Now that the Iraq proxy war scene is set, and as we reported on Friday, Prime Minister Maliki has become a pawn in yet another middle-east war between the west and the petrodollar (with both Saudi Arabia and the US making it clear Maliki has to go) and Russia (with Putin expressing his full support for the prime minister), events will likely unfold at an even faster pace. Sure enough, even this otherwise quiet weekend, in which the world is supposed to put wars on the backburner and focus on the world cup, is chock-full of Iraq news upates.
Perhaps the leading update out of the civil war-torn country is that ISIS militants, whose ultimate goal is to create a caliphate that encompasses Syria, Jordan and Iraq are well on their way to achieving what in Europe would be called a "customs union", after they captured two border crossings, one with Jordan and another with Syria, as they press on with their offensive -largely unobstructed - in one of Iraq's most restive regions.
The officials said the militants on Sunday captured the Turaibil crossing with Jordan and the al-Walid crossing with Syria after government forces there pulled out.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The capture of the two follows the fall since Friday of the towns of Qaim, Rawah, Anah and Rutba, all of which are in the Sunni Anbar province where militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have since January controlled the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital Ramadi.
As AP notes, with the capture of another town in Iraq's western Anbar province, the fourth to fall in two days, it appears that the ISIS Baghdad offensive has for now been put on hold, and instead the jihadists are focusing their efforts on a major offensive in the western provinces to cement their control and seamless crossing to and from Syria and Jordan.
The following latest maps from the Institute for the Study of War map out the most recent clashes.
This follows the deployment on Friday of volunteer fighters, a mix of new recruits and Shi'a militias, to multiple locations including Tal Afar and Taji. Asa reminder the cities of Tal Afar and Muqdadiyah, as well as the Baiji refinery town, remain the key front lines against the advance of ISIS from the north. As of late Friday, the ISF had not launched a counter-offensive against ISIS.
But why is Iraq not taking advantage of the slowdown in the ISIS offensive and seeking halt the military momentum? Simple: its army is running out of supplies!
As ABC reports, the Iraqi military ran out of Hellfire missiles six days ago, and though the U.S. is rushing more missiles into the country, Iraq has only two modified Cessna aircraft to launch them in their battle against the radical Islamic militia ISIS.
ISIS has damaged 28 tanks and shot down three helicopters, a significant percentage of the government force, and the militia killed an entire Iraqi Security Force brigade in the last couple of days at the border with Syria, which ISIS now controls.
The losses have left the Iraqi military with no offensive capability, and no real air force.
Perhaps this is why, in order to avoid a loss of confidence in the country's offensive (and defensive) weaponry, the Iraq government released the following video footage on Sunday, which reportedly shows the bombing of suspected ISIS miitant hideouts. In a world in which YouTube has become the biggest propaganda tool, we wouldn't be too surprised if this footage was doctored by the NSA or merely taken from the archives.
Meanwhile, ISIS is taking advantage of its involuntary restocking by the US army, after its plunder of an unknown number of US Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees (the topic of choice in ISIS' trolling of Michelle Obama as reported yesterday) during its Mosul offensive several weeks ago.
That wraps up the military deployments (or lack thereof) in the past 48 hours.
Parallel with the fighting, perhaps an even more important development were the statements by the regional religious leaders, those of both Iran and Iraq.
First, it was in Iraq where a Shiite Muslim cleric threatened to attack U.S. military advisers when they arrive in the country to help Iraq’s government fight Sunni extremists.
As The Hill reported, in a sermon on Friday, Nassir al-Saedi, a loyalist to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, warned of an attack against the U.S., whom he called “the occupier,” Sky News reported.
"We will be ready for you if you are back," said al-Saedi.
The warning comes days after President Obama announced he was sending 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq to bolster government security forces and help combat Sunni militant members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The British Telegraph also reported that tens of thousands of heavily armed fighters from al-Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi army, paraded through the streets of Baghdad Saturday.
The Shiite militia said it does not need or want help from the U.S.
So much for a friendly third welcome of the US "liberators."
"If the Americans are thinking about coming back here, all of we Iraqis will become time bombs - we will eat them alive," said Adel Jabr Albawi, who marched in Saturday’s parade, according to the Telegraph. "We can deal with Isis ourselves."
The threats from al-Sadr supporters could potentially open a second front for U.S. forces heading to Iraq.
But it was not just Iraq clerics who raged against a return of the US. Also joining the anti-US chorus was - perhaps surprisingy all things considered- Iran's own top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has vocally come out against US intervention in neighboring Iraq, where Islamic extremists and Sunni militants opposed to Tehran have seized a number of towns and cities.
Iraqis can overcome this conflict on their own.We’re totally agnst US& others to interfere in #Iraq’s internal affairs& don’t approve of it.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) June 22, 2014
"We strongly oppose the intervention of the U.S. and others in the domestic affairs of Iraq," Khamenei was quoted as saying by the IRNA state news agency on Sunday, in his first reaction to the crisis.
"The main dispute in Iraq is between those who want Iraq to join the U.S. camp and those who seek an independent Iraq," said Khamenei, who has the final say over government policies. "The U.S. aims to bring its own blind followers to power."
Well, he is right after all.
As a reminder, Shiite Iran supports the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, and has said it would consider any request for military aid.
Which covers the religious influence of both Iran and Iraq. But what about that other staple in everything "middle-east"- Israel? Well, they too made an appearance this weekend when it was revealed that the surprise winner from the ISIS surge, the Kurdish Regional Government, which suddenly finds itself as a major oil producer and exporter, has found its first buyer of oil. None other than Israel.
According to the WSJ, oil piped from Iraqi Kurdistan has been successfully delivered directly by the region's semiautonomous government for the first time, despite opposition from the U.S. and the Iraqi central government. The oil comes from a new pipeline built to bypass Baghdad’s pipeline, which will help maintain Iraqi Kurdistan’s financial independence.
The Kurdish Regional Government said late Friday that one million barrels of its oil piped through the Turkish port of Ceyhan "was safely delivered to the buyers." The KRG declined to say who the buyers were.
It didn't take long to discover just who the buyers were thought: "The oil is currently being unloaded at an Israeli port, according to officials at the terminal."
The U.S. State Department confirmed the delivery, criticizing the semiautonomous region's unilateral sale without Baghdad's approval and warning buyers of its oil. "The export or sale of oil absent the appropriate approval of the federal Iraqi government exposes those involved to potentially serious legal risks," a State Department official told The Wall Street Journal.
But while the US boycotted the Kurdish sale of oil, it had surprisinglylittle to say about the Israel purchase of said product.
Iraq already boycotts Israel, and won’t sell oil to the Jewish state, so Israel is not overly concerned with Iraqi threats of sanctions, unlike other countries who have oil contracts with Iraq.
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Finally, president Obama, in an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" airing Sunday, warned that the al-Qaida-inspired militants in Iraq could grow in power and destabilize the region. He said Washington must remain "vigilant" but would not "play whack-a-mole and send US troops occupying various countries wherever these organizations pop up." Why not, one wonders? What has changed from US' "whack-a-mole" policies, all "beyond successful" to date?
And that concludes the weekend Iraq event roundup.