Sunday, October 12, 2014

Islamic State on the attack on multiple fronts

The Islamic State jihadist radicals are on the attack across Iraq and in Syria.  The one area mentioned today in most news reports was the siege of Kobani, the strategically located Syrian town on the Turkish border that is populated by Kurds.  Most of the town's 150,000 residents have fled, and the town seems lost despite U.S. airstrikes to support the local Kurdish fighters.  Other areas of intense activity are Sinjar in the north with the Kurdish pesh murga attacking IS positions, Anbar province where some apparently functioning parts of the Iraqi army are battling IS for control of Fallujah and Ramadi, and, what was not mentioned in the New York Times or elsewhere today, the IS advance on Baghdad, which is most interesting here.

While it should be impossible for IS to overwhelm the substantial Iraqi positions in and around Baghdad, they could wreak havoc in the area.  They are apparently in control of the infamous town of Abu Gharib, not too many miles from Baghdad's major airport.  One could surmise that the new Prime Minister Hashir al -Abadi did not envision his capital being under potential attack so soon after he succeeded the completely divisive al-Maliki.  

What makes all of this possible is the immense amount of weapons that IS captured from the panicked and fleeing Iraqi army.  These are of course state of the art weapons and machinery left by the U.S. for the Iraqis to use as they established a unified state.  IS has captured all of the weapons of four divisions of the Iraqi army.  There are 12 divisions in all, but since some are located in more placid areas of country, one can reach the broad conclusion that IS captured one third to more likely one half of all weapons of the supposed 200,000 strong Iraqi army.

These include shoulder held anti-aircraft missiles, tanks, helicopters, fighter planes, rocket launchers, and multiple types of military vehicles.  In one commentary it was said that IS now has as many as 15000 armored and weaponized Hummers that cost $220,000 each and 100's of mobile rocket launchers that cost approximately $500,000 each. Some of these are being used around Kobani now.  With these kinds of weapons, the best available, and the apparent zealotry of the IS fighters, the battles being fought must by definition be tough ones.

It is unclear whether Obama has finally relented and given the Kurdish pesh murga comparable weapons, or he is still partially holding back for fear of fracturing his "dream" of a unified Iraq forever.  For now, one can wonder whether the IS potential to make inroads into Baghdad will be underestimated, with the powers there assuming that U.S. soldiers will come to their rescue if necessary. It is unlikely that Obama has the flexibility to do that, thank goodness.

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