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The Siege of Baghdad

July 14th, 2014 - 10:59 pm

Bill Roggio has a very interesting article describing the ISIS plan to invest Baghdad. They aim to infiltrate the surrounding towns until they control a “belt” around the capital.  From this vantage they will gradually paralyze the capital through unremitting campaign of terror and subversion until it can be taken outright.

The encirclement won’t consist of trenches or other physical obstructions. Rather it will be comprised of clandestine networks and supply systems that will move bombs, weapons and fighters around through a network of cells and safe houses to locations in and around the city.  It is, as Bill Roggio points out, a rehash of the Sunni strategy to encircle US forces during Operation Iraq Freedom.

The lightning advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham and its allies from Mosul to the outskirts of Samarra, as well as its capture of several towns in eastern Diyala, all over the course of several days, appears to be part of a greater strategy to surround the capital of Baghdad before laying siege to it. This plan, to take over the “belt” region outside of Baghdad and cut off the capital, appears to be the same strategy used by the ISIS’ predecessor back in 2006.
The 2006 plan, which was drawn up by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the forerunner of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), was discovered after the US found a crude map on the body of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader who was killed by US forces in Baqubah in June 2006. The “Baghdad belts” map was released by Multinational Forces-Iraq during its offensive to liberate vast areas under al Qaeda/ISI control in 2007 and 2008.

Zarqawi’s plan was to seize control of the outer provinces and Baghdad’s belts, or key areas surrounding the capital. The ISI would then use its bases in the belts to control access to Baghdad and funnel money, weapons, car bombs, and fighters into the city. The ISI also planned to strangle the US helicopter air lanes by emplacing anti-aircraft cells along known routes in the belts areas around Baghdad.

Back in 2007 I co-authored an article in the Jerusalem Post with the commander of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne, Colonel Dominic J. Caraccilo exploring this issue. His job then was to dismantle the southern belt, then known as the Triangle of Death.

As everyone now knows the campaign against US forces back in 2006 failed.  The attackers were counter-encircled by US-led forces who established intelligence assets of their own to find and destroy the enemy. Much effort was put into tracking back weapons smuggling routes back to their sources, including explosively formed penetration IEDs whose cores were manufactured in Iran. US conventional units provided the “top cover” for the intel guys who went out to look for the enemy.

Now ISIS is playing the same number on Maliki, right down to a new Triangle of Death. Roggio continues:

Watching the ISIS’ operations today, it appears the group is attempting to implement a strategy which is very similar, if not identical, to the previous one. This should come as no surprise; Nasser al Din Allah Abu Suleiman, ISIS’ current war minister, was a leader in al Qaeda in Iraq/ISI when the Baghdad belt strategy was implemented. Suleiman was appointed by al Qaeda in May 2010 to serve as the terror group’s top military commander after his predecessor, Abu Ayyub al Masri, was killed in a raid by Iraqi and US forces in April 2010.

US intelligence officials contacted by the Long War Journal who have extensive experience with al Qaeda in Iraq and the campaign to dislodge the group that began in 2007 said they believe the ISIS has dusted off its old plans to encircle Baghdad. …

ISIS took the first step at the beginning of the year when it seized control of Fallujah and most of Anbar province. ISIS advanced to the outskirts of western Baghdad in March and April, when it captured Karma and Abu Ghraib.

After taking control of most of Anbar, ISIS launched a series of bombings and attacks in northern Babil province and southern Baghdad. The town of Jurf Al Sakhar is said to have fallen under ISIS control. The towns of Musayyib, Yusufiyah, Mahmoudiyah, Iskandariyah and Latifiyah in the so-called “triangle of death” area south of Baghdad have seen an uptick in attacks. These areas, which include a significant Sunni minority, sit along the fault line with Sunni and Shia, and were controlled by the ISI prior to the US surge.

Maliki will have to reinvent the wheel, with this difference: his forces are far less competent than the US units which preceded him.  More firepower may be provided to the Iraqi government, but key factors of combat leadership and institutional knowledge have been dispersed and lost, perhaps for the duration.

Partisan criticism aside, history will show that the US Armed Forces in Iraq successfully defeated an enemy whose style of war, as idealized in the movie Battle of Algiers, is hard to defeat. The failure of the French in Algeria and current difficulties of even the Israeli Defense Forces against the terror armies show it is no easy task. While terrorists are often portrayed as semi comical “rag-tag” forces facing Western professionals, in reality operatives like Imad MughniyahAbu Musab al-Zarqawi, Saddam Hussein and the current leadership of ISIS are consummate pros themselves, with decades of operational, clandestine and political experience.

