The Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

The Death of the Mehdi Army. The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Iraq’s Most Powerful Militia

by Nicholas Krohley
Reviewed by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2016

Perhaps the greatest surprise confronting U.S. forces following the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the rise of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Prior to the invasion, Sadr was not on the U.S. radar, but in the wake of the operation, he became a military obsession, quickly establishing himself as the chief impediment to the restoration of order in the country, at least from Washington’s perspective. While Sadr’s Mahdi (or Mehdi) Army (meaning, loosely, the Army of the Messiah) was responsible for thousands of deaths—American as well as Iraqi—relatively little was known about Sadr and his militia beyond the names of top lieutenants or what could be gleaned from his speeches.
Krohley is a veteran of the “Human Terrain System,” the collection of social scientists embedded within U.S. fighting forces whose job was to illuminate the intricacies of local society to help the top brass’s decision-making. He remedies this lack of insight, shedding light on an important piece of recent U.S. history in Iraq.

He asks: Why did the Mahdi Army collapse in 2008? The rapidity of its fall with so little combat suggests other factors at play. In answering the question, the author weaves a masterwork of recent Baghdadi and Iraqi political history, setting his study apart from previous analyses of the surge, which tend to be long on journalism but short on understanding the nuances of Iraqi society.
Krohley traces the origins of the Mahdi Army to the growth of the eastern slums of Baghdad and the internal migration of Shiite Iraqis, beginning with the establishment of the republic in 1958. He examines the rise of the movement headed by Muqtada’s father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr in the 1980s and 1990s, set against the backdrop of U.N. sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s repressive reign. After the U.S.-led invasion, Muqtada sought to reconstitute his father’s movement but lacked the religious credentials or the necessary skills, beyond assembling his infamous and factious band of irregulars.

The author’s inner anthropologist shines through as he examines the heavily Shiite administrative district known as “New Baghdad” on a sub-district by sub-district level. Indeed, leafing through the nearly 100 pages of notes, scholars may sense the spirit of the late historian Hanna Batatu’s classic studies of Iraqi society, albeit with a narrower focus (and without an index—the book’s only flaw). Krohley looks at how each neighborhood viewed U.S. forces and interacted with the Sadrists as the 2008 showdown with the Mahdi Army loomed, and what this meant as U.S. soldiers pushed the Mahdi Army out.

Krohley challenges the idealization of the U.S.-led surge “as a triumph of full-spectrum counter-insurgency.” Indeed, he argues convincingly that the demise of the Mahdi Army was self-inflicted—more of a tactical decision by the Mahdi Army itself to fade into the woodwork and perhaps survive to fight another day—rather than the U.S. victory so many hagiographers of Gen. David Petraeus claim. Krohley’s work may be challenged by future writers, but they will need to marshal significant resources to counter his deep and well-researched study.

Iraqi Horn Takes Ramadi (Dan 8:5)

ISIS takes Ramadi as reinforcements surge into city

By Hamdi Alkhshali and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
Updated 5:02 PM ET, Sun May 17, 2015

(CNN)The key Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to ISIS on Sunday after government security forces pulled out of a military base on the west side of the city, the mayor and a high-ranking security official said.
The ISIS advances came after militants detonated a series of morning car bomb blasts, Mayor Dalaf al-Kubaisy and a high-ranking Iraqi security official said. The explosions forced Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters to retreat to the city’s east, they said.

Clashes have raged in the beleaguered capital of Anbar province for months as Iraqi and allied forces battle ISIS militants for control of the strategically located city, which is just 110 km (70 miles) west of Baghdad.

Ramadi, the largest city in western Iraq, is just a few miles from an Iraqi army headquarters that ISIS blew up in March.

ISIS took over parts of the city in the first half of last year, placing it at the heart of a deadly tug of war ever since.

And officials said Sunday that the fight for the city is far from over.

Even as ISIS took control, pockets of resistance remain inside the city, said Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for the Anbar governor.

While ISIS declared victory and claimed full control of the city, the Iraqi Federal Police vowed to stamp out ISIS in the region. In a statement, police said Brig. Gen. Raid Shakir Joudat was on the way “commanding a huge force consisting of various weapons to cleanse Anbar province from terrorist gangs.”

State TV: Iraqi forces on the way

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, is also preparing to send in reinforcements, according to a statement read on Iraq’s state-run Iraqiya TV Sunday.

He’s ordered the al-Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary force to prepare for deployment against ISIS militants in Anbar province. It will be joined by Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal volunteers. The decision to mobilize the paramiltary force, which is Iranian-backed and predominantly Shiite, follows a request for help from the Anbar provincial governor, provincial council, tribal leaders and religious clerics.

On Thursday, ISIS pushed into Ramadi, using armored bulldozers and at least 10 suicide bombings to burst through gates and blast through walls, according to a security source who has since left the city.

Dozens of militants followed them into the city center and ISIS raised its trademark black flag over the provincial government building.

On Friday, the United States announced that it was “expediting” weapon shipments to Iraq because of the current fighting in Ramadi.

What are the implications of an ISIS takeover?

Whether or not Ramadi will stay in the hands of ISIS remains to be seen, analysts said Sunday.

Some U.S. officials have tried recently to downplay the significance of Ramadi, saying they are not focused on the city.

But retired Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, said the situation in Ramadi is a significant sign that forces fighting ISIS need to take a different tack.

“Ramadi’s a bad news story, period,” he said. “It’s not going well. The military units we’ve trained in the Iraqi army are basically laying down their guns and running.”

But the significance of the city falling may have less to do with the militant group, and more to do with the strength of Iraqi forces, CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd said.

“This is not about ISIS. This is about whether the Iraqi military has the capability, and more importantly, the will to face up with ISIS,” he said. “They’ve had some successes, the military has. This is a setback. It’s going to take years to figure out who will prevail.”

CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh, Jim Sciutto, Fredricka Whitfield, Barbara Starr, Ralph Ellis, Pat St. Claire and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.

Antichrist Takes His Share Of Iraq (Rev 13)

The carving up of Iraq

Antichrist Calling the Shots in Iraq

Antichrist Calling the Shots in Iraq

Iman Saleh
Monday, 23 February 2015

News from Iraq these days has become less a blow-by-blow account of events on the ground and more of an exercise in discursive mud-slinging and collective identity politics.

Any sense of a political entity called “Iraq” has long since disappeared, reduced to in- and out-group designations drawn down the hazy lines of ethnicity, sect, and regional allegiance. Hence, there is no longer an Iraqi government, but a “Shia-led coalition” (or a “sectarian state”); equally, there is no longer an Iraqi army but a collection of “Iranian-backed Shia militias” pitted against an extremist “Sunni insurgency”. The battle lines have been drawn, both literally and discursively, and every new development is squeezed and manipulated to fit into the narrow confines of the pre-existing narrative.
Part of this is lazy reporting – it is simply easier to rehash old stereotypes and regurgitate well-known mantras than to engage in serious analytical reporting – yet it also, sadly, is reflective of a growing trend within Iraq itself and the wider Arab region; a trend towards the sectarianisation of political and social life. The recent political fallout following the murder of Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Qasim al-Janabi and eight of his entourage, allegedly by Shia militias, is a case in point. Sheikh Qasim, his son, and seven bodyguards were abducted on 13 February at checkpoint and taken to Sadr city (a predominantly Shia neighbourhood of Baghdad), where they were shot dead. In retaliation, 73 Sunni MPs announced a boycott of parliament to protest the killings. As a gesture of reconciliation, earlier last week radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr announced the indefinite suspension of militia groups associated with him (including the Mehdi Army).

