My TV Interview with Al Jazeera

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On Nov 25 2016, Al Jazeera Channel (Arabic) aired an investigative story or documentary entitled (The Soldiers), which highlights the kind of training the enlisted soldiers of the Egyptian army receive. The film puts together testimonies of several Egyptian enlisted  soldiers in addition to my comments. I’m the only foreign personality that Al Jazeera used to give credibility to the testimonies of the Egyptian soldiers.

I just have a few points to make on this video and Al Jazeera. First of all  the interview was based on my article written in 1999 but updated by my continuous study of Arab armies and communicating with U.S. military personnel who are still working on the ground with  them. I can safely attest very little has changed because the culture has not changed very much. In some cases  the military  culture has changed for the worse. One of the main reasons for this is the so called “Islamic revival” which has added another divisive factor to the equation. The original article and the video update are based entirely on my own observations on the ground and those of fellow officers and NCO’s who have been working them. It is not an academic  presentation.

Secondly as one can see reading the original article, it was not exclusively focused on the Egyptian army but also the Syrian, Iraqi, and to a lesser extent the Jordanian. The al Jazeera video focused almost entirely on the abominable treatment of ordinary soldiers in the Egyptian army. In fact the Arab soldier in the Iraqi and Syrian army is treated equally poorly,  although it is necessary to point to improvement in the Iraqi army as  illustrated  by the fact that there are no summary executions for political  reasons as they were under Saddam.

Thirdly the Al Jazzera investigative documentary focused  on the maltreatment of soldiers in the Egyptian army which is only one many factors I surfaced in the article, published by Middle East Forum. This maltreatment is simply not found in Western armies. There are many factors which inhibit the Arab military effectiveness in conventional warfare.

I understand that Egyptians would view this al Jazeera video as an attack on Egyptian military in general. But that is exactly one of the major problems in improving the  effectiveness of their armies. They simply will not (or more likely afraid to) criticize their armies.   Whereas in the U.S. the military, their customs, leadership, even political orientation are routinely  taken to task in hundreds of articles every year,  even  by junior officers, nothing like that ever occurs in the Arab world. They are sacred cows, even when they fail miserably. Until they begin to criticize their own military culture, they will not improve.

For more information you can also watch here a video that I made to explain further about participation in “Al Asaker”, the Egyptian title which Jazeera chose for their documentary.

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Mosul :Update

All the news  about Mosul, at least in the US and UK seems to be on the positive side. The offensive spokesmen keeps repeating it is “on schedule” what ever that means since no one has ever stated exactly what the schedule is.

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Mosul. So far Iraqi forces are in the eastern portion

To be sure everyday there are reports of fleeing civilians expressing their joy at escaping the Islamist version of heaven on earth. There can be no doubt that there is little  happiness for the downtrodden citizens of Mosul, having existed through two years of the Islamist version of shagri -la, and now facing being caught in street battles between Iraqi and ISIS combatants. They face the virtual destruction of one of the most historic and formerly beautiful cities of the Middle East.  For sure ,by all accounts ,the most fierce battles are yet to come. The ISIS fighters within the city have orders from their  reclusive leader, al Baghdadi, to fight to the last man, reminding me of Hitler, safe in his bunker, ordering the 6th Army in Stalingrad,to fight to the last man. Moreover escape  routes  out of the city may be tenuous at best. Like trapped rats they have no alternative but to die fighting.

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The Caliph of a shrinking Caliphate

As a blogger on this subject I cannot claim to have any inside official or intelligence knowledge from  any government functionaries, nor do I enjoy close links with any think tank or well-known academic experts. I haven’t just returned from the front lines either  armed with fresh quotes from an Iraqi “Colonel Ahmad” or  some Islamist leader.

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Iraqi Military academy. Good armies need extensive education  for officers and especially Non Commissioned officers

But in a way that is a strength because I notice that the big Middle East bloggers write with an eye on a Washington Post, NYT or Foreign Policy article, or interview. In other words the political climate is always in their minds.   They always have to get a well turned phrase or comment from some leading academic or policy wonk.

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Usually found on the NPR/PBS short list or writing for Foreign Policy

So I have to admit that my expertise rests soley on my long experience and historical knowledge of the area, and a regionally acquired intuition in detecting  journalistic, governmental, or academic Bullshit. There is much of that flowing these days. Iraqis call it Khara. no translation needed

As a born skeptic when it comes to trends in the Middle East, I continue to question the optimism on the offensive against the ISIS. Iraqi leaders keep reporting they are in possession of 30%, 60%  etc. of Mosul. Some times the same districts are  reported captured several times. There are many pictures of newly freed districts of Mosul. All seems well. I have no reason to question except  intuition is getting in the way.

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Fleeing ISIS savagery

I try to follow every  possible open press  source on the war in Iraq and to a lesser extent, Syria as well. I also have Iraqi friends who keep me updated on Arabic social media. The one source I find most  helpful is the Institute for the Study of War. They are more reserved and cautious in their assessments.  The  senior British general  in Iraq just opined that Iraq would not be cleared of the ISIS until the last half of 2017. That sounds about right to  me.

