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12 April 2015


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William R. Cumming

So is the BATTLE IF TIKRIT REALLY OVER? Why does any thinking person think that SEIZE AND HOLD [if that is the policy?] can win a religious or cultural or ethnic war?

As example, what if after the 2003 invasion of Iraq the US as its policy had decided to educate 100K in American English and 100K Americans in Arabic [or Court Persian, Pashto, Urdu, Farshi etc.?]? Or not to undercut woman's equal rights?


Dear Colonel,

There are three things that bother me about an overall interesting article.

1. Micallef seems to posit total ISIS forces of 30k, yet many sources have indicated recruiting is at 2k/mo, plus population levies. This begs the question, why did ISIS not try harder to defend Tikrit. Micallef answers by pointing out Tikrit has no strategic depth. This suggests an ISIS strategic retreat leaving a token force - yet Micallef never mentions that there existed an ISIS-Tikrit strategy and that strategic goals could have been met - specifically the looting and revenge killings as an expected and desired outcome.

2. There is an inherent assumption that ISIS will lose and the state of Iraq will win, recreating a strong central state in control of its entire territory. No recognition about this quests' humpty-dumpty nature, even with US boots on the ground (as they were). IMO its hard to understand how such an outcome is fore-ordained. History is replete with wars that did not end as forecast, and Micallef appears to presume ISIS has no strategic goals. For example, ISIS could now be over-extended in Iraq, but no analysis of how to evaluate if that is likely.

3. While ISIS lost (or took a significant beating in Tikrit), it seems to be doing quite well in Syria. Of course, Micallef does not link the single theater of battle.... no one in the US media does, because the schizoid nature of US FP - Pro ISIS (in Syria) and contra ISIS (in Iraq) - is an elephant in the living room.

As pointed out by the colonel in a separate thread, the deeper KSA gets into Yemen, the greater the uncertainty in Iraq and the longer and likely more drawn out. To me all this argues strongly for serious analysis to consider Iraqi-Shiite-Iranian strategy in the context of ISIS and KSA strategies, not in a vacuum of sorts. And that includes an assessment of how ISIS strategy and fighting was implemented in Tikrit.



ISIS clearly made use of a tried and true M.O. of using its enemies' commitments to large battles in places like Tikrit to launch offensives in other areas while consolidating its other holdings.

That and I came away with the impression the IA, Shia militias, and any Iranian forces were getting their asses kicked in Tikrit until the introduction of US airpower which finished ISIS defenders off and/or inspired a tactical withdrawal.

Of course, tactical withdrawal in the face of insurmountable firepower is another favored M.O. of ISIS. So is allowing the attacking force to occupy territory and slipping into complacency while adopting a SASO mindset prior to making use of guerrilla tactics and launching counteroffensives.

Babak Makkinejad

The longer ISIS lasts, the longer it will become entrenched the more difficult it would be to destroy it.

Assuming that the defenders of Mosul, a city of 1 million people - let us say - defend it as well as the Germans did a city of similar size; how long did it take for the Red Army to conquer a similar city in Ukraine, or Poland or Eastern Germany?

What resources did the Red Army have - since the German Air Force was non-existent by that time.


defend it as well as the Germans did a city of similar size" Such a comparison is laughable. pl


Fred 82

"I came away with the impression the IA, Shia militias, and any Iranian forces were getting their asses kicked in Tikrit until the introduction of US airpower which finished ISIS defenders off and/or inspired a tactical withdrawal" Perceptive. pl

Babak Makkinejad

To do an estimation, one has to start from make assumptions.


Given that US air power was only decisive in Kobani after many many months, tactical withdrawal seems more likely. In any case, US Air Power achieved one US strategic goal - give the Iraqi gov't a morale boosting win, although not necessarily an indication of how the wider war will proceed.

On the other hand, it seems not to have accomplished a more important US strategic goal of convincing the Iraqi govt that they NEED the US and should ditch/downgrade Iran. Iraq seems to have learned a different lesson, they can maneuver the US into saving their butts whenever while aligning themselves with Iranian interests.



My unconventional observation was that certain units of the Iraq Army with Militia support guided by Sepah special forces opened the road to Tikrit in a measured march to acclimatize the new troops to the true reality of warfare and surrounded the city. At that point a political pause commenced.

While the first group was in operation, another Iraqi Army unit advised by Special Forces with experience in calling in urban air strikes was preparing, planning, and, most importantly, training for a city sweep of the Daesh Death Detachment.

After the pause there was the announced offensive on the city proper and then all quiet on the western media front until victory.

This story is then followed by the Peninsular Princes going apoplectic and attacking their weaker southern neighbor.


