If you’ve been following the crisis in Greece, you may not have noticed, but President Barack Obama held a news conference Monday at the Pentagon that will be significant for his legacy. What was important was not so much what he said as what he didn’t say: that there’s any chance of defeating Islamic State in the foreseeable future. Instead, the president emphasized that the fight against the Sunni Muslim insurgent group will be “long” and that experience has shown that it can be “degraded” only with effective local ground forces.
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President Obama met with top Pentagon officials Monday but failed to map out in any detail a new military strategy for defeating Islamic State. Real and important decisions remain on how deeply and widely to involve US troops on the ground and how the United States can do a more effective job of training Iraqi and Syrian forces to oppose Islamic State (known as IS, ISIL, and ISIS).
But Mr. Obama did do something appropriate and important for a commander in chief: He stepped back to look at the big picture, the deeper questions that must lie behind a decision such as choosing a military strategy. What he saw were two competing visions: IS terrorism and extremism and the values held dear by the US.
President Obama talks every day about defeating the Islamic State militants, but advisors say one option never surfaces for serious consideration – bringing the U.S. military in more directly to save the fledgling Iraqi security forces from their failures.
Obama doubled down on his approach this week in a meeting with top generals, who later stood with him at the Pentagon as he explained his conviction that a large-scale investment of U.S. troops in another fight in the Middle East is a bad idea. He insisted that his military leaders agreed.
Iraq has told the Turkish port of Ceyhan that all Kirkuk crude loadings are cancelled due to a lack of oil after Iraq's Kurdistan region ramped up independent sales, a shipping agent said.
Semi-autonomous Kurdistan boosted independent sales in June while cutting allocations to Iraq's state oil marketing organisation (SOMO) in a dispute over export rights and budget payments. Companies including Eni, Socar, Repsol and BP have cancelled cargoes, according to shipping lists. "SOMO Baghdad have sent an instruction to the terminal informing that all nominations have been cancelled," the shipping agent said in a notice to clients.
After sweeping victories in Syria and Iraq in June and July 2014 that brought them ever closer to Baghdad, the Islamic State suddenly changed course in August, turning east toward Iraq’s Kurdish region. The Kurds were taken by surprise. In the resulting scramble, the peshmergas retreated ahead of the snowballing, rapid advance of the jihadists, leaving tens of thousands of Yazidis around Sinjar and Christians in the Nineveh plains to flee or be captured. Islamic State forces eventually swept through the Makhmour and Gwer regions, reaching within 20 kilometers of the Kurdish capital, Erbil.
Two things were clear at that point: the Kurds were not prepared to face such a serious military offensive, nor had they seen it coming. Apart from some involvement in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraqi Kurds had not used arms collectively and intensively since the brutal civil war of the 1990s known in Kurdish memory as the brakujie (Brother Killings). What was less obvious was that the divisions that had driven the violence 20 years ago have also been reawakened. The jihadists’ assault has revived the rivalry between the two main political parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP, led by the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK, led by Jalal Talabani), and their respective military wings. The renewed enmity is deepening internal Kurdish divisions and swelling the territorial ambitions of each side.
New day, old tensions. For the first time in months, there’s some real tension building over where the U.S.-led coalition should focus bombing efforts in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. After a cluster of 16 airstrikes around the jihadist headquarters in Raqqa on July 4 aimed at wiping out some of the group’s resupply routes – and following days of airstrikes supporting Kurdish offensives in Syria’s northwest — Syria has again been thrown into the spotlight. But the dramatic Kurdish advances are making Washington’s Arab allies on the ground nervous, with Syrians and the Turkish government warning that the Kurds are engaging in a land grab.
A day after President Obama laid out his case for why U.S. military efforts against Islamic State militants are succeeding, senators tore into Pentagon officials for what they see as an ineffective, aimless Middle East strategy that has produced few positive results.
"There is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to achieve the president's stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, using another name for the Islamic State group.
In the beginning there was Operation Overlord. Then came Operation Rolling Thunder, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom. Now the fight against the Islamic State has introduced a new concept into modern warfare. Call it Operation Whack-a-Mole.
“If we try to do everything ourselves all across the Middle East, all across North Africa, we’ll be playing whack-a-mole,” the president said Monday afternoon at the end of a Pentagon news conference at which he gave an overview of developments in Syria and Iraq.
In many ways Iraq reminds me of Yugoslavia. Both countries were created after the First World War from a collection of ill-fitting provinces filled with religious and ethnic tension. Both needed a ruthless strongman to keep a lid on these tensions and when those strongmen left the scene, be it Tito or Saddam Hussein, those tensions boiled over.
While I have called the current Iraqi army cowards, I have not used that word to describe the Shiite Militias, Shia Popular Mobilisation Units and the Kurdish Peshmerga. All of whom show fight. Most chillingly of all, so does Sunni ISIS. On the Paul Henry show, our Prime Minister inelegantly tried to explain these complexities: "Two options available to [al] Abadi the Prime Minister. One is to solely use Iraqi forces and the second is to use Shia militia who are well trained but not necessarily sort of under his control but not completely. He has decided to use the Shia militia so that is quite a high step obviously backed up by the Iraqi forces, so on the back of all that, the probability of them retaking Ramadi will be quite high I would have thought."
A bomb fell from an Iraqi Sukhoi warplane and exploded in eastern Baghdad on Monday because of a "technical problem", killing at least eight people and wounding 17, officials said. "One of the bombs became stuck because of a technical problem, and during its (the aircraft's) return to base it fell on... houses in Baghdad Jadida," security spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said.
The pilot tried six times to drop the bomb, which became stuck while he was carrying out strikes against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, but was unable to dislodge it "mechanically or manually," the defence ministry said in a statement.