Update on Iraq



With the US now committed in the fight against ISIS, also known as ISIL, in Iraq, I would recommend that readers stay up to date by reading the frequent updates on Iraq on Strategy Page, the best English language one stop source on events in Iraq.  Here is the latest:

September 8, 2014: The American air attacks have increased and put ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) on the defensive. There have been about 150 American air attacks since they began on August 8 th and now occur everywhere ISIL has forces in Iraq. Thus in the last month ISIL has lost control of a major dam, a refinery and major oil fields around Kirkuk. ISIL is also losing control of the oil smuggling operation it had established in Syria and western Iraq. The attack against the Haditha dam includes local Sunni tribal militiamen who have refused to join ISIL. Many Sunni tribes backed away from supporting ISIL or agreed to work with the government. Haditha is the second largest dam in the country in terms of hydroelectric power and water supply.

Kurdish troops, also backed by American air power (directed by American air controllers on the ground with the Kurds) are also taking back territory around Mosul. This is one of several operations in the last month where the Kurds have shown that, with the help of American air support, they are nearly invincible against ISIL forces. Even Iraqi Shia troops and Sunni militias have some success when aided by air support. Most ISIL fighters now accept this new battlefield reality, but some less determined ISIL gunmen are discouraged and desertions are more common. There have also been several recent instances of ISIL gunmen fleeing after the first smart bomb or missile hits, not willing to shoot it out with the oncoming Kurds. This often involves abandoning vehicles, weapons, ammo and equipment.

More American and NATO trainers and advisors on the ground have helped reform the Iraqi security forces. There are now more Shia and pro-government tribal militias involved but the most reliable local force remains the Kurds. However, most of the Kurdish troops are deployed on the border between Kurdish and Arab Iraq. The Kurds must continue to keep Arab Islamic terrorists out and that requires reliable troops. Thousands of Kurdish women have been mobilized for this, many of them combat veterans from past crises. The women generally take care of internal security to free up more men for duty on the border.

The U.S. is depending on the Kurds and Iraqi government to provide some help on the ground to identify targets in the urban areas (Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit) the fighting is moving into. Out in the open it’s a lot easier to avoid civilian casualties since you can spot nearby civilians. In urban areas this is more difficult. The Americans want to avoid civilian casualties as ISIL can use this to generate media criticism of the military operations against the Islamic terrorists. The criticism causes political problems.

The American air strikes are expensive, costing about two million dollars each. The U.S. has managed to get nine other countries (Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Denmark and Australia) to join an effort to destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The coalition will provide more advisors, weapons, ammo and air power than the U.S. itself is currently providing. The Americans will probably continue to be the major contributor.

The Iraqi Kurds also expect some cooperation from the Iraqi government and its foreign supporters to allow the Kurds to sell the oil they have been pumping from their territory and shipping through Turkey. Since May the Kurds have gotten over eight million barrels to a Turkish port and onto tankers. But Iraqi government lawyers have interfered with many of the attempted sales. Most Iraqi Arab politicians still oppose the Kurds having any control over oil production and export.

Go here to read the rest.  The Kurds have long been the most pro-American of the factions in Iraq, just as they are probably, man for man, the best fighters.  We should supply them to the hilt, and establish air bases in their territory.  The time for a formal American-Kurdish alliance is long overdue.  ISIS has gained all the headlines, but they are going to vanish like water in the desert under the power being arrayed at them now.  Time for the US, for a change, to think two moves ahead in Iraq.  I have little hope that this administration has the willingness or the capacity to do so, but if they did, strong support for the Kurds would be the move to make.

More to explorer


  1. Time to begin prying the rest of the Kurdish homeland away from Turkey and Iran. This will not happen soon, but motion in that direction by the US is decades overdue.

  2. Micha Elyl wrote, “Time to begin prying the rest of the Kurdish homeland away from Turkey…”

    Perhaps it is, but we should not forget that the “Kurdish homeland” in Eastern Anatolia used to be called “Western Armenia.”

    In 1915, the then Ottoman government, whose armed forces were otherwise engaged, enlisted the Kurdish tribes to exterminate the Armenian population, in return for the Armenian lands. About a million and a half Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923. More Armenians were killed by Kurds than by Turks.

    Of course, we should use the Kurds against ISIL. We should encourage their separatist ambitions in Iran, too, for Iran, with its nuclear ambitions, is a far greater threat to Israel than ISIL ever will be. But we should not forget that the Kurds are the butchers of Christian Armenia.

