Friday, March 27, 2015

Shia Militias Boycott Battle of Tikrit, Protesting U.S. Airstrikes - UPDATE

On Wednesday, President Obama approved a U.S. airstrike campaign in support of Iraqi forces battling to retake Tikrit after receiving a request from Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi. On Thursday, thousands of Shia militiamen, belonging to three militia groups, boycotted the fight in protest of U.S. participation in the battle, The New York Times reported.

General Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate hearing in Washington on Thursday that no Shia militias remained in Tikrit. There are now about 4,000 Iraqi army troops, special operations forces and federal police fighting on the ground in Tikrit, Austin said, supported by U.S. and Iraqi air forces.

American military officials said they were stepping into Tikrit fight only after the Iranian-led offensive by Shia militias and Iraqi forces had stalled, and they welcomed working closely with Iraqi government forces. 

The sudden withdrawal of Iranian-led Shia militia groups from the battle, however, could risk leaving Iraqi ground forces shorthanded.

“It’s going to require the kind of hammer and anvil approach of ground forces forcing ISIL to respond in ways that they’re targetable by air power,” a senior Pentagon official told the Times.

The Shia groups have had some 25,000 fighters in the fight, compared to about 4,000 Iraqi forces. Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), one of the boycotting groups, said they don’t trust the U.S. The other two groups which have announced their boycott are Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and the Sadrist Peace Brigades.

Badr organization, the largest of Shia militia groups, said they don’t need the American help and might also pull out.

“We have not yet decided if we will pull out or not,” Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of Badr Organization, and a longtime Iranian operative, told Iraqi state TV on Thursday. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who had requested the U.S. airstrikes, has travelled to Tikrit to persuade Amiri to keep his fighters in the field.

The American airstrikes in Tikrit began late on Wednesday night and continued for eight and a half hours, subsiding at dawn on Thursday, the Times said. Today, the Iraqi Air Force jets further bombed Tikrit in a succession of daytime raids.

This week, Iraqi field commanders had called for U.S. help. Today, Gen. Anwer Hamid, the commander of Iraqi Air Force, said the American airstrikes would continue, with the Americans concentrating their attacks during the night for operational reasons.



UPDATE: Iraq’s Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, today called for unity among Iraqi fighting forces after Iran-led Shia militias pulled out of the fight in Tikrit in protest of U.S. participation in the battle. Sistani’s spokesman said that the Grand Ayatollah considers coordination between the military, Shia militias, and Sunni tribes necessary for the success of the operation in Tikrit. (AP, 27 March)

File photo: Iraqi Shia militia near Tikrit; 5 March 2015 (PA/janes.com)

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

The first assumption was that the Shia militias have to bled themselves in the battle more than others, so there will be more Sunnis for the governance of Iraq after the battle

+A

Mark Pyruz said...

Regrettable.

This isn't entirely unexpected given the divergencies of coalitions affecting now three theaters of war in the region: Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This would appear to put the greater strain on Abadi, who seems to need a clear-cut battlefield victory to show his government now has the initiative against ISIL.

Perhaps U.S. tactical airpower can compensate.

Anonymous said...

Something fishy is going on here. It was in the news that some high ranking ISIS and baath party members including Saddam's daughter have been trapped in Tikrit and that Qatar government has proposed an enormous amount of money to Iraqi government to just let them get a way. By shia militia pulling out it seems that implementation of such a scenario is going to happen. In addition it is very difficult to believe that 30,000 troops with all those weaponries have not been able to over run few hundred ISIS fighters because everything was going on fast and on schedule and all of a sudden it came to abrupt halt.In addition US military chief of staff Martin Dempsey had also predicted an obvious victory for the Iraqi forces. Something is not just right.

Anonymous said...

there's no reason why the Shi'a militias have to be bled in battle.

any time, place or situation for that is OK

Anonymous said...

nonsense, only the Sadr militia has left , there are more than Sadr Militia there
ISIS must be root up under any cost.
The US can help, they are welcomed

Nader Uskowi said...

There are no nonsense about Times' report. AAL, KH and the Sadrists have already withdrawn from the battle, and the Badr Organization said it might do so today. It is their action that is nonsense, putting their ideology and hatred of the U.S. above the national interests of Iraq, and by doing so showing their true colors.

Tehran has been silent on the issue so far. It is hard to believe that KH and AAH would make such a critical decision without direction from Iran.

Nader Uskowi said...

I can see why the news is so hard to believe. But conspiracy theory is not the right answer here. Two major Shia militia groups, AAH and KH, along with the Sadrists, have made the decision not to fight against ISIL if the Americans are participating in the battle, and Badr may do so soon. Simple answer: putting their ideology and hatred for the U.S. above the national interests of Iraq. Boycotting the fight for the liberation of a Sunni-dominated city at this critical stage is a grave and costly mistake for these groups and their own ideology and for the Shia cause in general.

If ordered by Iran to pull out, then that would be the first strategic mistake, and indeed defeat, for Iran in its drive to push ISIL out of Iraq. The Iran-led coalition, commanded by Gen. Soleimani, has fought bravely and effectively in previous battles, from Amirli to Jalula to Jurf al-Sahkr. This was to be their first test in a Sunni-dominated area. Let's hope they reverse their decision in the coming days.

Mark Pyruz said...

Less a "boycott" as it is a stand-down.

Piruz Mollazadeh said...

Finally the old wise man speaks! Come on fellow Shia militias, get your asses back in the line!

Anonymous said...

