Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Short Analysis by Mindfriedo: Struggle for Iraq: Saqlawiyah says it all!

Following is a chronology of events that took place in mid to end September at the Iraqi Army base of Saqlawiyah (Saqlawiyah is located to the north of Fallujah)
-Daash and allied Sunni fighters take over a few villages to the north of Fallujah
-One of the towns taken over is Sijir, close to Saqlawiyah Military Base
-The Iraqi Army sends in 400 men from the 3rd Brigade, an elite SWAT unit, and members from the Ashaib Ahl Al Haq (League of the Righteous) to take back Sijir.
-Stiff resistance by Daash forces the fighters back to Saqlawiyah base; there are now 800 to a 1000 men at the base and they are running short of supplies, food and ammunition.
-Daash captures areas around the base and blocks the only road connecting Saqlawiyah and starts to encircle the base. They now state that the attack on the village was a trap prepared for the Iraqi army and the "Safavid filth."
-Daash starts using loudspeakers telling the troops to surrender
-A tank unit from Ramadi advances north and tries to break the siege. The tanks advance on a stretch of road that is strewn with improvised explosives but make it to 500 yards of the base
-Entrapped troops try to break through to the tanks but are beaten back by Daash that carries out suicide attacks and heavy assaults. The troops are forced back to the base and the tank columns retreat over bodies of dead soldiers
-Entrapped soldiers make desperate calls to military commanders who promise relief and air support but nothing arrives. Senior commanders refer to repeated requests being made by soldiers as unnecessary "whining" in the face of attacks
-Daash fighters dressed in Iraqi Army Uniform send in Humvees in a suicide attack. The soldiers guarding the base are reported to have opened the gates assuming the Humvees to be relief supplies. Huge suicide attacks are followed on by a heavy ambush. Daash overruns the base and only a pocket of soldiers are reported to be holding out.
-Conflicting reports suggest that between 50 (unreliable government) to 600 casualties with 200 soldiers managing to escape. Escaped soldiers were starving after 4 days of hunger and were drinking salt water to survive, they were finding it hard to run
-Daash parades 30 men dressed in Iraqi Army Uniform in Fallujah and releases the following statement:
"After placing trust in Allah, and taking into consideration the means and available capabilities, and by the order of the Ministry of War, al-Fallujah Province mobilized all its military detachments, air defense, support, and raiding detachments, and after making the plan and setting its goals, the detachments launched towards their desired objective, which is liberating the area of al-Sijir from the filth of the Safavids [a derogatory term for Shiites], as a first step to besiege the headquarters of Brigade 30, which is located between the area of al-Sijir and the al-Saqlawiyah sub-district."
-Daash claims to have killed 300 Iraqi Soldiers, captured two M1A1 Abrams tanks and a Russian tank in addition to other supplies that it looted from the base
-Abadi orders an enquiry and Iraqi Army and Air Force Commanders are reportedly suspended but MPs are demanding prosecution and calling Saqlawiyah Iraq's second Spyker
-The government is claiming that Daash used chlorine gas and is using this as an excuse for the base having fallen

Here are some questions that the above events raise:

1) Why was Air Support not provided or supplies not air dropped?
Throughout the conflict Iraqi commanders are reported to have ignored calls for resupply and air support and, shockingly, to have given false hope by suggesting that the base was actually resupplied, when it was not. Sour relations between Maliki's Commanders and Abadi's desire to replace them is being suggested as another excuse for the fiasco.

2) Where are the US air strikes falling?
If Daash was sending such a large number of fighters north why did US airstrikes not target them? Or target the Daash fighters laying siege to the base?
Yazidi fighters have similarly complained of the US not attacking Daash heavy armour in Sinjar while the Yazidis were fighting them, even after the Yazidis pointed (painted) targets for the Americans. The Yazidis were forced to withdraw when they ran out of ammunition from a fight that would otherwise have been easily won.
The behaviour of Turkish troops, preventing Syrian Kurds from crossing the border and help their fellow Kurds fight Daash in Kobani, is also very telling. Also, US strikes outside Kobani were unable to halt Daash's advance.
It all stinks of "Boots on the ground."

3) Where are the Sunni tribes in all this?
So far, those Sunni tribes not on the side of Daash are still undecided in backing the government. The reasons they put forward are continuing indiscriminate artillery strikes on Sunni populated areas (Fallujah, Ramadi) and the detention of a large number of Sunni men. Another reason could be that they still have doubts of the government side winning or holding on to territory taken.

4) Effectiveness of the militias?
The militias have helped prevent the fall of Baghdad and have halted the advance of Daash. But they still have a long way to go and may be an ineffective tool in Sunni dominated areas.
The higher ups in the Ashab Ahl al Haq will be furious that their men at the base were stranded and will want answers if not blood from Iraq's Political/Military leadership. The military leadership of Iraq, politically selected, has shown little or scant regard for its troops and men, and are perhaps more dangerous than Daash.