Friday, February 20, 2015

Special Report: For Islamic State, wheat season sows seeds of discontent - Reuters

... Farmers, and Iraqi and United Nations' officials, now fear a drastically reduced crop this spring. That could leave hundreds of thousands of Iraqis hungry. But another big loser would be Islamic State, which controls territory that normally produces as much as 40 percent of Iraq's wheat crop.
The breakaway al Qaeda group, which declared an Islamic caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq last summer, has killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Islamic State militants had hoped to use wheat to show it can govern better than the Arab governments it condemns as infidels. They have published pamphlets with photos of golden fields and fighters distributing food.
A bad crop might not cost the group control of territory, but it would seriously dent its campaign to be seen as an alternative government, and hurt its credibility among some fellow Sunnis.
Iraqi farmers have long complained of Baghdad's neglect and mismanagement of agriculture. International sanctions and the U.S. invasion further hurt the sector. But many farmers say this planting season marks an all-time low.
Across the border in Syria, where Islamic State has controlled the city of Raqqa since May 2013, wheat production last year was down almost 70 percent from the level before the civil war, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)....

-bth: no matter how you cut it it would seem that wheat production in the ISIS region is not going to be good.  Furthermore I have been researching gasoline supplies in Iraq and surprisingly there are no articles on the topic in the last month.  There was every indication that that there would be refined gasoline shortages in 2015 in Iraq and the need to import from Iran which is already short.  So very odd that it is not being reported.  I wonder what local price trends are which would be a good indicator of food and fuel availability.

The Iraq conflict is becoming a tale of two regions - CNN

... At the same time, ISIS is making a major effort to resupply and reinforce its presence in Mosul. From a ridge overlooking the town of Sinjar, we witnessed a constant stream of trucks and tankers traveling between the Syrian border and the Mosul area at high speed, as coalition drones and F-16s flew overhead.
Barzani believes ISIS is redeploying fighters from Syria to this part of Iraq. The Kurds' progress means militants have had to take a circuitous route, but there is no sign that ISIS is ready to abandon Mosul -- a symbolic and strategic prize.
ISIS draws on the victories of Nur al-Din al-Zanki against the Crusaders 900 years ago and his slaughter of Christians throughout what is now Syria. Al-Zanki united Aleppo and Mosul under his rule, and built a mosque in his name in Mosul. It was at that same mosque, on the first Friday of Ramadan last year, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took to the pulpit to declare his caliphate.
Inside the city, however, the situation is dire, according to accounts of the few residents who have been able to leave, messages from inside the city, and Kurdish officials. Water and electricity are in short supply, the price of basics has rocketed, and ISIS' rule has become more draconian. Suspected "collaborators" are being summarily executed, among them former police and military officers. ISIS has been building up its defenses around the city with trenches and berms, and has destroyed at least one main bridge.
Barzani told CNN that in areas the Kurds had taken, people were "literally starving ... in extremely bad condition."... 

-bth: main article worth reading in full. So as the article says in one position blocking a major highway ISIL sent 20 vehicle borne suicide bombers over 2 days but were unable to break the position. This is both a realistic supply problem for ISIL to hold Mosul and keep it connected to Raqqa but it is also a symbolic issue for al-Baghdadi and the caliphate.

ISIS DIgs In Fight to the Death for Mosul - Couterpunch - Cockburn

... Despite Mr Abadi’s declaration that the Iraqi army will recapture Mosul this year, such an assault appears to be well beyond the strength of the Baghdad government, if it relies on its own regular army. This is now said to number 12 brigades with a nominal strength of 48,000 that might be made battle-worthy when aided by US advisers.
But this is barely enough to defend Baghdad and fight in some neighbouring provinces, while the disintegration of the Iraqi army last year as it abandoned northern and western Iraq is not a hopeful portent.... 

-bth: The Iraqi government might talk all it wants, but the fact is it does not have enough troops to retake Mosul anytime soon.

Islamic State ‘caliphate’ in danger of losing its main supply route - WaPo

...The loss of the highway between Mosul and Raqqa would be not just a logistical defeat for Islamic State but a psychological one, analysts say.
“The integrity of the caliphate — it’s built on continuous military victory,” said Jessica Lewis McFate, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
The “caliphate” could lose legitimacy in the eyes of its supporters if it is unable to defend the land it has taken, she said.
Without their vital supply line, Islamic State operatives would be vulnerable in Mosul, which is increasingly isolated as Kurdish forces close in. They would also have to use alternative supply routes to Raqqa that meander through the harsh desert or expose them to dangers such as airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition or confrontations with Iraqi security forces, analysts say.
If Islamic State convoys can no longer follow the main highway to Raqqa, which crosses the border at the al-Hasakah district in Syria, they could be forced to travel to the next-closest crossing they control, located at al-Qaim, 260 miles away.
But coalition warplanes have been raiding the al-Qaim area.
The corridor from Mosul into Syria isn’t the only Islamic State supply line that is under pressure. In Iraq, a separate route linking the western town of Haditha with the oil-producing town of Baiji and continuing north to Mosul could now also prove dangerous for the group as Iraqi security forces make gains in these areas.
If the fighters in Mosul can’t stay connected to Islamic State territory in Syria, “they will lose their claim that they have a state,” Hashemi said....

