American, Kurdish and Iraqi officials have hailed as a “major victory” the release of thousands of distressed members of the Yazdi community, trapped for four months on on Mt. Sinjar in northern Iraq, since Islamic State thugs overran their town. Many more fled to Syria while Yazdi women were kidnapped.
This was a necessary rescue operation, but hardly a major victory, say debkafile’s military experts. ISIS continues to maintain its grip on vast stretches of Iraq and Syria, defying the efforts of sparse US and coalition air strikes to dislodge them – beyond minor tactical withdrawals.
The town of Sinjar is not mentioned in the US and Kurdish releases, because large sections are still in jihadi hands.
Even less is heard about the situation on the northern Iraqi-Syrian border, where Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has achieved almost total supremacy.
But the most telling omission by the US-led allies is the fact that, while they focused on Mt. Sinjar, ISIS forces restored their siege of Baiji, Iraq’s main oil refinery center, after pushing Iraqi troops out.
This happened after a majority of the local Sunni tribes who fought alongside the Iraqi army up until November, switched sides.
The tribal chiefs complained that the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who was installed in Baghdad with Washington’s support last year, as a figure able to unite the country’s Sunni and Shiite communities for the war on ISIS, reneged on his promise of pay checks and weapons for the tribesmen who threw in their lot with the national army.
Instead, he is accused of aggravating disunity in the armed forces by firing Sunni officers and replacing them with officers loyal to Iraq’s pro-Iranian Shiite militias, who take their orders from Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders.
debkafile’s military and counter-terrorism sources describe the current military state of play in Iraq as bizarre, fought on three more or less disconnected levels:
1. In the north, a mixed Iraqi-Kurdish force, accompanied by US military advisers, is poised to attack the key town of Tal Afar, which lies 50 km west of Mosul.
Friday, Dec. 21, they took the town’s Iraqi military base that fell to ISIS in June. But, like in Sinjar, the assault force has not yet occupiedy the town.
This Tel Afar operation was a compromise in the disagreement the Iraqis and Kurds had with Washington. They asserted they were fully capable of recapturing Mosul from the Islamists, while the US military advisers disagreed and warned that this offensive was doomed to failure.
2. While Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces are concentrating their assaults on areas where ISIS forces are thin on the ground (like Mt. Sinjar), the jihadis are throwing strength into capturing and controlling the Iraqi and Syrian oil industries (like Baiji). They are by now accruing revenues running into $2 to 2.5 billion, despite falling crude prices. In fact they are dumping the looted oil for $25-30 per barrel, well below the world market prices.
3. Washington is sparing too little attention for the ISIS outgrowths mushrooming outside Iraq and Israel – especially in Libya, Egypt and Egyptian Sinai.