Analysis: A protracted struggle ahead for Iraq


The rapid advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham and its allies is the culmination of over two years of strategy by the renewed terrorist group. Previously "essentially defeated" by American, Iraqi, and Sunni Awakening forces, ISIS has since 2011 carried out a methodical campaign of resurgence, abetted by the dissolution of Syria, the removal of US combat power, and the sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government.

ISIS, which is leading the charge, is now seeking to consolidate its gains in Iraq and repeat its 2006 "Baghdad Belts" strategy that prefaced the worst sectarian bloodshed of the Iraq War. The challenge of removing the entrenched insurgent groups from recently gained territories will prove impossible in the short to mid-term without a number of key factors, including a change in the national government and renewed, significant international involvement in Iraq, both of which are unlikely.

It's a sectarian war ... but it isn't

Analysts have correctly pointed out that Maliki's polices have fueled Sunni anger and provided an opportunity for the ISIS to assert itself as the sword of the Sunnis. The ISIS offensive has been augmented by other Sunni groups, including the Naqshbandi Army, a collection of former Baathists and ostensible Islamists intent on reestablishing Sunni dominance, led by former Saddam Hussein aide Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, as well as other jihadist groups such as Ansar al Islam and Jaish al Muhajideen. Additionally, the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association, a group of hardline religious leaders who resisted the US presence in Iraq, has attempted to credit mainstream Sunni resistance, and not ISIS, for the recent offensive. And Sheikh Ali Hatim Al-Suleiman, the emir of the Dulaimi tribal confederation, has characterized the uprising as a "tribal revolution," while at the same time denigrating "terrorists and ISIS," reported Asharq al-Aswat.

After the US withdrew from Iraq, Maliki failed to support and integrate Sunnis into the security forces. He also attempted to arrest prominent Sunni politicians (notably Iraqi VP Tariq al-Hashimi, finance minister Rafi al-Issawi and parliamentarian Ahmed al-Alwani), and his heavy-handed break-up of (mostly) peaceful Sunni protests against his policies, coupled with minimal concessions to the protesters, has fueled great Sunni bitterness toward his regime, which is widely viewed as an Iranian puppet state. But Sunni antipathy toward Maliki and the central government should by no means be conflated with Sunni approval of ISIS and the radical Salafi jihadist ideology it springs from.

Many leaders of the Sunni tribal Sahwa (Awakening) that took place between 2005-2008 became sworn enemies of al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq (the predecessor of ISIS) after battling them into quiescence, and the Awakening leaders' hatred of the terrorist group's radical ideology and its violence toward enemies and civilians alike was animated and enduring. As late as the Sunni protests begun in 2012, many protesters were publicly distancing themselves from "al Qaeda" (ISIS) as the group attempted to insert itself into the vanguard of the popular movement. And certain tribal leaders, including the widely regarded head of the Sahwa (Awakening) movement, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, are still holding out against ISIS near Anbar province's capital of Ramadi, while asking for support from former American allies.

"We've been fighting al Qaeda in Anbar for the past six months and we're ready to fight for another six months, but we need American support," Abu Risha told Bloomberg News on June 13.

At the height of its power, Abu Risha had lobbied for strategic partnership with America and proposed exporting the successful Awakening to other countries to fight al Qaeda. But he bemoaned loss of contact with his former American allies to journalist Eli Lake in late 2012:

"There is no contact right now," he said. "They don't visit at all. Ever since the United States withdrew, we haven't gotten anyone to visit."

In addition, the first two years of ISIS' military campaign in Iraq after US withdrawal ("Destroying the Walls 1 and 2") were devoted to the methodical assassination of prominent Sunni leaders who had fought the group during the Iraq War. This strategy was motivated by both revenge and the need to eliminate the group's most dangerous enemies: leaders who could continue to rally Iraq's Sunnis against the ISIS. As a result, although ISIS now has casual support among Sunnis who seek to use its military prowess to regain power, and has achieved tolerance from some tribal leaders who view ISIS as a necessary evil or have buckled in fear of the group, the mainstream nationalist Sunni agenda in Iraq greatly diverges from the violent zealotry of the terror group and its planned Islamic Caliphate.