The Shia militias seem to be essentially a loose rag tag assembly who is running mostly on adrenaline rather than astute military strategy . Certainly all the available forces need to be martialed to combat the ISIL menace . However if their withdrawal from Tikrit is true and widespread , it would speak volumes about Iran's strategy , or lack of it to be precise .

Anonymous said...

Quite an interesting update from the Wall Street Journal, claiming not only that the bulk of the militias publicly declared its intention of staying into the battle, but furthermore adds a somewhat contrasting information to the fore, claiming that the US asked for the sidelining of Iran-backed militias as a precondition for a bombing run. If it proved to be the case in the end it would indeed constitute quite a departure from the original title of this post as well as the associated thesis and deductions. Maybe the truth lies somewhere between its update about Al-Sistani's call for unity and what the WSJ said in the article below less than 24 hours ago. It would nonetheless make the US no better in its spirit than what has been said plenty about Iran in this affair and would almost legitimate the militias' initial reaction to its less-than-neutral and so-called selfless involvement. As always, no clear truth anywhere, all shades of varying degrees of ever-evolving stakes and interest, no change in sight on this dimension of the conflict. Everyone wants a lion share of tomorrow's aftermath by posing and acting in the most spectacular manner possible today.

The information i'm referring to is in the first 3 lines of the article.
http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-iranian-backed-shiite-militias-share-uneasily-in-battle-for-iraqs-tikrit-1427672890

Nader Uskowi said...

The article did not say the "bulk" of militia groups stayed on. This is what I understand to be the situation, based of what Iraqi officers have told Western and Iraqi press: Major Iran-backed militia groups, AAH and KH, have withdrawn from offensive operation. So are the Sadrists. Some Shia militias are holding their position around Tikrit, and some actually participating in the offensive. The net result is a major loss of fighting power at this critical junction for the ISF and Iraqi government.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, but it doesn't say that only "some" of them remained either. More importantly it explicitly said that the US specifically asked that the militias be "sidelined" as a precondition for their participation, which de facto constitute a major development regarding the axis of discussion of the current topic that were so far solely based on the assumption that the militias acted because of Tehran unwilling to sacrifice the slightest level of its interests for the sake of the Iraqi people and hence reluctant to set aside its own agenda in this critical battle. Factually, the US acted in the very same way, I say again, based on what that articles says in its first three entries. Obviously more investigation is needed and we'll learn more as the days pass. But bar the possibility of the WSJ being less of a credible source than the NYT of course, I think the net loss of fighting forces is not only the work or result of an Iranian/PMF decision but a synthesis of colliding interests between the US and Iran-affiliated forces looking for the very same thing : pride, recognition as the principal savior force and thus looking for preferential fallout after the dust settles down, as always, and "tiptoeing around each other" as one commentator puts it quite rightfully. And in that sense, I just thought that article could offer a nuance to the rest of the analysis provided here. That doesn't forgive any parties from what they've been playing at that indeed critical junction, would they be western or Iranian-backed...

Anonymous said...

It seems that air strikes have halted for now, and the PMU have consequently resumed their joint offensive, with militia leader green-lighting the operations anew, says Newsweek. That would explain a lot.

http://www.newsweek.com/shia-militias-restart-tikrit-assault-isis-us-air-strikes-end-317850.

Too damn bad we cannot have precise figures about how many of them have remained and/or resumed their participation in the battle here, developments arise literally hour by hour for the time being. Tiptoeing indeed in confronting an otherwise common foe. Seems like it's all about postures and credit...

Nader Uskowi said...

At least three U.S.-led coalition airstrikes today, 30 March, against ISIL positions in Tikrit. We need to separate analysis and facts. The events are unfolding on hourly basis. By the time a media source files its report, situation changes.

This is what we know generally in the past 4-5 days re Battle of Tikrit: Offensive had come to a halt for nearly two weeks; U.S. started airstrikes at the request of the Iraqi government; Quds Force and nearly all Shia militia groups opposed the government's decision of inviting the U.S.; some for lack of trust and some for lack of necessity; Iraqi government accepted Iraqi military's insistence that superior air power was needed to break the impasse and rejected Quds Force/Shia militia opposition; Quds Force and two of the most capable militia groups (AAH and KH) withdrew from the battle; Badr, the largest group, is reportedly holding the ground it had but probably not participating in the offensive; some Shia militia groups and volunteers are still fighting alongside ISF; the U.S. airstrikes have continued, as late as today; ISF and those militia forces still fighting alongside it have started their offensive and elements of that force is now in the center of the town. They are fighting for the future of their country. May they succeed!

Anonymous said...

Indeed it changes fast, that's why no factual analysis should be hastily established even if entirely based on those rapidly moving grounds. What we also know is that the militia withdrawal was at least partly due to US pressure on Iraqi commanders using the sidelining of the Iran-backed militias as a precondition for their involvement, as stated above, and this is fact according to the WSJ, no matter what unfolds hour by hour can hardly change that parameter, if its proves true. Other factor were obviously at play and you rightfully reminded them : reluctance towards fighting alongside US forces for some, and a perceived lack of necessity for others.

Anyway as you say Mr. Uskowi : may they succeed soon, may I add : whoever they are ! Time has come to cure the ISIS plague once and for all at least in their military quality. Fighting the sectarian divide that perpetually fuels them and other extremist movements will have to take place in the aftermath but we aren't there yet. Once thing at a time indeed. You have to put out the raging fire that's eating your homes, history and innocent families before you investigate its causes.

Nader Uskowi said...

Well said!