  3. The Kurds, the ancient biblical Medes [as in Medes and Persinas], today are welcoming Christians into their region, thanks be to God, but back in the first part of the twentieth century they also were persecuting Christians in northern Iraq

  4. In 1915, the then Ottoman government, whose armed forces were otherwise engaged, enlisted the Kurdish tribes to exterminate the Armenian population, in return for the Armenian lands. About a million and a half Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923.

    See the work of demographer Justin McCarthy on this point. Both the dimensions of the death toll and the purposes and methods of the Ottoman government are a matter of dispute.

  5. “But we should not forget that the Kurds are the butchers of Christian Armenia.”
    I once spoke with an Armenian woman who accused the Turks of starving her people to death. The Armenian genocide was covered over and never spoken of. I am assured that the Armenian genocide did happen.

  6. One of the comic episodes in this true “farce” is Marie Harf’s (deputy spokeswoman for the State Dept.) and oxymoronically-named Josh Earnest’s (White House Press Secretary)contorted efforts to avoid the use of the word “war” to describe the military action against ISIS. You are dropping bombs on targets. You are attacking with military aircraft. You have sworn the destruction of an [ill-defined] enemy. But one musnt call it “war.”

    This is utterly reflective of this administration’s and especially Obama’s classic Marxist roots—Lenin, Trotsky and all of them always claimed war was a tool of the capitalistsutilized in order to maintain oppression of the masses. So, the contortionistm must go on: Marxists always claim they are harbingers of peace, even while they have no compunction about the death and destruction of hundreds, thousands or millions, but this “all for the cause.”

    “It is sufficient to glance at the present war (WW!) from the view point that it is a continuation of the politics of the “great” powers, and of the principal classes within them, to see at once the howling anti-historicalness, falsity and hypocrisy of the view that the “defence of the fatherland” idea can be justified in the present war.” —Lenin, Socialism and War, 1917

  7. Steve Phoenix

    Chancelleries around the world tend to be chary of using the word “war” in describing conflicts, because of the implications in Public International Law, particularly in relation to the rights and responsibilities of neutrals.

    Publicists tend to confine the term “war” to conflicts between state actors. Then, there is a “state of belligerency,” where rebels or insurgents have established control of a territory and have established a de facto government there and who are treated, for some purposes, as a state. One important consequence is that the former government is absolved of its responsibility for the actions of the belligerents and for the protection of the persons and property of foreign nationals within the territory controlled by them. In recent times, this has happened in several cases in Africa: the Nigeria-Biafra conflict and the Congo-Katanga conflict, where a number of foreign mining companies and others were left without an effective remedy for their losses.

    There is also the whole vexed question of “guerrillas,” within the meaning of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which accords them most of the rights of prisoners of war.

    One can well understand the State Department’s caution.

  8. This administration seems addicted to operating Utra Vires. If Obama were a Republican, he’d be tarred, feathered and run out of Washington on a rail. No declaration of war, no ground troops and a wobbly coalition of the incredulous all bombing from the safety of the skies runs the risk of collateral destruction of civilian lives. War is best avoided if morally possible, but if not, entered upon legally, and with a determination to achieve swift and total victory. My knowledge of the Kurds is sparse but should we punish them for the sins of their grandfathers? Has anyone here read The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian?

  9. Marie Harf (Deputy Spokesmouth, State Dept) Press Briefing 9/11/2014 – Washington,DC:

    REPORTER: Marie, help me with this term, “war on terrorism.” Is that —

    MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, I don’t think I’ve ever used that term from here.

    QUESTION: No, no, I’m just – Said it used it earlier. Thirteen years on, he said this “war on terrorism.” Is that something that’s out of the lexicon now of the U.S. Government’s comments on what’s happening?

    MS. HARF: Well, it’s certainly not how I would refer to our efforts.

    QUESTION: Okay. The second thing is that surely, this direct U.S. bombing of Syria is really back into – without UN sanction or being involved with this – is back into the doctrine of preemption.

    MS. HARF: Do – is there a question?

    QUESTION: Yeah, it’s a question.

    MS. HARF: Or was that just a statement?

    QUESTION: Is that the road that we’re traveling on now?

    MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t use that term either. When we talk about how you degrade and defeat terrorist organizations, it’s not exactly, I think, how you’re probably using the term, and it’s not one that I’m using. Our goal is to prevent terrorist organizations from being able to attack the United States or our interests, to degrade their capabilities to do so. Obviously, that’s – those are the kind of terms I would use when it comes to this current effort.

    It is clear to me now: our plan is to blast the enemy with lethal levels of confusion.

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