North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Monday, June 16, 2014

Iraq, left on its own, backed to the edge

The news from Iraq this week has been bad. Very bad. A growing body of Islamic extremists, gathered from a territory carved out of Eastern Syria during the ongoing Syrian civil war, calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has exploded into Sunni lands in eastern Iraq.

Taking advantage of the poor and divisive governance by Iraqi leader Maliki, ISIS has played on the resentment of Sunnis, chasing a shocked Iraqi army from several cities including Iraq's second largest city, Mosul.

The interesting presentation in this BBC graphic, shows thin little yellow lines as the controlled territory of ISIS. What is really is showing is that the Iraqi population and cities of Western Iraq are for the most part along waterways, the vacant land inbetween is simply empty desert.

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Al Raqqa, Syria, has long been in the hands of anti-Assad rebels, and has become, unfortunately, the urban headquarters for ISIS, one of the most ruthless factions of Islamic extremists. Photo from

So, the first point suggested by Teatree to muse upon, is that due to Western inaction to support moderate Syrian opposition, extremists have consolidated their control of the anti-Assad forces. Not only do they want to remove Assad - the chemical weapons user who has just manipulated his third Presidential term - but more importantly establish their own "Caliphate." Just as the Taliban gained an actual footprint in ruling Afghanistan in the 1990s, ISIS now has a base, and it has gained it in the middle of the Syrian civil war.

Iraq, left to itself, sinks into sectarianism

In the West, the US and UK in particular, the shocking collapse of Iraq has quickly degenerated to large degree into a rehash of whether President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are either completely, or mainly to blame.

What can at least be said is that Iraqi President Maliki has done nothing, really, to attempt to create a big house government, including Sunnis and the Kurds in the past 8 or so years. Becoming more sectarian, ie, favoring his fellow Shiites, Maliki has by neglect lost most of the country (For a detailed description of Maliki's rule, read the New York Time link in the comment section). The Sunnis are hostile, and unfortunately choosing badly in accepting (or tolerating) ISIS gains. The Kurds, on the other hand, have never felt part of a national Iraqi identity, and in the midst of this recent chaos have quickly moved to consolidate their hold on Kurd land in Northeast Iraq.

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Kurds have consolidated their hold in Iraq's northeast, Sunnis have marginalized themselves to the west, and dabble dangerously with ISIS (or alternatively ISIL), while the Shia homeland in SE Iraq is in danger of becoming a vassal of Shia Iran. Graphic taken from a article

One point of debate

US President Obama, fulfilling a political campaign promise, quickly pulled all US troops out of Iraq within three years of being in office. One could say, and many do, that he left a fragile - clearly fragile - nascent democracy surrounded by hostile or indifferent neighbors and plenty of internal strife. Yet no stabilizing force at all could be left there, the White House explains, because the two countries could not agree on future immunity for US forces if they were to remain in the country. Teatree will only point out that it seems the US was excruciatingly polite in negotiations to so quickly give in to this one country. Given the US propensity during the same time and continuing to this day, to strike targets repeatedly at will with drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, with or without those nation's official approval, one can only wonder whether a political promise was the major reason for such a complete hasty Iraqi withdrawal, regardless of the consequences which we are now witnessing.

In contrast, after the Balkan war ended in the mid-90s, nearly 50,000 NATO troops stayed to ensure the peace, building fragile bridges between wounded and wary ethnic populations for several years, before slowly winding down their presence. Even today, 20 years later, over 5000 troops remain. One could highlight the value of stabilizing forces in South Korea, Japan, and even Germany for decades, but that would belabor the point.

KFOR troops in Kosovo, keeping the fragile peace between neighboring Serbia and Muslim Kosovans, and earlier between a number of nations, Croatia, Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, etc. Photo from

Iran steps closer to Shia arc
Iran, already pleased with Maliki in Iraq, have offered him assistance in fighting ISIS. With this opening to create a closer relationship with Iraq, Iran moves towards its long term goal of establishing an arc of influence: from Iran into Syria where it supports Assad, and linking with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Now with Iraq on the edge, the possibility of an uninterrupted arc is within reach. And while Russia has robustly supported chemical-weapons man Assad in Syria, in contrast the West timidly continues its searches for appropriate groups it might support among the Syrian opposition. (Hint - these moderate groups have long since left the building ...).

The current three - Hezbollah's Nasrullah, left; Iran's Rouhani, center; and chemical-man Assad from Syria on the right. Suddenly the three buddies have half of Iraq in their pocket, with just ISIS rabble to clear out in-between. Poster photo from

What's ahead?
Aside from sectarian bloodletting on a scale we've not seen yet even in Syria or during the US occupation of Iraq, we are possibly seeing a preview of what lies ahead in Afghanistan as soon as the US pulls its combat troops out by the end of this year, and even the trailing training force of 10,000 within a year after that.

What else? Under this current US administration, the West is likely to retreat to a limp posture of the past - lobbing a few tomahawk missiles here and there, and launching more drone strikes safely from a distance, though no doubt without anyone's permission. That fastidiousness of gaining permission was reserved for the former Iraq alone.

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Drone strikes are apparently the US default strategy (permission granted or not), with no chance for immediate battlefield death or injury for US armed forces. But doesn't it appear that the U.S. might be losing a bit of the "hearts and minds" battle? Photo from

Certainly there will be no large scale commitment of US combat troops back into the Iraqi theater - that ship has sailed. Though how US troops in Kuwait will somehow remain exempt from extremist attacks remains to be seen. And our erstwhile allies Jordan and Israel may also believe our reassurances of steadfast US support leaves something to be desired.

And onward the world moves ...


Teatree said...

Even the New York Times gets it ... see

Teatree said...

For an even deeper look into the Syrian/iraqi jihadist uprising, read "The Intrigue Lying Behind Iraq's Jihadist Uprising

republished with permission of Stratfor."