Col. Lange, in the Iranian press, USAF was accused of targeting Iranian volunteers a few times by "mistake" (I quote). One of the commanders also mentioned that he is rather surprised that the USAF is apparently incapable of precise delivery of airdrops with supplies and weapons, meant for Kobani Kurds, Iraqi government troops and anti-DAESH groups. He further mentioned that one, two or three mistakes, can be explained but "accidentally" dropping dozens of these packages on top of DAESH is beyond rational explanation.
Also I would like to refer on this new stunt ( http://sputniknews.com/politics/20150410/1020732683.html ) by BHO-lead US government in UNSC: US and its allies blocked a UN resolution to add the Islamic State to the sanctions list in the UN Security Council. I guess only conspiracy theorist think that US Government is actively behind DAESH/Islamic State.


Strategic goal of DAESH (what you call ISIS) is chaos in the Middle-East on behalf of it's financiers and supporters, being KSA, Israel and US government elements. Second goal is to draw European third and fourth generation immigrants to the grinder in Iraq and Syria thus opening a need for the "protection racket" on the one hand and eliminating potential Attas on the other hand.


A couple of bombs here and there didn't determine the battle: Badr and Quds elements were even lamenting the close air"support" and drops of supplies, that ended up in DAESH/ISIS territories in significant number of cases. As far as it was announced in advance by the attackers, their plan was all along to encircle and reduce the resistance gradually, the same way the Syrian army has been dealing with the KSA/Israel supported rebels in Syria.


I forgot to add this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Battle_of_Tikrit_(March–April_2015)


One example from WWII would be the siege of Stalingrad. That lasted slightly longer than five months. Dien Bien Phu was overrun after about seven or eight months.
Col. Lang:
Did you refer to the difference between on-again/off-again military campaigns limiting casualties, political fallout (re:Kurdistan, e. g.) and possibly resource expenditure in comparison to "total war"-scenarios like the two world wars? Or did you have something else in mind? (Of course, for ISIS it is total war anyway. They wish it so.)

alba etie

This may be just idle speculation from an unschooled civilian still 'learnin' about the MENA /Daesh contretemps here at SST . But if the USG/DOD were in cahoots with the Sepah Quds forces at Tikrit , and the Gulfies leaders are all supposed to be meeting with President Obama at Camp David soon for a strategic rethink , -all in the context of the the nuclear deal with Iran actually possible happening now - ( see Corker/Mendez bill passing out of committee 19-0 with POTUS support ) , could this be the beginning of a strategic reset in SW Asia , weighted against the KSA, Turkey, and Israel ,and for Iran ? If the strategic reset is really happening no wonder BiBi is still having a hissy fit ... And lets also wonder in the strategic reset context about the current Pope who helped broker the US -Cuban reconciliation- pissing off Erdogan by callling out Turkey on the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Tayyip really should not be so close to Daesh , in my unschooled civilian opinion . We shall see.



I am reminded of the occasion in the nid-60s when a Salvadoran colonel was briefed at Ft. Gulick in the Canal Zone of the COIN efforts of the USG throughout Latin America and that these constitutes limited war for the US. He pointed out wisely that the same wars represented total war for our opponents. pl



No. Inability to put air drops on target is an old problem. you clearly have not made any with someone shooting at you from the ground. Once again you have the ME desire to find a responsible party for every event. This is he kind of logic that leads people to believe that FDR want the Japs to attack PH. pl


"Once again you have the ME desire to find a responsible party for every event"

Ah. Chance can be a very frightening thing to some. I think that goes beyond the ME, it is probably deeply human desire to find meaning in events they don't understand.

Take lightning. Lightning is not just a natural event, Thor rages! Or he did, according to the Norsemen. My patron saint found the Lord when lightning struck at the feet of his horse - he read the sign, and did become a prist, eventually founded the Premonstratensian order and so on and so forth.

I think that every American hegemonist ought to be overjoyed and flattered that people all over the world ascribe their political accidents and misfortunes to malevolent US scheming - after all, does it not suggest near omnipotence? What could sound sweeter?

As I said, to the neocons, having power, and not using it is, for all practical purposes, not having power. If the use of power is not being SEEN, it is not **credible**. That's why they are so compulsively assertive.

One could argue thus that to a neo-con, Middle Easterners blaming the US for the tides is GOOD news.

It is good news because it allows America to profit from the **incredible**! Even though the view of American omnipotence and responsibility is entirely implausible and erroneous, it DOES suggest that American power at least SEEMED to have been at used.

It means that superstition is a force multiplier! ^^



Lets be cautiously optimistic that the Professionals in the US government are being listened to and it is leading to rational analysis and calculations for future policy.



