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
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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.”


Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

Updated 45 min 26 sec ago
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Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

  • Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces
  • After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Putin and Erdogan, agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15

ANKARA: The partial transfer of control of the airspace over the de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib from Moscow to Ankara is being discussed by the two sides, Russian sources said. 

The aim is to enable Turkey to conduct an aerial campaign against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Ankara recently designated a terrorist organization. 

A former Al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS is the strongest armed group in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian anti-government rebels. 

In February, HTS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian warplane in Idlib using a surface-to-air missile.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are monitoring the de-escalation zone in the province as part of a trilateral agreement. 

Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Discussions are ongoing about the details of this transfer (of airspace control). I guess it will be limited to the buffer zone in Idlib for now,” Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“If Russia is taking steps to allow Turkey to use Idlib’s airspace, it will give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region.”

But airstrikes by Ankara against HTS might create another refugee influx into Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, Barmin said. 

Idlib is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians, and its population exceeds 3 million. Turkey is concerned that the creation of a humanitarian crisis near its border would further swell its own refugee population. 

After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two countries agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15.

The deal requires that all radical groups, including HTS, withdraw from the area and that all heavy weapons be removed.

Russian and Turkish troops will conduct coordinated patrols to ensure that all armed groups respect the deal.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said a transfer of airspace control would mean that Ankara and Moscow are determined to implement their latest agreement regarding Idlib. 

“Until now, Idlib’s airspace has been fully controlled by Russia, which weakened Turkey’s hand in trying to convince rebel groups in the region to abandon their arms,” he told Arab News.

Transferring airspace control “would give Ankara additional diplomatic leverage in its dealings with HTS,” he said. 

“If Ankara fails to persuade HTS to comply with the Putin-Erdogan deal regarding Idlib, it’s almost certain that Russia and Syrian government forces will start a military operation in the region.”

So Turkey is sending a message to HTS that if carrots do not work, it has some sticks at its disposal, Ersen said.