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Anbar province

He did not  mean just Mosul but also  the vast Anbar province in the remote Syrian desert. Right now most of it is still owned by the  ISIS, with Iraqi  government control limited to the outskirts of the major Anbar cities. The general encouraged patience and understanding of the Iraqi strategy and tactics,  which he said are founded on a genuine desire to avoid horrendous civilian casualties. I don’t doubt that.

But here is the real question. Will the shaky international and factional coalition hold together long enough to get the job done? And can the war in Syria continue to be seen as a separate part of the overall war against ISIS?  How will the war in Syria impact on the Iraqi war? Will all the vastly different international and sectarian interests  remain united in the fight against the ISIS?

The Iraqi parliament just voted to recognize the PMU (An umbrella Shi’a militia organization)  as an official  arm of the government under the direct control of the Iraqi Prime Minister,. So in effect, Iraq now has the Iranian defense model. The Iranians have the regular army and the Pasdaran, the revolutionary Guard, who are the real power in Iran.  They have separate command channels..This is all part of the Iranian design to control Iraq in the future, after the ISIS is vanquished.  Many Iraqis believe that the PMU is stronger than the Iraqi army. They have a plentiful supply of heavy equipment gathered from Iran, the old South Lebanese Army destroyed by Hezbollah in 190o, and arms dealers.

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Ali Suliemani Iranian Che Guevarra

So why does this matter?

Is brings into sharper focus the  Shi’a -Sunni ongoing war by proxy. Inducing greater fear among the Gulf Arabs and other Sunnis in the Arab world of Iranian  imperialistic ambitions. The Gulfies will feed the sectarian wars with lots of cash and soldiers of fortune. Mosul, as the assault drags on, will become the  Sunni Alamo, with accolades beginning to be bestowed on the gallant Mosul defenders, 6000 against 100,000 enemies, withstanding not only the Majus (derogatory Sunni term for Shi’a)  but the U.S. and Iran, and Russia.

 

Meanwhile as the PMU ambles along doing very  little fighting in their slow movement toward Mosul, the Iraqi army’s best units  are being  chewed up and exhausted in the urban warfare in  Mosul. Should there be a show down between the Iraqi army , marginally supported by the United States, and the PMU, supported by Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, and probably Russia, there is little doubt as to the likely winner.

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Old Persian empire, Redux?

Despite their huge numbers, there are only a few well-trained units in the Iraqi army. In fact it seems it was  more a political decision benefiting both the US  administration and Iranian regime to launch the offensive before more units were ready.

Some years ago King Abdullah of Jordan spoke of the “Shi’a arc” and most saw it as scare mongering but today there seems to be coming to reality, Iran will establish a land bridge across Syria to Lebanon, and in a sense the Persian empire under  Xerxes will be reformed….from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.

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the Shi’a Arc as seen by the Sunnis

King Abdullah of Jordan

present King Abdullah, He first articulated the Shi’a arc

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Iraqi soldiers. Not a particularly effective way to lay down covering fire and conserve ammunition

Maybe none of this matters as the United States has largely retreated from a leading place in the Middle East, and with the American public in no mood to become more deeply engaged in a  dysfunctional Islamic, Middle East world, maybe we will be content to let Putin take over the burden.   But somehow the wars will always come to us as it did in  Dec 1941 and 9/11.

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Russian propaganda but it makes a valid point 

 

 

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A New Attitude Toward the Middle East?

The stunning election upset in the U.S. will have all the prognosticators and political gurus  pontificating on what next for American Middle East policy. If one went by the off the cuff top of the head, and sometimes  ill-considered remarks by president -elect Trump the changes could be  seismic  and  revolutionary, but the reality is less dramatic. Policy differences will be less than expected and most likely they will be atmospheric rather than dramatic,  however, these will be important. He will represent the viewpoint of middle America, which is that foreign affairs are  of low priority, and the Middle East. a region to be avoided if at all possible. One of the major hindrances  to  more dramatic changes in our Middle East policies will be the  limited options open to Trump, partially as a result of trends in world political dynamics,  and partially because of the grave mistakes of the Obama administration.

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One of the first changes, mostly in attitude, will be the  removal of  the”third worldism” of the Obama administration. Third worldism is an outdated political ideology of the 60’s that put emphasis and importance on the so called underdeveloped countries, gradually evolving into a Western elitist trashing of Western civilization, The proclivity of the Obama administration to apologize for American “sins” while  a exhibiting a reluctance  to to preach “American exceptionalism”  were just two examples of that tendency.

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“HO ho ho, Western Civ has to go.” Elitist student refrain of the 60’s and 70’s and perhaps now.

It was indicative and spoke volumes on the mind set of the Obama presidency toward the West and the Islamic world. He was under the tragic and ultimately disastrous  belief that his empathetic verbal talents would put him in sync with an outdated  relic of the  60’s anti colonialist, anti-imperialistic Islamic world. It was  fundamentally a result of his upbringing and life long association with Western elitists,  and  Leftist agitators.  But he had very little knowledge of the Middle East, or its people. He was of the opinion that symbolic actions, the right  sonorous words, and lofty expressions, would bring about a reset of Islamic-American relations. Nothing could have been more wrong. The Middle Easterners are by nature a cynical and skeptical people, made that way by their history of perfidious and brutal leaders, and a toxic political and societal environment.  It is true, as one Arab historian noted, that Arabs tend to be swayed  more by words than actions, but that is not a permanent condition. They, like all peoples, ultimately want concrete results. And in this their initial enthusiasm for Obama  turned to bitter disappointment.