The incident has drawn attention to the growing profile of Shia militias in the country, many of which receive support and funding from Iran, amid rising concerns of the violent tendencies of such groups (in late 2014, Amnesty International published a report documenting atrocities committed by such militias). While not attempting to diminish the often brutal acts perpetrated by armed groups on all sides of the conflict in Iraq, such attempts to rationalise events on the ground on the grounds of posited deep-seated primordial identities – such as sect, tribe, ethnos, etc. – often serve to mask the underlying logic of political violence that has been seeping through Iraqi society for the past 40 years; a logic for which the US-led invasion of 2003 and subsequent parcelling off of political and social resources along identity lines served as the catalyst.

The rise of the Ba’ath Party in the late 20th century in Iraq, and particularly the rule of Saddam Hussein from 1979-2003, saw the institutionalisation of a vast and ethereal network of political power in which resources and privileges were handed out along lines of partisan loyalty. Saddam Hussein succeeded in maintaining his dominance over the Iraqi population by surrounding himself with a close circle of trusted aides and advisors, many of whose loyalty was assumed on the basis of kin or tribal allegiance and secured through the distribution of rewards and assets (not to mention the often brutal punishment of any whose loyalty was called into question). This network of power and privilege lurking behind Iraqi society is what some analysts and scholars have referred to as the “shadow state”, and resulted in a social and political system that favoured a select group of individuals over others – a select group who, more often than not, shared with Saddam the incidental identity categories of being Sunni Arabs, most hailing from the dictator’s hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, therefore, to be a Sunni Arab was a precursor to being considered loyal to the regime, and therefore often a condition for achieving political or material success in the country. In other words, being Sunni Arab was less of a religious identity than a tool for political and social dominance – a structurally political, not ideological, identity category. By extension, Ba’athist Iraq, although structured in a way to benefit those in possession of this political identity category, was not in itself ideologically sectarian, despite being structurally so. Indeed, there is little evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Kurds or the Shi’a was done purely on sectarian or religious grounds, and instead often stemmed from his ethno-nationalist view of the world in which both the Kurds and the Shia (whom he tended to denigrate as ethnically “Persian”) posed a threat to his plans to integrate Iraq into a wider pan-Arab political project.

Thus, when the US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and proceeded to dismantle the country’s political and civilian structure, they succeeded merely in cutting off the head of the shadow state network while leaving the roots intact. It is this deep-running and shadowy network that has, in the intervening years, spawned Medusa-like to permeate all aspects of Iraqi society and to set the practical and discursive logic through which that society operates.

The long-standing effects of this shadow state have been reflected in the partisan politics of the successive Shia-led governments of Nouri Al-Maliki and now Haider Al-Abadi (which, in a perverse turning of the tables established a structurally sectarian system that favoured the majority Shia Muslims over their Sunni counterparts and succeeded in alienating many of Iraq’s most influential and experienced generals and politicians who had prospered under the Ba’ath). It is this political logic of reward and punishment that set the backdrop to the insurgency that has gripped the country since 2003, and provided a language and repertoire of political violence that pits one group against another in an all-out sectarian war. More than this, such logics of violence and allegiance have also been reflected in the recent exploitation of tribal and local loyalties by ISIS forces – leading some commentators to dub the Islamic state “a distinctively Iraqi organisation”.

What we have now in Iraq, then, is a direct result of these political logics of violence, punishment, necessity, loyalty and reward that have converged around three main discursive positions – the “Sunni” version of events contrasting sharply with that of the “Shia” or even the “Kurdish” version. Iraq has been carved up, both practically and ideologically, into three different political and social camps who are no longer able or willing to recognise their common histories. The only logical outcome of such political fracturing, sadly, seems to be the final carving up of Iraq into its three constituent provinces.

Thus, while it may be true that the increased sectarianisation of public and private discourse in Iraq and abroad is reflective of an increasing trend towards sectarianism within the country itself, it is worth bearing in mind the role such discourse has to play in shaping people’s perceptions on the ground and the way in which public narratives – especially in the media – are often manipulated by groups to serve their own political purposes. This is why we must be wary of reporting on Iraq as the perennial “sectarian conflict”, because the political reality of sectarianism in Iraq – although it does exist – is only a small part of the repertoire of political violence that is sweeping the country, and which cannot be traced to one unitary cause such as that of primordial identity ties. Rather, the reality of sectarianism in Iraq is the result of a complex combination of factors including the legacy of the Ba’athist shadow state, the impact of the 2003 invasion, the vested interest of local and foreign players (the US, Saudi Arabia, and Iran being just three), and the manipulation of discourse by those who have an interest in carving up the country to serve in their own political power games.

Iraq asks UAE to remove Badr Organization and Sadr militia from terror list

Antichrist's Men Off Terrorist List
Aharq Al Alsawt
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq has asked the Emirati government to remove an influential Shi’ite political party and its militia from its list of terrorist organizations.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday, Iraq’s minister for human rights, Mohammed Mahdi Al-Bayati, said that the Iraqi government had asked Abu Dhabi to reconsider its decision to blacklist the Badr Organization led by Iraq’s former transport minister Hadi Al-Ameri.

The minister said that Baghdad had made the same request regarding the Saraya Al-Salam (Peace Brigades), which is part of the movement led by populist Shi’ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr.

Both militias have joined what has become known as “the popular mobilization forces,” an umbrella of anti-ISIS groups formed in response to Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s call to protect Iraq’s Shi’ite shrines from the attacks from the Sunni radical organization.

Critics accuse the two militias of what they describe as “violations” against civilians, and have called on the Iraqi government to rely solely on regular security and military forces in the fight against terrorism.

According to Bayati, Baghdad lodged the request on the basis that both militias are represented in the cabinet and parliament and are operating according to a national agenda that recognizes the rights of all of Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities.

Also on the UAE’s 83-strong terror list are Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq—an offshoot of Sadr’s movement—as well as Al-Yaoum Al-Maou’d and the Ansar Al-Islam group.

Bayati also said that Iraq was reforming its own counter-terror efforts, including new trials for female prisoners detained on terror charges to make sure the verdicts they receive are fair.

As for the deportation of foreign prisoners, the minister said Iraqi law will adjudicate in this matter.
Several Arab governments have signed prisoner swap agreements with Baghdad.

US Relying On Antichrist’s Militia

Questions abound over US assertion of progress in Iraq

Middle East Eye

Analysts say the situation in Iraq is ‘a lot messier’ than the picture US military leaders promote publicly

Iranian-backed militias and a fractious international coalition throw US claims this week of a better chance of success in Iraq this time around into doubt.

