Iran’s IRGC & US FTO Law—Think Before Leaping

This short essay briefly outlines this argument:  the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), could yield two outcomes: complicate Iraq’s internal politics, and destabilize the precarious peace that exists between Israel and Hezbollah.  My premise is that a disruptive IRGC constitutes a threat to stability across the Middle East and its capacity ought to be contained and confined so that it cannot threaten US Allies.  Doing so leveraging the FTO law is poor policy. Why should the IRGC react, perhaps convulsively to a FTO designation?  The clues lie in two considerations: first, it would signal the Iranian political establishment that the recent work of Iranian moderates to depressurize US/Iran relations has been repudiated by America thus throwing open the door for hardliners, most notably the IRGC, to escalate tensions across the Middle East, especially where they collide with US vital interests.  Here, the admonition from the Iranian far right that America was not to be trusted becomes an apparent, albeit engineered fulfillment of prophetic state demonization of … Continue…

Iraq & A Potentially Unhelpful Experiment

“One of the reassuring things [General Joe] Dunford mentioned (23 Feb 17 Brookings Institute presentation) was the “whole of government” approach to drafting the new strategy required by President Donald Trump’s executive order.  The Jan. 28 order told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to come up with a strategy within 30 days to defeat Daesh [Islamic State (IS)]…” ~ Government Executive online 24 Feb 17 There was another time America had a big plan for Iraq.  Remember the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)?  Almost 14 years later, America is more experienced in Iraq but is American leadership wiser?  Let’s briefly review how America and Iraq got here regarding two issues that will likely be key components of any administration vision for Iraq in 2017 and beyond:  police and military forces.  This article will not examine the ineptitude, dereliction, or corruption that birthed police and military institutions insufficient to withstand the test of the Islamic State (IS).  Nevertheless, this is a brief discussion of a potential Trump administration design, an Iraqi Gendarmerie. The CPA and Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNFI) … Continue…

The IS vs. Baghdad: Battles Within Competing Strategies

Why has the regime only now chosen to attack Islamic State (IS) positions in eastern Anbar?  The answers are threefold: first, the regime felt compelled to remove—finally, IS bomb-making capacity in Fallujah and several surrounding communities. Second, after three years Baghdad is overcoming some of its strategic myopia.  Mosul—as Iraq’s second largest city is in the eyes of numerous Iraqi political and military leaders, more important, more symbolic. Third, Fallujah represents a wicked military problem that the regime would like to put off postpone sidestep until Mosul is retaken. Underlying that point is the modern Iraqi history record that informs Iraqis that foreign armies—in this case the regime’s predominantly Sh’ia Iraqi Army and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), enter Fallujah in strength and leave badly mauled. Regardless of those three points, the IS is able to drive Baghdad’s strategic choice-making…so much for an Islamic State on the ropes. For its part, the IS is buying time in its planned defense of Mosul by forcing Baghdad to make the strategic decision of fighting through IS’s full … Continue…

Silencing Hate, One Life At A Time

By January 2014, the al-Maliki regime had completely lost control of its largest province, al-Anbar.  At the time, attempting to make sense of the ground situation in Anbar was difficult; rumors, stories, false facts, and misleading facts, everything conflicted.  Making sense of it was challenging.  Despite the background noise in the intelligence signal, anecdotal information gleaned from a handful of Anbar residents and tribal sheiks lent credence to the idea that an emergent IS battlefield leader–a tactical game changer, was operating in Anbar.  Some analysts conflated the Islamic State (IS) gains in Anbar with an on the ground presence of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi–“Abu Du’a”; perhaps he was occasionally present.  However, the Anbar locals were seeing someone else, someone different who interestingly, was not a stranger.  If Sunnis got close enough and survived the encounter, or if they dared study the face under his beard they might have recognized a Sunni native son.  But, to fully tell this story we have to go farther back in time. Born in 1986 and raised in the heart of … Continue…

Baghdad Has Fewer Walls That Matter

When I first reentered Baghdad’s International Zone, formerly known as the Green Zone, on a winter evening in January 2014. I was struck by how many sights, objects, and things were different, in contrast to all that seemingly remained unchangeable components of central Baghdad life. But on that winter evening, one new truth loomed:  there were no U.S. or Coalition forces to backup or backstop the Iraqi Army, Counter-Terrorism Services, and various police personnel at each of the IZ’s entry control points (ECP).  Although Iraqi forces assumed the lead for IZ ECP staffing in early January 2009, U.S. and Coalition forces took a hands off approach to Green Zone perimeter security. As if to burnish their image and bolster their perceived competence, the regime renamed the Green Zone, the International Zone (IZ). No strangers to sophisticated “optics”, the regime sought to shed the name “Green Zone”, the very name inconveniently pointed out the practical existence of a “red zone”; i.e., all of Baghdad beyond the 18 foot high concrete T-walls.  Emplaced after the 2003 invasion every … Continue…

