Iran, Er, “Iraq” Opens Tikrit Offensive

Posted on: March 3rd, 2015 by Will Rodriguez 41 Comments
The commander of Iran's Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Solaimani, went to Baghdad this week. Shahaboddin Vajedi

Iran, Er I mean “Iraq”, surprised US officials with an offensive aimed at Tikrit that started a couple of days ago.  The composition of the offense, the manner it is being conducted, the lack of US involvement and the target all signal deeper truths about the current struggle going on in Iraq and Iran’s growing role in the conflict.

The offense to take Tikrit consists of about 30k troops.   Half consist of Shia militia troops known as “popular mobilization” forces.   Shia militias are equipped, trained, supported and apparently even led in the battle for Tikrit by Iran as Iran’s Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani presence demonstrates.  The Institute for the Study of War cites initial reports demonstrating the key role of Shia militia troops which are being led by Hadi al-Amiri.  Normally Iraq’s transport minister, Hadi al-Amiri’s better known as the leader of the Iranian trained Badr militia. These same organizations have been responsible for widespread Shia torture and murder of Sunnis including the murder of 72 Sunnis last month.

Soleimani’s presence and supervision further exemplifies the Hezbollahization of Iraq’s military forces by Iran.  Reports of Iranian Quds forces embedded, operating independently of Iraqi militia troops and Iranian artillery units providing fire support for the offensive further demonstrate Iran’s deep involvement and domination of the Iraqi military.  I recently wrote about Iran’s dominance in Iraq’s fight against ISIS including the manning of US supplied M1 Abrams tanks by Iranian troops and who enjoy lion’s share of credit for stopping ISIS’ march in Iraq.

The extensive use of Iranian artillery, drones, airstrikes and use of over 100 IED’s on one road in the area portend a Chechnya style assault on Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown and a center for Sunni influence.  A scorched earth assault on Tikrit may be an effort to send a message to Sunnis, intended or not it does not portend well for a united Iraq.

The US is entirely uninvolved in the Tikrit operation and according to reports was surprised by the offense.  This situation on the heels of conflicting US reports of a pending US supported assault on Mosul (containing an inordinate amount of operational details on what units would be involved) was almost immediately countered with an announcement that the offense must be delayed until fall.  The details, delay and confusion do not reflect well on the capabilities and competence of US/coalition forces in the region especially in comparison to Iran’s efforts.

It remains to be seen if the joint Iran/Iraq Tikrit offense will be successful.  What is obvious is Iran has a deep and solid foothold in Iraq.  Current US actions in the region either facilitate Iran’s growing influence or directly support it by growing Iraqi Army units that in the end will be subjugated to the Iranian led military machine.  In the end, the best we can hope for is the Hezbollahization of the Iraqi military and at worst a new Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Iraqi uniforms with a subjugated Iraqi Army.  Either will then be directed at the Kurds or what remaining Sunnis would dare to resist Iranian hegemony.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • nospej1

    How the hell can a 30k man army get after it and the US be completely oblivious ? Or has the Administration been aware of the impending action and spent the last few days trying to leverage or influence the situation?

  • nospej1 
    Good question!
    We thought AQ was decimated and Benghazi happened.
    The Muslim Brotherhood was supposed to be secular.

    We didn’t get ISIS going from JV to 40k+ in a year…

    Seems the administration can’t tell the difference between how they want things to be and how they actually are.

  • nospej1

    majrod nospej1 Is the Assad regime giving middle finger to the Obama Admin for trying to oust him?

  • nospej1 majrod 
    I don’t think so.  I’m sure he’s enjoying America being his Air Force for a bit.
    Personally, I don’t think Assad has too much independence anyway.  He appears to be Iran’s puppet right now.  Allowing Hez and Iran Quds force Generals to be walking in the Golan looking at positions to attack Israel from isn’t the way to avoid Israeli airstrikes or worse.  Seems he has enough trouble right now not to antagonize the Israelis yet you have the incident I described above and several other airstrikes targeting weapons transfers to Hez.  That didn’t happen as much or as blatantly when AsSad did have a full fledged revolt going and half his country out of control. 

    It’s a good question though because not much has written about Assad’s actual authority and who is really in control in Syria.  Then again, the administration sure doesn’t want to have to explain how they are helping Iran secure Syria.

