Saturday, October 15, 2016

Update On The Sunni Caliphate: ISIS -- Aleppo And Mosul -- October 15, 2016

Again, I've lost the bubble on ISIS; the importance of Mosul and Aleppo; and, Kurdistan. This is for my benefit only; it has nothing to do with the Bakken.

If you came here looking for the Bakken, scroll down, or go to the sidebar at the right.


April 3, 2017: BBC update -- again, a very nice update with many maps. Allied forces have taken eastern Mosul and are ready to attack western Mosul. Western Mosul is expected to be much more difficult: more densely populated; civilians pro-ISIS. And, of course, ISIS militants using civilians as shields. One can assume an energy/food/weapons blockade will severely hurt ISIS.

December 2, 2016: the Sunni caliphate footprint continues to shrink. Nice map.

Part Four
Syria Update

See the post; at the link, scroll to the bottom.

With Turkey having taken Afrin and about to take Eastern Ghouta, Syria now has three local groups supported by foreign sponsors: Assad's Syrians/Russia; Kurdish Syrians/US; and, now Turkish Syrians. One needs to look at the current situation in Syria and this new analysis (the war will go on for at least another four years until a stable balance of forces is established) and then think about Trump's "plan" to pull out of Syria sooner than later.

Part Three
Update On Kurdistan

Link here.

Part Two

"Part Two" below is about Aleppo and Mosul and appeared in recent issue of The Economist. "Part One" was from a long piece on the Sunni Caliphate (ISIS) from London Book Review back in March, 2016, which provided the background to how we arrived where we are today.

The Spanish Civil War as a proxy conflict between major world powers comes to mind.

Where we stand, October 15, 2016, from The Economist

The Sunni Caliphate (IS) Outcome May Well Be Determined By What Happens In Aleppo, Mosul

  • in the entire region of the Fertile Crescent, from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, the brunt of war for the most part sustained by the Sunnis
  • the Sunnis: the largest ethnic group, heirs of fabled empires; many of their cities now in the hands of others
    • Jerusalem: held by the Jews
    • Beirut: held by Christians and Shias
    • Damascus: held by the Alawites
    • Baghdad: held by Shias
  • where Sunnis do hold power they feel a) encircled; and, b) abandoned by the US
  • the Sunnis' sense that they are assailed from all sides helps to explain how the jihadists of Islamic State (IS), offering to help the ancient caliphate, were able to take over vast Sunni-populated areas in Syria and Iraq
  • nothing will be complete until the Sunnis' dispossession is dealt with
  • right now the future of the region is being decided in two venerable cities: Aleppo and Mosul
    • Aleppo: the last urban redoubt of the Syrian rebellion against Mr Assad
    • Mosul: IS's most prized possession in Iraq
  • Russia is helping Assad; the Iranian and Shia allies pound the besieged Sunni rebels
  • it appears Russia/Assad's goal is to take the entire city before Obama leaves office in three months
  • even if Russia/Assad "win", Aleppo will "never" be the same
  • a loss would deal a blow to IS: it was from there that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader, declared his caliphate
  • better outcome possible
  • Iraqi, Kurdish, local Sunni forces, and America closing in on Mosul
  • Turkey is complicating things; wants to be part of the coalition (of course: to keep an eye on the Kurds)
  • operations to retake Mosul begin this month 
  • The Economist argues that Iraq could provide new model of devolved power
  • Mosul offers a chance to convince beleaguered Sunnis that there is a better alternative to the nihilism of jihad
 Part One

Original Post, March 10, 2014, link here.

End Times for the Caliphate (IS / Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi)
Kurdistan, Rojava, and ISIS

This was from the London Review of Books, March 3, 2016. 

The war in Syria and in Iraq have produced two new de facto states in the last five years and enabled a third quasi-state greatly to expand its territory and power.

The two new states are two separate Kurdish states, one to the west (Syria) and one to the east (Iraq). Neither are recognized internationally but they are stronger militarily and politically than most members of the UN.

Both states are very, very small in population.

17 million Kurds live in Turkey.

The three states:

  • the caliphate: ISIS -- eastern Syria / western Iraq
  • Rojava: Syrian Kurds (PYD) along Syrian / Turkish border (rojava means "west")
  • Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG): northern Iraq along Iraqi / Turkish border
For me, this is how I will keep track of them:
  • ISIS
  • Rojava (Syria) -- 2.2 million -- surrounded by much larger states
  • Kurdistan (Iraq) -- 6 million
The three states -- origin and geography:
  • ISIS: established itself in the summer of 2014 after capturing Mosul and defeating the Iraqi army
  • Rojava: the Syrian Kurds who filled the vacuum when the Syrian Army withdrew in 2012; west of the Tigris; across northern Syria between the Euphrates and the Tigris; along Syrian-Turkish border
  • KRG: Kurdish Regional Government; had been highly autonomous; took advantage of IS's destruction of Baghdad's authority in northern Iraq; expanded territory 40% -- south toward Baghdad to include the Kirkuk oilfields 
The question as discussed by Cockburn: will any of these "states" persist after the current conflict is over.

Cockburn gives short shrift to ISIS: "The Islamic State is likely to be destroyed eventually ... though its adherents will remain a force in Iraq, Syria, and the rest of the Islamic world.

So, it comes back to the age-old battle between the two Kurdish divisions AND the age-old battle between Kurdistan and Turkey AND Kurdistan and outside forces (US and Russia).

