Al Sakhar.

In November 2014 the operation to liberate Anbar province capital Ramade was launched, which resulted in a decisive victory of popular mobilization forces and the Iraqi army. Radical islamists brutally killed over 1200 inhabitants, whose bodies were found in the city and its outskirts. This victory had a major psychological impact and revealed the true face of the adherents of the “one true Islam.”

The operation to liberate Baiji took place between December 2014 and October 2015. The city was home to a large oil refinery and also a construction materials factory. Participants in this battle included Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ibHezbollah, Badr Organization subunits, and others. The road connecting Baiji to Baghdad was seized by government forces which allowed them to use the city as a jumping off point for offensive on Mosul.

The battle for the capital of Salahaddin province, Tikrit, took place in March and April 2015, with PMU support. This operation saw the participation of Asaib ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib al-Imam Ali, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, subunits of the Badr Organization, Turkmen formations (16-th Brigade) as well as Sunni militia, the Martyrs of Salahiddeen (up to 5,000 fighters).

In early March 2016, the Operation Imam Ali al-Hadi was initiated in order to liberate Samara in Salahaddin province. All PMU units participated in support of federal police and Iraqi army. This operation had several objectives: liberating Baghdad and Salahaddin provinces, ensuring access to the tombs of two military imams, surrounding Anbar province, and liberating Samarra.

On May 23, 2016, Iraqi PM Haidar al-Abbadi announced Operation Destruction of Terrorism to liberate Falluja. This operation saw the participation of Iraqi army, federal police, the Golden Division, PMU units, and local militias. PMU participation was limited to fighting IS militants on the outskirts of Falluja and the Khaldiya island. The city was liberated on June 26.

It’s possible that the most important PMU achievement is its contribution to liberating Mosul, which began on October 17, 2016. PMU did not participate directly in the assault, but played an important role in besieging the city from direction of Tal-Afar. These operations cut off IS fighters’ retreat corridors toward Syria, and blocked possible reinforcements from Syria. The Mosul city itself was taken under control by government forces, but the operation is continuing since not all the militants have been eliminated.

Separately, the PMU also launched an effort aimed at reaching the border with Syria west of Tal Afar. PMU fighters liberated a large area from ISIS, including Al-Baaj, al-Qayrawan and Hatar, and reached the border with Syria. Controlling a part of the Syrian-Iraqi border, the PMU once again confirmed its important role in the ongoing anti-ISIS effort in Syria and Iraq and set a foothold for further operations in the border area.

The PMU are also playing an important humanitarian role, using their volunteers to collect contributions, distribute humanitarian aid, and provide medical assistance to civilians forced to leave their homes by the fighting. The PMU dramatically transformed the battlefield since it is they who undermined IS ascendancy. They were able to rapidly concentrate a large number of troops in a given sector and deploy units without the need to coordinate with higher HQs. One should also note the media component of PMU operations, which use IS’ own weapon against it. Media were used to organize objective coverage of operations which took public criticism into account.

Role in future political life of Iraq

The liberation of Mosul, IS military defeats in Syria, and the announced death of its leader, have placed a new question on the agenda—who will govern Iraq.

Western media are circulating information that Iraq’s Sunnis have begun to form a new insurgency. Tarikat Nakshbandi, Revolutionary Brigades of 1920, and Khavija City Baathists in the Kirkuk province have declared their intent to fight against the current Iraqi government after IS is destroyed.

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

Click to see the full-size image

Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order. The armed wing of the Tarikat Nakshbandi Sufi order. By some estimates, its size and influence are second only to the IS. It has some 5 thousand fighters. It waged guerrilla warfare against US forces and Iraqi government forces. Remarkably, in June 2014 they participated in the assault on Mosul alongside IS. Its leader, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was the Deputy Chairman of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council between 1979 and 2003, and right now is one of the most US-sought high-ranking Saddam Hussein-era officials.

Therefore the defeat of IS will only be to their benefit, since it will eliminate the main competitor, and moreover after IS terror any other group looks more attractive to the Sunnis.

Moreover, with the defeat of IS Al-Qaeda could also reinvent itself, though it seems unlikely. IS collapse may show islamists of the whole world that Al-Qaeda’s strategy to establish a khalifate only in the final stage of the jihad, when the entire population already unconditionally shares jihadist ideology, is more productive than a khalifate established by violence. However, al-Qaeda currently does not play the role in the world of radical Islam that it played 10-15 years ago.

