The Skies Over Iraq Are About to Get Interesting

Night Watch
Posted: Jul 04, 2014 12:01 AM
The Skies Over Iraq Are About to Get Interesting

North Korea: North Korea launched two more rockets off the east coast today. South Korean officials judged the North tested two 300-mm rockets to show their military testing is not restrained by Chinese President Xi's visit to Seoul. Xi has not visited Pyongyang since Kim Jong Un came to power. Nor has Kim Jong Un visited Beijing.

Special comment: In Feedback, some readers asked about the difference between a rocket and a missile. In conventional military usage, a rocket is a launch vehicle that is propelled by a rocket engine. When fitted with a warhead, rockets are unguided self-propelled, rocket -driven weapons.

A missile, which is short for guided missile in conventional military usage, is a launch vehicle that is propelled by a rocket engine and is also equipped with some form of targeting and guidance system. In the most simplistic sense, a missile is a guided rocket. Missiles with warheads are guided, self-propelled, rocket -driven weapons.

China-Japan: The Chinese government and media have criticized the Japanese Cabinet's decision to broaden the definition of self-defense. Multiple Chinese media outlets said that Japan has not learned the lessons of the last war. They also blamed the US for encouraging the Japanese to participate in the American scheme to contain China.

Afghanistan: An Afghan election official said today that the preliminary results of the presidential election will be announced on 7 July. Independent Election Commission Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said the delay was ordered to enable the commission to audit polling stations where candidates had alleged fraud.

Comment: The delay represents a nod towards the validity of the voter fraud allegations. A week is not enough time to conduct investigation, but the optics are better than just ignoring the allegations. Plus, the delay gains the commission some more time to hope for a solution to emerge.

Iraq: Fractiousness among the Arabs. The invasion by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has fractured Arab relations in Iraq. However, the breaks go deep, as shown in three news items.

First, Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh Governate, called today for the formation of what he called a Sunni region possessing a degree of autonomy.

Comment: The US discouraged the formation of a federal state, except for the Kurdish autonomous region. Various Shiite and Sunni groups have sought to establish autonomous regions based on diversity of cult, but the US required the Arabs to work together. Without the US military presence, that unity has proven to be superficial.

ISIL's invasion has given the Sunni tribes the edge they needed to assert their political demands with some expectation they would be respected. The significance of the first item is that it shows that even al-Maliki's Sunni appointees do not necessarily share the vision of Iraq as a unitary state without institutional checks on the invariable domination by Shiite demographics.

Second, forces loyal to Prime Minister al-Maliki fought with Shiite militiamen in the holy city of Karbala. At least 45 people were killed when government forces raided the headquarters of a firebrand Shiite cleric.

Comment: This item is a reminder that the Shiite population is notoriously fractious, which made it fairly easy to govern by a Sunni minority. Shiite factions are fighting during Ramadan and in the middle of a conflict that is potentially existential for Iraq. Karbala is one of the holy places they supposedly are trying to protect from tthe ISIL violence.

The third item is about Sunni cooperation. An army force backed by sons of the Sunni tribes and the Awakening has taken control of a key road that links Haditha in Anbar Governate and Baiji in Salah-al-Din Governate. The effect of this effort is to cut one of ISIL's lines of communication between governates and back to Syria, according to Iraqi security officials.

Comment: Sheikh Abu Risha, the leader of the Anbar Awakening said last week that his tribal militias would fight ISIL, as they fought and defeated its predecessor before. This item indicates he has kept his word. Other Sunni tribes, notably the Dulaymi, are willing to work with ISIL.

Yesterday, Abu Risha met Shiite leader Ammar al Hakim, who heads the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is one of the most influential Shiite groups, to discuss the security situation. The meeting occurred independent of the al-Maliki government. These Sunni and Shiite leaders recognize that ISIL's defeat is the first priority. That makes them allies of al-Maliki, whom both men dislike.

Iraq-Iran: Multiple news services have reported that Iran has supplied Iraq with Su-25 ground attack fighters to help it counter ISIL. The Aviationist was the first to report the arrival yesterday of seven Iranian Su-25s at Imam Ali air base, formerly known as Tallil. The seven join the 10 or 12 received last week from Russia.

Comment: Open sources indicate that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps air force had about a dozen Su-25s in its inventory.The Aviationist reported that 10 Iranian pilots accompanied the aircraft. It also said there are five Iraqi air force pilots qualified to fly Su-25s.

Iraq yesterday requested Russian assistance in meeting Iraq's need for supplies and weapons for the Su-25.

With the arrival of US Apache gunship helicopters, four air forces will be flying missions in Iraq, including the Syrian air force. Some news services have reported that Iranian fighter jets have been flying missions against ISIL targets for at least a week. Air traffic control should be interesting.

Syria: The Emir of the al-Nusrah Front published a "Message to Mankind" in which he stated his intention to punish Jews and Shiites; to free Sunni prisoners in Roumieh Prison in Lebanon; and to wage war against Lebanese Hizballah inside Lebanon. To Hizballah he said, "Expect the ire of the Sunnis." He concluded by calling on the people of Lebanon to rise up.

Comment: The statement said it was a response to the expectations of his followers for guidance about a new policy towards Hizballah and Shiites in general. The new policy looks a lot like the old policy of punishing apostates and killing non-believers.

The timing is curious because Hizballah has been fighting in Syria for two years. The declarations by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) might have spurred the al-Nusrah Front to stake out its claim to leadership and territory. The al-Nusrah Front also called for more men to join the fight against ISIL.

A point of tangency between the al-Nusrah Front and ISIL is that they both intend to conquer Lebanon.

Jordan: Jordanian officials said the government has decided to recruit at least 3,000 personnel for the paramilitary Gendarmerie in order to improve security along the border. The plan is to train the additional personnel within the next six months.

"We are following with concern the events in the east," Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali said. On June 25, Majali briefed the Cabinet on the ISIL threat along Jordan's borders. He said both the military and security forces intensified monitoring of the kingdom's 181 kilometer border with Iraq.

Comment: The immediate threat to Jordan appears to have eased, but southern Jordan around Ma'an remains restive. Some of the youths demonstrated for ISIL last week.

The ISIL invasion has unhinged regional relationships. Iranian, Syrian, American and Iraqi pilots will soon be flying missions to defeat ISIL. Turkey finds the Kurds preferable to ISIL. The Sunni Kingdoms of Jordan and Saudi Arabia also must work to defeat ISIL or risk unrest at home. ISIL sympathizers are in all the Sunni states.

ISIL's chances of consolidating an Islamic State diminish as more aid flows to Iraq. Nevertheless, its invasion of Iraq has created a historic watershed by reviving the idea that present boundaries are not necessarily permanent and by spotlighting the profound differences in religious observances and interpretations across the region that beget hostility.

The consensus that extremists must be defeated means that regional leaders have agreed, inchoately, to preserve the international system they know. They judge it is preferable to the chaos they fear would accompany almost any alternative.

Ukraine: Following talks in the Berlin on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France said theyagreed to hold three-way talks that include the pro-Russian rebels "no later than 5 July".

"We propose to achieve this through a meeting soon of the Contact Group, which - we hope - will hold a meeting in coming days and agree on the conditions for truce that would satisfy all sides," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters after talks concluded.

Comment: The Ukrainian offensive seems to have made some progress, though reporting is sketchy. As for a ceasefire, Ukrainian President Poroshenko has no intention of talking with the separatists whom he calls terrorists and gangsters. He said so on Monday when he ended the last ceasefire. As long as he uses language that describes the separatists as criminals, there are no grounds for ceasing law and order operations for the purpose of holding talks.

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