Urban Centers
Extent of Two Kurdish States: About 600 miles west to east

Along the Turkish border (Syria/Rojava)
  • Afrin, about 50 miles northwest of Aleppo; key transit city across Turkish border; current flashpoint between Turkey and the PKK/Rojava
  • Kobani, northeast of Aleppo; on the Euphrates river; key to Rojava/PYD/PKK -- see below)
  • Tal Abyad -- key to linking two of three enclaves (Kobani and Qamishi)
  • Hasak
  • Qamishi
Along the Turkish border (Iraq/Kurdistan)
  • Sinjar
  • Erbil (about 50 miles east of Mosul)
  • Kirkuk
  • Sulaymaniyah
  • Halabja (on Iranian border) 
Caliphate (ISIS may or may not hold these cities); all to the northeast of Damascus, or north of Baghdad
  • Aleppo: Syria
  • Raqqa: Syria (currently held by ISIS) (on the Euphrates River); capital cityof ISIS -- self-declared; about 80 miles due east (slightly southeast) of Aleppo)
  • Manbij: on road to Raqqa in Syria; "allies" re-take Manbij, August, 2016
  • Mosul: back and for between ISIS and Kurds; on the Tigris
  • Tikrit: midway between Mosul and Baghdad; on the Tigris
  • Ramadi: on the Euphrates, west of Baghdad, west of Falujah
  • Fallujah: on the Euphrates, between Ramadi and Baghdad
Rivers, Borders, and Boundaries
  • Neither major river separates Syria/Iraq; no natural boundary between northern Syria/northern Iraq
  • Euphrates cuts northern Syria in half
  • Tigris cuts northern Iraq in half
  • Syria reaches the Mediterranean Sea; small seacoast between Lebanon and Turkey

The West: Rojavo/PKK/PYD/SDF
  • Turkish response: belligerent in tone; ambivalent in practice
  • it appears that current conflict, starting with Kurdish uprising in 2011, resulted in resurgence of PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) which Turkey has been fighting since 1984
  • the ruling party in Rojava is PYD (Democratic Union Party)
  • so, PYD = PKK
  • IS finally defeated in Syrian city of Kobani: Rojava expanded territorially in every direction
  • by capturing Tal Abyad last June, Rojava/PKK/PYD linked up two of its three most important enclaves (Kobania nd Qamishli)
  • now working to link up Afrin on the far west
  • Turkey has drawn a line in the sand at the Euphrates but seems uneasy to act
  • Rojava's Arab proxy militia: Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
  • SDF crosses Euphrates and Turkey does not respond: US + Russia --> a/s on ISIS in that area
  • Key area of concern now: narrow corridor between Aleppo (once Syria's 2nd largest city) and Turkish border (Afrin) -- if opposition cut off -- the Sunni states of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar -- will have failed to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
  • if the "allies" fail, Rojavo/PKK/PYD/SD becomes that much stronger; 17 million Kurds
  • Turkey wants to intervene, but Turkey would be fighting: US, Russia, Iran, Syrian Army, PYD, and IS (LOL)
  • Turkey's only allies: Saudi Arabia and a few Gulf monarchies
  • this is the area where Turkey shot down a Russian bomber; carefully planned; Russia responded by setting up "permanent" bases in this area (Turkey: one meager step forward; result: stomped on by Russian)
  • US + Russia: begrudging/suspicious but supporting the Kurds, and not the Turks in this area
Kurdistan / KRG / Iraqi Kurdish state
  • once considered the "new Dubai" with its oil fields
  • now Kurdistan is a failed nation; a disaster; its rich folks trying to get to the west
  • Kurdistan: an economic disaster; low oil prices have led to the debacle; government taking to stealing bankers' money; has nothing but oil for revenue; nothing indigenous -- imports vegetables
  • Kurdistan: before ISIS, before the plummet in oil prices was becoming more independent; now Kurdistan looking to Baghdad for help
The Caliphate is similarly falling
  • loses Manjib, August, 2016
  • defeated at Kobani: IS now changing tactics -- not fighting to last man to save its territory but it may do so in Raqqa (Syria) and Mosul (Iraq)
  • conditions in the Caliphate unbearable (a holocaust by any other name)
  • people smuggled out of Mosul say IS is buckling; fled Mosul to safe refuge in Rojava -- this is where the migrants are coming from -- from rich Kurdistan oil regions to Rojava into Turkey and on to Greece
  • IS opponents have captured/re-captured: Sinjar, Ramadi, Tikrit (Iraq) and closing in on Raqqa (Syria)
  • Ramadi: still in contention
  • YPG, Syrian army, Iraqi armed forces, and Peshmerga: inadequate supplies against IS, but can call in Russian and US devastating air support
How the two Kurdish states see this playing out
  • the allies (YPG, Syrian army, Iraqi armed forces, Peshmerga, Russia, US) will ultimately prevail
  • once IS defeated once and for all, Kurds concerned Baghdad will again turn against Kurdistan; Damascus will turn against Rojava
Last comments (mine)
  • Iran, the 800-pound gorilla, not mentioned in the article
  • Assad (Syria) given new lease on life with US + Russia emphasis on taking out IS
  • Sunni allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia stymied in taking out Syria (Iranian proxy?)
  • when it's all over, who gets Kirkuk's oil fields? Kurdistan or Baghdad
  • when IS is taken out, how much longer do Russia + US stick around? 
  • one wonders if after IS, if Russia (pro-Iran) and US (anti-Iran) get back to where they were before IS
  • it looks like the current situation has "destroyed" any progress Kurdistan had made in previous 50 years
  • Turkey is becoming more and more repressive; is it feeling the stress; it looks like while Kurdistan might be failing, Turkey's real Kurdish nemesis, the PKK (Rojava) is gaining strength
Note: greater Kurdistan
  • west Kurdistan: Rojava, northern Syria
  • east Kurdistan: northwestern Iran 
  • northern Kurdistan: southern/southeastern Turkey
  • southern Kurdistan: northern Iraq (military forces - Peshmerga)

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