Given time, this ideological gulf between mainstream Sunnis and the ISIS will undoubtedly manifest itself in greater conflict, as it did in Iraq as early as 2005, and as it currently does in Syria, where fellow Sunnis (including jihadist groups) have been battling the ISIS because of its greed and harsh ideology. But history is not on the Sunni nationalists' side. In the early years of the Iraq War, unsupported tribal "Awakenings" against al Qaeda in Iraq repeatedly failed; leaders and movements who resisted the group were assassinated or driven into exile. And the current incarnation of ISIS, flush with international support, recruits, thousands of jihadists freed from Iraq's prisons, and half a billion dollars looted from Mosul's banks, is stronger than it has ever been.

If the past is any guide, the likely Sunni-on-Sunni struggle in ISIS-held territory will not soon uproot the terrorist organization from the vast stretch of territory it has acquired. The Sunni Awakening only flourished with financial support, backed up by the American "surge" and counterinsurgency strategy, along with the cooperation of the central government and security forces supporting the groups. At present, while many Sunnis may despise the Maliki government and pine for a return to dominance in Iraq, they are once again facing the prospect of chafing under repressive Salafi-jihadists policies. But without outside assistance and organization, moderate Sunnis will be unlikely to decisively win what will be a protracted conflict.

But it will become a sectarian war

As ISIS tries to consolidate its rule over the Sunnis in areas it controls in Anbar, Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala, and insert itself into the "belts" of small towns surrounding Baghdad, it will attempt to resume the high tempo "commuter insurgency" that sent waves of suicide bombers and anti-Shia forces into the capital during 2006. The most potent resistance to this offensive will be put up by the Iraqi security forces loyal to the government and by reinvigorated Shia militias such as the Mahdi Army (rebranded as the so-called Peace Army), the Hezbollah Brigades, Asaib al Haq, and the Badr Brigades, with support from Iran.

Barring quick, sweeping political accommodation, which is unlikely in the near-term, and significant, direct Western intervention, which is even less likely, the conflict could slip into the horrific sectarian ghettoization and murder that characterized the worst years of the Iraq War. Overt Iranian intervention in the capital and southern Iraq will only sharpen the sectarian divide, and all Iraqis in the path of this clash -- from the rabidly sectarian to the cosmopolitan resident of Baghdad who casually rejects sectarianism -- will be forced into a brutal struggle. In the north, the Kurds will seek to consolidate their gains in Kirkuk and prevent ISIS incursion, and only time will tell if they broker arrangements with the central government to wage an offensive against ISIS in the territory it has gained.

Thus, unless some powerful political accommodation occurs that redraws nationalist Sunni Arabs into the government in a significant way, Iraq will continue to broadly devolve along sectarian lines, with the outskirts of Baghdad and the edge of Kirkuk marking the major fault lines of the conflict.

The possibility of averting this schism and possible massacre lies with international brokerage that pushes the Iraqi government to come to accommodation with the Sunnis who are against ISIS. The ruling Shia coalition must also placate the Kurds, who will wish to make their gain of Kirkuk permanent and acquire rights to independently export oil from their territory. And any durable political reform would likely include steps that result in the eventual replacement of Maliki, whether in the form of his stepping down or being phased out via the institution of term limits on the office of prime minister.

Problematically, despite significant political pressure from prominent voices, Maliki has shown no inclination to step down, the West retains little leverage to drive political accommodation, and Iran has moved decisively to fill the power vacuum left by the US.

The endgame

The Iraqi government's military prospects of ejecting ISIS and its allies from much of their newly gained territory in Anbar, Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces appear to be slim in the absence of significant external support. ISIS' 2006 Baghdad Belts strategy, which called for the strangling of the capital city by controlling the outskirts and surrounding provinces, was so effective that it nearly caused the defeat of Iraqi and American efforts to stabilize Iraq. ISIS has now dusted off this battle plan and is attempting to reproduce it.