"Lets be cautiously optimistic that the Professionals in the US government are being listened to and it is leading to rational analysis and calculations for future policy." Irony, I presume. pl

alba etie

Perhaps President Professor has decided that it is time to listen to the Professionals and preserve his Legacy . There have even been rumblings about talking to Assad in Syria - about some type of power sharing to ease the Younger Assad out with dignity etc. And to my eyes its really remarkable that Sen Coker , and Sen Cardin could handcraft a bill for Congressional Oversight of the Iran Nuclear deal ,perhaps even our Senate is starting listening to the Professionals in the USG . Heck Sen Coker on NPR the other day sounded almost like he was channeling Senator Nunn or Senator Fulbright. Yes lets be cautiously optimistic about more rational policy writ large-; if nothing else it takes a little bit of the edge off the quiet despair some of us are feeling . To directly quote Col Lang - " We shall see.'

Joseph V Micallef

Thanks for your comments. I thought I would reply to the various points you raised.

1. ISIS Strength
You have to be careful about media reports claiming that ISIS recruitment is running 2k/month. Most of these reports are unsubstantiated and emanate from sources that have their own agenda/reasons for emphasizing ISIS recruitment. Moreover, their base of support is pretty fluid. There are a significant number of ex-Bathist military officers that are working with ISIS whose loyalty is questionable and whose motivations are completely opportunistic. The fighting quality of untrained, forced levies is questionable and militants, especially in Syria, move back and forth between other jihadist groups. The fact is we don't really know what the strength of ISIS is. There is probably a core, battle hardened cadre of around 30k, plus or minus.(Could be as little as 20k and as much as 40k+, we just don't know for sure) On paper it might be substantially higher but the quality and commitment of those troops is very questionable.

2. I didn't say that Tikrit had no strategic depth. I said that the outlying areas lacked and defensive depth. The terrain was relatively flat and vulnerable to air power and to Iranian swarm tactics were large numbers of lightly armed mobile troops overwhelm fixed positions. Its clear that for the time being ISIS has shifted to a defensive strategy that is designed to slow down any attempts to roll them back while inflicting maximum pain to Iraqi forces by a protracted urban campaign. Moreover, Iraqi forces are spread thin allowing ISIS to avoid pitched battles against superior forces while striking selectively against weaker positions. Recent attacks against Bajie and Ramadi are consistent with this strategy. Also, by drawing Iraqi forces deeper into Anbar ISIS can deflect an attack on Mosul until next year buying more time.

3. In the short term ISIS's strategy is buying time. That allows it to continue to recruit, regardless of what that number may be, and more importantly the longer it takes to dislodge it the more likely the tenuous coalition against it will fall apart. Moreover, its position in Iraq is very different from a conventional battlefield and the references to the eastern front in WW 2 are misplaced. ISIS controls a large area consisting of a number of urban centers and largely desert. Control of the desert areas is contingent on controlling the roads through the area (which in many cases they do) However, any movement across the Syrian Desert is constrained by American air power. You have a situation were neither side can project forces on the ground there very well. Militarily this situation is more akin to Japan's fortified island strategy in the Pacific in WW 2 then the eastern front.

3. I am not presuming that ISIS will lose, only they the process of rolling them back will be a long and arduous one. If the coalition does not hang together, a plausible outcome, then it is unlikely that they will be defeated in the conventional sense. Even if they do lose control of the urban centers they are likely to revert back to an insurgency with Anbar and the Sunni triangle becoming a no-mans land, much as it was in 2005-2007, of chaos where no one is completely in control.

4. ISIS is at an inherent disadvantage in that its weaponry, especially its heavy weaponry, is dependent on what it can capture on the battle filed. (I covered this issue in my book on Islamic State)(Yes that is a shameless plug for the book. Under those circumstances playing for time and hoping that the coalition falls apart makes sense.

5. I do not link the two theaters because to a certain extent they operate independently. In Iraq, ISIS's strategy is to hold the urban centers that it controls, keep the Iraqi government of kilter and play for time. In Syria, it still has significant opportunities to expand the territory under its control. Moreover, given the preponderance of American air power over the Syrian desert its ability to move troops back and forth between the two theaters is significantly constrained.

6. You are correct, and I agree, (see my columns elsewhere on the significance of the Shite-Sunni rivalry and its impact on the realignment of Mid East politics) that what happens in Yemen will have an impact on how the situation in Syria and Iraq plays out. So to will the issue of what role Turkey ultimately chooses to take as well as the extent of Pakistan's and Egypt's willingness to provide military muscle for the Saudis. Unfortunately, Huff Post really wants these columns limited to 1k words and I push the limit at 2k to 3k words. You just can't cover everything. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments.

Joseph V Micallef

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