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.”


Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

  • “Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said
  • The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday

JEDDAH: Truce monitoring observers will be deployed in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday as the first 24 hours of a UN-brokered cease-fire passed without incident.

The Redeployment Coordination Committee comprises members of the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi militias backed by Iran, and is overseen by the UN. 

The head of the committee will report to the UN Security Council every week.

Deployment of the observers is the latest stage in a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden. Both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeidah and the withdrawal of their forces within 21 days.

“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under UN supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

UN envoy Martin Griffith said the committee was expected to start its work swiftly “to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground.”

The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday. Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. 

“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there will be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security,” said one, Amani Mohammed.

Another resident, Mohammed Al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the cease-fire would pave the way for a broader truce. “We are hopeful about this cease-fire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said. “We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.”

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the cease-fire.

The resolution, submitted by the UK, “calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country.”