In 2007, the U.S. Marine Corps fought for months to recapture Ramadi from al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). And even with their exceptional training, leadership, equipment, and enabling support — logistics, intelligence and aviation etc. — the Marines’ battle was bloody and hard-won.
But that was 2007.
In 2015, though the necessity was apparent months earlier, calls from Anbari tribes for military support from Baghdad and President Obama to fight the Islamic State were ignored. Predictably, Ramadi fell. And now the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and so-called Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) must again retake the city from AQI’s successor, the Islamic State.
But the ISF and PMF aren’t the U.S. Marine Corps. Instead, they’re a ramshackle formation born of desperation.
While the ISF has a few professional (albeit ill-equipped) units, those units are few and far between. In turn, while the PMF has many hardened combat veterans, those veterans are Shia absolutists with their own divided loyalties.
Consider the groups that form the PMF.
First, there’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a group of Iranian-supported terrorists responsible for many atrocities (including executing handcuffed Americans during the Karbala raid of 2007). Then there’s Kata’ib Hezbollah, another Iran-supported proxy that made its name killing Americans during Iraq’s pre-2010 period. There’s also the Badr Organization, which simultaneously controls Iraq’s Interior Ministry (responsible for domestic security) and deploys its own militia without restraint. Speaking unambiguously to its Shia-militant identity, the PMF logo replicates the outstretched Kalashnikov symbol of the Lebanese Hezbollah.
PMF fighters aren’t paper tigers when it comes to sectarian brutality — their inhumanity has been proven repeatedly in the thousands of innocent Sunnis they have murdered. For a taste of PMF’s fanaticism, read about one of their heroes, Mr. Power Drill, a.k.a. Abu Deraa.
The ISF and its PMF ‘allies’ will struggle to retake Ramadi. In fact, they might completely fail.
And the PMF’s name for the Ramadi operation — “I am here for you, Husayn” — tells another tale. “Husayn” refers to Husayn ibn Ali, the revered Shia martyr who was beheaded by Sunni forces at the seventh-century Battle of Karbala. The PMF’s implied intent in Ramadi is thus clear — advancing Shia power in confrontation against Sunnis, rather than against the Islamic State.
Regardless, the ISF and its PMF “allies” will struggle to retake Ramadi. In fact, they might completely fail. After all, while they’ll be able to secure Ramadi’s northern and western approaches by dominating its Euphrates River crossing points, the Islamic State will turn Ramadi’s streets into death traps. Lacking coordination, ISF and PMF units therefore face great risk of dissection by Islamic State car bombs, booby traps, alleyway ambushes, and shifting lines of attack. Indeed, the ISF/PMF urban-assault record is far from impressive. To their embarrassment, back in March, they were forced to rely heavily upon U.S. air strikes to defeat Islamic State forces in Tikrit.
As I say, these groups are not the USMC.
Unfortunately, as much as it’s tempting to believe that Islamic State and PMF fanatics killing each other is a good thing, as I explained this weekend, these divisions threaten a sectarian total war. Consider what’s happening beyond Ramadi. Today, the Islamic State’s successes enable it to project power in all directions, including toward the Shia holy city of Karbala — a long-term Islamic State target. In turn, Iran is responding with another injection of its own sectarian forces to dominate Iraq.
#related#The Middle East is a region in which political moderation is rapidly being vaporized. We must challenge this extremism in order to protect America, because at present, our strategy is an unmitigated failure.
But don’t take my word for it. Yesterday I spoke with the anti–Islamic State monitoring group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. I asked them what impact coalition air strikes against Islamic State positions in Raqqa were having. Their response?
“Not a lot.”