Tuesday 26 May 2015

The Middle East - 05/25/2015

PM dismisses fears about NZ troops in Iraq

Prime Minister John Key has dismissed fears New Zealand troops in Iraq might face greater dangers now Islamic State (IS) forces are in control of Ramadi.

26 May,2015

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on 18 May 2015 purportedly shows an IS flag in Ramadi. 

Listen to more on Checkpoint ( 3 min 42 sec )

Mr Key said nothing had changed for the troops on a training mission, based at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad and less than 130 kilometres from Ramadi.

John Key during caucas run 5/5/15
Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson
Mr Key said he had checked with his defence and national security advisers and been told the troops at Taji were in no greater danger.

But the situation was being constantly monitored by the Defence Force and if it changed the Government could withdraw the soldiers.

"Like any deployment that we make, I mean things are reviewed.

"There's a thorough process that we go through, there are officials that meet and there's early warning systems of making sure that if the situation needs to be reviewed it will reviewed.

"But none of those have been triggered and at this point there's no liklihood they'll be triggered

Mr Key was not clear though on whether there was an emergency plan to evacuate the troops if the situation did get worse.

He said he did not know what particular transport was available at the camp but was sure if planes were needed to evacuate the troops they would get there.
Labour Party foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer said Mr Key should have a plan.

"With Isis [Islamic State] fighters literally less than an hour's drive away from this camp and well within range of rocket and artillery fire they need to have some form of contingency plan to pull these people out if we need to."

But Mr Key said nothing had changed and he still intended to visit the troops sometime this year. If he had had a trip planned for next week he would still go despite Islamic State taking Ramadi.

Mr Key has also dismissed comments by the US defence secretary Ashton Carter that Iraqi forces lack the will to fight IS.

He said that view was not stopping the Americans having a huge commitment to the campaign against the jihadist group.

The Green Party says the Government should withdraw troops from Iraq, given Iraqi forces seemed unwilling to fight Islamic State.

"The premise of New Zealand's military commitment is training the Iraqi army," said Greens' global affairs spokesperson Kennedy Graham.

"It is clear the Iraqi army is not equipped or prepared to fight the Islamic State so why are we there?"

New Zealand First said the training of Iraqi troops was an impossible task following reports they lack the will to fight Islamic State.

The party's defence spokesperson Ron Mark said the Iraqi military unit was cowardly and not credible.

Mr Mark said the 16 New Zealand trainers were also not going to be able to do what $US25 billion and thousands of Americans had so far failed to do.

Dr Graham said the Prime Minister should immediately pull out the troops from the "quagmire" and New Zealand should focus on providing humanitarian aid.

Defeat 'problematic'

Meanwhile, a New Zealand academic who initially supported the deployment of New Zealand troops to Iraq has expressed concern over what he says is the United States' lack of will in the fight against Islamic State.

International Relations and Security researcher at Waikato University Ron Smith told Morning Report that defeating IS looks problematic, largely due to how the US is handling the campaign against the jihadist group. However he did not think the mission was hopeless.

"If we knew then what we know now we might have had reservations about joining it in the first place. Which is not the same as, having agreed to do this unliterally bailing out."

Listen to Ron Smith on Morning Report ( 3 min 49 sec )
An Iraqi government soldier patrolling in the Jurf al-Sakher area, some 50km south of Baghdad.
An Iraqi government soldier patrolling in the Jurf al-Sakher area, some 50km south of Baghdad.

Kiwi troops 'in a hornet's nest' - analyst

NZ Herald,
25 May,2015

A defence analyst says Kiwi troops are in a "hornet's nest" barely 100km from rampaging Isis troops in Iraq.

