Lucky Iraq -- both the United States and Iran are promising weapons and advice (but no troops) in its battle with jihadists that have seized the city of Fallujah.  --  "Iran's deputy chief of staff General Mohammad Hejazi said Sunday the Islamic Republic was prepared to provide military equipment and advice to Iraq to help it battle al-Qaeda," AFP reported.[1]  --  "Hejazi says: 'Iraq is our friend,'" the Associated Press reported.[2]  --  Meanwhile, Reuters reported that "Talks between Iraqi government officials and tribes made little headway on Sunday."[3]  --  In fact, Suadad al-Salhy reported that one tribal leader involved in the negotiations said:  "There is no reason to fight [ISIL or ISIS, as the group is also known] and threaten the unity of the Sunni people.  --  We believe that those who decide to fight alongside the government are wrong."  --  Time, meanwhile, asked "Who lost Fallujah?" and compiled quotations from American soldiers who fought in Fallujah.[4]  --  "'If you think Fallujah’s fall suddenly means your Iraq service was in vain, then you’ve been oblivious for 11 years,' [said] Brandon Friedman, who also served there as an Army infantry officer and wrote a book about the experience.  'It was always pointless.'" ...


Agence France-Presse
January 5, 2014

TEHRAN -- Iran's deputy chief of staff General Mohammad Hejazi said Sunday the Islamic Republic was prepared to provide military equipment and advice to Iraq to help it battle al-Qaeda.

"If the Iraqis ask, we will supply them with equipment and advice, but they have no need of manpower," Hejazi was cited by the official IRNA news agency as saying.

Hejazi said there had not been any request from Iraq to "carry out joint operations against the 'takfiri' terrorists," a term used to describe Al-Qaeda.

Iraqi forces are preparing a major attack to retake the city of Fallujah, which has been taken over by fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is also a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria.

Both Iran and Iraq are predominantly Shiite Muslim nations, and their governments have strengthened political and economic ties in recent years.

Iran is also a key ally of the Assad regime and acknowledges having sent what it calls "military advisers" to Syria, although there are claims it also has combattants there.

--Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim organisation that views Shiites as apostates.


Middle East


Associated Press
January 5, 2014

TEHRAN, Iran -- A senior Iranian military official says Iran is ready to help Iraq battle al-Qaeda “terrorists” in the neighboring country’s Sunni-dominated western Anbar province.

Iraqi troops have been trying to dislodge fighters from the al-Qaeda group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant from two key cities the militants overran last week.

Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, deputy chief-of-staff of Iran’s army, is quoted by Iranian media on Monday as saying the Islamic Republic can offer “military equipment and advisers” should Baghdad ask for it.

Hejazi says: “Iraq is our friend.”

He ruled out sending troops to Iraq.

Fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province killed 22 soldiers and 12 civilians, along with an unknown number of militants on Sunday.

Tehran is an ally of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.



By Suadad al-Salhy

January 6, 2014

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi government forces battling an al-Qaeda offensive near the Syrian border launched an air strike on Ramadi city on Sunday killing 25 Islamist militants, according to local officials.

Government officials in western Anbar province met tribal leaders to urge them to help repel al Qaeda-linked militants who have taken over parts of Ramadi and Falluja, strategic Iraqi cities on the Euphrates River.

Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been steadily tightening its grip in the vast Anbar province in recent months in a bid to create a Sunni Muslim state straddling the frontier with Syria.

But last week's capture of positions in Ramadi and large parts of Fallujah was the first time in years that Sunni insurgents had taken ground in the province's major cities and held their positions for days.

Local officials and tribal leaders in Ramadi said that 25 suspected militants were killed in the air force strike, which targeted eastern areas of the city early on Sunday.

In Fallujah, ISIL's task has been made easier by disgruntled tribesmen who have joined its fight against the government.

"As a local government we are doing our best to avoid sending the army to Fallujah . . . now we are negotiating outside the city with the tribes to decide how to enter the city without allowing the army to be involved," said Falih Eisa, a member of Anbar's provincial council.

