Daesh ‘expertise, methods inherited from Iraq army’

Iraqi Army's 53rd Brigade participate in a live ammunition training exercise with coalition forces trainers at Taji military base north of Baghdad, Iraq, in this August 9, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 April 2018
0

Daesh ‘expertise, methods inherited from Iraq army’

BAGHDAD: As Iraqi forces battled Daesh, former general Abdel Karim Khalaf came to a sad realization — they were fighting against some of his former army comrades.
The tactics Daesh terrorists used — from the way they dug tunnels to their construction of defenses — were lifted straight from the manual of the old Iraqi armed forces under dictator Saddam Hussein.
“They had expertise and methods inherited from the army,” said retired army commander Khalaf. “They knew us.”
When the US-led invasion toppled Saddam 15 years ago in 2003 it splintered Iraqi society and fractured loyalties among those who had served in the country’s armed forces.
One of the first decisions made by Paul Bremmer, the American head of the occupation authority, was to dismantle all security forces in the country.
That controversial move would come back to haunt US-led forces as it pushed many members of Iraq’s disbanded military, police and intelligence agencies to join movements fighting against them.
“Saddam-era military expertise was critical to the development of the insurgency,” said Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert at the Middle East Institute.
The seepage of knowledge from Iraq’s former security forces into the insurgency came to devastating fruition when Daesh stormed across Iraq and northern Syria in 2014.
Among the group’s leadership were veterans of Saddam’s forces who put their training to use conquering territory and running the self-declared “caliphate.”
Former Republican Guard officer Fadel Ahmad Al-Hayali was second-in-command to Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi until he was killed in an October 2015 airstrike near Mosul in northern Iraq, the US has said.
As Baghdadi’s deputy, he was in charge of arms transfers, explosives, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria. Another veteran was Samir Abd Muhammad Al-Khlifawi, called the group’s “most important strategist” by German weekly Der Spiegel.
Using the nom de guerre Hajji Bakr, the former air force intelligence officer helped devise plans used by the group to take control of northern Syria before he was killed by rebels in 2014.
Hisham Al-Hashemi, an expert on jihadist movements, said these were not isolated examples as Daesh filled its military and security bodies with former Saddam-era officers.
When the government launched its gruelling fight back against Daesh, it too relied on officials from the previous regime.
Key commanders, including the leaders of Iraq’s elite counterterrorism units, were “former soldiers under Saddam” who had been reintegrated into the forces set up after the 2003 invasion, Hashemi said.
With a US-led coalition backing them up in the skies above, Iraqi forces overcame their opponents after a protracted and bloody campaign that saw some of the world’s fiercest urban fighting in decades.
Ultimately the familiarity between the two sides gave Baghdad a key advantage that allowed it to declared victory over Daesh at the end of last year.
“The army won because they knew IS (Daesh) used the methods of Saddam Hussein’s special forces and were able to anticipate their movements,” Hashemi said.
Beating back Daesh has been hailed as a major turning point for Iraqi forces that retreated in disarray when the terrorists first struck in 2014.
The brutal fight was the latest — and most vicious — testing ground for capabilities honed in the 15 years of chaos since the ouster of Saddam.
For former general Khalaf the triumph was also at least in part down to the know-how gleaned by the armed forces back before the US-led invasion turned Iraq on its head.
“Iraqi forces knew the nature of the battle and the geography of the terrain,” he said.
“We understood how the enemy fought, and all of this came from reflexes acquired in the army.”


Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 10 min 23 sec ago
0

Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.