New Zealanders have started training local troops in Taji, Iraq, to fight the so-called Islamic State (Isis).
Taji, in a largely Sunni area, is about 120km from Ramadi -- a city that Isis overran this week.
The Taji Military Complex near Baghdad, Iraq where the New Zealand and Australian training contingent are sited. Photo supplied by NZDFThe Taji Military Complex near Baghdad, Iraq where the New Zealand and Australian training contingent are sited. Photo supplied by NZDF

Dr Ron Smith, University of Waikato research associate, is now questioning his earlier support for the Kiwi deployment.
"Knowing what I know now, do I think it was a good idea to go? No I don't."
The sight of Iraqi troops fleeing Ramadi and the increased use of Shia militias to fight Isis had made him rethink his support.
Dr Smith said anti-Isis coalition leadership under the US had been "feeble", limiting the usefulness of the Kiwi contribution.
It was important New Zealand supported its longstanding allies but the deployment was "almost in the nature of gesture politics," Dr Smith said.
"We've got special forces which are reasonably well-maintained, trained and equipped. Beyond that, we've got no defence forces. We've got no air force."
This was paradoxical, given the aerial focus of coalition attacks on Isis so far.
Dr Smith said any upcoming battles would be "very nasty" and he was worried Shia paramilitary forces would have little more respect for the laws of war than Isis had.
NZDF troops have arrived as a regional conflict between Shia and Sunni escalates, with Iran and Saudi Arabia struggling for dominance in proxy wars in Iraq and Yemen.
Most Isis gains lately have been in Sunni-majority areas. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, some long-oppressed Shia quickly exacted revenge on their Sunni neighbours. In return, some Sunnis now supported or tolerated Isis and its fiercely anti-Shia ideology.
Auckland-based defence analyst Dr Paul G Buchanan said Taji's location triggered concerns for Kiwi troops' safety.
"It's in the middle of the Sunni triangle. It's the last point of defence on the northern flank of Baghdad. These guys have just been put into the middle of a hornet's nest."
He said it was likely most of the 143-odd New Zealand troops were on perimeter guard duty, or focused on preventing "green on blue" attacks, when trainees attacked trainers.
He said the proximity of Isis to Taji and to important nearby highways meant soon, Isis could isolate Taji even without attacking it directly.
Dr Buchanan said NZDF troops would then have to rely on being airlifted out, or "fight their way out of the camp" to re-establish contact with Baghdad.
"I'm very fearful now for those troops. I don't know how heavily armoured they are."
An army spokeswoman did not answer specific questions before deadline, instead referring to an earlier press release that made no mention of NZDF defences in Taji, the demographic makeup of trainees, impact of the Ramadi takeover, or the equipment troops had.
Dr Buchanan said Isis probably believed Baghdad was too strong, fortified and Shia-dominated to fall. But the extremists could try suffocating the city by cutting supply lines, pushing the Iraqi government to sue for peace.
Without a more aggressive coalition effort, he said Isis' co-called Caliphate could potentially reach from the Mediterranean to the Tigris.
"So long as they limit themselves to imposing a Caliphate and Sharia law in the places that they control, and don't try to extend... they may be left to it."
He said the oil-rich oligarchies of the Persian Gulf had the most to fear from Isis. These included the Gulf states Prime Minister John Key visited last month and was keen on signing free trade deals with.

'Ditch double standards!' Russia seeks united anti-ISIS front after Palmyra massacre


Historical city of Palmyra, Syria (Reuters / Nour Fourat)

26 May,2015

Moscow has condemned the massacre of civilians in the ancient city of Palmyra, urging the international community to denounce double standards in its approach to fighting terrorists, and unite against IS (Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL) aggression.

We strongly condemn the atrocities committed by armed extremists in Palmyra,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Once again, we urge international and regional parties to abandon the vicious practice of using double standard approaches to fighting against terrorism, and launch efficient cooperation with the governments of Middle East countries, which are directly repelling the ISIS offensive,” the ministry said.

Moscow believes that US-led airstrike campaign against Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria have not done enough to impede the jihadists’ advance in the two Middle Eastern states.

Despite efforts taken by the so-called anti-terrorist coalition led by the United States, the Islamic State is acting ever more actively and stops at nothing to reach its goal – establish a trans-border 'caliphate' on a vast area from Damascus to Baghdad.”

The ministry believes that recent gains by the militants in Syria, and the brutal executions of civilians that followed, demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the coalition’s approach.

Russia condemned the mass executions reportedly carried out by IS in the Syrian city of Palmyra after being overrun by the extremists last week. The ongoing jihadist offensive, Moscow says, is a threat to “stability and security in the entire Middle East.”

