The Syrian and Iraq armies are no strangers to war; but, they have never coordinated with one another, despite their shared interest in defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS). However, this changed in April of 2016 when both the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Iraqi Armed Forces launched a simultaneous offensive to wedge ISIS in the vast desert landscape that links both their countries. Unbeknownst to many, the Syrian and Iraqi forces are advancing towards one another on the Damascus-Baghdad International Highway. (Al-Masdar News)
This is an eye opening analysis by Leith Fadel of Al-Masdar News. He claims that Baghdad and Damascus are coordinating a major offensive against the IS and this coordination is being accomplished through Tehran.
The SAA continues their offensive from Palmyra towards Deir Ez-Zor while the Iraqi Army and Popular Mobilization Forces have taken Hit and are on the outskirts of Al-Baghdadi. The goal is to meet up at the border crossing at Al-Qa’im. The majority of the area between Syrian and Iraqi forces is open desert – ideal for offensive mobile forces with close air support.
There is a third element to this offensive. Fadel claims an element of Hashd Al-Sha’abi, a powerful Iraqi Shiite paramilitary unit has been moved to Deir Ez-Zor with the goal of assisting the SAA in taking the city of Mohassan. This may be the toughest part of the offensive moving through the populated, urbanized and probably heavily tunneled lands along the Euphrates.
This is an ambitious plan which, if successful, would restore an uninterrupted land bridge from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Tehran is clearly feeling it’s oats. Is this a real plan fully coordinated within the R+6 coalition? How does this impact the inevitable battle for Aleppo? How will the Shia masses in the Green Zone affect all these plans?
It brings up a number of questions for me. First how has their not been direct co-operation between the two countries? I always thought the two countries were on fairly good terms. The Americans would hate the idea but the Iraqi government does lots of things Washington hates.
I get the blocking supply lines part. But is there a major benefit beyond PR to opening that land bridge between the countries? Are there things they would like to move by land that they currently can’t? If they are talking about moving military forces back and forth to work on big projects like Raqqa or Mosul that could make sense. Having Daesh fighting on two fronts instead of one also makes sense. Spending resources on this at this time doesn’t make much sense unless there is a bigger plan behind it.
If Iraq and Syria could pull this off, Raqqa and Mosul would be isolated from each other. My concern is that it draws a lot of R+6 resources away from the Aleppo front. OTOH, it draws a lot of IS resources away from Aleppo as well. As far as the question of direct coordination between Baghdad and Damascus goes, my guess it they have enough to worry about already. It’s like the old saying, It’s hard to remember that the original objective was to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.
A logistics landline from Tehran to Damascus makes strategic sense for the Iranian and Hezbollah forces. Not so much for Russia which is trying to get Western agreement to continue to exist. The young Saudi warrior prince seeing the reestablishment of the Shiite Crescent to his north will be honor bound to prevent it. Plus, if Muqtada al-Sadr supporters having stormed the Green Zone can seize the Iraqi government, 5000 US troops will be between a rock and a hard place. It appears that the Sunni Shiite Holy War has re-erupted. Once again, America has avoided a peaceful resolution and has ended up with more war.
Despite being an invaluable source Fadel is prone to extreme hyperbole, I would classify this piece as one such example. I do not see what value this move would have especially given the precious resources that would be diverted in the effort, either as a benefit to Iran or as a detriment to ISIS. The area is largely unpatrollable and is as deep in Indian country as one can get, any value as a supply line would be mitigated by constant IS raids as was seen from 2012-2014 when the Iraqi/Syrian government still claimed nominal control over the region. The Akashat ambush comes to particular mind.
I think you’re right about Fadel’s hyperbole. That area is a lot of empty desert except for the strip from Deir Ez-Zor to Al-Qa’im along the Euphrates. That area is critical to the IS if it wants to keep its caliphate contiguous.
“Not so much for Russia which is trying to get Western agreement to continue to exist. The young Saudi warrior prince seeing the reestablishment of the Shiite Crescent to his north will be honor bound to prevent it. “Russia is “trying to get Western agreement to exist?” Where did you get that idea? The “Saudi warrior” can’t even defeat the Yemenis. Why would you think the Saudi fops cold do anything about this possibility? pl
There was never ever a historical precedent for this Shia Crescent. Even the Sassanid Empire could not maintain control of Levant for long and had to cede to the Romans.
“The Shia Crescent” was the rhetorical device of King Abdullah of Jordan – a comment unworthy of a Hashemite King; Hashem being the family of the Prophet.
But it came into existence due to the wars of containment of Iran after US destroyed Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.
None of the Shia Doctors in Najaf or in Qum nor the Supreme Jurisprudent of Iran have declared a Holy War against Sunni Muslims.