Fighting is ongoing for the second day in the city of Heet in Anbar province west of Baghdad, where army forces alongside Sunni tribes, are attacking Islamic State positions. The group made rapid progress across swathes of the country in June before being slowed down by a US-led air campaign that began in September.

But in Anbar’s capital Ramadi, the last major city in western Iraq not to fall to IS, the group launched an aggressive assault on Friday on Iraqi security forces, supported by local tribes.

“Instead of grabbing hold of it, owning it and then gradually transitioning back, we’re telling [Iraqi security forces] from the start, look, that is about you, this has to be your campaign plan,” said chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking US military officer, on Wednesday.

Speaking at a conference organised by Defense One, a news website focused on US defense and national security topics, Dempsey spoke of a “different approach” from the 2003 to 2011 US-led war on Iraq that toppled and killed the country’s then president Saddam Hussein and left nearly half a million people dead. This new approach will be in line with President Barack Obama’s promise to a US public weary of foreign wars that US troops and security personnel will not engage in ground combat operations.

Obama sent 1,500 additional troops to Iraq on 7 November, bringing the total number to 3,100 American security personnel in Iraq mandated to work with local forces in an advisory role.

Dempsey said Iraq has a better chance of success because American troops are playing a supporting role to troops from the beginning of the campaign.

But some analysts question Dempsey’s version. It’s “highly debatable whether the US is in a better position,” said Kirk Sowell, publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics, a fortnightly newsletter. Generals who speak to the media tend to emphasise a positive situation on the ground, added Sowell. “It’s a lot messier than that quote of his.”

Fighting back IS control

On Thursday, US-led airstrikes killed four IS leaders, including head of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Radwan Talib. Mosul has been under IS control since the 10 June, after which the group overran the surrounding the country’s northwestern Nineveh province and other territory.

The US gain follows an Iraqi military success against IS earlier this month in the northern Iraqi city of Baiji where forces broke an IS siege of the country’s largest refinery – six months after Iraqi troops began their attempt to take it back.

“It’s not good news that it took six months to go a few hundred miles from Baghdad,” Sowell said.
Lawrence Korb, former US Assistant Secretary of Defence, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, acknowledged this. “It’s slow, but it’s steady,” he told Middle East Eye by phone.

In spite of recent setbacks, IS still controls or has presence in nearly a third of Iraq following an intense US-led bombing campaign which has seen at least 480 confirmed airstrikes in the country.

Parts of western Iraq remain under IS control, including the majority of Fallujah, only 69 kilometres west of Baghdad. A gateway towards the capital, Fallujah is one strategic tip in the ‘Sunni triangle’ controlled by IS in Iraq. Stretching northwards to Mosul and back down to the town of Qaim on the Syria-Iraq border, IS fighters lay claim to a vast geographic area that knocks on the door of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.

The marauding group have also established a ring of influence around their prized goal, Baghdad.

On Thursday, IS official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani issued an audio statement, urging his fighters to march on Baghdad, according to Al-Arabiya. He said that the battle would also “rage” in Karbala, a holy Shia city southwest of the capital in an area of the country largely under the control of Iraqi security forces.

The Shia militias

Though a number of towns have been taken back from IS by the US-advised Iraqi national army, including areas in the northern Nineveh plains, where Christians and other minorities fled as IS approached, a “high percentage” of the fighting to secure these areas has been carried out by Shia militias fighting separately, Sowell said.

While some of Iraq’s security forces include both Shias, who make up the majority of Iraq’s citizens, and minority Sunnis, many Shia militias are under Iranian command. These include the Peace Brigades, the name of the Mahdi army faithful to leading Iraqi Shia figure Muqtada al-Sadr, and a Mahdi army offshoot, the Hezbollah Battalions.

In Baiji, where IS fighters were pushed back this week under the cover of US air power, the Iraqi army fought alongside Shia militias including the League of the Righteous, the largest militia backed by Iran and responsible for killing hundreds of US soldiers between 2006-2011.

In June, hundreds of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – an elite force founded to protect Iran’s Islamic system – arrived in Iraq. Later in October, photos emerged of General Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds force alongside Peshmerga fighters in Kurdistan in an attempt to demonstrate Iran’s active presence in the fight against IS. The secretive Quds Force, an overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guard, is a key supporter and advisor to Iraq’s fragmented Shia militias, who are viewed as critical to protecting Baghdad and propping up Iraq’s army.

“Iran is going to be a factor in Iraq – it’s a majority Shia population,” said Korb. He added that the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran will make a coalition with the pariah state easier to sell to the American public. Talks that resumed in 2013 between Iran and the six powers – the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – were ongoing in Vienna on Friday ahead of a Monday deadline.

Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, an assertion that the majority of world powers doubt. After years of faltering attempts at negotiations, talks resumed in 2013 when moderate Hassan Rouhani became the Iranian president. If successful, an agreement will lift punitive sanctions on Iran while also assuring the US and its allies that Iran’s capabilities can only be used for power generation rather than weapons.

A fractious coalition

Broader regional concerns were also on the lips of US Secretary of Defence of Chuck Hagel this week.

Discussing the fight against IS on Wednesday, he told American television talk show host Charlie Rose “we can’t do it alone. It has to be with partnerships. It has to be coalitions. We can’t impose our will on any country. That’s complete folly”.

In 2003, the US entered into a war with Iraq without the agreement of the UN Security Council after American officials announced that “diplomacy has failed”.

In September, ahead of the US-led efforts to coordinate a global response to IS, President Obama underlined the importance of an international coalition of the willing: “American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing the region,” he said.

However, some suggest the coalition lacks a unified goal. “I think the problem is a lack of clarity on the part of everyone – the Saudis, the Americans, the French, the British,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi columnist and political sociology professor at King Saud University. “The only party who seems to be clear is Iran. Iran wants to keep Assad,” he said.

Iran has been a long-time supporter of Assad’s government, seeing it as a bulwark against Sunni dominance in the region.

That may be a reason for Korb’s assertion that the US is “pretending” not to be allied and coordinating with Iran in Iraq. “But we are,” he said.

In light of the prevailing climate, Sowell agreed that US officials may be trumpeting success in Iraq to cover over a fractious coalition. One serious schism lies between Saudi Arabia and the Iraqi government, which is pro-Iran, al-Dakhil noted.

The government of Iraq, led by Haider al-Abadi who came to power in September, maintains close relations with Iran, a rival with Saudi Arabia for wider geopolitical rivalry in the region. Saudi Arabia wishes to see the fall of the Assad government, weakening a broad coalition of Iranian clients that include the Shia militant group and political party Hezbollah.

The main concern for the US from the beginning of this operation, said al-Dakhil, has been Iraq, not Syria. He added that while the Saudis have been clear on Syria, the US position remains “fuzzy”– they don’t want to help President Bashar Assad, nor have they declared his removal a primary objective. Instead, the US has chosen to fight IS, a strategy which could inadvertently bolster Assad.

