Middle East Update – ISIS downfall in Iraq and Syria, Iranian influence grows, Kurds lose out, easy victory for Baghdad, Raqqa cleared of ISIS (almost), Iraqi elections coming soon, and more.
Hawija Offensive. The last urban stronghold of the Islamic State held in Iraq was taken earlier in October by the Iraqi government security forces (with some help from Shia militias). ISIS still maintains control of areas along the Iraq-Syrian border. Derek Henry Flood provides a detailed account of the liberation of Hawija in The Hawija Offensive: A Liberation Exposes Faultlines, CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center, West Point, October 18, 2017.
Khanaqin Turned over to GoI Troops. Hashd fighters have turned over the town to Government of Iraq troops after the Iraqi leader told them to withdraw. Khanaquin is on the fault between Arab and Kurd population; south of Sulaymaniyah and northeast of Baghdad.
Kurdish Fragmentation. Once again, the Kurds are their own worst enemy. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) did not have a united front on the withdrawal of Kurdish troops from disputed territories occupied after June 2014 after the Iraqi army fled in the face of an ISIS advance. Moreover, it appears that Iranian influence with the PUK paved the way for federal troops to move into the disputed territories without a fight. The loss of Kirkuk has a lot to do with the KDP / PUK rivalry. See “Intra-Kurdish Division and Abadi’s Options”, Atlantic Council, October 17, 2017.
Opportunity for U.S. in Iraq? Douglas Ollivant, an observer of all things Middle East, provides his thoughts on how the United States can play a positive role in the future of Iraq (he is optimistic) and provides his perspective on the Kurdish issue. Read “America’s Opportunity in Iraq is Ready to be Seized”, War on the Rocks, October 18, 2017.
Raqqa Cleared of ISIS. A Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) said on October 18th that 98% of Raqqa, Syria had been cleared of ISIS fighters by the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF). There still were small pockets of resistance east of the stadium – the SDF is checking buildings and tunnels for any last ISIS holdouts.
U.S. Messaging on Kirkuk. The United States military and diplomatic corps is heavily using social media and press bulletins to stress the importance of continuing the ISIS fight. While the destruction of the remaining elements of ISIS (it will revert back to an insurgent group) is important to the U.S.; other events in Iraq will be more important – the upcoming Iraq election, Iranian influence, status of the PMF, resolution of Kirkuk area, Shai – Sunni tension, and more. Comments on Kirkuk? Not so much.
Kirkuk – Emma Sky Wieghs In. A long-term observer (and participant) in Middle East affairs provides her perspective on the recent developments in Kirkuk. She sees a steady rise in Iran’s influence. Apparently Iran helped to broker a deal with the Kurds (PUK) to allow Iraqi government troops into Kirkuk city and the adjacent oil fields. Read “America Has Become Dispensable in Iraq”, The Atlantic, October 18, 2017.