Ayatollah Sistani – an Iranian – called on Iraqis of all sects to help Iraq’s Government to defend Iraq. That call was answered largely by Shia Iraqi but was not a formal call to Arms against Sunnis.
The proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria plus the economic sanctions are the West’s attempt to get rid of the current Russian government. I think Russia is trying reach a diplomatic agreement with the West to stop this. But, so far to no avail.
Hot blood, pride and fear will never let the House of Saud acquiesce to reestablishment of the Shiite Crescent that Prince Bandar severed by funding of ISIL. They are flooding rebel Sunnis with weapons. You are correct that so far Turkey and Saudi Arabia have not intervened to defend their fellow Sunnis. However, facing the prospect of defeat and humiliation, the oil sheiks could do something crazy like invading with Turkish and Arab troops with American air support to dismantle the Islamic State and forge a new Sunni Land in the Levant that severs the Crescent.
The collapse of the cease fire tends to support the thought that the ultimate Western/Israeli goal is to have the combatants exterminate each other. Which, if true, would inevitably engulf the world in war.
The House of Saud has nothing but their hot blood, pride and fear to throw in any fight in Iraq and/or Syria. They will do nothing but scream, whine and continue funding the Sunni rebels, including the IS. They are impotent. If the Turks attack anyone, it will be the Kurds. I doubt they will do that. Your thought of “Turkish and Arab troops with American air support to dismantle the Islamic State and forge a new Sunni Land” is pure fantasy.
“the oil sheiks could do something crazy like invading with Turkish and Arab troops with American air support to dismantle the Islamic State and forge a new Sunni Land in the Levant” As TTG told you that is a fantasy that has nothing to do with any reality on the ground. Kind of reminds me of the time a Texas banker told me that the way to solve the Arab/Israeli problem was to destroy the old city of Jerusalem. Are you a banker from Texas? pl
Implications for the future of Iraq of the Green Zone insurgency in Iraq?
In reply to VietnamVet 30 April 2016 at 09:03 PM
Shiite Crescent that Prince Bandar severed by funding of ISIL.
As Babaak and I’m sure others have pointed out “Shiite Crescent” was a turn of phrase coined by a weak monarch fearful that his career as monarch was liable to be cut short. Take a look at the two maps you’ll find here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25434060 it’s hard to reconcile the reality they outline with what is little better than an advertising slogan.
You are correct that so far Turkey and Saudi Arabia have not intervened to defend their fellow Sunnis. However, facing the prospect of defeat and humiliation, the oil sheiks could do something crazy like invading with Turkish and Arab troops with American air support to dismantle the Islamic State and forge a new Sunni Land in the Levant that severs the Crescent.
Sorry but have you actually ever seen what Saudi Barbaria calls an army? They’re so bad at logistics and fighting that they’re a liability. They’re GREAT at internal repression. They’re seriously good at driving across a causeway in tanks and apcs and slaughering unarmed Bahreini but ummmm you know that other thing they’re meant to be able to do (fighting against other soldiers) not so good.
Honestly if push came to shove other states would pay good money not to have them on their side. The key word in all you’ve written above is “could” yes they _could_ do that and thereby remove a major disincentive to their population to overthrow them. Not going to happen.
For different reasons the same applies to Erdogan who unlike the Gulf Monarchies does have a worthwhile army. A minor excursion? Maybe but I have to say I think it very doubtful because unless it’s a complete walkover the damage to his standing would be out of all proportion to the damage inflicted on a Turkish expeditionary force.
In all of this I haven’t even _begun_ to touch upon the fact that the Shi’i in the “crescent” are far from being a monolithic bloc. I wonder if Babak could be persuaded to tell us what the Farsi for “herding cats” is.
Seems like there would need to be simultaneous cooperation on the air support side, as well as the ground troops.
Also, chain of command in Iraq is a bit ambiguous… no one known how much influence Tehran really has in Iraq, but if the above is to be believed then apparently quite a lot of influence. How exactly can Tehran organize something like this? Not through official Iraqi government channels I presume, must be some additional channels in operation.
“Having Daesh fighting on two fronts instead of one also makes sense. Spending resources on this at this time doesn’t make much sense unless there is a bigger plan behind it.”
If I was Iraq, and I saw the Daesh losing on the Syrian front, that’s about the time I would be thinking of hitting them. Sport is all about playing fair, war is all about being unfair.
Babak, could you see Sadr forming an Iraqi nationalist reform alliance with Iraqi Sunnis against the Iranians to gain political power in Iraq?
Perhaps this article outlines how the major powers have decided to keep pressure on IS with simultaneous geographic spheres of influence but de-conflict command and control. Objective Mosul with US/Kurd/Turk/Sunni tribes and US trained Iraqi counter terrorism troops; Iran and Shia Iraqis on the east/west conjunction discussed in the main article cited above; US/Syrian Kurds and Syrian tribes targeting Raqqa; Russia/Syria Army securing Aleppo, Latakia and surroundings. Even if the zones are aspirational at this point, it would allow coordination between major outside powers if in no other way than timing.
