ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also called ISIS) is taking a beating in Syria and Iraq. The government has been moving more troops into Anbar, surrounding Fallujah and attacking known concentrations of ISIL gunmen throughout the province. Since ISIL cannot stand up to the better trained and armed soldiers, they have tried to draw some troops away from Anbar by seizing three villages in neighboring Salahuddin province. This area, like the other provinces north of Baghdad is largely Sunni Arab although, as you move north you encounter more and more Kurds and some smaller minorities. The northernmost provinces are nearly all Kurd and have been largely autonomous since the early 1990s. The Kurds are better organized and more effective fighters than the Arabs and the ISIL has had little success carrying their fight into the Kurdish north. But in the areas with mixed Arab and Kurdish populations ISIL has been trying to drive the Kurds out. That has not succeeded either, but losses have been high on both sides.
For all of January ISIL has been trying to seize cities in Western Iraq (Anbar province) while the Syrian ISIL has been fighting the Syrian rebels (moderates and Islamic terrorists) who finally united against the ISIL and sought to destroy this Iraqi led organization, at least in Syria. ISIL has been losing ground in both Syria and Iraq but considers its continuing survival a victory and a sign that their murderous tactics are approved by God. Efforts by other Syrian Islamic terrorists to negotiate with ISIL have been met by assassination attempts (often successful) against rival terrorist leaders. There’s no negotiating with this bunch, it’s a fight to the death. In Iraq many Sunni Arabs oppose ISIL tactics and have joined tribal militias to fight along largely Shia army troops. In Syria ISIL is hated because ISIL wants to unite Syria and Iraq in a ISIL dominated religious dictatorships. Most Syrians don’t want to become part of some Iraqi empire. That has been attempted several times in the past and has never worked out.
The defeat of ISIL does not mean the end of al Qaeda in Syria because even more al Qaeda men are fighting against ISIL. The losers here are the Iraqi radicals who dominate the ISIL. Despite the attention paid to the war with ISIL the rebels still control most of the country, or at least dispute control with the security forces.
One thing that’s hurting ISIL in Syria and the West is their savagery. In addition to slaughtering Moslems who don’t agree with them, they have also been particularly brutal against Syrian Christians. In 2013 57 percent of the Christians killed for religious reasons worldwide died in Syria, mostly because of ISIL. Some 90 percent of the worldwide deaths were at the hands of Islamic terrorists and ISIL was the worst offender.
The Iraqi government continues to be under public pressure to halt the ISIL terror attacks against Shia civilians. To that end more captured Islamic terrorists are being executed. Wives and children are also being arrested and sometimes tortured or even killed (legally or otherwise). This sort of group punishment was abandoned in the West centuries ago, although it still exists in many parts of the world. It has not had much impact on ISIL as these guys are really fanatic about getting Sunni Arabs back in power in Iraq. Until the generations that remember the good old days (when the Sunni Arab minority got most of the oil income and ruled and country) have passed there will be men willing to risk all to get back to past glories. Meanwhile the Shia militias that responded to Sunni Arab terror attacks with widespread random killings of Sunni civilians is returning. This could lead to another exodus of Iraqi Sunni Arabs and pressure from the West and neighboring Sunni Arab countries to halt the oppression of Iraqi Sunni Arabs.
In Iraq car bombs continue to go off in Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad. When police capture suicide bombers before they can set off their explosives they find that the bombers are usually foreigners, showing that al Qaeda in Iraq continues to attract Sunnis from other parts of the Arab world to join in the fighting against Shia Iran and its “puppet” the Shia government of Iraq. Since these foreign volunteers usually arrive with few useful skills, many are convinced to volunteer for suicide bombing missions. The foreigners often balk at attacking Sunnis, so Iraqis are used for those attacks, which usually don’t involve suicide bombers.
February 5, 2014: Prime Minister Maliki insisted that the fighting in Anbar, and the city of Fallujah, would be over soon. The army has been ordered to minimize damage to property and civilian casualties in Fallujah. To that end most of the civilians in Fallujah have left and the army is preparing to go in and clear out the Islamic terrorists block by block. The army first said that the assault would begin on the 2nd, but it didn’t and now the story is that the government is negotiating again or that pro-government tribes are trying some new tactics. The army have already been attacking Ramadi since January 19th, with the help of pro-government tribesmen. Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar. Army specialists are disabling the many booby-traps and landmines left behind by the retreating terrorists in Ramadi. The army is trying to keep down their own casualties so this sort of fighting proceeds very slowly. So far over 140,000 Anbar civilians have fled their homes to avoid the fighting. About half of these refugees are from Fallujah and Ramadi. The difficulty retaking Ramadi is apparently a factor in the delay going into Fallujah.
February 3, 2014: Al Qaeda supreme leader Ayman al Zawahiri declared that ISIL is no longer part of al Qaeda and acting against al Qaeda interests and the interests of Sunni Moslems in general. Al Qaeda has been feuding with ISIL for over a year, or over a decade if you count disputes with earlier (and now deceased) leaders of the Iraqi branch of al Qaeda. Some of these Iraqi al Qaeda leaders have tried to toe the line and limit civilian casualties, but current Iraqi Sunni Islamic terrorists really prefer to kill as many Shia, or all ages and genders, as they can. Al Qaeda high command knows from long experience that this “kill them all” strategy eventually backfires. The Iraqi Sunnis radicals don’t care.
February 2, 2014: Outside Fallujah army artillery noticeably increased its firing on suspected enemy positions. There were also some aerial attacks. This is in preparation for a ground assault. The government gave local pro-government tribes several weeks to talk ISIL into leaving the city or withdraw under pressure from pro-government tribal militias. Neither of these methods worked.
February 1, 2014: The government reported that 733 had died in January from terrorist violence. Civilians were 84 percent of the dead and security forces were the rest. The government includes Islamic terrorist losses among the civilian casualties. Not mentioned were losses in Anbar, which the government considers a war zone. Estimates are that over a thousand have died in Anbar in January, most of them terrorists. In 2013 the death toll was 8,900 for all of Iraq and only ten percent of those were terrorists while the majority were Shia civilians. ISIL is believed to have lost heavily in the Anbar fighting. This is largely because ISIL is trying to hold territory and that means they have to stand a fight and are then vulnerable to artillery and air attack as well as the armored vehicles and more heavily armed and better trained troops of the army.
January 31, 2014: In Baghdad three rockets were fired at the airport, but no damage was done. Airports sprawl over a large area and these unguided rockets are always more likely to hit nothing of value.
January 30, 2014: In Baghdad six Islamic terrorists attacked a heavily guarded Ministry of Transportation building. Before it was all over 18 people were dead, including all the attackers (who wore explosive vests.)
January 29, 2014: The government has hired a foreign law firm to sue those who buy oil the Kurds are exporting to Turkey. In the past year about nine million dollars’ worth of oil has been exported via truck from new oil fields in Kurdish controlled territory. The Kurds have built a pipeline so that even more can be exported. This pipeline began operating in early January but it is not yet known how much oil it is moving. The pipeline has a capacity of 300,000 barrels a day (worth about $30 million). Iraq believes all Iraqi oil should be controlled by the Shia dominated government. The Kurds disagree and the Kurdish armed forces are powerful enough to stop any Iraqi government efforts to impose its will militarily.
January 28, 2014: The U.S. has agreed to sell Iraq 24 AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships. These won’t enter Iraqi service for at least two years as it will take time to recruit and train Iraqis to operate and maintain the helicopters. Iraq might speed that up by a year by hiring foreigners to do this.