They know all there is to know about intrigue, intimidation and war. They are unrestrained by any scruple, law or accountability. All they understand is power; how to seize it and how to hold it; naturally they have become very good at what they do.

Only the very best can win against them. For all of its faults the US campaign in Iraq was possibly the only Western intervention to outfight a terror campaign on the ground. Just how hard that was to achieve is underscored by the current administration’s miserable failures. President Obama threw much of the machinery of victory away. The edifice of victory in Iraq consisted for the most part of a human network; of a perishable store of knowledge made up of relationships and reciprocal deals which guided policy and  firepower.  The “institutions” so beloved of academic papers consist in the last analysis of people who know and trust other people.

With any luck the administration will recover part of what they so contemptuously cast away. But perhaps they don’t even know what they’re missing. The Obama administration came to office describing itself as ‘nuanced’. It promised to engage in ‘smart diplomacy’. It swore to be ‘transformational’.  But perhaps the administration has confused the trappings of competence with its essence, like a writer who thinks buying a beret and moving into a Paris garret will make him a Hemingway. Julie Hirschfield describes how president Obama escapes the mundane drudgery of governance in a New York Times article: “At Dinner Tables, a Restless Obama Finds an Intellectual Escape”.  He dines with celebrities and public intellectuals.

“It keeps him fresh,” the article says. He needs air purged of the ordinary; unencumbered by commonplace problems to breathe and to soar to his full height.  Not for him is the boring detail of fighting a war. He wants ideas and vaulting concepts.

WASHINGTON — President Obama had just disembarked from Air Force One and was still on the tarmac in Rome when he turned to his host, John R. Phillips, the American ambassador to Italy, with an unexpected request: How about a dinner party tomorrow night?

Over the next 24 hours, the startled Mr. Phillips and his wife, the former Obama aide Linda Douglass, scrambled to gather some of Italy’s intellettuali.

The architect Renzo Piano flew in from Genoa. The particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti arrived from Geneva. John Elkann, the chairman of Fiat and an owner of the Italian soccer club Juventus, came, too, as did his sister, Ginevra, a film director. Over a 2006 Brunello, grilled rib-eye and three pasta dishes — cacio e pepe, all’arrabbiata and Bolognese — at Villa Taverna, the 15th-century manor that serves as the ambassador’s residence, the group talked until close to midnight about “the importance of understanding science, the future of the universe, how sports brings people together, and many other things,” Ms. Douglass said. …

In a summer when the president is traveling across the country meeting with ordinary Americans under highly choreographed conditions, the Rome dinner shows another side of Mr. Obama. As one of an increasing number of late-night dinners in his second term, it offers a glimpse into a president who prefers intellectuals to politicians, and into the rarefied company Mr. Obama may keep after he leaves the White House.

But there may be a fatal vanity in this. The world of high flying ideas is an intoxicating one. But there is a great deal of information embedded in the world of ISIS; a world of expertise in the grubby world of engineers, mechanics and soldiers.  Ordinary people are often smarter than intellectuals realize, and very often smarter than they can imagine.  President Obama may think he’s smart but he still has to prove he can beat the terror armies.

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Top Rated Comments   
Marie-Louise von Franz (d. 1998) was a Swiss Jungian psychologist and scholar who (apparently) coined the phrase, "grandiose ascender". Robert Bly (I think mostly forgotten now, and deservedly so) quoted her a bit and wrote, "Grandiose ascenders...come out of all sorts of families, and sometimes the ascension is taken on as an intelligent survival method...'to be above it all, not to be involved.'" And "'...The Jungian thinkers have done well in noticing and describing this phenomenon, and the phrase puer aeternus (holy or eternal boy), and puella aeterna (holy or eternal girl) are phrases familiar to many….'"

That descript might fit Henry VIII, James Buchanan, and Kaiser Bill, but it sure seems to fit Pharaoh Butt-Putt. I seem to remember also that grandiose ascenders are (quite often) homosexual. That would fit in with the (I think increasingly wide-spread) notion that Pharaoh is queer (which, considering his upbringing--in itself criminal--can hardly be surprising).

Perhaps, if he does indeed force a civil war on us, either via the border crisis or by a miserable response to a massive terror attack here that sparks an attempt to overthrow him, I think he'll consider it all a job well done. But then, after that, he'd go full-Nero on us. (He might do that anyway, of course.)

Ultimately, we can't know how it will fall out. Chaos Theory rules.

