Via Moon of Alabama, which is providing excellent, and insightful coverage on Syria…
Update Oct 22:
An detailed Iraqi account of the Baiji operation: Baiji District Recaptured by Iraq’s Forces in Rapid Offensive
The US-led international coalition played a minimal role at best during this weeklong offensive. From Oct. 13th-20th, the coalition conducted a grand total of just 10 strikes on Da’ish positions ‘near Baiji’. On Friday, as fighting in the district was winding down and militants were fleeing north towards Mosul or northeast towards Hawijah, the coalition dropped one bomb on one artillery piece. That’s it. While abysmal, it’s hardly surprising due to the heavy presence of the Hashd Al-Sha’abi, which the coalition actively tries to avoid aiding.
End Update – original piece follows
Yesterday saw a huge defeat of the Islamic State but “western” media hardly noted it.
Footage aired by the state-run TV showed Iraqi troops waving flags from rooftops in Baiji as thick black smoke billowed into the air.
Baiji is the second most significant area recaptured in Salahuddin over the past months as pro-government forces retook the provincial capital of Tikrit in late March after weeks of clashes with the militants. The liberation of Baiji could be a prelude to Iraq’s highly-anticipated offensive into Mosul, which has served as the de-facto capital of Daesh in Iraq.
The road from Baghdad to Mosul runs south to north through Balad, Samara, Tikrit and Baiji. Tikrit was liberated in March and the fight about the Baiji refinery and Baiji city had waged since. The victory now opens the road towards Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city and in the hand of the Islamic State.
The success can be attributed mostly to Iraqi militia supported by Iran. The 4+1 intelligence and operations room in Baghdad, where Iraq, Iran, Russia, Syria and Hizbullah as well as the Hashd coordinate their efforts, advised throughout the operation. The U.S. was not involved as it does not want to work with the Hashd militia and Iran.
When looking through the daily strike reports of the U.S. lead operation Inherent Resolve one finds hardly any air strikes against IS forces around Baiji. The few that took place hit some IS “machine gun position” or “tactical fighting position”. Hardly the effort that was needed to free the city. Indeed it took the Iraqi air force to do the real work:
Zaid Benjamin @zaidbenjamin
Inherent Resolve Spx Steve Warren: Dealing with small pockets in #Beiji refinery. Iraqi air-force mounted 40 airstrikes & the coalition 4.
Iraqi militia did the groundwork and the Iraqi air force covered the attack. The operation proceed under advice from Russia and Iran. The U.S. was not involved. It is no wonder then that “western” media are mostly silent about it.
There is nothing about the Iraqi victory in the Washington Post and the New York Times gives it just one sentence in a piece about the Joint Chiefs chairman. This after wall-to-wall coverage when the Islamic State first captured the refinery. Even the small mention in the NYT manages to deceive its readers about the leading party of the operation:
The American-led coalition is putting pressure on the militants on several fronts. Backed by American air power, Iraqi forces are on the outskirts of Ramadi, which was taken by the militants in May. Iraqi forces and Shiite militias captured the Baiji oil refinery, north of Baghdad, on Friday and are trying to expand the territory under their control there. On Tuesday, the Iraqi military said it had secured the nearby town of Baiji after days of fighting.
The casual reader of that paragraph will assume that the “American-led coalition” and “American air power” was responsible for the liberation of Baiji. But besides four minor airstrike in as many days that “American-led coalition” was not involved at all. The Iraqi militia supported by Russia and Iran are clearly steeling the Pentagon’s show.
The U.S. fears the replacement of its sham campaign against the Islamic State by a real one run by Russia and Iran. The Joint Chiefs chairman Dunford even threatened the Iraqi premier with love deprivation:
If Russia did begin flying missions over Iraq, it would preclude the United States from flying, Dunford told the Iraqi leaders. They understood the situation, he said, and Abadi told him that Iraq has not asked the Russians to fly missions over Iraq and Russia has not offered to launch strikes inside Iraq.
Officially Abadi has not asked. But Iraqi requests were made to Moscow and answered positively. Iraq will wait a few month and then compare the Russian success in Syria with the U.S. success in Iraq. Should the campaign in Syria be more successful than the U.S. led one in Iraq it surely would consider switching its partners.
In Syria meanwhile the “moderate rebels” open more joined operations rooms with Ahrar al-Shams and Jabhat al Nusra. There is new talk about a unification of the “moderate rebels” of Ahrar al-Shams and the “moderate rebels” of Al Qaeda:
Zaid Benjamin @zaidbenjamin
Ahrar ash-Sham forge alliance with Jabhat al-Nusra one day after a CNN interview with #Qatar’s FM saying that Ahrar has no links to al-Qaeda
Russian intelligence picked up talks between the the Islamic State and Nusra/al-Qaeda commanders about a united effort against the Syrian government.
The reality that all these groups submit to the same ideology and aims will soon become even more evident. That will make it more difficult for the U.S. and Turkey to continue with their sham campaign against the Islamic State while supporting the “moderates” that are joined with that professed enemy.
Meanwhile Russia continues its political efforts to end the fighting in Syria. The Syrian president Bashar Assad visited Moscow for talks with the Russian president Putin. He also had an intimate dinner with the highest figures of the Russian government – Putin, Medvedev, Lavrov and Shoygu attended. After the visit the Russian president had phonecalls with the Turkish president Erdogan and the Saudi King Salman today. The foreign ministers of Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey will meet Friday in Vienna. There is either a deal in the making … or the war on Syria will escalate further.