IS managed to capture the 2,000-year-old ancient ruins of the world heritage site at Palmyra after seizing the city’s intelligence headquarters, military air base, and prison.

According to witness testimonies, IS fighters have staged mass executions of prisoners of war and anyone loyal to Damascus, killing round 400 people in the last couple of days, including women and children. Some 600 more of the city’s residents have reportedly disappeared, their fate, as of yet, unknown.

The jihadists now control more than half of Syria’s territory, according to London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The capture of Palmyra comes shortly after the terrorists seized control of the city of Ramadi in the Anbar province of neighboring Iraq.

In order to avoid further bloodshed in Syria and Iraq, Moscow called for a united front to fight the radicals.

Radicals can be stopped, as Russia consistently proposes, only when the international community unites its efforts on a generally recognized basis of international law and strict implementation of UN Security Council resolutions,” the ministry said.

CrossTalk: ISIS Redrawing Maps

The Islamic State – highly motivated, intensively effective, appallingly brutal and aggressive – and importantly media savvy. How is it changing the Middle East – particularly its communities and geography? After only being in existence for a short time, what legacy does the Islamic State aim to leave behind?

CrossTalking with Daniel Wagner, Peter Certo, and Sabah Al-Mukhtar.

US Accuses Iraq Army Of Cowardice, Says "More Firepower Support" Needed Against ISIS

25 May,2015

On Saturday, we discussed a possible shift in US policy as it relates to boots on the ground in Iraq. Recapping, ISIS has recently launched what the media is billing as an “offensive”, seizing the Syrian city of Palmyra (an archaeological treasure) and Ramadi in Iraq. The group also claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in a Saudi mosque that killed 21 on Friday. 

Against this backdrop the calls for a more aggressive US military response have begun and it now appears that one possibility under consideration is the deployment of so-called “spotters” to help ensure that US airstrikes are maximally effective. Of course, as we noted over the weekend, once the “spotting” starts, mission creep will set in quickly and it won’t be long before the Syrian incursion aimed at ousting Bashar al-Assad is on, with the destruction of ISIS as the excuse.

Two days and one supposed ISIS nuclear attack plot later and the calls for a change in strategy have gotten a lot louder with Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioning the Iraqi army’s resolve and uber-hawk John McCain calling for the deployment of special forces. WSJ has more:

Defense Secretary Ash Carter held open the possibility of a strategy shift by the White House on Iraq, a few days after recent setbacks in Iraq and Syria revived sharp criticism of the Obama administration’s approach in combating extremist groups there.
 Islamic State forces last week captured the key Iraqi city of Ramadi and also expanded their reach in Syria. Critics and even allies of the administration took to Sunday television talk shows to call for a strategy change by the administration to stem the advance of Islamic State forces…
 House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) said on ABC’s “This Week” that the battle in Ramadi was among the many reasons why he doubted the Obama administration’s claim that U.S. efforts have succeeded in degrading the strength of ISIS.
 I don’t see evidence of that,” said Mr. Thornberry. “I see ISIS gaining territory in Iraq and Syria.” What is more, he said, “their ideology, their approach, their brand is growing faster than their territory.”
Mr. Carter offered a withering critique of the will of Iraqi defense forces in the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State.
 The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” he said. “They were not outnumbered. In fact they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight and withdrew from the site...We can give them training, we can give them equipment. We obviously can’t give them the will to fight.”
John McCain, (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” called for U.S. special forces in Iraq, in addition to forward air controllers who help direct bombing missions from the air. Right now, he said, the U.S. has “no strategy” for halting the advance of the Islamic State. “Anybody that says there is, I’d like to hear what it is,” Mr. McCain added.
Michele Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of defense under Mr. Obama from 2009 to 2012, and was in the running for the top job, said the administration needs to do more to turn the tide in Iraq.

We have under-resourced the strategy,” she said on CNN. “We need to provide more firepower support.”

For their part, the Iraqis denied Carter’s assessment — which amounted to calling Ramadi’s defenders cowards — blaming poor strategy and, ironically, inadequate air support for the defeat.