As for Baghdad, the Mongols indeed knew how to deal with Muslim terrorists. They sure flattened Baghdad, twice. But what about the Persians? Baghdad isn't far from their Sassanid era capital, Ctesiphon. They want to re-create the Persian Empire, right? Surely they'd do whatever was necessary to prevent Baghdad from falling to heretic Sunnis, no matter how battle-hardened they are? (And ISIS is one tough bunch, massively so, as Wretchard writes. These are the kind of hard-boiled killers that created the first Arab empire back in the 7th century.)

When the Iranians get the bomb, they might go “full-Mongol” and just nuke western Iraq/eastern Syria (and non-Hejaz Arabia, just to scratch that itch). Why not? Waste not, want not.

An Préachán
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama is making the world his faculty lounge.

A world of grand theory and symbolic gestures. Obama puts the pomp in pomposity. The problem with reality is that it scrambles eggheads.

The best theorists enjoy the futility of finding the wrong answers. The frauds and charlatans claim victory and depart the field the moment they first deliver the untested hypothesis.

In the former, they find glory in the hunt. In the latter, they denounce the hunt as a "distraction" to their glory.

The purist knows his theory either hardens or shatters upon being repeatedly fire tested. The Imperial Theorist knows his untested theory must never be challenged, so denial is hardened and critics' reputations are shattered.

Obama has thrown away victory for vanity. As all his faculty lounge act deux ex machinas sputter and collapse in a heap, he retires to his comfort in the cave of nodding heads and vacuous homilies. Governance by faculty lounge fiat is a sure way to ensure blowing up the chemistry lab of bad ideas gone awry.

It helps to own the printing press. They can be forced to write that chaos is a real cool hand.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Italian guests, unlike Obama, had actual jobs that they went back to and achieved in. Except possibly for the purely professorial they had to work with people to achieve an evaluatable or even marketable goal. Obama does not do that. His perception of what work is remains immature and delusional.

As I read this post possible comments arose in the back of my mind. Again and again a topic would occur to me, only to be introduced by the author. All in all this is a fine example of how to craft an essay.

Precedent is important to the Islamists. They look for examples of how to surround and capture a metropolis. The ultimate prize was Constantinople. Other cities have fallen to forces other than Islam in similar campaigns. Phnom Penh and Madrid come to mind. Islam captured most of its cities, such as Damascus, after their enemies collapsed on the battlefield and abandoned the fight. In other cases attempts by Islam to advance without first securing the hinterlands were repulsed, for example at Vienna.

Given that the enemy has defeated and removed from the field of battle their real foe, the United States, the Siege of Baghdad is just a tactical exercise that strategically resembles earlier triumphs. The real battle was fought in America and won when Obama entered the White House.

Under the model in the preceding paragraph the Siege of Baghdad resembles the sieges of Phnom Penh and Saigon. They are strategically conflated despite their tactical differences in how the doomed metropolis resists.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (71)
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Thank you, Richard, and also Bill Roggio, for your long work in this area. Did not realize you had collaborated with USA explaining military strategy and the need for Iraqi poltical reform from old UN led ideas.

Your comment about lost institutional memory and leadership applies to Maliki's regime, presumably. Clearly the current US poltical leadership has lost whatever trust, if any they had. Hard to imagine HRC, JfNK, Jarret, or any of the ChicagoThugz having much to do with anything, in another year, except collecting speaking fees, and awards from fringe groups.

My question is, what, where, and how will the institutional memory from USMIL proven talent be tapped? It will be needed. Keep up the good work.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment


Barack Hussein Obama is indeed a nuanced man, so nuanced it is difficult to see where the nuance ends and the man begins. Like Horus the falcon god, he soars over the mountains, his intellect stretching before him to the breathless stars.

He sees with focused blinkers
He dines with his own kind
The artists and the thinkers
To sharpen up his mind
His intellect is fright’ning
He’s smartest in the room
So quick his mind, like lightning
Whose flashes light the gloom
The man’s a ceaseless wonder
A man to give us joy
With ringing words like thunder
Our own nuancey boy
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Spudnik: "I try to reserve judgment as to motive but have a hard time resisting the impression that it's [Soetero Administration] deliberately trying to send the Middle East into a death spiral."

And the consequence of that death spiral would be the loss of a major part of global oil exports. Since there is a global market in oil, prices would go up for everyone. There would be a lot of collateral damage (ie people dying), and a probable population crash as higher energy prices reduced the food supply.