The situation makes it less likely that Turkey, a major party that has not joined the US-led coalition, will choose to join the coordinated fight. Turkey has repeatedly asserted that the Assad’s removal must be the priority of any Syrian engagement, a point which has created tension with its US ally. The US wants Turkey to secure its border with Syria to stop the flow of IS fighters and their affiliates travelling between the two countries.

“There is no integrated strategy for Syria and Iraq,” Sowell told MEE. He said that even if the US strategy succeeds in pushing back IS in Iraq, the group will still be in power in parts of Syria.

“The strategy, if successful,” he said, “may just get us back to 2013, when the situation was pretty bad.”

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Antichrist’s Militia Protects Baghdad

Fox News

Mahdi Army Protecting Baghdad

Mahdi Army Protecting Baghdad

Despite airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, Islamic State militants are in a position to wreak havoc on Baghdad after making gains in nearby territories, adding to the sense of siege in the Iraqi capital.
Yet some military experts believe that the terror group, who now control a large territory along the border of Iraq and Syria, won’t be able to defeat the forces now massed around the capital.

However their new position does give them the ability to wreak terror in Iraq’s biggest city, with its suicide attacks and other assaults further eroding confidence in Iraq’s nascent federal government and its troops, whose soldiers already fled the Islamic State group’s initial lightning advance in June.

“It’s not plausible at this point to envision ISIL taking control of Baghdad, but they can make Baghdad so miserable that it would threaten the legitimacy of the central government,” Richard Brennan, an Iraq expert with RAND Corporation and former Department of Defense policymake told The Associated Press.

The siege fears in Baghdad stem from recent gains made by the Islamic State group in the so-called Baghdad Belt — the final stretch between Anbar province, where the group gained ground in January, and Baghdad. The group has had a presence in the Baghdad Belt since spring, Iraqi officials say, but recent advances have sparked new worries.

The Islamic militants have reportedly infiltrated the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib, not far from the runway perimeter of Baghdad’s international airport.

Islamic State’s proximity to the airport is especially worrisome, because they are now armed with shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles with a 20-mile range, according to the Iraqi Defense Ministry. The weapons, which Islamic State has grabbed up along with tanks, helicopters and fighter planes as it has seized up vast territory in northern Syria and Iraq, could allow the militants to shut down the airport.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Saturday it launched an airstrike north of the town of Tal Afar, hitting a small Islamic State fighting unit and destroying an armed vehicle. It said two other airstrikes northwest of Hit in Anbar province targeted two small militant units.

Last week, Islamic State group fighters seized the towns of Hit and neighboring Kubaisa, sending Iraqi soldiers fleeing and leaving a nearby military base with its stockpile of weapons at risk of capture. The U.S.-led coalition recently launched two airstrikes northwest of Hit, U.S. Central Command said Saturday.

To the south of Baghdad, security forces fight to hold onto the town of Jurf al-Sukr, and to the north, one Sunni tribe has held onto the town of Duluiyah despite an Islamic State group’s onslaught.

However, Islamic State group fighters have taken over a number of towns in Diyala province, east of Baghdad.

“It’s scary,” said Maha Ismail, who recently visited one of Baghdad’s new shopping malls. “But we have seen a lot worse than this so we are gathering despite all the warnings.”

Islamic State group says it has a foothold inside Baghdad, having claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in the city, particularly in the Sadr City neighborhood — a Shiite stronghold. In August, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shiite mosque in New Baghdad, and another in the Shiite-majority district of Utaifiya in Baghdad, which together killed 26 people.

Some attacks go unclaimed, raising fears that other groups may look to capitalize on the tensions provoked by the Islamic State group. On Saturday, a series of unclaimed car bomb attacks in Iraq’s capital killed 38 people in Shiite areas, authorities said.

Police officials said the first bombing happened Saturday night when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a security checkpoint in Baghdad’s northern district of Khazimiyah, killing 13 people, including three police officers, and wounding 28.

The second car bombing, targeting a commercial street in Shula district in northwestern Baghdad, killed seven people and wounded 18, police said. The blast damaged several shops and cars.

Also in Shula, police said a suicide car bomb attack on a security checkpoint killed 18 people and wounded dozens others.

Yet analysts, like Brennan from the RAND Corporation, say capturing Baghdad remains beyond the Islamic State group’s ability. At its worst, the group might “start pressing into the western areas of Baghdad, going into the Sunni areas of Baghdad and pressing up against the Tigris (River) — if not controlling it, then at least testing the control of the central government,” he said.

Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said Saturday that the Iraqi military “continues to maintain firm control of the city and there is no imminent threat of an effective” offensive by the Islamic State group.

“While there are pockets of ISIL in the vicinity of Baghdad, (Iraqi security forces) continue to conduct operations to engage these elements and push back with the support of U.S. airstrikes when necessary,” Ryder said.

Beyond the U.S.-coordinated airstrikes and the massing of Iraqi troops, the country’s religious and ethnic lines likely will staunch any advance by the Sunni militants of the Islamic State group. From Baghdad further south, Iraq’s population is overwhelmingly Shiite and the lands there are home to some of its most important shrines.

Already, Shiite militias back up government forces in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq — their flags and symbols provocatively displayed across the capital. Such militias, like Iran-supported Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, “are battle tested,” said David L. Phillips, the director of the Peace-building and Rights Program at Columbia University. Challenging them likely would become a bloody slog for the Islamic State group, he said.

“The militias are not bound by rules of war,” he added. “They and (the Islamic State group) share one thing in common: Neither is bound by the Geneva Conventions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sadrists Free Amreli from ISIS

Iraq breaks months-long jihadist siege on Shiite town

Mahdi Sadrist Frees Amerli From ISIS

Mahdi Sadrist Frees Amerli From ISIS

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraqi forces broke through to the jihadist-besieged Shiite town of Amerli Sunday, where thousands of people have been trapped for more than two months with dwindling food and water supplies.

It is the biggest offensive success for the Iraqi government since militants led by the Sunni Islamic State (IS) jihadist group overran large areas of five provinces in June, sweeping security forces aside.
The breakthrough came as America carried out limited strikes in the area, the first time it has expanded its more than three-week air campaign against militants outside of Iraq’s north.

Aircraft from several countries also dropped humanitarian aid to Amerli.

The mainly Shiite Turkmen residents of the town in Salaheddin province were running desperately short of food and water, and endangered both because of their Shiite faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants, which has drawn harsh retribution elsewhere.
UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov had warned that they faced a “massacre” by the besieging militants.

“Our forces entered Amerli and broke the siege,” Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta told AFP, an account confirmed by a local official and a fighter from the town.

“It is a very important success,” Atta later said on state television, adding that there was still fighting in the area.

The operation was launched on Saturday after days of preparations in which Iraqi security forces, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish fighters deployed for the assault and Iraqi aircraft carried out strikes against militants.


US expands air campaign

The government’s reliance on the thousands of Shiite militiamen involved in the operation poses serious dangers for Iraq, risking entrenching groups with a history of brutal sectarian killings.

The United States announced that it carried out three airstrikes in the Amerli area, expanding its air campaign outside the far north for the first time, while Australian, British, French and US aircraft dropped relief supplies for the town.

