US President Barack Obama’s plans for Iran, which were spectacularly challenged by Binyamin Netanyahu in his Congress speech Tuesday, March 3, weres manifested 10,000 kilometers from Washington in the firestorm over Tikrit, the important Sunni town north of Baghdad. There, Iranian-led Iraqi troops are on the offensive against the Islamic State in the biggest ground battle fought in Iraq since the Iraqi army fell apart and scattered last June against the conquering Islamist march through western and central Iraq.
For four reasons, this battle is loaded with ramifications for Obama’s Iran policy and the Islamic Republic’s drive for recognition as the leading Middle East power:
1. For Tehran it is a high-stake gamble for prestige, Its top military strategist, Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was thrown into the Tikrit operation, to become the first high-ranking general Iran has ever placed publicly up front in direct command of a key battle as a guarantee of its success.
2. However, three days after the offensive was launched on Sunday, March 1, the 25,000 Iranian and Iraqi troops, backed by Iraqi Shiite militias, were still fighting outside its gates, upsetting the high hopes of a swift victory and breakthrough into the city.
Islamist forces slowed their advance by strewing hundreds of mines and roadside bombs on all the roads leading to Tikrit, while teams of suicide bombers jumped out and blew themselves up amidst the invading army – a tactic seen before in the battle for the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
ISIS boasted that one of the suicide bombers was an American citizen whom they dubbed “Abu Dawoud al-Amriki.”
3. The United States has no military input in the battle – neither US advisers on the ground nor aerial bombardment. On Tuesday, March 3, while Netanyahu was advising Congress in reference to the relative merits of radical Iran and ISIS that “the enemy of your enemy is the enemy,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed some of the Obama administration’s thinking on the subject.
He said Iran and its allies (Iraqi Shiite militias) had taken part in the Iraq war ever since 2004. “But the Tikrit campaign signals a new level of involvement,” he said. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support in the form of artillery and other things” and “…could turn out to be a positive thing.”
These comments corroborated debkafile’s disclosures on the US-led war on ISIS, which defined America as confining itself to air strikes over Iraq and Syria and assigning the brunt of the ground war to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards forces – a division of labor, which Israeli military chiefs watch with increasing concern as it brings the Iranian peril closer than ever to Israel, debkafile’s military sources report.
The Iraq format is replicated in southern Syria, where the same Gen. Soleimani, joined by a group of fellow Iranian generals, is leading an operation to seize that part of the country from Syrian rebel hands, including the Golan town of Quneitra .
4. The role Obama has assigned Iran in the two embattled Middle East countries bears directly on the scope of his concessions in the bargaining for a comprehensive nuclear deal.