-bth: it seems easier and more practical to cut the supply lines to Mosul than try to take the city outright.The WaPo article which is the original source is certainly worth reading in full.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do - Brookings Institute


• The White House and Congress should commit serious funds to upgrade Ukraine’s defense capabilities, specifically providing $1 billion in military assistance this year, followed by an additional $1 billion each in the next two fiscal years;
• The U.S. government should alter its policy and begin providing lethal assistance to Ukraine’s military and;
• The U.S. government should approach other NATO countries about also providing military assistance to Ukraine.

The focus of this assistance should be on enhancing Ukraine’s defensive capabilities, including by providing counter-battery radars to pinpoint the origin of long-range rocket and artillery strikes, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic counter-measures for use against opposing UAVs, secure communications capabilities, armored Humvees and medical support equipment. In addition, it should include lethal defensive capabilities, especially light anti-armor missiles.
The report’s authors collectively urge the Obama administration and NATO member governments to move rapidly and implement the aforementioned recommendations. They write,“President Putin may hope to achieve glory through restoring, through intimidation and force, Russian dominion over its neighbors. But a peaceful world requires opposing this through decisive action.”...

-bth: the original source has a link to the full report in pdf form.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The men who smuggle the loot that funds IS - BBC

The trade in antiquities is one of Islamic State's main sources of funding, along with oil and kidnapping. For this reason the UN Security Council last week banned all trade in artefacts from Syria, accusing IS militants of looting cultural heritage to strengthen its ability "to organise and carry out terrorist attacks".
The BBC has been investigating the trade, and the routes from Syria through Turkey and Lebanon to Europe.
The Smuggler It has taken many calls and a lot of coaxing to get a man we are calling "Mohammed" to meet us. He is originally from Damascus but now plies his trade in the Bekaa valley on the border between Syria and Lebanon. He's 21 but looks much younger in his T-shirt, skinny jeans and black suede shoes. As we sit in an apartment in central Beirut I have to lean forward to hear the softly spoken young man describe how he began smuggling looted antiquities from Syria. "There's three friends in Aleppo we deal with, these people move from Aleppo all the way to the border here and pay a taxi driver to sneak it in." He specialised in smaller items which would be easier to move on - but he says even that has become too risky. "We tried our best to get the items which had most value, earrings, rings, small statues, stone heads," he says....

-bth: this is a very interesting article worth reading in full.  So if items that predate Islam, are Christian or have human representations are destroy IS, what is the point of leaving them in IS territory?  They either go on the black market or they are destroyed for all time.

Illiquidity could derail Iraq's oil export deal with Kurdistan - Reuters

(Reuters) - A deal aimed at resolving a dispute between Baghdad and Kurdish regional authorities over crude oil exports looked fragile on Monday with the semi-autonomous region's prime minister threatening to withhold exports.
Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to a temporary oil export agreement reached in December, but Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani cautioned Baghdad against breaking its side of the bargain.
"If they don't send the budget, we won't send oil," he said in comments published by Rudaw online newspaper.
A temporary agreement was reached in December whereby the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) agreed to export 550,000 barrels per day of oil from its own fields and Kirkuk through Iraq's state marketing authority SOMO.
In return, Baghdad would reinstate budget payments to the Kurds, which it had cut early in 2014 as punishment for the region's moves to export oil independently.
Barzani said Baghdad had only offered to send $300 million in Sunday's talks, "less than half of what we agreed on earlier"....

-bth: what isn't clear to me is whether the Iraqi government is indeed financially damaged or if it is just squeezing the Kurds.  In any event it simply is undermining the prospect of an Iraqi government that can manage more than the southern Shia rump state.

Regional alliances take on ISIS in Libya

"Italy is ready to lead a multilateral effort to tackle the growing threat from jihadists in Libya and prevent “a caliphate” forming across the sea from Europe’s shores, the Italian defence minister has said.
Last month, ISIS claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on the Corinthia hotel in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, and yesterday the group released a video purportedly depicting the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, filmed on the shores of the Mediterranean sea. In the video, the militants talk of conquering Rome and point out to sea towards the Italian coast. The eastern Libyan town of Derna which is under the terror group’s control, is approximately 520 miles from the southern tip of Italy...."

bth: it looks like Italy and Egypt are going to team up to fight ISIS in Libya. If these two countries can maintain a level of cooperation, it could be an effective fighting force that would also gain support from secular or at least non-extremist Libyans trapped in conflict.   This approach, of regional alliances may be an indication of things to come.  For example Jordan and the UAE are teaming up to address ISIS in specific areas of Syria and Iraq.