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Obama in his triumphal visit to Cairo 2008

One of the most important differences  from the Obama administration will be a  more  jaundiced view of the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Islam. There is little doubt that the Obama administration, for a number of reasons, viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as the wave of the future in the Arab world. This was seen in Egypt and the coddling of the al Morsi regime, made more obvious by the actions of Secretary Clinton when she visited  Egypt.  Obama’s initial and residual love affair with Erdogan of Turkey, seeing him as the model for modern Islam is another example of the Administration’s benign view of the Muslim Brotherhood ( or doctrinal sympathies).  In both cases the Obama vision was fatally flawed.  The Egyptian people, despite their very conservative Islamic beliefs rejected the Brotherhood view of society, and Erdogan evolved into a latter day Ottoman Sultan with pretensions of re-establishing the Ottoman empire. Then , of course, the crowning  “achievement” of the Obama administration was the Iranian nuclear “deal.” Intended to curb Iranian nuclear war making potential. In reality it was part of Obama’s grand strategy promoting  Iran as  the hope of a new Middle East, the Arabs having proven themselves  incapable of that leadership.

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al Morsi and Erdogan Pals.

But reality once again intruded. Iran has increasingly rebuffed the hand of friendship, humiliating Obama and Secretary Kerry again and again. Only in the minds of the amateurish policy makers  of the National Security Council and the  State Department would an olive branch and concessions to Iran bring any benefit to the United States. What  Obama saw as a “re-set”  was simply seen as weakness by the Iranians, who only became more aggressive and hostile. It also set off an increasing and escalating war of words between Saudi Arabia and Iran,  and more dangerously, a war by proxy, between the Gulf Arabs and Iran. and on a greater scale, added fuel to the fire of the on-going  Shi’a  -Sunni war in various places of the Middle East. Some, of course, would say it is simplistic to point to the Shi’a -Sunni confrontation as the cause of the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, but there is no getting away from the fact that the sectarian factor looms large. From social media, for instance, the Gulf Arabs see the Iraqi attack on Mosul as a Shi’a attempt to eradicate the Sunni presence in Iraq, and similarly, the Assad offensive on the “rebels” to subdue the majority Sunni population of  Syria. As the wars in Syria and Iraq drag on this  will become more heated and dangerous, even to the West. Just as the Kurdish- Arab conflict has taken place in Europe so will the Sunni-Shi’a violence. The Jihadist offensive is unlikely to diminish appreciably over the next few years, whatever happens in Mosul.

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Iran the new hegemon

On Iran, Trump’s pronouncements to the effect that he  will undo the Iranian “deal” will not be necessary, in that the Iranians themselves will end it. It is based on a continuing flow of largess and favors of the West and the U.S., not just those which have been previously provided.  In other words it should be viewed as an international blackmail scheme in which the victim, after assurances that a one time payment will be enough finds he will be paying forever. Once these end, as Trump as indicated he will do,the Iranians will abrogate the “Treaty” unilaterally.

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Despite the peripatetic travels of Secretary Kerry to bring peace to the Palestinian cancer, he, like all before him, failed completely. The only new   attribute was the rather obvious distaste exhibited by Obama and many on his team for the state of Israel, and especially the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, . The occasional pronouncements of permanent  friendship with Israel enunciated by the Obama regime, for domestic political political reasons,  did not obscure their general aversion to Israel.

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A problem?

The Jihadi phenomena was never  quite understood by the Obama administration, and exacerbated by its excessive forbearance for Islamist provocations. Obama concentrated on the Islamic State,  seeing its destruction as the virtual end of the Jihadi movement. The Jihadi/ Islamist movement is a world wide phenomena, not confined to just Iraq and Syria, nor to just the Islamic world, as the  massive refugee wave into Europe has brought the problem there as well.

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Muslim Brotherhood and ideological allies

Probably the greatest difference  will be the Trump administration’s attitude to domestic Islamist and fundamentalist organizations. Organizations such as the Council for American- Islamic  Relations ( C.A.I. R)  will no longer will seen as the source of supplying candidates for jobs in the government.  Certainly the frequent visits to the White House of questionable Muslim leaders will be ended. In terms of U.S. information and propaganda efforts the prohibition against the term “Islamic terrorism ” will end. It is imperative that Trump ramp up the ideological propaganda/informational war against the Jihadi movement, and that includes the “shirt and tie” version of the Jihadi  movement, as typified by the Muslim Brotherhood. This should not be confused with any sort of “crusade” against Muslims or Islam. At present a good deal of this contrived hype is being orchestrated by the organizations depicted above in conjunction with far leftist agitators…. one of the ironies of our era…the symbiosis of far left and Islamist movements.

