Friday, June 27, 2014

Baghdad, the US, and the Awkward Alliance

Multiple news sources have been reporting that US drones were sighted in the skies over Baghdad and US officials stated that their current use is only to protect US military advisers should they come under fire. Security continues to tighten in the city as ISIS and Sunni militants have set up positions in nearby areas surrounding Baghdad. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) recently posted an extremely informative map to its Twitter page showing the numerous areas occupied by ISIS, as well as possible military staging sites.
ISW image highlighting militant activity around Baghdad (click to enlarge)
 The fighting has not yet reached the interior of Baghdad, but militants are positioned less than an hour away. This upcoming battle will either show the resolve of the Iraqi security forces or further weaken them. The Iraqi government is not alone in combating ISIS.  Assad's regime in Syria, Iran, Shi'a militias, the United States, and even Hezbollah have all pledged to support the Iraqi government. Obviously, this alliance seems a bit awkward from a US perspective. Whereas the other parties have promised direct combat support against ISIS, the US has withheld the use of force so far (though this may quickly change if anything bad happens to their current advisers on the ground). US and Iran relations have a strained history. In addition, the US has also been supplying weapons to moderate Syrian rebels fighting against Assad since 2013. Last but not least, the US classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The position of the US in this uneasy alliance-of-sorts will likely spark much debate.

 In my previous post, I talked a lot about artillery and its potential use by the militants. I would like to add that even though they may not have received formal training beforehand, ISIS and associates can still use indirect fire for their campaign.  It's hard to accurately hit targets without proper artillery training, but if the militants have enough ammunition it may not matter.  M198 artillery was spotted again yesterday in Mosul (via Twitter), but it is unclear if they are planning to incorporate it against Baghdad.  Artillery barrages may not always be precise, but they can certainly damage morale. Attacking morale has been a strong point for ISIS.

More armored vehicles in addition to towed artillery
Mosul is only 5 hours north of Baghdad. Given that ISIS controls most of the area between the two cities, it is quite possible that convoys of captured vehicles are already in position outside Baghdad. If the Iraqi Armed Forces can hold together and communicate effectively, they might stand a chance; especially if they can maximize damage on key targets with air support.

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