The 2006 Baghdad Belts strategy was so successful that it took more than 130,000 US troops with accompanying air and logistical support, combined special operations raids, the Iraqi military and police, and the Awakening forces all more than a year of concurrent operations to dislodge the Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS' predecessor, from Baghdad, the areas outside the city, and the outlying provinces.

This time, the isolated Iraqi government does not possess the combat power of the US Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force to partner with its military. The Kurds, who once provided tens of thousands of troops to fill or augment the ranks of the Iraqi Army, are seizing areas of interest as Iraqi forces flee the field of battle and they are holding their lines against ISIS and its allies. The Iraqi Army remains plagued by logistical troubles and it has limited intelligence, aerial and movement capabilities. And at least two divisions of the 14 division strong Iraqi Army as well as police and border forces have melted away during the ISIS onslaught. Most recently, ISIS seized the border crossings to Syria at Al Qaim and Al Walid, as well as the Turbail crossing to Jordan after Iraqi forces fled.

Before even thinking of retaking Mosul, the Iraqi military has to clear areas on the immediate outskirts of Baghdad. Complicating the problem is the influx of hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign fighters and more than 4,000 hardened jihadists who have been freed in jailbreaks at Tikrit, Abu Ghraib, Taji, Mosul, and Badush. The Iraqi military has been unable to eject ISIS and tribal allies from Fallujah for the past six months, a city just 30 miles from the capital. If the government and the military have not been able to clean up Baghdad's back yard, the prospects for quickly retaking Mosul, which is more than 250 miles from the capital, are grim.

In order to counter the ISIS offensive, the Maliki government needs to reach a political accommodation with mainstream Sunnis and the Kurds. But without a level of external military support (which is politically infeasible), that alone may be insufficient, and the government will be unable to reassert itself in the more distant provinces.



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READER COMMENTS: "Analysis: A protracted struggle ahead for Iraq"

Posted by Bill Baar at June 24, 2014 12:50 PM ET:

Re: Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri; how'd we not kill him?

Posted by David Smith at June 24, 2014 1:07 PM ET:

"The ruling Shia coalition must also placate the Kurds, who will wish to make their gain of Kirkuk permanent and acquire rights to independently export oil from their territory."

That's going to take an awful lot of placating, now that Kurdistan is *already* signing contracts (the 50-year export deal with Turkey's pipeline) in defiance of Baghdad, as though it were already an independent state.

Posted by M3fd2002 at June 24, 2014 1:32 PM ET:

I liked the article and agree with its analysis. Al Douri ( aka the orangoutang) is a competent advisary. I never felt the sunni insurgency was passified until he was eliminated. My experience is that the arab street likes or at least respects winners. Having said that, ISIS/ISIL will be getting thousands, if not ten's of additional thousands cadres in the field in short order. This movement's ideology will gain sympathizers throughout the sunni muslim world. The jennie is out of the bottle. Many knowledgeable commentators have predicted this scenario, with the USA's abrupt exit from Iraq and soon Afghanistan. The Taliban must be ecstatic at this point. We have lost the ability to shape outcomes. Only bad reactive options, if any. What would have happened if the USA withdrew completely from Europe in 1947? Think about it.

Posted by Lisa at June 24, 2014 3:04 PM ET:

We have a pr problem. People don't understand what this means to them.

Posted by Jeff S. at June 24, 2014 3:59 PM ET:

Mr. al-Douri is the King of Clubs in the U.S. deck of cards depicting "enemies" after the fall of Baghdad.

At a meeting in March 2003 meeting of the OIC, Sheik Mohammed Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, the Kuwaiti minister of state for foreign affairs, interrupted Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri's speech to the summit with an inaudible remark. Al-Douri responded -- his remarks aired live by Arab satellite television stations -- with "Shut up you monkey. Curse be upon your mustache (honor), you traitor." see http://www.foxnews.com/story/2003/03/05/fight-erupts-at-muslim-nations-meeting/

With enemies like this, it's hard to find any friends....