Hopefully, and I do hope, because I am not sure, that the  Trump administrations will recognize efforts of the many Muslims to reform or moderate the supremacist views of the fundamentalists, an effort desperately needed to provide an alternate view to the Islamic population, particularly the venom of hate being voiced by too many Imams from too many Mosques.. Wahhabi Imams and Saudi money flowing into the Islamic community has to be be monitored more carefully and curtailed..

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In Iraq and Syria,  there are contradictions. His  distaste for “foreign wars” will be put to the test. His military  and Middle East  advisors will strongly recommend a continuation of the operations against the ISIS. However sending troops to new outbreaks of wars in the Middle East, will be problematic for the Trump team.  In order to continue to fight in Afghanistan and the Levant, and possibly North Africa, he will have to make the case to the American people. He will, however, build up the military from the threatening abyss it now faces in equipment and numbers. This too will put a strain of promises of tax cuts and no cuts in current government  health and social programs

Overall the Obama  pretensions of setting a new relationship with the Islamic and Arab world  was a failure and left the region far worse off than  before. His benevolent view of the Islamic supremacists, ignorance of Middle Eastern culture, and  incompetence of his advisors, particularly the “aspiring novelist,” Ben Rhodes.
all contributed to his grievous mistakes. and limiting the options of his successor.  We will have to wait and see how he handles these massive problems in addition to those which the American people demands on the domestic front.

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What is Happening in Jordan?

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Myself shaking hands with King Hussein of Jordan in 1970

Three American soldiers were killed in Jordan Friday,  according to one source by trigger happy Jordanian guards at an airforce base ( Jafr) as they were about to enter. The story is that  they failed to halt as ordered. This is very fishy indeed. Was this  first time these soldiers had entered the gate? They did not know the procedure? Something does not pass the smell test. Has the vaunted Jordanian army lost its discipline?

Well, yes it has compared to the earlier years but to this degree, I doubt it. So was it Islamist sympathizers among the army troops? An American contractor was killed not too long ago by a Jordanian soldier. Very possible! In fact probable,  but there are many enemies of the U.S. in Jordan despite the close relationship of the officials of the U.S. and Jordan.

In addition to the Islamists of ISIS, Al Qaeda and various affiliates, there are the radical Palestinian organizations left over from an earlier era. This may include lone wolf attacks by individual Palestinians brought up on a legacy of hate toward the United States and Israel. Or it could be Iraqi Ba’athist thugs, many of whom fled to Jordan following the American liberation of Iraq. This included the female members of the Saddam family who, with vast amounts of money looted from the Iraqi treasury provided funding to Saddamist groups fighting the Americans.

Some History

I arrived in Jordan in the summer of 1970 to replace the murdered assistant military attache, who was shot down in front of his family by Palestinian thugs. I got an early taste of the events to follow when I arrived at the airport and had to go through the official Jordanian customs and one set up by the Palestinian Liberation organization (PLO).

There were in fact two governments existing in Jordan. More critically there were two military organizations: the PLO with about 12 different groups, and the Jordanian Arab Army (JAA).

Fatah  with Yasir Arafat at the top was the largest and most powerful of the Palestinian organizations within the PLO. Obviously something had to give and in September 1970  (Black Septemeber) it did. The JAA Bedouin  soldiers and officers, fed up with the arrogance of the Palestinian rebel groups,  pushed King Hussein into action. I have written about this  war elsewhere so moving on to the relevant points today.

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First of all the bitterness of the JAA PLO confrontation blossomed into a Palestinian-Jordanian civil war with similarities to the Shi’a-Sunni civil war in Iraq, except it was not sectarian but nationalistic.

Jordan’s population consists of East bank Jordanians and West bank Palestinians. The east bank -west bank distinction is important because many Jordanian citizens are of Palestinian origins and maintain that identity. The divide between the communities, despite  a lot of  government propaganda  to cover up the 1970 war as the “era of regrettable events”, the scars remain deep. During the war Palestinian soldiers deserted en masse  from the JAA, including one division commander.

 

As a result to this day, Palestinians are carefully vetted before they are allowed to serve in combat units. In fact it is largely true  that Palestinians are excluded from combat units and serve mostly in combat service support units, such as logistics and medical organizations. The east bank-west bank population is about 50-50.

Some later estimates have the Palestinians as more numerous. The Palestinians are viewed by the Jordanian military and tribal leaders as a Trojan horse in Jordan. They are not trusted. As might be expected the Islamists have found fertile grounds for recruiting among the Palestinian community.

People such as al Zarkawi, the leader of al Qaeda Iraq, was a Palestinian from Jordan. The influx of Ba’athists from Iraq provided more power to the Islamist movement As has been duly noted, the Ba’athists ,supposedly  advocating a secular ideology had no trouble blending with the “religious” Islamists. In fact they are primarily Sunni supremacists.

A word here about Palestinians in the Arab world. Everywhere in the Arab and Islamic world, the Palestinian cause is lionized, but nowhere in the Arab world were Palestinians accepted by the other Arabs. In Lebanon, in Kuwait, in Jordan, they were seen as troublemakers (with good reason).