“At the request of the government of Iraq, the United States military today airdropped humanitarian aid to the town of Amerli,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

“The United States Air Force delivered this aid alongside aircraft from Australia, France and the United Kingdom, which also dropped much-needed supplies.”

The aid drops came alongside “coordinated airstrikes against nearby (IS) terrorists in order to support this humanitarian assistance operation,” he added.

The American strikes were at least indirectly in support of an operation involving militia forces that previously fought against US troops in Iraq.

“The operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amerli,” Kirby said.

US Central Command said the US supplies dropped included around 47,775 liters (10,500 gallons) of drinking water and 7,000 prepackaged meals.

Three American airstrikes near Amerli, which happened early on Sunday Iraq time, destroyed five IS vehicles and a checkpoint, bringing the total number of US strikes since August 8 to nearly 120.
Western aid for Amerli was slow in coming, however, with the burden of flying supplies and launching strikes in the area largely falling to Iraq’s fledgling air forces.

“The US military will continue to assess the effectiveness of these operations and work with the Department of State, the US Agency for International Development, as well as international partners including the government of Iraq, the United Nations, and non-government organizations to provide humanitarian assistance in Iraq as needed,” Kirby said.

The US military also launched airstrikes Saturday on IS forces near Iraq’s largest dam, north of the militant-held northern city of Mosul, the Pentagon said.

Kurdish forces retook the dam after briefly losing it to the jihadists earlier this month, securing the source of much of the power and irrigation water for the region around Iraq’s second city.

The jihadist Islamic State and its allies control swathes of both northern and western Iraq and neighboring northeastern Syria where their rule has witnessed a spate of atrocities that have shocked the world.

Washington has said that operations in Syria will be needed to defeat IS, but has so far ruled out any cooperation with the Damascus regime against the jihadists.

It has, however, attempted to enlist the support of long-time foe Tehran, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Writing in The New York Times, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged “a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations” to combat IS.

US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that Washington has no strategy yet to tackle IS, which has declared an Islamic “caliphate” in the territory under its control in Iraq and Syria.

The Antichrist And His Mahdi Army To The Rescue!

Iraqi milita seek help from old foe US in battle against jihadists

August 22, 2014
Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army

Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army

JURF AL-SAKHR, Aug 22 — Iraq’s Mahdi Army fought US troops to the death in past years, but now some members of the rebranded Shiite militia say they could do with a little help from their old foe.

Jurf al-Sakhr is a sprawling patchwork of orchards and palm groves south of Baghdad irrigated by the Euphrates River, but the beauty of the scenery belies the deadliness of one of Iraq’s most relentless battlefields.

Positions are hard to hold and weeks of military yo-yo between Islamic State (IS) jihadists and pro-government forces, including the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades), which counts many Mahdi Army members among its fighters, have killed hundreds and produced no victor.

A campaign of US air strikes in the north, however, has helped flagging Kurdish troops regroup and allowed them to go on the offensive, whetting the appetite of other anti-IS forces for similar assistance.

“I fought the American occupation in 2004 and up to 2006,” Saad Thijil, 30, said near a bombed-out building in Jurf al-Sakhr, his rifle strapped behind his back. “Now of course, we need US support, especially their military advisors.”

“But we don’t want any troop presence in Iraq,” he added.

In 2004, fiery young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr unleashed the Mahdi Army militia against US troops, mainly in the poor Baghdad district of Sadr City and in the holy city of Najaf, farther south.

Sadr and his militia played central roles in the wave of sectarian bloodshed that peaked in 2006-2007, but he eventually froze the militia’s activities in a move the US credited with sharply reducing violence.

When jihadists who had held parts of Syria for months swept across swathes of Iraq in June this year, Sadr announced the formation of the Saraya al-Salam, a group he said would be tasked with defending the holy sites of Shiite Islam.

Jurf al-Sakhr is strategically vital because it buffers the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala south of Baghdad from militant-held areas west of the capital.

Hassan is a 27-year-old from Baghdad and works as an air marshal on a commercial airline. When he is not flying, he spends a few days as a volunteer with Saraya al-Salam.

“Just a few air strikes, you know,” he said, puffing on a slim cigarette. “Not too many, we must win this battle by ourselves, but some support would be welcome, especially in this place.”

Bullets at least did not look to be in short supply as Saraya al-Salam leader Hakim al-Zamili visited the Jurf al-Sakhr front line this week, with some fighters burning off entire ammo belts to greet his convoy.

Discipline and sheer determination are some of the factors that have consistently made the IS look like the best fighting force in Iraq over the past two and half months.

IS “is strong because they are tough and they believe in a cause,” Zamili told some of his field commanders gathered in a local command centre.

“The fighters they run up against should also believe in something and be even tougher,” said Zamili, who was accused of running a death squad that abducted and executed hundreds of Sunnis between 2005 and 2007.

Zamili, now a lawmaker, was cleared in court but as pressure mounts on the US to expand its strikes beyond north Iraq, helping the ex-Mahdi Army does not appear to be high on the list.

US President Barack Obama justified launching air strikes earlier this month by pointing to a threat to US personnel in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region and the risk of genocide against minorities.

We don’t want the Americans to come back to Iraq, we don’t want a new occupation, we just want their support in the form of air strikes,” Zamili told AFP as he toured the Jurf al-Sakhr front line.
hen Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government first requested US air strikes in June to reverse the debacle of disintegrating Iraqi federal forces, David Petraeus, a former commander-in-chief of US-led forces in Iraq, warned against America becoming an “air force for Shiite militias”.
ome of the most battle-hardened fighters among Saraya al-Salam’s disparate ranks were adamant, however, that any battle won with US support would be half lost.

We don’t need America. We are brave people, we have enough weapons and experience,” said Ali Abu Hassan, who heads an elite unit in the militia.

“I consider anyone asking for US air strikes a traitor to Iraq.” — AFP

The Start of the Great Horn (Daniel 8:3)

The Start of the Great Horn (Daniel 8:3)

Crisis in the Middle East: The end of a country, and the start of a new dark age

Iraq has disintegrated. Little is exchanged between its three great communities – Shia, Sunni and Kurd – except gunfire. The outside world hopes that a more inclusive government will change this but it is probably too late. The main victor in the new war in Iraq is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) which wants to kill Shia rather than negotiate with them. Iraq is facing a civil war that could be as bloody as anything that we have seen in Syria and could go on for years.

The crucial date in this renewed conflict is 10 June, 2014 when Isis captured Iraq’s northern capital, Mosul, after three days’ fighting. The Iraqi government had an army with 350,000 soldiers on which $41.6bn (£25bn) had been spent in the three years from 2011, but this force melted away without significant resistance. Discarded uniforms and equipment were found strewn along the roads leading to Kurdistan and safety. The flight was led by commanding officers, some of whom rapidly changed into civilian clothes as they abandoned their men. Given that Isis may have had as few as 1,300 fighters in its assault on Mosul this was one of the great military debacles in history. Within two weeks those parts of northern and western Iraq outside Kurdish control were in the hands of Isis. By the end of the month the group had announced a caliphate straddling the Iraq-Syria border.