Posted by Reader at June 24, 2014 5:32 PM ET:

Saddam is looking Very Good now, very good indeed!!
I will NEVER understand why Jr. took our eye off Afghanistan and ran into Iraq. They knew the Truth all along,either that or USINTELL is Completely Worthlesss ! I often wondered if iraq 2 was about 'cleaning/covering up' Chem deals with iraq iran war than Demo-Crazying the M.E.
Either way....saddam could be dealt with .... These clowns cant!

Sowing and Reaping Reaping and Sowing

Posted by Lint at June 24, 2014 9:30 PM ET:

Great analysis followed by some very good comments. The US invasion of Iraq was a colossal blunder and abandoning the Iraq government too early will haunt us for years to come. We get the leadership we deserve. We share as much responsibility as anyone for these never-ending messes by constantly sticking our nose in other nations' business while proclaiming to be arbitrator of Rights and Freedoms....as long as they jive with our political goals, of course.

Posted by Nick at June 24, 2014 9:49 PM ET:

Ok, what in the hell have the folks at our Baghdad Embassy been doing for the past three years? Nobody saw this coming? Nobody thought to maintain some of our networks with influential Awakening leadership!? We need an overhaul of our intelligence services immediately, unless their warnings were ignored. Utter failure.

Posted by Nick at June 24, 2014 9:57 PM ET:

I noticed that Al Qaeda has gone silent on the events unfolding in Iraq with ISIS/ISIL. Have they released an official statement? It should be interesting since they have disavowed each other.

Posted by M. Muthuswamy at June 24, 2014 11:49 PM ET:

"In order to counter the ISIS offensive, the Maliki government needs to reach a political accommodation with mainstream Sunnis and the Kurds."

While this statement is indeed true, I think most analysts are overlooking the implication of the ideological divide that exists between the ISIS and the so-called Sunni tribes.

Decades of Saddam's rule has entrenched modernity in these communities. Hence, an eventual clash between the Sunnis and the Sharia-favoring ISIS is inevitable. This point has been realized by the Obama himself, but has not (yet) translated into any meaningful policies designed to exploit this divide.

The real problem for ISIS is that sharia is double-edged sword. It can help in the recruitment process and can motivate the fighters. But is incapable of providing a political framework to move forward, as the Brotherhood in Egypt found out, to its surprise.

Basically, we now know that sharia drives people to despair and poverty, unless of course, Allah helps out in the form of free oil, as in Saudi Arabia.

Posted by Minnor at June 24, 2014 11:50 PM ET:

They should deploy unmanned decoy road vehicles for patrol. It should look exactly like a manned armoured vehicle, but controlled remotely like drones, in urban setting. Roadside IEDs will be wasted on attack on unmanned vehicles. Iraq should concentrate attack on less populated by geopolitically strategic towns.

Obama had poison pill requirement of ratifying american troop presence by iraqi parliament. Without adequate air surveillance and cover, casualties will be high for iraq army if they want to retake. Iraq should instead ask for air support from russia.

Posted by Scott J at June 25, 2014 12:05 AM ET:

We may be witnessing the end of Iraq as we've known it and the birth of 3 new countries - Kurdistan, Sunnistan, and "Iraq" being the Shiite area.

Who knows? Maybe it's best this way.

Posted by RichardL at June 25, 2014 2:20 AM ET:

@Muthuswamy: I disagree with your statement that the case of the MB in Egypt shows that the populace doesn't want shariah. I have lived in Egypt for a long time and discovered that these people think very different from non-Muslims. As they are afraid of their allah, and think shariah is allah's will they will accept shariah like they accept all the other horrors and idiocies of islam.

I agree with you that the oil helps but the problem is that the abundant oil that Iraq has is not evenly distributed. I personally think the oil will play no role at all in the most brutal civil war that the world has ever seen. The US will leave Iraq largely alone and protect the Kurdish area for two reasons: the Kurds are a thorn in Turkey's, Iran's and Iraq's side and US oil companies have invested billions up there.

Obama has not realised any of this: he is simply unbelievably stupid.