Via AP:

A spokesman for the Iraqi government said Monday that Carter's remarks were surprising and that the U.S. defense chief had been given "incorrect information." In a statement, Saad al-Hadithi said the fall of Ramadi was due to mismanagement and poor planning by some senior military commanders in charge of Ramadi.
Iraqi lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the parliamentary defense and security committee, called Carter's comments "unrealistic and baseless," in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press.
"The Iraqi army and police did have the will to fight IS group in Ramadi, but these forces lack good equipment, weapons and aerial support," said al-Zamili, a member of the political party headed by radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is stridently anti-American.
American officials say they are sending anti-tank weapons to the Iraqi military. But they also noted that Iraqi forces were not routed from Ramadi— they left of their own accord, frightened in part by a powerful wave of Islamic State group suicide truck bombs, some the size of the one that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City two decades ago, said a senior State Department official who spoke to reporters last week under ground rules he not be named.
A senior defense official said that the troops who fled Ramadi had not been trained by the U.S. or its coalition partners. The official was not authorized to address the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Apparently, the possible destruction of a UNESCO world heritage site, the seizure of a key Iraqi city, and a suicide bombing in a Saudi mosque weren't deemed effective enough when it comes to rallying supoort for a ground incursion, so we promptly got a US Defense Secretary telling the world that the Iraqi army is not only incapable of heading off the ISIS advance but in fact lacks the will to defend itself and because that still wasn't enough, the group has now promised to turn one lucky US city into a mushroom cloud. 

But all of that is nothing a little stepped up "firepower support" can't remedy which is why we say again that we would not be at all surprised if sometime in the next thirty days President Obama announces the deployment of a 'small' tactical force to 'stabilize' the situation in Iraq, a force which will then grow and cross the border into Syria where ISIS will quickly discover what happens when the CIA decides it's time to issue a burn notice on a former 'asset'.

The Largest Iraqi Oil Refinery Engulfed In Flames (Watch Video Just Released NOW By ISIS)

The ISIS news Agency Amaq just published on May 24, 2015 a video showing the extensive fire which consumed the entire refinery of Baiji, the largest in all Iraq, as the battles took place after conducting offensive car bombs on the last Iraqi army stationed at the Baiji refinery:

Iraqi forces and the militias are still bombing with rockets and artillery shells trying to progress toward the refinery to take control of whats left of it still failing to break into the Baiji refinery which, as we see the great catastrophe, is all up in smoke.

Iraqi troops reportedly seized control of a strategic area in Baiji on Friday, clearing a route into the city’s oil refinery, where fighting with Islamic State (IS) militants has raged for the last two months.

US Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley said in a statement Friday that Iraqi forces had made “steady, measured progress in regaining some of the areas leading to the Baiji oil refinery.”

Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the international campaign against IS, said the militants retaliated against the Iraqi advance with “IEDs [improvised explosive devices], suicide vehicle borne IEDs, as well as heavy weapon and rocket fire attacks.”

Iraq’s Interior Ministry said government forces were able to “severely” attack IS members at the oil refinery, and that they had cleared the main road from the city to the refinery, according to Rudaw, a Kurdish news agency.

The video released today by Aamaq News Agency, an activist group that supports IS, shows how badly this refinery was completely engulfed in flames with huge plumes of black smoke billowing into the night sky. Daylight footage in the same video shows fires smoldering among tangled piles of rubble.

Ken O'Keefe "Time to arrest traitors in White House/Congress"


ISIS 2012 Report Reveals America's Support

A 2012 report on Syria has revealed that the American government saw ISIS as a group that could be used as an ally to destabilize the Assad regime, and a potential ally against the maligned regime. With Iraq and Syria being rocked by the terrorist organization, has the cynical position of the United States government blown up in their faces? We discuss the report, the implications for the current United States administration, and if the United States would have been helpless to act against ISIS anyway, on the Lip News with Nik Zecevic and Jackie Koppell.

Hezbollah Leader Admits Operations Throughout Syria, Calls for More Backing

Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged on Sunday that his movement is operating in all of Syria in the fight against the Islamic State, and criticized the strikes carried out by the US-coalition against the militants for their ineffectiveness

Israel’s Descent into Barbarism — Norman Finkelstein

Israeli troops go on a rampage in the West Bank, kill Palestinians, demolish Palestinian homes”

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