In reply to VietnamVet 30 April 2016 at 04:37 PM
“if Muqtada al-Sadr supporters having stormed the Green Zone can seize the Iraqi government”
Oh please. Sadrist seize control of the government, I’m sorry but have you any idea of how utterly ludicrous that statement is? They don’t have the numbers, they don’t have weaponry, and above all as their record shows they don’t have the desire.
The Sadrists (and I’m using that term in the narrow sense of Iraqi followers of Muqtada al-Sadr) have been mounting a campaign against the corruption, ineffectuality, and isolation from the Iraqi populace for a long time now. Their key demand is that the quota system be abolished. Another of their demands is that the blast walls surrounding the Green Zone and the check points into and out of it be dismantled.
This weekend a few hundred of the pulled down some of the blast walls and occupied the parliament. On Saturday they left the parliament on Sunday morning they left the Green Zone.
It was a political action, a stunt, if you want to use that word, backed up by Sadr who over the weekend gave a (televised) speech from Najaf denouncing the quota system and saying his followers would not part take part in it. He also instructed his followers to peacefully leave the Green Zone having made their point.
Less Cassandraism and more concentration upon the facts please – a _very_ cursory swing through google would have told you all of the above.
In reply to VietnamVet 30 April 2016 at 04:37 PM
“Russia which is trying to get Western agreement to continue to exist”
Me me me it’s all about me me me.
I’ve news for you no it isn’t – most Russians are very patriotic – which is one reason why Putin’s so popular the populace see him as somebody who is at least as patriotic as they they are and as a leader moreover who took Russia from being desperately weak to a resurgent power.
The idea that even at its nadir under Yeltsin that a country like Russia would in your own words be:
“trying to get Western agreement to continue to exist”
is quite frankly grotesque and speaks to a level of ignorance of Russian history, Russia as it now is, coupled with gross ethnocentricity on your part which I have to say is truly remarkable.
Little history quiz for you:
Where are all the Western invaders of Russia now?
What happened to them – or to put it another way – what did the Russians do them?
“trying to get Western agreement to continue to exist”
Wow, just wow.
In reply to William R. Cumming 01 May 2016 at 02:11 AM
It was a political stunt not an insurgency. Moreover it was a _peaceful_ political stunt. How on earth does a peaceful political stunt which lasts for less than a weekend come to be categorised as an “insurgency”?
It resembles the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 and the earlier Tobacco Riots, in Iran.
Hasn’t the RussiaGov long since assumed that the West would deny it permission to exist if it could deny that permission? Hasn’t the RussiaGov therefor decided to secure its existence in the teeth of its percieved-to-be Western denial of permission to exist? So why would the RussiaGov do anything in hopes of winning Western permission to exist?
I am thinking the RussiaGov wants real stability in Syria. Their thinking appears to be that some deal must be offered to reconcilable non-jihadi rebels. Its about what Russia wants to achieve for and inside Syria. Or am I wrong about that?
Qatar called an emergency meeting of The Arab League. The meeting is to discuss ways to protect Sunnis in Aleppo. Take that as code for a desperate plea for Egypt to send troops as Egypt is one of the few countries in the region that can fight it’s way out of a wet paper bag. Yemen is another but they are kind of busy.
The problem for Qatar is that Egypt doesn’t buy into the Qatar & KSA agenda at all. In fact they have been fighting Daesh in the Sinai and want them all dead.
In reply to BraveNewWorld 01 May 2016 at 02:42 PM
I’m not surprised that the Gulf Monarchies are starting to feel a bit anxious. I hope a few of them keel over from stress.
I agree with you that they’d love to get anyone they can roped into their Syrian imbroglio and I also agree that Sisi isn’t suicidal. I’m pretty sure he also remembers what type of person it was who killed Sadat and why.
Not sure about your assessment of the Egyptian army though – trained and armed for internal suppression rather than fighting against well armed and experienced fighters of any kind is my impression of them.
Any force they send to Aleppo would need to be very good (see above) and able to adapt to house-to-house fighting against a well-seasoned and motivated foe(s). I can’t see it myself and I bet Sisi can’t either. Which is another reason to agree with you
Yemenis of all stripes are somewhat preoccupied at present I agree.
I see what you mean. That’s an interesting comparison and one I hadn’t thought of. I’ll need to think about that one. Thank you.
Mankind has not found way to end conflicts along ethnic and religious fault lines other than by conquering and eliminating all of the combatant males or by ethnic cleansing and securing strong borders. The USA, Russia, India and China are the last super sovereign states still intact with significant ethnic minorities. Each is subject to chaos if supported by outsiders. From the start, I felt that the super states and rest of the world should have made an alliance to eliminate the Islamic State or at least quarantine it and end the violence. As part of the agreements, Ukraine would be a neutral buffer state and the super majority ethnic regions rejoining Russia and the Levant partitioned.
