If you frequent these pages, you’re well aware of why the US decided to release helmet cam footage of a raid on an ISIS prison in the northern Iraqi town of Huwija.
Put simply, Baghdad has had just about enough of Washington’s “strategy” for fighting terror in the country and when PM Haider al-Abadi said he would welcome Russian airstrikes, the US panicked. Rather than try to recount the story by paraphrasing ourselves, we’ll simply include our most succinct summary of what exactly is going on in Iraq, originally published here:
Perhaps the most astounding thing about recent events in the Mid-East is the extent to which outcomes that seem far-fetched one week become reality the next.
This dynamic began back in June when Iran’s most powerful general vowed to “surprise the world” with his next move in Syria. Just weeks later, he was in Moscow (in violation of a UN travel ban) hatching a plan with Putin to launch an all-out invasion on behalf of Assad on the way to forcibly enacting a dramatic shift in the Mid-East balance of power. Before the West had a chance to react, Moscow was establishing an air base at Latakia.
As all of this unfolded we began to suggest that it would be only a matter of time before Russian airstrikes began in Iraq.
The setup, we contended, was just too perfect. Iran controls both the military and politics in the country and so, we speculated that The Kremlin would get a warm welcome if Putin decided to launch an air campaign against ISIS targets across Syria’s eastern border.
Sure enough, Baghdad moved to establish an intelligence cell with Russia, Syria, and Iran in September and when PM Haider al-Abadi said he would welcome Russian airstrikes, it was clear that the US was about to be booted out of the country it “liberated” more than a decade ago.
Subsequently, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford traveled to Baghdad and gave Abadi an ultimatum: "...it’s either us or the Russians."
Well, despite Dunford’s contention that Abadi promised not to enlist Moscow’s help, just days later Iraq gave Moscow the green light to strike ISIS convoys fleeing Syria.
A desperate Washington then attempted to prove that the US could still be effective at fighting terrorism by sending 30 Delta Force soldiers into battle with the Peshmerga on a prison raid mission in the Northern Iraqi town of Huwija. Conveniently, one American soldier apparently had a GoPro strapped to his helmet and the footage was almost immediately leaked to Western media.
Washington apparently assumed that the successful raid would be enough to restore the faith because the Pentagon immediately began to formulate a "plan" to send Apache gunships and their crews to Baghdad. In what has to be considered one of the more embarrassing moments in a string of setbacks for America's Mid-East "strategy," Baghdad flat out told the US "thanks, but no thanks":
"This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the U.S. Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations," spokesman Sa'ad al-Hadithi told NBC News. "We have enough soldiers on the ground."
The White House kind of brushed that off and moved on to talking about spec ops in Syria, but the implication is that if the US plans on getting more heavily involved in combat operations in Iraq, Washington will have to do so through Erbil, not through Baghdad.
This all comes on the heels of a push by Iraqi forces and Iran-backed militias to retake a key oil refinery at Baiji from Islamic State. That battle underscored the extent to which Tehran essentially controls the Iraqi army (not to mention Iraqi politics). Consider the following brief excert from The NY Times:
"A spokesman for Shiite militias said that several thousand Shiite militiamen were fighting in and near Baiji, which is more than the estimated number of Iraqi soldiers also fighting there."
As regular readers know, this is no conspiracy theory. It's common knowledge among those who study the region that Iran's militias are more powerful than the Iraqi regulars and the Quds Force essentially controls the political process in Baghdad. You can read more about this here, here, and here.
This creates a rather tenuous situation for Washington. The US must maintain a kind of loose alliance with the Shiite militias in Iraq lest the Pentagon should be forced to explain to the public why America doesn't support groups that are very effectively fighting ISIS. But there are two problems with that: i) it's not entirely clear that the US wants to rid Iraq and Syria of ISIS and you can bet the IRGC is whispering that in the ears of every Shiite politician in Baghdad, and ii) these very same Shiite militias are fighting the Assad regime at Aleppo where the US is supplying anti-tank weapons to Sunni extremists.