In Iraq the Palestinians brought in by the Saddam regime were driven out but by the Shi’a ( Palestinians are Sunni). In Jordan the bad blood was not simply a result of the 1970 war. In existed from the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 from what is now Israel.

The irony of this is that Jordan is the only Arab county which has freel allowed Palestinians to acquire their citizenship.  A few Palestinians in other Arab countries have been able to acquire citizenship through bribery and family connections. The other irony is that the Palestinian enmity toward U.S. policy, the American taxpayer is the largest  contributor to UN Works and Relief  Agency For Palestine Refugees in the Middle East, (UNRWA). Most Arab nations contributed nothing.

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Another point that has impact of the present situation is the fact that King Abdullah is not as shrewd as his father and upon ascension to the throne retired many of King Hussein’s  generals and advisors.

His marriage to a winsome Palestinian lady  (born in Kuwait) undoubtedly had some political ramifications but she has not endeared herself to the east or west bankers with her extravagant life style, something similar to Asma al Assad in Syria. In the West she is pictured in a different light as her social advocacy work and social media keeps her Western image shiny.

Moreover, King Abdullah II is the son of King Hussein and  British wife Muna. King Abdullah II was chosen by Hussein at the last moment to be his successor over the previous heir apparent Prince Hassan, Hussein’s brother.  There were a number of reasons for the change but chief among them was Hassan’s enmity toward the PlO and  the Palestinian presence in Jordan. He was also sen as a sterner  Muslim.  The d change was messy and though Hassan accepted it, many did not. Many also preferred  Hamza the son of King Hussein and this fourth wife Noor to the next in line. Noor, although she was as American as apple pie, was from a Syrian father and in the Arab folklore,  that made her a more pure Arab, thus more acceptable than Abdullah.

Overall this indicates the tensions which continue to exist within the royal family, excluded from public view. But it is far from a united front.

 

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Finally the impact of continuing economic problems have not gone over well with west or east bankers,  with even Bedouin  people of the south of Jordan protesting the poor economic conditions and lack of opportunity.  Particularly in the urban areas, like Amman, East bank youth have, to some degree, also become more amenable to the blandishments of radical Islamism.

The Jordanian government which as more of less less free elections has managed to maintain a friendly parliament by manipulating elections in a way to pit Tribalism against Islamism. Despite the rising power of the Islamists, the tribal influence has so far held sway. For how long is anyone’s guess.

It has long been said that Jordan “is an army with a flag”, succinctly depicting Jordan as a state held together primarily by an army. Should that army and the ubiquitous security apparatus tend to erode in loyalty or effectiveness, Jordan will slide into the unstable list which describes most Arab states today.

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King Abdullah II with his troops

 

At this point there is little doubt that it was Islamist terrorism. The reluctance to name it is only one more indication of the way leftist domestic politics  drives our defense policies.

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The Mosul Offensive

As the Iraqis and their allies ( Iranians, Americans etc) continue the offensive to recapture Mosul there are some points that stand out.

The Iraqi army is doing better than I (and many others) expected. Most of the fighting has been done by a few Iraqi army units, particularly the “Golden” Division, the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, (ISOF) which has been trained and equipped by the United Sates army. They are enthusiastic and good soldiers and have taken the bulk of the casualties. The vast majority of the Iraqi army remains only marginally effective at best, but it does not matter because  of the overwhelming materiel and numbers advantage of the anti ISIS forces. Well supported by U.S. and Iraqi air assets and with ample armor and artillery, the Iraqis and allied forces have  huge advantages over the ISIS.

War in  ME Cities

  • Stone, cement composition of buildings
  • Walled in courtyards, with gardens
  • Narrow twisting streets and blind alleys
  • Haphazard growth, street addresses rare.
  • Inadequate municipal services or non-existent
  • Sewage, water supply, lacking. Water tanks on top of houses.

The ISIS strategy, if they have one, seems to simply fight for a while, and then retreat from strong point to point before being decimated. They do have one very important advantage. They are defending in a generally friendly urban area. While many ( if not most)of the Mosul residents have been turned off by the brutality of the ISIS the specter of vengeful Shi’a units reoccupying Mosul  is a very disquieting thought. Attacking in an urban area, especially in these old Middle Eastern cities, is one of the most difficult of all types of terrain in which to attack.  The narrow winding streets, and masonry and concrete structures, clustered buildings, etc. made rooting out the defenders a very costly and difficult task, usually house by house. The time it takes to liberate Mosul depends most of all on the ISIS will to fight. There is little doubt that the earlier zeal and confidence which characterized the ISIS fighter has evaporated. Many of the best fighters are dead, but on the other hand many of the less motivated have already fled.The numbers of ISIS have been put as low as 7000. How many will fight to the end is a question. No one knows and everyone guesses.My guess is that they will use an elastic defense, withdrawing after a fight at each sector and then withdrawing into an area that is densely populated, highly urbanized, where their numbers are less important and the use of Iraqi armor is highly restricted. I observed this in 1970  during the Jordanian Army assault on  Fedayeen  (PLO) positions in Amman in 1970. It was also exemplified by the problem the Israeli forces ran into  in Suez city in 1973. Tanks become a hapless target in narrow winding streets and prone to Infantry anti-tank weapons.