One also shouldn’t dismiss IS. The physical suppression of IS and Shia celebrations will hardly have a positive effect on Iraqi and Syrian Sunni dispositions. One can’t rule out new Sunni terrorist groups. Since the start of the Mosul battle, IS militants were able to carry out several major and bloody terror attacks in various parts of Iraq, including Kirkuk, Tikrit, Samarra, and Baghdad. With IS transitioning to guerrilla war after military defeat in Iraq and Syria, one can expect more of them. And it will be more difficult to determine who, radical Sunnis or IS survivors, is behind them.

One may draw a conclusion from the Middle East chaos that US policies have totally failed. But that would be incorrect. US will continue to exert significant influence on political processes. If one were to leave everything as it is, Iran would fill the created vacuum using Shia militias which exist to varying extent in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq. This will threaten the positions of such countries as Israel and Jordan.

The relations between Iraqi Kurds and the government are also complex. The Iraqi Kurdistan is a self-sufficient autonomous entity with own administration, economy, police, and army. Moreover, a referendum is planned for Sept. 25, 2017 on Iraqi Kurdistan independence, which can’t help but create tensions with Iraq’s federal government and with minorities who live on IK territory (Turkomen, Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs). The Arab-Kurd relations are mde worse by the memory of Saddam Hussein’s repressions during the Iran-Iraq war, and the Kurds’ active support of the US administration during its occupation of Iraq.

As far as PMU future is concerned, there are several nuances. PMU has no single political leader as it is a militarized entity. There are current and potential frictions within PMU due to competition for power among three factions: Khamenei’s, Ali al-Sistani’s, and Moqtada al-Sadr’s.

The Khamenei faction includes several relatively small entities formed by Iran. Its leaders are proud of that affiliation, emphasizing their religious obedience to Khamenei. These groups include, for example, Saraya Khurasani and Kata’ib Abu Fadhlal-Abbas. This faction has the aim of furthering Iranian interests in Syria, and protecting Iran’s border regions. These militarized formations are either fully formed political parties, or are becoming them in anticipation of planned 2018 provincial and parliamentary elections. These groups are close to former PM Maliki, who convinced them to join the Coalition for Rule of Law during the Iraq parliamentary elections in 2014. Though initially formed as military organizations, these formations have become genuine political parties under former PM’s leadership.

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

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The second PMU faction includes several military formations which swore allegiance to the supreme leader of Iraqi Shia, Ayatollah Sistani, and whose interests are non-political. They were formed exclusively by Sistani’s fatwa to protect Iraqi Shia holy sites and literate territory from IS. In 2014, there was a real threat that IS could destroy Shia holy sites in Baghdad and other provinces. This faction’s main formations are Saraya al-Ataba al-Abbasiya, Saraya al-Ataba al-Hussainiya, Saraya al-Ataba al-Alawiya, and Liwa ‘Al ial-Akbar. Each of those names corresponds to one of the four sacred mosques in Kadhimi, Karbala, and Najaf. According to some of leaders and members of these groups, they will be disbanded as soon as IS threat dissipates. This view is based on Sistani’s fatwa being issued in response to a specific threat and having a temporary character. Their key mission is protecting Shia zones and obeying Sistani’s orders. It means this faction’s groups could be disbanded or integrated into Iraqi military.

Peace regiments (Sarai al-Salam) were formed by radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr right after the slaughter perpertrated by radical islamists in 2014 in Camp Speicher. This amounted to rebranding the Mahdi Army which was disbanded in 2008 but retained its core of commanders and specialists. They were easily remobilized, since Sadr had more experience working with militarized formations than other leaders. By some estimates Sarai al-Salam could quickly mobilize up to 100,000 men. According to faction leaders, its power is not limited by number of volunteers but by shortage of resources, particularly money and military equipment. That’s because, unlike other factions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s group is largely cut off from Iranian funding. The movement, and its semi-military character, is popular in Iraq due to its activities in Iraq prior to US invasion in 2003. Unlike other parties and military groups, Sadrists were not part of the elite that returned to Iraq after US-led invasion. The movement was embedded with ordinary Iraqi citizens, not elites. Sadr has charted his own course, to the disappointment of Iran’s leaders who poured resources into Mahdi Army in 2003-10. Today Sadr and his militarized formations have a strong pro-national position, reject Khamenei’s politics, and are against the presence of any foreign troops in Iraq. This stance has introduced confusion concerning the role Sarai al-Salam in PMU. From time to time, Sadr’s supporters claim they are part of PMU, yet in other instances they claim they are not. This is partly the result of not recognizing Khamenei’s faction as part of PMU, and an even greater rejection of Iranian influence and of former PM Maliki in Iraq. However, this faction finds it useful to declare itself part of PMU due to its popularity among Iraqis.