One option being considered to oust al-Qaeda from Fallujah would be for army units and tribal fighters to form a "belt" around the city, isolating it and cutting supply routes for militants, military and local officials said.

They would also urge residents to leave the city.

"The siege could take days, we are betting on the time to give people a chance to leave the city, weaken the militants, and exhaust them," a senior military officer who declined to be named said.

Tension has been running high across Anbar -- which borders Syria and was the heart of Iraq's Sunni insurgency after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion -- since Iraqi police broke up a Sunni protest last week, resulting in deadly clashes.


In Tehran, the deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces for logistics and industrial research, Brigadier-General Mohammad Hejazi, was reported as saying on Sunday that Iran was ready to provide Iraq with "military equipment or consultation" to help the Iraqi army in Anbar if it were asked to do so.

The Tasnim news agency quoted him as adding however that he did not think the Iraqi army would need a deployment of Iranian troops, because they already had sufficient manpower.

Iran is an ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government.

Talks between Iraqi government officials and tribes made little headway on Sunday, with some tribal leaders hesitant to negotiate at all and others afraid of opposing al-Qaeda, which has carried out numerous bombings and assassinations in Iraq.

"The militants told people in Fallujah that they won't harm them and they are there in Fallujah to exclusively fight the army, so this is the deal between the leaders in Fallujah and the militants," a Sunni official involved in the negotiations in Anbar said.

Further west, across the porous border in Syria, al Qaeda fighters have captured swathes of land in the north and are battling with other Islamist brigades as well as the Syrian army.

The relationship between the fighters in Iraq and Syria is unclear, even though they refer to themselves as coming from the same group.  Baghdad has said al Qaeda fighters from Syria are crossing into Iraq and have helped drive violence there to its worst levels in five years.

In Iraq, al Qaeda fighters had been controlling large parts of the desert in western Iraq along the Syrian border but have been driven back by a military campaign in recent days aimed at preventing them taking land.

In Ramadi, where tribesmen and the army have been working together to counter the al Qaeda insurgents, ISIL snipers positioned themselves on rooftops and fought small battles in the city.

ISIL fighters held on to their positions in the outskirts of Fallujah and have used police and government vehicles inside the city for patrols, some flying a black flag associated with al Qaeda from the vehicles.

A tribal leader involved in negotiations in Fallujah said the number of ISIL fighters in the outskirts of the city was insignificant and that fighting them might make matters worse.

"There is no reason to fight them and threaten the unity of the Sunni people.  We believe that those who decide to fight alongside the government are wrong," he said.

(Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by William Maclean, Ralph Boulton and Eric Walsh)




National security


By Mark Thompson

** Al-Qaeda takes over Iraqi city that cost 100 American lives a decade ago **

January 5, 2014

The Iraqi government that the U.S. put into power during eight years of war lost the key city of Fallujah over the weekend.  While you weren’t paying attention, al-Qaeda has returned to western Iraq with a vengeance, in the guise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Sunni insurgents seem largely in control of Iraq’s Anbar province, where an estimated 1,500 of the nearly 4,500 American troops killed in Iraq perished.  Fallujah, the province’s second largest city, is the latest prize in the long-simmering war between the Shi‘ite and Sunni strains of Islam.  The conflict has now come to a full boil, two years after the last U.S. troops, whose presence kept a lid on such internecine fighting, left Iraq.

Within hours of the city’s fall, Americans who fought or covered the pair of bloody 2004 campaigns to keep Fallujah out of Sunni militant hands expressed concern over whether their fallen comrades had died in vain.

“Is this,” wondered Phillip Carter, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, who also served in a senior civilian role in the Obama Pentagon, “what it felt like for ’nam vets in ’75?”

“Why did they die?” asked former Marine Paul Szoldra.

“If you think Fallujah’s fall suddenly means your Iraq service was in vain, then you’ve been oblivious for 11 years,” added Brandon Friedman, who also served there as an Army infantry officer and wrote a book about the experience.  “It was always pointless.”