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Mosul

The use of artillery will ultimately destroy the city for  civilians but not necessarily  for combatants defense. It actually may make it harder for the attackers, but only if the defenders are disciplined professionals like the  German units in the battle of Casino in World War II.

Characteristics Middle East cities

  • Ethnic religious quarters, patrilocal families
  • Lack of civil society,or civic responsibility
  • Neighborhoods run by za’ims. (Godfathers)
  • Massive overcrowding.Arab view of privacy
  • Dense squatter settlements on outskirts
  • Each city has own history. Great rivalries among cities and between rural and urban people.

Some observers are forecasting that the ISIS will dissolve into small units and cells, decentralizing and continuing the war from underground cells, and  desert  sites, launching insurgent and terror attacks on civilians and isolated military units.  This is certainly a strong possibility. A recent RAND study recommends that analysis of the future ISIS strategy focus on the history of the Iraqi Al Qaeda, particularly since many of the leaders of ISIS are former Al Qaeda. Their history indicates that the AQI went underground in 2007 after the surge and managed to survive coming back rebranded as  the ISIS. They confirmed the  old Arab historian Ibn Khaldun’s axiom that  Arabs cannot accomplish anything without the use of Islam as the core structure. It is certainly true that the ISIS, despite its adoption of the strategy and tactics of Muhammed the Prophet, always had as its  core leadership   many Ba’athists and Arab nationalists, using Islam as a recruiting tool. Another point brought out by this RAND study is that Mosul is only a piece of the terrain that ISIS controls in Iraq. The recapture of Mosul does end ISIS presence in Iraq

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Mosul old and new

 

One certainty is that Iran will profit from the destruction of the ISIS stronghold more than anyone else. Certainly the U.S. will not gain much gratitude from there Iraqis. Despite the fact that  the US trained the ISOF and have supplied most of the air support, Iranian and anti American Shi’a media are minimizing US support. Unfortunately, as always, American information and propaganda efforts fall short, primarily because of the ponderous  Washington bureaucracy that stifles individual initiative and imaginative concepts.

IN had an interesting conversation with an Iraqi doctor just arriving for a visit from Baghdad. As a middle class Iraqi and a Shi’a I was interested in his thoughts. He opined that the Iranians are the major problem in Iraq. They will cause all sorts of problems once Mosul is secured. He believes the Shi’a militias backed  by Iran are “stronger than the army” and Iran will control Iraq after the Mosul operation.

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Shi’a militia join Mosul offensive

The capture of Mosul will be a great achievement for the Iraqis and should not be dismissed, or downgraded  in any way, but it is only the beginning of the next war. Turks, Kurds. Sunni Arabs, Arab Shi’a, Iranians…and of course the great powers, especially Russia, will have much to say about what happens next…… and stoke the fires of  sectarianism.

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Mosul….. and the Plan?

For weeks we have been reading that the Iraqis are about to begin the final assault on Mosul. which has been under ISIS control for almost two years. There is little doubt that the ISIS will be driven from Mosul eventually.  Obama, of course, is hoping that the retaking of Mosul happens before he leaves office. Many Iraqis are claiming that it will be done this winter. I am skeptical that will happen. There is also a division of opinion on whether or not the ISIS will fight for Mosul, choosing to exfiltrate into the desert and resorting to  guerrilla warfare and continuing to wage a world wide campaign of terror. Given the duplicity off Erdogan, Turkey may open the border to allow the ISIS and families to enter Turkey and on to Europe or other safe havens. This is a real possibility.

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I,  however,believe the ISIS will fight for Mosul and do so bitterly. To give it up would be to admit the whole idea of sacrifice and  the courage of the Islamist fighters would be in doubt. Moreover with the Russian supported  Syrian army advancing in Syria on Raqqa,  the existence of the Islamic State is in jeopardy. With the loss of Raqqa and Mosul, the Islamic State will appear to be an obvious mirage, even to the most fervent ISIS sympathizers.

It would seem, given the dwindling military power of the Islamic State, that a coordinated attack on both Raqqa and Mosul would be a no brainer, but that is a pipe dream, The Russian U.S. coordination required  will not happen. The Assad forces and Russians are on a roll and see no reason to  cooperate with a U.S. seen as a recessional power in the Middle East.

raqqa

Seemingly the ISIS is hopelessly outnumbered and  lacking the firepower and air support available to the  forces besieging Mosul, but a  closer look indicates that the anti ISIS forces are fatally divided and have very few common interests binding them together. On one side are the Kurds.  But  they are not united, still suffering from the age old Kurdish malady, their propensity for infighting, and having various factions manipulated by neighboring  and international powers. There is an alphabet soup of Kurdish factions, some led by warlords and with a number of disunited military forces. In some caes they cannot even communicate with one another. No neighboring  country wants an independent Kurdistan. The Turks, Iranians, Syrians, . and Iraqis,  all  oppose an independent Kurdistan. Turkey and Iran have demonstrated they will fight to avoid one. American and European policies are ambivalent and as usual, the Obama policy is opaque and pleases no one. The Shi’a Iraqi government, pushed by the Iranians, will not accept a fully independent Kurdistan.