Matters of contention within the PMU

Involvement in Syrian affairs. Khamenei’s faction remains close to Iran and favors aiding Assad’s government. Many of those groups, particularly the core of seven militarized formations, still support the legitimate government of Syria and are ready to help defend Damascus. But Sistani’s and Sadr’s supporters were against getting involved in aiding Assad. Sadr even criticized Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah for its official involvement in Syria in 2014. He claimed that Shia movements and parties ought to observe their own jurisdictions and not complicate their politics by intervening in other countries’ affairs. He also criticized Iraqi Shia militiamen for their presence in Syria. Moreover, many of Sistani’s unit commanders are more concerned with protecting Shia territory and holy sites in Iraq than intervening in Syria.

Integrating PMU into the existing Iraqi security institutions is another contentious matter. Khamenei’s faction is wary of being integrated into the Iraqi army or police, since they are still too weak post-2014. For their part, most groups tied to Sistani and Sadr voiced readiness to integrate into state institutions or even disband some of their military formations.

Whether PMU is integrated into existing armed forces or preserved as a separate branch of forces will have consequences not only for Iraq’s security but for its politics. If the acting Prime Minister Abadi is able to effectively and painlessly integrate PMU into Iraqi military, it will be a convincing argument in favor of his leadership. But the fact that Abadi kept PMU from participating in assault on Mosul and send them to a secondary sector, even though Iraqi military showed weakness and PMU could have been used effectively along the main axis of advance, shows that PMU will continue to have a decisive influence on the political balance of power in Iraq. Thus next year PMU will inevitably become a political instrument used by all parties in their efforts to attain power in Iraq.

Popular Mobilization Units: Establishment, War On ISIS, Role In Future Of Iraq

Iraqi PM is in Mosul

Conclusion

The PMU may be considered one of the biggest military and civilian organizations in the Middle East. They are the most likely and desirable center of  political power in Iraq. The PMU unites numerous Sunni, Shia, Christian, Yazidi, Turkoman, and Kurdish armed formations, which means that the PMU, in spite of internal disagreements, is a platform for dialogue on military and political matters, and also a guarantee against the internal or external threat of radical Islam. Currently only the PMU has major experience of conducting military operations, working with local population on humanitarian matters, and ensuring objective media coverage. Most ordinary Iraqis believe the PMU should have a political future, because it is they who broke the back of ISIS in Iraq and are ready to aid neighboring Syria.

For Iraq to be able to address own problems, it should strengthen local and federal institutions in order to combat armed terrorists and reach mutual understanding among ethno-religious communities. Only then will Iraq be able to translate its current military victories into long-term political dividends and ensure peace and stability in the region.

 

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Syrian War Report – July 21, 2017: Fierce Clashes Between Army And ISIS

 

An intense fighting is ongoing between government forces and ISIS terrorists in the area of the Homs-Palmyra highway and near the border with Iraq.

According to pro-government sources, 30 ISIS members were killed and over 50 were injured during clashes in the area of Humaymah near the border with Iraq. 2 Syrian soldiers were killed as a result of the ISIS attack at the Al-Musheirefah Hill in the eastern Homs countryside. At the same time, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies advanced north of the Homs-Palmyra road and captured the Al-Alam Hill south of Taliaa al-Gharbia.

Meanwhile, Russian airstrikes destroyed at least 3 ISIS vehicles in the area of Jub Al-Abied east of Salamiyah.

According to local sources, government forces are going to resume the operation in the eastern Hama countryside within few days. The SAA, the National Defense Forces (NDF) and the Desert Hawks Brigade still see the liberation of Uqayrabat as a key part of the wider effort against ISIS in central Syria.

Right now, government forces cannot push to Deir Ezzor because of a high number of ISIS units operating in the rear of its logistical lines. Sukhna is another point that has to be liberated to resolve the situation.

An intense fighting is ongoing in eastern Damascus where the SAA and the NDF have been attempting to pressure Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the  Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam on multiple fronts. The main clashes are ongoing in the Ayn Tarma area. However, sporadic firefights were also reported in the northeastern part of the pocket. According to pro-militant sources, over 30 government soldiers were killed in the recent clashes.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed up by the US-led coalition, are storming the neighborhoods of Nezlit Shehada and Al-Shaddadi in Raqqah city. According to pro-SDF sources, over 27 ISIS members were killed in the recent clashes and an IED plant was captured. According to ISIS, 8 SDF members were killed recently.

The battle for Raqqah has turned into a very complicated task for the US-backed force. While there is little doubt that the city will be liberated, the question is how much time and manpower will this effort take?

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