People in Baghdad are used to shocks after years of war, massacres, occupation and dictatorship, but when Mosul fell they could feel the ground shifting under their feet. Soon Isis fighters were only an hour’s drive north of a capital in which the streets, normally choked with traffic, grew quiet as people stayed at home because they thought it too dangerous to go out. This was particularly true of Sunni districts such as al-Adhamiyah on the east bank of the Tigris River, where young men rightly believed that if they passed through a checkpoint they were likely to be arrested or worse. People watched television obsessively, nervously channel-hopping as they tried to tease out the truth from competing propaganda claims. The sense of crisis was made worse by the main government channel broadcasting upbeat accounts of the latest victories, though the claims were seldom backed up by pictures. “Watch enough government television and pretty soon you would decide there is not a single member of Isis in the country,” said one observer.

Militants on the march near Tikrit

Militants on the march near Tikrit

The political geography of Iraq was changing before its people’s eyes and there were material signs of this everywhere. Baghdadis cook on propane gas because the electricity supply is so unreliable but soon there was a chronic shortage of gas cylinders because they come from Kirkuk and the road from the north had been cut by Isis fighters. To hire a truck to come the 200 miles from the Kurdish capital Erbil to Baghdad now cost $10,000 for a single journey, compared to $500 a month earlier. There were ominous signs that Iraqis feared a future filled with violence as weapons and ammunition soared in price. The cost of a bullet for an AK47 assault rifle quickly tripled to 3,000 Iraqi dinars, or about $2. Kalashnikovs were almost impossible to buy from arms dealers, though pistols could still be obtained at three times the price of the previous week. Suddenly, almost everybody had guns, including even Baghdad’s paunchy, white-shirted traffic police who began carrying sub-machine guns.

Many of the armed men who started appearing in the streets of Baghdad and other Shia cities were Shia militiamen, some from Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a splinter group from the movement of Shia populist and nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. This organisation is partly controlled by the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and, it is generally assumed, by the Iranians. It was a measure of the collapse of the state security forces and the national army that the government was relying on a sectarian militia to defend the capital. Ironically, one of Maliki’s few achievements as prime minister had been to face down the Shia militias in 2008, but now he was encouraging them to return to the streets. Soon dead bodies were being dumped at night. They were stripped of their ID cards but were assumed to be Sunni victims of the militia death squads. Iraq seemed to be slipping over the edge into an abyss in which sectarian massacres and counter-massacres rivalled those during the sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia in 2006-07.

The renewed sectarian violence was very visible. There was an appalling video of Iraqi military cadets being machine-gunned near Tikrit by a line of Isis gunmen as they stood in front of a shallow open grave. It reminded me of pictures of the SS murdering Jews in Russia and Poland during the Second World War. Human rights organisations using satellite pictures said they estimated the number of dead to be 170 though it might have been many more. Shia who were from the Turkoman ethnic group living in villages south of Kirkuk were driven from their homes and between 15 and 25 of them were murdered. It may be that the Shia will react in kind, but so far the killings have largely been of Shia by Isis.

Isis described its military strategy as “moving like a serpent between the rocks”, in other words using its forces as shock troops to take easy targets but not getting dragged into prolonged fighting in which its fighters would be tied down and suffer heavy casualties. It picked off government garrisons in Sunni-majority districts, and in the places it captured it did not necessarily leave many of its militants behind but rather relied on local allies. Many in Baghdad and in governments across the world hoped that these allies of Isis – local tribes and local Sunni leaders – could be persuaded to split from Isis because of its violence and primeval social agenda. In the refinery town of Baiji local people said that Isis had been going from house to house asking for the names of married and unmarried women, sometimes demanding to see ID cards, which in Iraq specify marital status. They explained they were doing this because their unmarried fighters wanted to have wives. No doubt there will be a negative reaction to this sort of activity from the local Sunni communities, but a movement that is well organised and prepared to kill any opponent will not be easy to challenge.

The rise of Isis and its military successes has led to short-sighted euphoria in Sunni countries. People congratulate themselves that it is no longer only the Shia who are on the offensive. But in practice Isis’s seizure of a leadership position in Syria and Iraq’s communities will most likely prove to be a disaster for them. Isis is being used as a vanguard movement that will not allow itself to be easily displaced and, like the fascists in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, will seek to crush anybody who tries. The Sunnis have ceded a commanding role to a movement that sees itself as divinely inspired and whose agenda involves endless and unwinnable wars against apostates and heretics. Iraq and Syria can be divided up, but they cannot be divided up cleanly and peacefully because too many minorities, like the million or more Sunni in Baghdad, are on the wrong side of any conceivable dividing line. At best, Syria and Iraq face years of intermittent civil war; at worst, the division of these countries will be like the partition of India in 1947 when massacre and fear of massacre established new demographic frontiers.

The fall of Mosul and the Isis-led Sunni revolt marks the end of a distinct period in Iraqi history that began with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by the US and British invasion of March 2003. There was an attempt by the Iraqi opposition to the old regime and their foreign allies to create a new Iraq in which the three communities shared power in Baghdad. The experiment failed disastrously and it seems it will be impossible to resurrect it because the battle lines between Kurd, Sunni and Shia are now too stark and embittered. The balance of power inside Iraq is changing. So too are the de facto frontiers of the state, with an expanded and increasingly independent Kurdistan – the Kurds having opportunistically used the crisis to secure territories they have always claimed – and the Iraq-Syrian border having ceased to exist. The impact of these events is being felt across the Middle East as governments take on board that Isis, an al-Qai’da-type group of the greatest ferocity and religious bigotry, has been able to claim the creation of a Sunni caliphate spanning much of Iraq and Syria.

This book focuses on several critical short- and long-term developments in the Middle East that are affecting or will soon affect the rest of the world. The most important of these is the resurgence of the al-Qa’ida-type movements that today rule a vast area in north and west Iraq and eastern and northern Syria. The area under their sway is several hundred times larger than any territory ever controlled by Osama bin Laden, the killing of whom in 2011 was supposed to be a major blow to world terrorism. In fact, it is since bin Laden’s death that al-Qa’ida affiliates or clones have had their greatest successes, including the capture of Raqqa in the eastern part of Syria, the only provincial capital in that country to fall to the rebels, in March 2013. In January 2014, Isis took over Fallujah just 40 miles west of Baghdad, a city famously besieged and stormed by US marines 10 years earlier. Within a few months they had also captured Mosul and Tikrit. The battle lines may continue to change, but the overall expansion of their power appears permanent. With their swift and multi-pronged assault across central and northern Iraq in June 2014, the Isis militants had superceded al-Qa’ida as the most powerful and effective jihadi group in the world.