Well, just as the Western public is beginning to realize that something rather fishy is going on in Syria, Iraqis are throwing in the towel on the US "effort" to rid the country of Islamic State fighters. Here's WSJ with more on how the locals feel in the wake of the assault on the Baiji refinery:
A big victory over Islamic State here provided fresh ammunition for the many Iraqi Shiites who prefer Iran as a battlefield partner over the U.S., despite indications that Washington could soon intensify its battle against the extremist militants.
Shiite militias and politicians backed by Iran have claimed much of the credit for the Iraqi recapture a little over a week ago of the city and oil refinery of Beiji, about 130 miles north of Baghdad. Militia fighters danced and posed for pictures on tanks and armored cars near the bombed-out shell of the massive refinery there, Iraq’s largest.
Powerful Iraqi politicians and militia leaders have cited the yearlong operation to retake the city as evidence that Iraqis can combat Islamic State alone—or with help only of the Iran-backed militias. Some are now lobbying Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to rely less on the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State and more on the PMF.
“Iraqi people in general, not only us, have started to feel that the Americans are not serious at all about the fight against Islamic State,” said Moeen Al- Kadhimi, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Badr Corps militia. “Every victory that the PMF does without the help of the Americans is a big embarrassment for the Americans.”
For those who might have missed it, here are images from the fight which depict Iran's proxy armies on the scene at Baiji:
Of course rather than simply take the high road and consent that regardless of who was ultimately responsible for taking back the refinery, it was a step in the right direction, Washington has decided to deride Iran's militias for absolutely no reason at all. Back to WSJ:
U.S. officers say the Iran-backed proxy militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, played only a supporting role. The bulk of the fighting was by Iraqi federal police and elite counterterrorism units trained by the U.S., the American officers said.
“It’s easy to say after the fact that ‘we did this,’ ” said Maj. Michael Filanowski, an officer for the Combined Joint Task Force, which organizes operations of the U.S.-led coalition. “But if you look at the sequence of events, it was Iraqi security forces that did the assault operations.”
He called the militias a “hold force,” meaning they secured the territory after it fell to the Iraqi forces.
So let's just be clear. Either, i) the US is so petty that the Pentagon is willing to argue over who played a larger role in retaking Iraq's largest oil refinery from ISIS, or ii) Washington is actually angry that ISIS was defeated and is thus lashing out at Tehran.
Whatever the case, it's too late. The game is up for the US in Iraq:
On Monday, Ali Adeeb, head of the State of Law bloc that controls the ruling coalition in parliament, called on Iraq’s government to prevent the U.S. from launching further ground operations like the prison raid.
Meanwhile, pro-Iranian Iraqi politicians are pointing to a grinding U.S.-led effort to retake Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province about 65 miles west of the capital, as evidence the U.S. isn’t doing enough to defeat Islamic State.
For some Shiite politicians, Ramadi and Beiji epitomize the diverging fortunes of U.S. and Iran in Iraq.
“The two operations in those two cities represent the competition between the U.S.-led coalition and the newly formed alliance among Russia, Iran and Iraq,” said Hakim al-Zamili, a prominent Shiite politician and head of the security and defense committee in parliament.
The battlefield succic State, said Patrick Martin, an Iraq analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
[Reports"] in Beiji will also make it harder for the prime minister to refuse entreaties for more support from Russia in the fight against Islam
“Russia and Iran have very similar objectives in that they both want to eject U.S. influence from Iraq,” said Mr. Martin. “Any success that the militias have bolsters that goal.”
There are two critical takeaways here. First (and we've said this repeatedly) these are the very same Shiite militias battling US-backed Sunni fighters in Syria. Second, this is but another example of Washington siding with Sunni extremists over Tehran. This is a replay of what happened in the wake of 9/11 when Iran sought to help the US target the Taliban and al-Qaeda only to see The White House place Tehran in its "Axis Of Evil." Here again, we have Sunni militants terrorizing both Syria and Iraq and instead of working with the Iranians to oust those extremists, Washington is busy downplaying their successes and supporting the proxy armies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar even as those proxy armies behead Westerners and burn Jordanian pilots alive.
This is a travesty and an absolute farce.
The US is on the wrong side of history here and it's too late to correct it.