Posted by Mark Pyruz at June 25, 2014 2:39 AM ET:

It's now a big, complicated game.

There is an effective, tried military solution along the lines of early OEF: American airpower in the CAS role, with ISF/allies fighting the ground war.

In order for that step to be taken, the United States requires its accepted government formation be accepted by Iraqi leadership.

In the way of that are Shia-Iraqi interests, Iran and to some extent, even the nterests of an independent Kurdistan, not to mention the usual Iraqi political intrangisence.

And so the merged Syrian and Iraqi conflict experiences attrition and stalemate, during cold war conditions between KSA and Iran.

Posted by Barry Larking at June 25, 2014 3:08 AM ET:

ISIS will continue to prosper for a while but the dream of ruling Iraq (and, least we forget, the whole of what is currently Arabia, The Levant and Near East and Spain!) is some way off. The transformation from a fighting force to a civil government will be interesting to observe. However uncivil and indeed racist by some lights it may seem, the countries in question – Syria and Iraq – were only ever stable under the iron rule of thugs. If the thugs were quiescent towards the 'Great Powers' all well and good ("The East is the East" - Warren Hastings).

These present problems arose when the United States believed in its own Wilsonian mission to extend democracy around the globe starting in the worse places. Few countries, a handful in reality, are very much interested in the idea of a bi-cameral governance, universal suffrage and a free press, or, more significantly, are willing to fight to keep them.

ISIS will be up against Iran. Iran will be up against ISIS. Good. Time to accept that the one other happy outcome is a independent Kurdistan. The Kurds know how to fight unlike Iraqis. That will not please the new Caliph in Ankara, but what can he do about it? Turkey has not an enemy in the world and none of its friends like it.

Posted by lgude at June 25, 2014 3:44 AM ET:

When Hillary told General Petraeus that it would require a suspension of disbelief to accept the general's report on the progress of the surge I thought to myself that Hillary was either simply playing politics or she was actually ignorant of the fact that Petraeus was telling the truth. Then I realized that if she knew what I knew at the time from reading The Long War Journal as well as the detailed plans for the surge available on the Institute for the Study of War website that she was taking huge chance by scoffing at Petraeus. Given what we now know about the bureaucratic intrigue and political maneuvering that apparently absorbs the energies of our intelligence community I doubt that the CIA has much more to offer our present leadership than the analysis presented in this article. This time there is no US military and roughly the same conditions as 2006 prevail. So the disintegration of Iraq into three states becomes the likely outcme. How effective will the Iranians be at stemming the Sunni advance? How important in this new situation is the fact that Iraqi Shiites are Arab, not Persian? (I notice that the Shiite volunteers were responding to a call by Ayatollah Sistani who is the leader of the traditional Shiites, as opposed to the radical Shiite clerics who dominate Iran. Sadr is much more in the Iranian camp but an Iraqi nationalist too - will we finally see his true colors?) Overall we are getting to see what might have happened if the US hadn't made such a huge effort to keep Iraq together. Since Obama made his opposition to the Iraq war clear during the Bush administration it is not surprising that Iraq has fallen apart, particularly given the inability of the Shiite majority and their leader Milakai to reach an accommodation with the Sunnis. I think M. Muthuswamy's comment above that Sharia is a two edged sword and will cause resistance to ISIS much as the MB discovered in Egypt is one likely line of development into the future. But the largest unknown unknown is the prospect of an Iranian atomic bomb and how they will choose to use it.

Posted by crosspatch at June 25, 2014 4:52 AM ET:

My question is: why wouldn't Egypt send troops to help Iraq against ISIS? They would gain useful experience and fight a common enemy.