A vehicle belonging to Iraqi forces on fire in Mosul

A vehicle belonging to Iraqi forces on fire in Mosul

These developments came as a shock to many in the West, including politicians and specialists whose view of what was happening often seemed outpaced by events. One reason for this was that it was too risky for journalists and outside observers to visit the areas where Isis was operating because of the extreme danger of being kidnapped or murdered. “Those who used to protect the foreign media can no longer protect themselves,” one intrepid correspondent told me, explaining why he would not be returning to rebel-held Syria. The triumph of Isis in Iraq in 2013-14 came as a particular surprise because the western media had largely stopped reporting the country. This lack of coverage had been convenient for the US and other Western governments because it enabled them to play down the extent to which “the war on terror” had failed so catastrophically in the years since 9/11.

This failure is masked by deceptions and self-deceptions on the part of governments. Speaking at West Point on America’s role in the world on 28 May 28 2014, President Barack Obama said that the main threat to the United States no longer came from al-Qa’ida central but from “decentralised al-Qa’ida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused on the countries where they operate.” He added that “as the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases”. This was true enough, but Obama’s solution to the danger was, as he put it, “to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists.” By June he was asking Congress for $500m to train and equip “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition. It is here that self-deception reigns, because the Syrian military opposition is dominated by Isis and by Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), the official al-Qa’ida representative, in addition to other extreme jihadi groups. In reality, there is no dividing wall between them and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.

An intelligence officer from a Middle East country neighbouring Syria told me that Isis members “say they are always pleased when sophisticated weapons are sent to anti-Assad groups of any kind because they can always get the arms off them by threats of force or cash payments.” Western support for the Syrian opposition may have failed to overthrow Assad, but it was successfully destabilising Iraq, as Iraqi politicians had long predicted.

The importance of Saudi Arabia in the rise and return of al-Qa’ida is often misunderstood and understated. Saudi Arabia is influential because its oil and vast wealth make it powerful in the Middle East and beyond. But it is not financial resources alone that make it such an important player. Another factor is its propagating of Wahhabism, the fundamentalist 18th-century version of Islam that imposes sharia law, relegates women to second-class citizens, and regards Shia and Sufi Muslims as heretics and apostates to be persecuted along with Christians and Jews. This religious intolerance and political authoritarianism, which in its readiness to use violence has many similarities with European fascism in the 1930s, is getting worse rather than better. A Saudi who set up a liberal website on which clerics could be criticised was recently sentenced to a thousand lashes and seven years in prison.

Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothes flee Kirkuk on the back of a truck

Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothes flee Kirkuk on the back of a truck

The ideology of al-Qa’ida and Isis draws a great deal from Wahhabism. Critics of this new trend in Islam from elsewhere in the Muslim world do not survive long; they are forced to flee or murdered. Denouncing jihadi leaders in Kabul in 2003, an Afghan editor described them as “holy fascists”, who were misusing Islam as “an instrument to take over power”. Unsurprisingly, he was accused of insulting Islam and had to leave the country.

A striking development in the Islamic world in recent decades is the way in which Wahhabism is taking over mainstream Sunni Islam. In one country after another Saudi Arabia is putting up the money for the training of preachers and the building of mosques. A result of this is the spread of sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia. The latter find themselves targeted with unprecedented viciousness from Tunisia to Indonesia. Such sectarianism is not confined to country villages outside Aleppo or in the Punjab, it is poisoning relations between the two sects in every Islamic grouping. A Muslim friend in London told me: “Go through the address books of any Sunni or Shia in Britain and you will find very few names belonging to people outside their own community.”

The resurgence of al-Qa’ida-type groups is not a threat confined to Syria, Iraq, and their near neighbours. What is happening in these countries, combined with the increasing dominance of intolerant and exclusive Wahhabite beliefs within the worldwide Sunni community, means that all 1.6 billion Muslims, almost a quarter of the world’s people, will be increasingly affected. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that non-Muslim populations, including many in the West, will be untouched by the conflict. Today’s resurgent jihadism, which has shifted the political terrain in Iraq and Syria, is already having far-reaching effects on global politics with dire consequences for us all.

This is an extract from ‘The Jihadis Return: Isis and the New Sunni Uprising’, by Patrick Cockburn, published by OR Books, available exclusively at

The Antichrist And His Men Take Over (Revelation 13:16)

The Iraq War’s Key Players: Where Are They Now?

It has been over a decade since the United States launched a war to topple Saddam Hussein. Three years ago the last U.S. troops left Iraq.

Over the course of the war, nearly 4,500 U.S. troops and an estimated 120,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives, although a recent study suggested the real number of Iraqis who died as a result of the war could be as high as 500,000.

Now, Iraq’s government remains half-formed after an April election and unable to confront the militants led by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who have taken over cities, including Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and Tikrit.

Here are some of the key individuals and groups that played a role in Iraq’s slow unraveling, from the beginning of the war to the present day.


Iraqi army

Iraq Army

Iraq Army
Soldiers from the Third Iraqi Army Division at a ceremony in Mosul, Iraq on Jan. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

When coalition forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, Saddam Hussein’s army was estimated to number between 300,000 and 350,000 troops. After Saddam was toppled, the Bush administration appointed L. Paul Bremer in May 2003 as Iraq’s top civilian administrator.

Within days of his appointment, Bremer issued Order Number 2 — a directive to dismantle the entire Iraqi army, which was predominantly Sunni. The move shocked the army, and also took U.S. commanders by surprise. “Now you have a couple hundred thousand people who are armed because they took their weapons home with them, they know how to use the weapons, who have no future and have a reason to be angry at you,” Col. Thomas Hammes told FRONTLINE.

The United States spent an estimated $25 billion on training and equipment for new security forces between 2003 and September 2012, according to a report from the special inspector general in Iraq. In 2013 alone, the Iraqi government spent an estimated $17 billion on its security forces.
And yet, this past June, when confronted in Mosul with a much smaller force of around 1,000 armed militants from ISIS and its Sunni allies, Iraq’s army crumbled. Multiple reports described uniforms and weapons discarded by Iraqi soldiers during their hasty retreat from Iraq’s second-largest city.
What happened? The disintegration was gradual, but there were warning signs. The country’s security forces lacked cohesion, with their loyalties divided along Iraq’s sectarian lines, according to a 2010 report from International Crisis Group.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki further weakened the structure by subverting the chain of command, forming new groups that reported directly to him. He also reportedly created a personal army of sorts out of 4,500 U.S.-trained special forces, nicknamed “Fedayeen al-Maliki.”

After the fall of Mosul, Iraqi soldiers were quoted saying they felt “betrayed,” and “abandoned” by their officers.

Recent reports from Iraq suggest Shia militias that once took up arms to fight U.S. troops have emerged to augment the Shia-dominated Iraqi army, or in some cases, fight in its stead.


Al Qaeda in Iraq

Iraqi Prisoners

Iraqi Prisoners
Iraqi army soldiers stand by two men suspected of being Al Qaeda members in Baqouba, capital of Iraq’s Diyala province, on Oct. 10, 2006. (AP Photo)

Iraq’s insurgency emerged in August 2003, with the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, followed a few days later by a suicide bombing at a United Nations compound that killed the U.N.’s top envoy in Iraq.

Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, a Sunni extremist, claimed credit for the U.N. bombing, and in October 2004, his group pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, taking on the mantle of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

AQI initially was comprised of recruits from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt. It wasn’t until 2006 that the group’s membership was largely Iraqi, according to The Washington Post. The group — which expressly targeted Shia in an attempt to provoke a civil war — reached its peak in power and violence during the bitter sectarian conflict of 2006 and 2007.

But AQI’s brutality led to its undoing, even as it carried out kidnappings and beheadings.

“The Sunnis of Anbar and the Sunni populations of Baghdad had figured out that Al Qaeda was just too extreme to deal with,” said Douglas Ollivant, who oversaw Iraq policy at the National Security Council under both Bush and Obama. “They wanted to marry into their families. They were insisting they maintain a very strict Sharia.”

AQI’s heavy-handedness drove some Sunni tribes, who became known as the Sons of Iraq, into an alliance with the Americans (see below).

On June 7, 2006, Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike. Abu Ayyub al-Masri became the new leader and renamed the group the Islamic State of Iraq in October 2006. Masri and another top leader were killed in April 2010.

Sensing an opportunity, the group entered the Syrian conflict in 2011, once again rebranding itself, this time as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

While ISIS was fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, it was left alone, according to Ollivant, and “allowed to metastasize into something very, very new and very, very different.”

“This time, it’s Al Qaeda version 6.0,” said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. “They make [Osama] bin Laden’s 2011 Al Qaeda look like boy scouts. They are far stronger, they are far more numerous. They have thousands who hold foreign passports and require no visas to get into the United States or other western countries. They are well funded, they are battle hardened and they are well armed. And they now control far more territory exclusively than bin Laden ever did. They have the security, they have the safety to plan their next set of operations and they are a messianic movement. Believe me, they are planning those operations.”

In July 2014, ISIS declared a caliphate in territory seized from Iraq and Syria and renamed itself again — this time as the Islamic State.


The Sunni Awakening/Sons of Iraq

The Awakening

The Awakening
Members of the so-called “Awakening councils” celebrate while patrolling the streets of north Baghdad’s Azamiyah neighborhood, Iraq, on Nov. 14, 2007. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The so-called Sunni Awakening movement began when the Sunni population in Anbar province, some of them insurgents who had fought against U.S. troops, tired of AQI’s excesses.

Gen. Petraeus, who was then leading U.S. forces in Iraq and implementing the counterinsurgency strategy that became known as the “surge,” decided to try to exploit this wedge.

“They’d gotten tired of Al Qaeda,” Petraeus told FRONTLINE. “Al Qaeda had been abusive. It had been blowing Sunni Arabs up and Sunni mosques up, in addition to Shia Arabs and mosques. And so they were keen to get these individuals out of their areas.”

As part of his plan, Petraeus promised the Sunnis a role in the government — and he agreed to pay them, ultimately spending $400 million on what became a paramilitary group he called the “Sons of Iraq.”

“Ultimately, we had 103,000 former insurgents and actually over 20,000 former militia members, part of that 103,000, to give you a sense of the magnitude of this endeavor,” Petraeus said.

Prime Minister Maliki, who was never comfortable with the Sons of Iraq, eventually stopped paying them after the Americans left. In the years following the U.S. withdrawal, the Sunnis who had joined the Sons of Iraq grew angry as Maliki’s government targeted prominent Sunni politicians and cracked down on Sunni protesters.


Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army

Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr became the face of Iraq’s largest and most feared Shia militia, the Mahdi army, as early as 2004. Deriving his power from his father — a much-revered and “martyred” Shia cleric — Sadr rallied his followers to kick coalition forces out of Iraq, calling the United States, the “great serpent.”

Although Sadr never held political office, he’s often described as a “kingmaker” thanks to his wide base of support in the Shia community.

Sadr’s relationship with Maliki has been volatile. He reluctantly backed Maliki as prime minister in 2006 and 2010 in exchange for government positions for his Sadrist political bloc. But he was also quick to withdraw support each time — in 2007 over Maliki’s refusal to come up with a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, and in 2012 over Maliki’s alleged dictatorial abuses.

Muqtada al-Sadr's al-Mahdi

Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi
Members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army parade along a road in the southern town of Basra in Iraq on Feb. 22, 2005. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

Sadr’s Mahdi army repeatedly clashed with U.S. and Iraqi security forces, starting with fierce fights in Najaf in August 2004. By 2006, the Mahdi army had stormed mosques, thrown out moderate clerics and reportedly threatened the lives of [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and other moderate ayatollahs. Sadr’s militia was also accused of slaughtering Sunni civilians during the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

In 2007, Sadr entered a three-year, self-imposed exile in Iran. He said he was leaving Iraq to pursue religious studies in Iran, but his departure coincided with the surge.

Maliki and Iraq’s security forces moved against the Mahdi army in March 2008, launching a campaign to drive the militia out of its strongholds in Basra and Sadr City. In August 2008, Sadr had ordered the Mahdi army to disarm, and it remained largely inactive for awhile.

“The day the Americans left [Iraq], the Sadrist militias more or less stacked their rifles, and we haven’t heard anything from them until just very recently,” said Ollivant.

Sadr returned to Iraq in 2011, as U.S. troops prepared to withdraw and the Sadrist movement made political gains. Although his party held 40 seats in Iraq’s Parliament and seven ministry positions, Sadr announced in February 2014 that he was withdrawing from politics. Observers noted at the time that Sadr has made similar pronouncements before, only to return.

The fall of Mosul and other cities to ISIS prompted mass rallies of Shia militias who called themselves the “Peace Brigades.” But analysts have suggested the new outfits are a reincarnation of Sadr’s Mahdi army, with a new name designed to distance itself from the tarnished reputation it earned in 2006 and 2007.


Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Sistani and Iraq

Sistani and Iraq
Shia tribal fighters chant slogans, raising weapons and a poster of spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Baghdad’s Sadr City, Iraq, on June 18, 2014. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is known as Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. Described as a “recluse” who shuns the spotlight, Sistani has generally wielded his influence to encourage calm in Iraq.

In 2003, Sistani threw U.S. plans for a rapid transfer of power into disarray when he called for direct elections. He also said Iraq’s constitution must be written by an assembly elected by Iraqis, not appointed. At the time, a New York Times article noted, “Ayatollah Sistani has been tolerant of the United States occupation and has refrained from openly criticizing the occupation authorities.”

In 2004, Sistani negotiated a truce between Sadr’s Mahdi army and U.S. and Iraqi forces fighting in Najaf. Sistani’s influence was such that Al Qaeda in Iraq’s then-leader Zarqawi called for his death in 2006.

Days after the fall of Mosul in June, Sistani called on Shia followers to take up arms to defend “the country, the citizens and the holy sites” against ISIS and its allies. He later adjusted his statement, saying the appeal “was not only about one sect.”

That month, Sistani called for the formation of a government with “broad national support,” phrasing that many interpreted as a rebuke of Maliki’s sectarian politics.

Sistani again indirectly called on Maliki to step aside on July 25, saying that political leaders should not “cling to positions or posts,” but should have a “spirit of national responsibility.” Two days later, Maliki’s own party released a statement echoing Sistani’s language urging politicians not to “cling” to their positions.