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Kurdistan

The Iraqi army, supported primarily by the US and some European powers, creeping up from the south, is being rivaled by various Iraqi Shi’a militia forces. These militia forces are supported by Iran and want to make sure they have primary influence in what happens in Mosul. In particular they want to make sure Turkey or Sunni Arabs  do not control Mosul. The Iraqi army itself is not ready for a fight for Mosul if the ISIS chooses to resist. In the slow march up the Euphrates, the Iraqis have used mostly a few fairly well trained units and they have lost quite a few men. The bulk of the Iraqi army is not ready for urban warfare in Mosul. Pushing them into the battle too soon will  result in losses the weak Iraqi government cannot stomach. It will also result in the Iranians pushing the Shi’a militias into the fight..an event which will result in more determined resistance Sunni defenders of Mosul, as well a massive  civilian refugee  exodus, fearing Shi’a retaliation for years of Sunni depredations on the Shi’a population.

In fact the massive expected civilian refugee problem has barely been addressed and very little  if any planning has been accomplished to handle the problem. Nor has the critical issue of who controls what after the reconquest of Mosul takes place, been resolved. For sure the Kurds are not going to shed their blood to take Mosul. only to hand it over to the Iraqi government.  Nor will Turkey back away from their little cousins in Iraq, the  Turkoman, using them as an excuse to maintain their presence in Iraq to fight the PKK Kurds.

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In fact the whole point of planning for the ouster of the Islamic State and the aftermath can be viewed in a  cultural light;  the propensity of the Arabs to short shrift planning and expect that all will fall into place. An  all- important aspect of Arab military traditionalism in coalition warfare  is the problem of planning. The future belongs to God. The attitude toward detailed planning and “saving up for a rainy day” is often seen as challenging God’s dominion over the activities of man. Plans tend to be perfunctory, rudimentary and to coin a phrase, based on the “audacity of hope.” Certainly the Saddam plan for the defense of Baghdad is an example of that. The only antidote to this cultural barrier is constant attention and emphasis on the planning, otherwise it will fall prey, as did the Saddam plan for Baghdad, to mubalagha. (hypocrisy and wishful thinking). If is very doubtful the U.S. has the influence any longer to maintain this sort of pressure. There is also the problem of increasing Iraqi hubris and vulnerability to a sudden ISIS attack coming out the desert on the long Iraqi army supply lines, reminding nervous Iraqi troops of the 2014 Mosul debacle. It is till a possibility.

When planning is done in response to the Western adviser it will often reflect a desire to implement ideas of the adviser that are incompatible with Arab culture. Or it will be done to please the advisor with no real intent to implement it. In fact the desire to emulate Western concepts (often superficially) into the Arab military establishments have been counterproductive to Arab conventional warfare, as I have written elsewhere.

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A Middle Eastern Civics Class for Americans

Normally the discussion is about what the Middle Easterners have learned from the West but rarely do we talk about the lessons we should learn from them. And I am not referring to the ancient cultural center of Baghdad and the classical knowledge  transferred to  Europe coming out of the dark ages. I am writing about the lessons I observed  and studied in the Arab world in the modern era. There are primarily darkly negative lessons.

Lesson number one.  Centralized  government control,  often identified as statism/socialism {whatever term you wish to use } is destructive of the country, the people, and their spirit. Almost all the Middle Eastern countries adopted some sort of Western version of socialism. Its features fitted nicely  into the culture of authoritarianism that have characterized the Middle East from the earliest  days of the Arab kingdom.  Abdul Nasser of Egypt  called it “socialism with an Arab face.”

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Bikbashi Abdul Nasser

 

It was lauded by the Western apologists of Arab nationalism at the time with a lot of puff pieces and books claiming a new era had dawned in the Middle East. Of course there were some improvements in land ownership and huge government projects like the Aswan dam. Huge farms owned by absentee landlords were broken up and distributed to peasants working the land, and the military government had the political power to create projects that private enterprise could not. Across the Middle East,  Turkey, Iran,Iraq, Syria, and the Magreb,  governments, usually led by military leaders assumed power.  There were the tokens of progress, mostly Potemkin projects to convince the journalists and media types who waxed enthusiastically in order to have future access.

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Assad Dama in Syria now bring used by the ISIS

Today some 50 years later the price of these centralized statist/socialistic governments are very plain to all but some, of course, will refuse to  accept it, yearning for the good old days of the 60’s. In a real sense it led to the Islamist ideologies of today. Why? Because these Western imported ideologies failed and failed miserably. The   general quality of life is no better or worse than under the kings and autocrats of yore. The cry of “Islam is the answer” became the staple  slogan of the agitators who roused the mobs from their lethargy.  It was an easy transition. The  pendulum swung  from the authoritarianism of socialism to the totalitarianism of Islamism.  The edicts and laws of Islam are difficult to ascertain, even for scholars, and the politicized cleric of today twist, manipulate, or at least highlight those aspects of Islamic theology  which resonant with their control.  Most  Clerics are instruments of the State or movements which subsidize them.