Posted by donowen at June 25, 2014 9:51 AM ET:

One can argue our strategy (not realized at the time) in Vietnam combined with the military buildup by Reagen ultimately resulted in the demise of the Soviet Union. Militant Islam has been and is a chronic world problem. Saddam and Assad would not and will not survive against militant Islam (MI). One could argue that the de facto fragmentation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the massive attrition already on the MI man power, and the numerous sectarian battles initiated were a direct result of our fumbling attempts at corrective intervention. Hundreds of thousands will be killed and vast wealth wasted in the pursuit of their Shia/ Sunni folly. While tragic in human history, the West will drain the assets that are used to allow about 300,000 men to accomplish nothing but kill each other in a dozen areas. These assets will significantly be eliminated within 50 years. MI will turn inward and the Iraq/ Iran war will enter chapter 2.

Posted by Mike E at June 25, 2014 10:57 AM ET:

The inability of the Obama administration to capitalize on the US stabilization of Iraq is probably the worst foreign policy blunder in US history. There are two aspects to this disaster, first, the failure to immediately support the uprising in Syria which both left Assad in power AND allowed the growth ISIL, the worst of both worlds. Second is the failure to robustly support Iraq's nascent democracy. What could have been a massive win for the middle east, and American security has been put in peril.

Posted by Nick at June 25, 2014 12:06 PM ET:

Mike E. I think the second worst foreign policy blunder is going to be the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Posted by M Muthuswamy at June 25, 2014 12:20 PM ET:

"I think M. Muthuswamy's comment above that sharia is a two edged sword and will cause resistance to ISIS much as the MB discovered in Egypt is one likely line of development into the future."

That future may arrive earlier than we think: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2420652

An excerpt from this article due to be published by Albany Law School next month: "...strategies that work to reduce the prestige and significance that the Muslim public attaches to sharia is one important way of weakening the radical platform and for communities to govern themselves and develop their societies by embracing modernity."

Posted by m3fd2002 at June 25, 2014 2:38 PM ET:

Assad's airstrikes on ISIS might be a significant miscalculation. Look for ISIS/Al-Nusrah and FSA to join forces. If this happens, Assad and the Alawites are in for some serious punishment. There are already indications that this is happening in Al Kharmal. I had suspicions that Assad was supporting ISIS, but this seems to be inaccurate. It looks like he was tolerating their presence as long has they were attacking the rebellions rear areas. Might have been a big mistake, looks like ISIS is becoming the big dog in this fight. What to do now? who knows. Many people blame Bush for everything, but we have to remember the state of the USA's mentality at that time. We had the most deadly attack on our HOMELAND in history, and we wanted a pound of flesh. There was Saddam as a fat target, and we took him out in a 5 day ground invasion (Im not ignoring Airpower's contribution), should have left Iraq in rubble in as many days. If Obama addressed the nation and said its not our problem, with a caveat that any attack from these elements on the USA would be met with total war (no ROE's or civilians, ala WWII), I could support that. However, no one can or should believe anything from this administration, and they are acting accordingly.

Posted by Bill Baar at June 25, 2014 2:42 PM ET:

Let's add the administrations failure to express support for Iran's Green Revolution to the list of blunders. I don't think Iran's support for Syria would have happened had Mir Housain Mousavi been successful in 2009.

Posted by Lisa at June 25, 2014 3:15 PM ET:

What if another country that does not share our culture at all, came here to set us free from Obama or any other president before? What would your reaction be?

Posted by Yellow Devil at June 25, 2014 5:29 PM ET:

@ Lisa Technically we did ask the French to help fight against the British during the Revolutionary War. We at least lasted about 80 years before turning on one another in the Civil War.

Posted by Kent Gatewood at June 25, 2014 5:39 PM ET:

How many Sunnis are in Baghdad?

What do they have to do to convince the majority of their goodwill?

Are Shiites fleeing Sunni controlled areas?

Will the Shiites reciprocate and expel Sunnis?

When will Shiites quit insanely surrendering to Sunnis?

Will the Russians aid Iraq with weapons?

Posted by lord garth at June 26, 2014 7:41 AM ET:

The Taliban took over in Afghanistan, instituted Sharia and the population hated it.

The Ayatollahs took over in Iran, instituted Sharia and the population hated it.

The brotherhood took over in Egypt, instituted sharia and the population hated it.