If one happened to be the kind of Leftist idiot who believes in the religious scam of Anthropogenic Global Warming, one might not see that as a bad outcome. If one were a nihilistic anti-human Marxist, one might agree. And if one were simply a President who hated his country and his countrymen, causing chaos in the Middle East might seem like a masterstroke.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...and many other things" -- such as cabbages and kings.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"But perhaps the administration has confused the trappings of competence with its essence, like a writer who thinks buying a beret and moving into a Paris garret will make him a Hemingway."

President Cargo Cult. It's Cargo Cults all the way down.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
White House "bungling" now seems likely to be leading to ISIS control of Baghdad and Iran acquiring nukes. And what will Iran do if Baghdad and most of Iraq come under the control of Sunni head choppers?

Prince Obama: Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1979...

There are a lot of issues that come with unknowns and people make their best guesses. As I look at the natural or likely outcome of administration actions, I try to reserve judgment as to motive but have a hard time resisting the impression that it's deliberately trying to send the Middle East into a death spiral.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Regarding the PJM Gremlins:

I'm happy to report that for 3 days in a row, Chrome has been fast and stable on this site w/o gorging memory!
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Welcome aboard, Doug. Say hello to Fort Meade.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"But there is a great deal of information embedded in the world of ISIS..."

Evidently knowledge is the hobgoblin of small imaginations...
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
We've ‘Substantially Improved the Tranquility of the Global Community’
:-) Good thing Josh is so Earnest.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Earnest since Straightface was unavailable.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tcobb: It is beyond their comprehension that it is the patterns of behavior that allow people to live a middle class existence and other dysfunctional behaviors that lead to a lives of crime and poverty.

What might lead to this desired chemical reaction whereby free floating atoms or molecules introduced into a pool of homogenous chemicals might react and adopt similar behaviors from the dominant pool?

Tcobb: Fix the surface. What's underneath doesn't count.

This thought repeatedly occurs to me at this point in my life. Consider the metaphor you have to employ to make your distinction, surface/what's underneath. Or, the chemical bath. Intellectuals, being proud of science, point to surface phenomena to justify policy, you might even call it pretext, having no deeper understanding. This arrogance results in repeated, disastrous consequences.

To me it ultimately goes to an understanding and faith in the spirit. Our intelligensia only countenance externals. St. Augustine offered that in the pursuit of finding God, turn within and ascend from the lower faculties to the higher. He said our created intellects/light participate in a divine light. What he struggled to understand was that our God was immaterial. No matter how he tried he always imagined the divine light as something extremely fine yet material. Applied to cognition, Fr. Bernard Lonergan called this error imagining understanding as 'taking a really good look at'. As if this interior process did not involve an agent playing with and combining data, testing hypotheses, but were automatic. In effect, our intelligensia leave the 'you' out of your understanding. Because you cannot literally point to the thing in itself, you must refer to habit, how it is expressed in the brain over time (e.g. positing a gay brain), sociological behaviors, genetic causes, all without an agent, that which God alone wishes to address, where a small still voice can commune with conscience, with 'you'. Lonergan's understanding allows us to take seriously the human person as immaterial spirit/incarnate (my words), i.e. I have a soul.

As simple as that, and yet at one time requiring a huge effort to understand, and also today as difficult to accept as that. In the end I consider the attempts to cow a Christian informed culture as an attempt to steal my soul. And if that is the battlefield on which we fight, it also is sobering to consider that lucifer would not have rebelled unless he thought he had a good chance to win.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The Preschool to Prison Pipeline"

Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, and Asians: That's the ranking of school suspensions by race.

Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, and Asians: That's the ranking of fatherless homes by race.

Ask John Deasy, Phd, Superintendent of LA School District about causes:

"I think this is a reflection of the growth we have yet to do in this country around these issues."

Thanks, John!
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
More Distortion from the Ed Department on Racial Discipline Disparities

The refusal to take student behavior and family breakdown into account in interpreting student discipline rates means that more millions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted suing hapless school districts for phantom racism and sending teachers and administrators back to anti-racism training.
The advocacy and anti-bias training complex cleans up, while the root cause of student misbehavior still goes unaddressed.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
bca said: This may sound horrific, but the fall of Baghdad to ISIS may not necessarily hurt the long term interests of the United States of America.

Let us try to clarify that - even if it *does* hurt the long-term interests of the US to let ISIS take Baghdad, it may be worth it to teach a few lessons. Because, unfortunately, it is never a good idea to let a stronger foe eat up your lesser foes.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Or as the Russians say, "Never call the wolves to help you fight the dogs."
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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