I am much more negative than TTG or the Colonel who admittedly know a hell of a lot more than I do. I do not think the Sunni territory in Syria and Iraq can be conquered by Shiite forces alone without starting a World War if the majority Sunni nations intervene to prevent a massacre. The Islamic State will continue exist as long as the USA, Turkey and the Gulf Monarchies support the Sunni rebels and Israel continues its meddling.
This can not work out well unless there are jobs, education, birth control, and the supranational institutions democratized to serve mankind not corporations.
Finally! Apparently there is talk about R+6 driving eastward to the Syria-Iraq border, in this instance to the area of Al-Qa’im. But that spot is near the Euphrates River, down southeast from Dayr az Zawr (Deir Ez Zor).
Come on, Boyz. Deir Ez Zor is said to be under siege, and not taken over by ISIS. And the area is said to be open desert. Perfect for surveillance and Syrian and Russian air attacks. After moving at an angle up from Palmyra (Tadmur) to Deir Ez Zor and opening it up, it is a short run straight eastward to the Iraq border. Then you can clear the big area below that long line from Palmyra through Deir Ez Zor to the Syria-Iraq border. That gives Syria control of that large area of oil fields and pipelines, and control of a lot of the Syria-Iraq border starting at Jordan. The Euphrates River is included in that area.
I realize I am repeating myself. Where is the reincarnation of Gen. George Patton?
The SAA was and probably still is largely Sunni. It also has Alawite, Druze, Shiite, Christian and Kurd soldiers. The Arab tribes aligned with the YPG in the SDF are Sunni. The conflict in Syria has never been a simple Sunni vs. Shia or Sunni vs. Alawite matter. Nor is the fight against IS anything close to a simple Sunni-Shia conflict. I would add that all in the IS forces are not Wahabbi jihadists. Among their ranks are godless murderers and thieves and immature, wannabe thrill seekers who thought being some badass jihadi joe was cool.
Evidently, Sadr flew to Tehran – likely for consultations with Iranian leaders.
He will never go against Najaf or Qum.
In reply to The Twisted Genius 01 May 2016 at 09:31 PM
Titbit of background information. When Assad père wanted to be president he needed (as an Alawite) to get a fatwa from both Sunni and Shi’i scholars saying that he was indeed a Muslim. There’s a provision in the Syrian constitution saying the president has to be a Muslim. Such scholars were found and the duly issued the required ruling.
It may not be a democracy in the western sense – but it does show that even back then the Ba’ath in Syria were acutely aware of the need to respect ethnic and religious balances.
I wish you could have seen Syria as it was before all this we lived first in Lebanon and then dad got posted to Iraq so we visited Syria especially Damascus often. It was and always will be a fairly poor place compared to Scandinavia and had many many problems but so long as you steered clear of politics you were left in peace. I can remember as a Christian child (and a foreigner at that) how during Ramadan I’d be invited by all and sundry to come in and have a bite and would waddle home stuffed to the gills bearing large quantities of sweet things (“in case you wake up hungry”).
It drives me to distraction when I see or hear the simplistic “analyses” that it’s all “sectarian” or the abject refusal to even begin to try to understand how any religion that dictates how a community should order its affairs will affect its devotees. The Middle East including Syria was then and still is a complex place with lots of different strands making up a fantastic weave. The same people left and right draw maps and talk about imposing partitions and cordons sanitaires never for one moment imagining that this sort of crude externally dictated sectarianism is always going to make things far far worse.
And Carlos Menem, the former President of Argentina, had to convert of Catholicism from Islam because at that time the Contrition of Argentina required that.
I think Syria is an specially complicated country because it is – figuratively – crisscrossed by multiple religions (Sunni Islam, Shia, Islam, Alawai, Druze, Orthodox Christian, Catholic Christian, Protestant Christian and a few others that no one has ever heard of), by multiple Ethno-linguistic groups (Arab, Arami, Kurd, Turk, Armenian, Circassian and others), as well as the Seljuk Civilizational boundary.
To my knowledge, there is no longer any European country that even remotely approximates the complexity of Syria.
The country that it most resembled in Europe, in terms of its diversity, was Yugoslavia and, prior to that, Austro-Hungarian Empire – in my opinion.
Wars destroyed both countries.
In case of Syria, as far as I know, the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran are the only two protagonist of that war that have taken a position that they support the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and its political structures.
NATO states – US, EU, Turkey – are hedging, in my opinion.
Yes, I wish all these Western people would shut-up for a while instead of writing prescriptions for the political settlement among alien peoples that they neither understand, nor empathize with, nor respect.