Syria...

and yet, most moslems still think sharia is a sweet andwonderful thing

Posted by Colin at June 26, 2014 9:00 AM ET:

While it's clear they have sufficient funds for now, how long will that money they captured last? As mentioned they now hold a lot territory and controlling it will require a lot of money. Will they be able to produce any revenue? Will anyone buy their oil if they can produce it and move it?

Posted by Lisa at June 26, 2014 2:14 PM ET:

oh no.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28042302

Posted by blert at June 26, 2014 8:07 PM ET:

Maliki must be delusional.

1) He bought second-hand aircraft as-is while in a panic. He had better hire Slavic mercenary pilots, pronto. (Pity the pilot that gets shot down by captured American arms.)

2) Soviet era designs have never been shown to have decent target accuracy. (They didn't believe it in for doctrinal reasons.)

3) No WAY can these aircraft operate without support structures -- which must take weeks to establish even on a hurry-up basis.

4) Soviet era designs are uniformly known to breakdown much, much faster than NATO designs. Again, this is do to doctrinal thinking. Moscow designed for production quantity over field endurance during the Cold War. This thinking has only begun to change in the last generation. (Putin)

5) ISIS/ ISIL has already moved its HQ into the midst of civilian Sunnis. The PR hit that Maliki is sure to take once the babies and women are bombed is going to redouble Sunni financial support to the fanatics.

&&&

What we're looking at is the 'Lawrence of Arabia effect.'

If you'll recall, all that it took was one inspired, radical thinker to make the Arabian desert boil.

The next thing you knew, Lawrence was attracting tribes like crazy. This is what's going on RIGHT NOW.

Maliki is so far behind the curve he's on another planet.

Baghdad needs Ayad Allawi in the worst way.

On present trends, I'd expect Maliki to lose the Iraqi capital. He'll be lucky to hold onto Basra. The Shi'ites may be many in number, but they don't have experienced military leaders. In this regard, Mosul is telling.

Lest we forget, Maliki put those general officers in command up north. (!) Where are they now?

Posted by blert at June 26, 2014 8:19 PM ET:

http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2014/06/12/former-iraqi-prime-minister-ayad-allawi-the-belt-of-baghdad-has-fallen/

^^^^

Allawi thinks that Maliki has taken the Iraqi nation closer to the end-game than is generally believed.

He thinks the battle of the belts is essentially over.

Posted by Eric at June 27, 2014 7:48 AM ET:

We have no workable answers for Al Maliki. e needs a bullet.

We have no workable answers for US military supporting an Iraqi Army re-take of the Baghdad belts.

We have not workable answers for supporting the rebels we "trust" in Syria.

Jordan and Kuwait and Lebanon are losing their mud watching this. Surely they are next to the chopping block.

Resource starvation and ghetto warfare are going to happen to Baghdad. Where are the 27 million people already under ISIS knife and now under imminent threat of attack going to flee to?

ISIS holds a good deal of ground, but cannot effectively govern it. Economically there is a long and inevitable free-fall coming for broad sectors of Iraq's economy, with regional implications.

Irrespective of the policy decisions that will be taken with the Iraqi military and political disasters, there is a crisis-level urgency for the west to diversify energy development. Large new sources not in the Middle East need to come into production in a couple of years. This is not getting much press attention yet, but more importantly, it is not seeing much action in the US and EU member governments yet. Despite the new urgency for European gas supplies thanks to Russia's new struggle for Ukraine with the EU, the energy development needed to lessen Europe's dependence on gas have not focused the debate on European oil supplies.

We face severe shortages in only 1 years time if Iran flaunts the nuclear summit - which is 3 weeks from its final deadline - and Iraq stops producing. Surprising how little attention is being paid to where this is leading economically, while Obama dithers on what to do.

This is shaping up to be a supremely unimpressive moment in US foreign policy history.

Iran and Russia are being welcomed into the Middle East where the US had previously labored and sacrificed to keep things on an even keel. Neither Russia nor Iran desires stability or prosperity there, but rather they desire the ability to influence the global price of oil there.