“Sick about Fallujah,” tweeted James Garamone, a reporter for the Defense Department’s own press service.  “I remember walking through the city when people started returning and believing that now they have a chance.”

Veteran Middle East observer Jeffrey Goldberg summed it up this way:  “One war, from Beirut to Baghdad,” suggesting that the latest battle of Fallujah is simply the latest fight across a wide region of the globe between the Sunni and Shi‘ite sects.

Strangely, or perhaps not, the Pentagon was officially silent.

“This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday in Jerusalem.  “That is exactly what the President and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq.  So we are not, obviously, contemplating returning.  We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground.”  But he pledged unspecified U.S. help in returning stability to western Iraq.

Some Republicans were quick to pin at least some of the blame on the White House.  “When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America’s enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national-security interests,” GOP Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a joint statement.  “The thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain.”

Outsiders, including Saddam Hussein, have always had trouble dealing with the restive city of 200,000, and foreign militaries have done no better.  One reason:  an errant British bomb during 1991’s Gulf War intended to take out a bridge over the Euphrates took out a market instead, killing about 100 civilians.  Tensions spiked in March 2004 when Iraqi militants killed four U.S. contractors and hung their bodies from a bridge. That sparked two 2004 battles for Fallujah, during which about 100 U.S. troops were killed before the U.S. regained control.

The U.S. battles for Fallujah are seared into the memories of the troops who fought there because of their brutality, according to Marine Colonel John Ballard:  "The fighting in Fallujah was up close, vicious, unpredictable, and very manpower-intensive.  Some buildings in the city were cleared multiple times.  The tank was used often and with telling effect.  Indirect fires from 155-mm artillery positioned less than 5 km away in Camp Fallujah were used on a daily basis before, during and after the heaviest period of fighting.  Frequently, small-unit leaders would push ‘stacks’ of Marines or soldiers into buildings while employing laser-guided bombs, artillery, and tank main-gun rounds on adjoining structures.  The combat bulldozer was used by combat engineers and Seabees on several occasions to push the walls of buildings in on stubborn defenders.  [COMMENT:  Somehow Ballard forgets to mention white phosphorus and that depleted uranium that appear to be responsible for spectacular rates of birth defects in Fallujah over the past ten years.  --H.A.]  Insurgents used armor-piercing bullets and even sewed grenades inside their clothing to kill and maim U.S. troops at any opportunity." 

The Iraqi government pledged on Sunday to retake the city in the coming days in a counteroffensive to be led by local tribes instead of the Iraqi military.  That’s because Sunni lawmakers see the army -- trained at a cost of $25 billion by U.S. taxpayers -- as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cudgel to eliminate Sunni rivals and consolidate power.

Would it have turned out differently if U.S. forces were still in Iraq (the last G.I.s left on Dec. 18, 2011, after Iraq refused to grant legal immunity to any remaining U.S. troops)?  Perhaps, at greater loss in U.S. blood and treasure.  But Obama decided that, after more than eight years of war there, the U.S. public was ready to toss in the towel.  Granted, he could have twisted additional Iraqi arms to try to get such legal protections, but the voters who had put him into office three years earlier weren’t interested.

Todd Bowers was a Marine who served in Fallujah during some of the toughest fighting (that’s his video from the city below).  Who lost Fallujah?  “We all did,” he said on Sunday.  “I guess we all just decided it was easier to forget Fallujah and get on with life.  Vets, politicians and the general public.”

As the third battle for Fallujah looms, a passage from a 2011 Pentagon probe into the U.S. effort to build a new sewer system for the city could stand, in miniature, as the key lesson of the entire war:  "Little planning went into the project, and there was minimal understanding of site conditions, no skilled workforce available, and no clear idea about how much the new system would cost," the investigation concluded.  "So many adverse conditions faced this project from the outset; thus, it is hard to understand why it was initiated and continued."