ISIL Gets Ready to Take Baghdad

Posted: Aug 16, 2014 12:01 AM

Afghanistan: On Tuesday presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani said that if the voter fraud audit proved that he won the election, he would not share power.

On 13 August, the Balkh Province governor, Attah Mohammed Noor, said that if the audit finds there was bias in the voting, and presidential candidate Abdullah is not named the president, there will be a civil uprising.

"If the vote recount is one-sided or fraudulent, we will not bow down and accept the results," he said in an interview. "We do not want a crisis, but we will defend the rights of our people. We will have a big civil uprising. . . . We will occupy government buildings and institutions. ..We will boycott the process, and we will not recognize the next government because it will have no legitimacy."

Comment: The power sharing arrangement died almost as quickly as it was formed. Without an agreement about the fundamentals of power sharing, it never had a chance of lasting long. The Afghan candidates understand that elections have winners. It is Asian politesse to smile and agree in public with a visiting foreign dignitary so as not to cause the dignitary to lose face.

Abdullah's followers are convinced that if the Pashtun, Ashraf Ghani, is declared president, the government will treat Uzbeks and Tajiks as second class citizens and the Taliban return will be inevitable.

Iraq: Prime Minister al-Maliki resigned and said he would support Haider al-Abadi as prime minister.

Comment: The US, allied with Iran and Saudi Arabia, engineered the ouster of al-Maliki in the conviction that a government under al-Abadi, who is from al-Maliki's party, would be more inclusive and that a more inclusive government would somehow lead to the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Both hypotheses are about to be put to the test.

As for al-Abadi, at least one knowledgeable source has reported that he is cut of the same cloth as al-Maliki. Al-Maliki's statement of support should raise suspicion about al-Abadi and the policies he might pursue should he become prime minister. For example, he opposed any agreement with the US on the Status of Forces that compromised Iraqi sovereignty. He represents a change of leadership, but not necessarily a change in policies. The optics will look better for a time.

As for the fight against ISIL, some interests remain convinced that political reform is an appropriately reflexive response to an existential military threat. That has never been the case in recent history. Thus, the maneuver to remove al-Maliki is a major gamble. Usually martial law is essential to mobilize and focus national assets to save a nation.

A flaw in the political reasoning is that it is based on a hope that Sunni Arab tribes are still important to ISIL's military success or that they can be effective in stopping ISIL. No evidence in the past month supports the proposition that the tribes can stop ISIL, if only they switch loyalty back to Baghdad. ISIL now outguns and outmaneuvers them. It stopped relying on Arab tribes after it consolidated power in Mosul after the army collapsed. The tribes have proven unable to restrain ISIL's stern application of Sharia. Finally, Shiites still run the Baghdad government.

As for al-Abadi, he is a longtime Shiite politician. He has been a perennial political challenger to al-Maliki, but no source claims he is the kind of charismatic leader that Iraq now needs. Moreover, a change of leadership always requires a transition period in which innovation and initiative are not encouraged or rewarded, until the government gets a sense of the new leader's policies. The transition period always lasts a few months and often up to six months.

The stakeholders in Iraq, thus, are gambling that al-Abadi will have the time Iraq needs to make a difference in the defense of the state. ISIL will not be sitting still and might decide the transition period is the right time for another offensive surge against Baghdad. The transition will be a dangerous time because the government will be vulnerable.

Military: Governor Dulaimi of Anbar Governate told the press that US troops would soon return to Fallujah. The US has not responded to this claim.

Comment: A small team of US special forces might return to assist with targeting for the air campaign, but this has not been confirmed.

Meanwhile, agricultural authorities in Baghdad confirmed that ISIL has captured 1.1 million tons of wheat, about 20% of Iraq's annual consumption. The Islamic State is a food exporter.

Israel-Gaza Strip: A senior Palestinian Authority official said Thursday night that Hamas has agreed to delay pursuing its demand for an airport and seaport in Gaza. In return, Hamas wants Israel to permit funds to be transferred to the Strip to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants.

Comment: This statement provides the first insight into the nature of the negotiating tradeoffs that led to the five-day ceasefire. It also is significant because it conveys the first compromise of Hamas' maximum negotiating position. It means that Hamas no longer judges that its interests are served by more fighting. That is the first condition for a more durable ceasefire. Israel always is willing to pay, but Hamas just blinked.

The ceasefire continues.

Ukraine: Two top separatist military commanders resigned in eastern Ukraine, in Luhansk and Donetsk. They reportedly have been replaced by ethnic Ukrainians. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian offensive against the separatists continues.

Comment: Both men probably returned to Russia. Multiple sources claimed that Strelkov in Donetsk was a Russian agent all along. The key point is that their departure while the two cities are under fire signifies that the separatist movement probably has collapsed and that a significant separatist policy change is imminent.

Ukrainian President Poroshenko has been consistent in saying that he would not negotiate with anyone who killed Ukrainians because they are terrorists. The new separatist leaders appear to respond to Poroshenko's condition for talks.

Note to new analysts: Leaders associated with a failed policy always must depart or be removed, as a necessary condition for the credible change in policy. They do not need to leave if the old policy is succeeding. If they remain in the leadership, the new policy usually will not be credible.

The Russian aid convoy has not entered Ukraine. If Russia does not send military forces into eastern Ukraine, the NightWatch hypothesis is that Poroshenko has done a deal with Russian President Putin, but the nature of the deal is not yet known.

End of NightWatch


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