The Iraqi army began buttressing its defense lines on April 12 to save parts of the capital city of Baghdad from the approaching danger of falling to al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Iraqi intelligence reports that terrorist forces have broken through into the city’s western outskirts and preparing to head out to other parts of the city of more than seven million and the Green Zone government headquarters.
In addition to the lethal bombings and shootings which have reduced the country to misery, debkafile’s counter-terrorism sources describe a more insidious ISIS tactic of conquest: Armed al Qaeda fighters in brown military fatigues are going around Baghdad city quarters distributing candy to children. Notes attached to the packets invite their parents to attend “repentance” rites, which are really oaths of adherence to al Qaeda.
Six years ago, the contest between US troops and al Qaeda’s savage Iraqi commander, the Jordanian Mussab Al Zarqawi, ended in his death at American hands and saved Baghdad. Two years ago, President Barack Obama ordered US forces to shake the dust of Iraq off their boots.
Now the Americans are back – only now they are not US soldiers but jihadi fighters of al Qaeda, fighting to overrun Iraq and establish an Islamist state there. They are pushing towards Baghdad after seizing the western province of Anbar, the city of Tikrit and the eastern province of Diyala on the border of Iran.
They show their faces openly, unafraid of Iraq security, in parts of Baghdad as well as in the big Iraqi cities of Falluja, Ramadi, Baquba, Salahudeen and Nineveh.
Al Qaeda’s operational arm in Iraq fields more Western fighters than any other of its branches. They are nationals of the US, Canada, the UK, France, Holland, Belgium and Italy. Many are battle-hardened veterans of Afghanistan and latterly Syria. From mid 2013, most of the Islamists fighting in Syria were scooped up by ISIS for its jihad in Iraq.
Western intelligence watchers have never established who exactly gave the order for an estimated 3,500 al Qaeda fighters to migrate from Syria to Iraq – and so obtain a clue to the movement’s contemporary chain of command.
In a Senate appearance in February, US National Intelligence Director James Clapper called the Syrian civil war an “apocalyptic disaster” and estimated that somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000-26,000 Islamist “extremists” were fighting in that war, including 7,500 from 50 foreign countries. “All are al Qaeda veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who aspire to attack Europe as well as the United States,” he warned.
debkafile’s counterterrorism sources report that most of the 7,500 are currently fighting in Iraq under the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
This group was large and experienced enough in brutal combat to tip the scales of war decisively against the Iraqi army and catapult ISIS to the fore on three major fronts:
1. Al Qaeda has made big advances in its preparations for a leap on Baghdad. It is engaged in cutting off the Iraqi capital’s sources of fresh water and blowing up the main bridges connecting the city to western, eastern and central Iraq.
When Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq visited the water mains Friday, April 11, to see about repairing the system, al Qaeda ambushed his convoy and he barely escaped with his life. His bodyguards were less fortunate.
2. In the town of Falluja north of Baghdad, al Qaeda has embarked on a complex engineering project which would have been beyond the capacity of many Middle East governments, to divert the Euphrates River from its course. Giant earthmoving equipment and trucks are damming the river bed with mud and rocks scooped up from the Iraqi desert region that spills over into Syria and Jordan.
This project has two objectives:
a) To divert the river’s course to the south towards central Iraq and so inundate the Iraqi military positions facing Falluja and the road links from Baghdad to army bases in central Iraq. This tactic will leave the bulk of the Iraq army high and dry by blocking supplies and disrupting its movements towards the capital.
b) To cut the cities south of Baghdad, inhabited by many millions of a predominantly Shiite population, from a major supply of clean water.
3. In Diyala province, al Qaeda is setting up bases along the Iraqi-Iranian border. As the menace edged toward their borders, 6,000 Iranian border patrol troops Sunday launched a four-day war game dubbed “Eqtedar (Might) 3” in Qasr-e Shirin, the westernmost county of Kermanshah province
The al Qaeda push finds an Iraqi army scared of hitting back to contain its rapid advance on Baghdad for fear of being outgunned and beaten by superior fighting strength.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to Washington last month to appeal for American hardware, especially assault helicopters, to fight the terrorist force. President Barack Obama turned him down.
On Feb. 20, debkafile revealed that the first ISIS detachment from Iraq had been smuggled into Egyptian Sinai just across from the Israeli border and linked up with the local Islamist Ansar Bait al-Maqdis terrorists. With this increment, the Sinai-based Islamists may be expected to show their mettle before long against Egyptian and Israeli targets.