Islamic State's systematic massacre of hundreds of Iraq's Albu Nimr tribe should have been an unmistakable wake up call for a country that may not be able to stabilize without long-term support from Sunni tribesmen. But nearly a month after members of the tribe were hunted down in groups and executed, the Baghdad government appears to be doing little to assimilate Sunnis in any much-needed move towards unity. The Albu Nimr were one of the Sunni tribes that helped the U.S. Marines defeat al Qaeda in Iraq's vast Western Anbar province during the 2006-2007 "surge" offensive, a strategy Washington hopes Iraq can now repeat against Islamic State.
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The flag of an Iraqi Christian minority party is hoisted high over the village of Bakufa in northern Iraq, less than a month after Islamic State militants were pushed out and the extremists' black banner was taken down. The predominantly Christian Assyrian hamlet of 95 houses that once had about 500 people, located some 390 kilometers (243 miles) north of Baghdad, was overrun by the Islamic State group during its shocking blitz this summer, along with 22 other villages nearby. In a counter-offensive, the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters swept in from the north, battling the Islamic State group house-to-house. The fighting forced the villagers to flee to Kurdish towns and cities elsewhere in northern Iraq. Once Bakufa was retaken, the Kurdish fighters helped set up the village militia, made up of about 70 volunteers and known as Dwekh Nawsha, or "self-sacrifice" in Assyrian.
Iraq's former defense minister, Abdul Qader Obeidi, says the Iraqi army needs at least a year and a lot of U.S. help to take on the Islamic State.
Former Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi says the planned spring offensive to retake provinces captured by the self-declared Islamic State is unrealistic because Iraqi military forces need a year of training before embarking on such a mission. Even then, Iraqi forces will need substantial outside assistance in the form of close-air support, army aviation assets, and logistical help to mount a cohesive battle against the militant group, Obeidi said during a recent interview with Foreign Policy.
Is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria finally beginning to feel the pressure? The first signs are emerging that a combination of coalition airstrikes and more assertive Iraqi and Kurdish forces are forcing ISIS to change its behavior and inflicting serious losses of both territory and fighters. Analysts tell CNN it is too early to say ISIS has "peaked." It controls vast areas of northern and western Iraq, as well as much of northeastern Syria, and exercises draconian authority in areas as far apart as Anbar in western Iraq and Aleppo province in northern Syria. ISIS also continues to pick up endorsements and pledges of allegiance from other jihadist groups, most notably in Libya and Egypt.
America's highest-ranking general arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit Saturday to meet U.S. commanders preparing to expand assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling ISIS militants. It was General Martin Dempsey's first trip to Iraq since President Barack Obama ordered non-combatant American forces back into the country this summer, less than three years after withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. The United States began carrying out airstrikes in August.
The Iraqi army's defeat by Islamic State (IS) fighters in Mosul in June came as a surprise. Although the Iraqi military is superior in terms of numbers of soldiers and arms, its fighters quickly deserted their posts. The army is still unable to undertake serious operations to retake control of the cities that have fallen under IS control despite ongoing US-led air cover. The reality of the Iraqi army since its inception is that it has never won a battle against another armed force. In fact, it has exhibited power only when cracking down on popular protests.
The Iraqi army has suffered over the years from two major flaws: it was not designed to defend the country, but rather the governing authorities, and it has always been plagued by sectarianism. The concept upon which the Iraqi army was created by the British, whose forces entered Iraq in 1921, was strongly influenced by its timing. During that period, the British were having to confront persistent protests by Iraqis. After the eruption of the 1920 revolt, British forces proposed establishing an army to deal with such rebellions. Three years later, in 1924, the newly established Iraqi army headed north to Sulaimaniyah to suppress the Kurdish movement.
Around 79,000 Iraqi students are getting ready to start vocational training (two-year programs leading to an associate degree) or university (four-year programs leading to a bachelor's degree), according to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research announcing the university admissions exam results for the academic year 2013-14. Many students taking their final high school exams received grades ranging from 95 to 100, which could well be the largest group of students in the world attaining such high grades.
This increase in grades, however, hinders many students’ dreams of studying medicine — for which top grades are required to be selected — at a time when Iraqi families are struggling financially to pay for, especially, their son's degree in medicine at any price, even if this requires sending him to study abroad. The number of Iraqi students studying abroad has thus increased and already reached around 14,000 in 2013.
As the United States advances into its third war in Iraq in a quarter-century, it’s important to have a mental checklist to assess whether U.S. strategy there can succeed. Right now, because of Iraq’s continuing corruption and sectarianism, it’s hard to be optimistic. President Obama’s basic strategic framework seems right, in theory. Obama reiterated Monday in Beijing: “It’s not our folks who are going to be doing the fighting. Iraqis ultimately have to fight [the Islamic State] and they have to determine their own security.”
U.S.-led forces conducted 16 air strikes in Syria, most of them around Kobani near the Turkish border, and seven in the oil-producing northern region of Iraq since Monday, the U.S. Central Command said. Ten air strikes conducted by the United States and its allies near Kobani hit eight small Islamic State units, damaged three fighting positions and destroyed a logistics facility, Centcom said Wednesday in a statement.
The town has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition's ability to halt the advance of the hardline insurgents. It is one of the few areas in Syria where it can co-ordinate air strikes with operations by an effective ground force. Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga have helped take some villages around Kobani but the lines of control in the town remain the same.
Among the thousands of militia fighters who flocked to northern Iraq to battle militant group Islamic State over the summer was Qais al-Khazali.Like the fighters, Khazali wore green camouflage. But he also sported a shoulder-strapped pistol and sunglasses and was flanked by armed bodyguards. When he was not on the battlefield, the 40-year-old Iraqi donned the robes and white turban of a cleric. Khazali is the head of a militia called Asaib Ahl al-Haq that is backed by Iran. Thanks to his position he is one of the most feared and respected militia leaders in Iraq, and one of Iran's most important representatives in the country.