Iraq: Losing Hearts & Minds One Pile Of Rubble At A Time

For the regime of Haider al-Abadi, a political win success looks like taking back Mosul. For Iraqis, success victory “winning” looks different. As differences go, the differences are critical. Why these differences exist side by side within Iraq is interesting, but the more important issue is what do these differences mean? I have written at this blog that the job effort of rebuilding Iraq’s military was not as important as rebuilding Iraq, but rebuilding Iraq’s Army was a rebuilding effort that had to occur first. The reasons were and remain, threefold: first, by not pausing to rebuild an Army weakened by incompetence, corruption, internal disorder, and the demands of a determined enemy, the Iraqi Army could arrive at the Syrian border out of Schlitz; that is to say near zero combat viability. Second, rebuilding the Iraqi Army meant teaching a weak institution how to win an insurgency over time and in so doing walk away from the copout strategy of winning by rubblizing Iraqi villages and towns where Daesh forces are dug in. Third, to (re-) professionalize … Continue…

Wanted: Civil Order Force–Iraq

  Clear—Hold—Build.  Since the departure of the occupation force U.S. combat mission in December, 2011 Baghdad’s regimes failed at every phase of the clear—hold—build trifecta. That is, until now. With something that resembled Islamic State(IS) capitulation losses in Tikrit and Ramadi the regime has urgent need to graduate to the next two critical phases of clear—hold—build; specifically, “hold” and “build.” However, this regime’s skilled capacity is so paltry lacking that the government may ultimately fail at the end-states of enduring stability and security—the things sought by Coalition forces, 2003-2011. The want-ad is tongue in cheek; however, it is an accurately reasoned rendering of Baghdad’s most pressing need; which if unmet will lead to an undoing of hard earned gains. When more Iraqi territory was held by the IS, the smaller Iraqi Army was better sized for its then smaller area of responsibility.  That less Iraqi territory is controlled by the IS today does not necessarily translate into more terrain controllable by the regime. As the IS retreats withdraws from Iraqi cities towns, countryside, and uninhabited spaces, … Continue…

Syria: The Coming Partition

Inside an intriguing yet familiar process, the U.S. is quietly arriving in Syria. How much, where, when, and what remains to be seen. However, as recent media coverage demonstrates, in the era of commercial overhead imagery there is no way to conceal a buildup—or for that matter an airfield. Be that airfield in the South China Sea or the Hassakah province of northeastern Syria. Meanwhile in neighboring Iraq, the US continues to incrementally increase its special operations forces.  The indicators on both sides of the status quo ante Syria-Iraq border point to a growing U.S. and anti-IS Coalition presence in the air…and on the ground. That growing presence, less intermittent and more pervasive, presages other changes in eastern Syria that will translate into effects upon Syria writ large. Absent any specifics of the still gestating, closehold U.S. DoD/Coalition anti-IS strategy, several important conclusions can be inferred as to consequences of that strategy’s operations once it is uncased and unfurled. Whatever its eventual scope and magnitude, we know for certain that the anti-IS Coalition’s existence is … Continue…

A State of Aerial Insecurity

While Egyptian and Russian state security services are quietly, doggedly pursuing the bomb maker whose device brought down a Russian MetroJet flight over the Sinai in October, 2015, events elsewhere demonstrate that airport security is weak/non-existent where it should be otherwise robust, strong. As is common practice among smaller air carriers overseas and in the U.S., Daallo Airlines—a Somalia based carrier, was operating its flight #159 on a wet-lease basis with Hermes Airlines. Within the airline industry, a wet lease is a common contractual arrangement whereby a licensed third party provides any/all qualified aircraft crews, airworthy aircraft, and appropriate services to a separate airline company; in this case, Daallo Airlines. On February 2, Daallo—a small Somali airline with regional passenger service in eastern Africa, was operating flight #159, an A-321 with 74 passengers from Mogadishu, Somalia to Dijbouti. Interestingly, Daallo has an agreement with Turkish Airlines that Turkish ticketed passengers can fly on Daallo Airlines flights to/from select eastern African airports when Turkish is otherwise unable to operate its aircraft. On February 2, Turkish was … Continue…

Does Fallujah Spell “Catastrophe” In Arabic?

City sieges have storied places in lore, history, and consciousness. Be it Troy (1200 BCE), Tyre (332 BCE), Damascus (634), Constantinople (1453), or Leningrad (1941-1944), defense of cities under determined attack did not always end as the belligerents intended. With few exceptions, sieges of cities across the millennia have two points in common: widespread collateral damage and significant non-combatant casualties. Since the beginning of 2016, life in Fallujah, Iraq is increasingly being lived well below the subsistence level by most of its estimated 30,000-60,000 non-Islamic State (IS) inhabitants captives.  Starvation is appearing. In 2014-15, it was incorrect to characterize the plan method strategy Iraqi military’s approach to retaking Fallujah as a siege campaign; rather, their approach was a loose and ineffective military cordon. For lack of political will, sufficient forces, and strategic creativity, the Iraqi military chose to place Iraqi units on select approaches to Fallujah—and always, talk tough. As months yielded to years, the population of Fallujah dwindled after the Islamic State (IS) first occupied the city in late 2013. Initially, the IS presence tended … Continue…