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Yasuf Qaradawi, firebrand  cleric,Sunni supremacist, agitator

Under socialism the schools became nationalistic propaganda centers,  ensuring that dissent in thinking was abolished. The enemy was Israel or Jews and the leader at the time was the incarnate of purity and goodness. Free thinking was not only discouraged but often incurred  jail sentences. So with the coming of Islamism, the confined narrow parameters of thought patterns were easily supplanted by Islamism,  even the enemies were the same, with the  additions of a few others, generally Christians, Yezidis, or other Muslims, different from them.  Most of the Islamist movements are Sunni,  but the Shi’a  have not avoided the great leap backwards either as they attempt to turn Iraq into a shadow of despotic Iran.

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Pledging undying allegiance to the leader

Some of course, particularly the well paid apologists for these regimes, point to the technical achievements,  such as those by  Saddam Iraq , as if creating weapons of mass destruction, maintaining an omnipotent security,  or spreading dissension and strife  were liberating achievement.

Today, even in those Middle Eastern countries with a supposedly liberal  government the oppressive societal environment of a totalitarian ideology, Islamism, rules. Social pressure is every bit as powerful as government coercion. In terms of dress and public behavior the society of the Arab world is far more repressed (especially women) than in the 60’s.

Women are far more likely to be harassed in todays society than  30 years ago. It is as if the lights have gone out and darkness descended.  God’s laws have been used to advance all sorts of calumnies and they are largely accepted by the Muslim communities. For instance the murder of a Christian cartoonist in Jordan by an islamist, while decried ( briefly) by westerners was quietly accepted  by the general Muslim population as the right thing to do. The decades of statist government brought a uniformity of thought adopted by Islamists  to further their own ends.

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There is no community spirit or civil society because in a statist, centralized  government all is controlled from the top. Community  government is simply an institution to provide feather bedding for the ruling class. Representation in a parliament is mostly a joke, primarily being used as a legitimizing rubber stamp.  The initiative killing aspect of statism and centralized government are patently obvious to those who care to observe. I saw this in Iraq when the destruction of Saddam left Iraq totally rudderless. There were no civic or local governmental institutions to hold the society together. Even the much vaunted tribal system had been largely destroyed by Saddam. The idea of a community watch or Kiwanis club is a foreign idea in this culture and that was maintained by the statist regimes.

Of course Islam was always given flowery lip service by the so called secular statist governments. They always realized its power and that underneath the sloganeering of Western ideologies, the immense power of Islam as a religion, an ideology, a way of life was always close to the surface. The Statist leaders  always  paid due deference to Islam while privately mocking its outward appearances, such as when Nasser mocked a religious leader for demanding women wear the hijab. One cannot imagine that today in this environment.

Under socialism the government used their security and intelligence apparatus, their education curriculum control to indoctrinate, and financial power to  keep a largely apathetic society in check. The Islamists easily slipped into this environment, riding on the back of  discontent, the power of the Islamic message, and a society used to “waiting for Godot.”

waiting-for-godot

These socialist governments made sure they controlled the media, with a combination of a daily bombardment of indoctrination from the schools and propaganda from the media. The “new  Arab” man. like the new Soviet man was a government construct. If there is any  mystery about the failure of the “Arab spring” it would be solved by understanding that the revolts in most of the Arab countries were just spontaneous explosions of discontent. Thee was never any true democratic spirit moving the mobs. The revolt in Egypt only achieved bringing in a repressive Muslim Brotherhood  regime which was quickly smothered by the return of a military junta. The “new world” created by the internet has not brought freedom and liberality but  rather the theater of the macabre and savagery.

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Most of all, and this is a primary lesson for Westerners drawn from Middle East experience, the middle easterner governments, always rely on their economic power, even more than  their coercive apparatus to maintain control. It is the power of the payroll…putting as many people as possible on the government payroll. Nothing can so  control a person as the intimidation of losing one’s livelihood. Combine this with  indoctrination  posing as education, a media ideologically and a fawningly subservient  ( or on the payroll) to an   elitist government, and you have the  makings of a totalitarian state.

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Overall the Islamists have moved the goal posts in the Arab world to a much more repressive environment, something I call  Cultural Totalitarianism.   Eventually this will fail as “Islam is the Answer” turns out to be another massive fraud perpetrated on the many by the few, but not before the barbarism in Syria and Iraq claims the lives of thousands more. The  disintegration as is happening in the Middle East will continue until   the “man on horseback” appears ,bringing the country back from disaster by ruling in a brutal arbitrary fashion.

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Secondly, Socialism always leads to sectarianism because it is the state who determines who gets what. Sectarian groups compete for government largesse. The government parcels out favors based on group loyalties, as did  Saddam to his Sunni Arab allies. People are considered in terms of their racial, sectarian or linguistic origins. In that way the ruling elite can use group against group, obviating the possibility of  united opposition to their rule. As we observe, the elite using race, religion and class to control the populations is being increasingly used in the West , particularly in the United States.

Western societies are not immune to these trends and as I look back I see how these destructive trends can all be so easily disguised in the name of progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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