  • SITREP on the battle around ISIS.

    The last two paragraphs get to the meat of the situation.

  • LawyerHandle

    99.9999% of this is directly tied to the Obama Administration’s goal of reaching a nuke deal w/ Iran (but don’t you dare ask for details). It’s beyond patently obvious now that Obama has basically traded Iraq for the mere possibility of being known as the president that brokered a deal w/ the Iranians. He continues to do so in spite of the fact that Iran has surrendered nothing in exchange and has in fact become more aggressive in destabilizing the Middle East since 2009. To call it utter insanity would be an understatement. I can’t begin imagine what it must be like for the families of the 4,488 service members that died in Iraq. Even if you think Bush’s decision was the biggest blunder in U.S. history, those that died deserve more than a president who is allowing Iran to benefit from their blood. It’s beyond maddening.

  • LawyerHandle

    Speaking of Iran, it might be worth watching 60 Minutes tonight, they are covering the assassination of the Argentinian prosecutor that was set to announce Iran’s (via Hezbollah) role in the 1994 Jewish center attacks.

  • .
    …BTW, somebody should compliment guy in photo… Great Sean Connery look…

  • LawyerHandle 
    FWIW I’ve seen the number 20% bantered about as to how many of our casualties were caused by Iran.  

    Scary story…

  • YankeePapa 
    Interesting comments.  Glad they are so confident.  Where was that confidence last year in Mosul?

    Why are we there if Iran is getting all the credit?   I know the answer (e.g. buying time is more important than the end results) but the question is worth asking.

  • LawyerHandle

    Ash Carter is giving his first presser and when asked whether he is concerned about the Iranian influence in the Tikrit operation he essentially ignored the question and gave a general response about being committed to ensuring the growth and stability of a non sectarian Iraqi defense force.
    That’s all well and good except that the Iraqis don’t strike me as the type to be persuaded by good intentions in the face of good results. The Administration has now allowed the first major “take back” operation/victory over ISIS to go to the Iranians. I think that’s all the proof one needs to know that the Administration never expects to get out from behind this eight ball and has now fully surrendered control of Iraq to the Iranians.

  • LawyerHandle

  • LawyerHandle

    This is long but it lays out the history and essentially makes every argument that I’ve brought up about this since day one (but does a better job of saying it). It’s worth reading the entire thing but here is his conclusion:
    What We Have Already Conceded
    So this, then, is where we are.
    For fear of ending the negotiations, or out of a desperate and unreasonable hope for a bright and friendly future, the White House has stopped short of steps that could increase pressure on Iran. We have accommodated and even welcomed Iranian domination of Iraq. We have largely ceded Syria and Lebanon as Iranian spheres of influence. We have all but ignored Iran’s continued enthusiasm for terrorism. And we have remained effectively silent about Iran’s atrocious human-rights record.
    Even as several former Obama officials I spoke with insisted that they had no illusions about the character of the regime, they still predicted that a deal would magically lead to reform. “If you get a deal, hopefully relations begin to improve,” a former staffer explained, “and then Khamenei will die and we can get a different Supreme Leader, a more moderate leader” who might cooperate with the United States. Hoping that a 75-year-old man will die soon is not exactly a sound strategy.
    Bush’s inability to use military action devolved into Obama’s unwillingness to consider it. It is a basic negotiating principle that diplomatic negotiations with a hostile actor must be backed by the threat of force if they are to prove effective. President Obama became so allergic to the idea of a strike that his team scorned it publicly and jettisoned options that could conceivably lead to it. In doing so, he reduced American leverage. Elevating process over substance, the administration defended each new concession with the same rhetorical resignation: “What’s the alternative?” And it liberated the Iranians to demand what amounts to a slow-motion acceptance of the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March, National Security Adviser Susan Rice described hopes of prohibiting Iran from enriching uranium as “neither realistic nor achievable.”
    A successful negotiation, in the Obama administration’s terms, now risks allowing Iran the legal right to establish an industrial-scale nuclear program a decade from now and still be dominated by the same brutal, expansionist leadership. The world has little reason other than hope to think that Iran will stop short from going nuclear over the next decade if at any moment it believes it can do so at little or no cost. At which point our diplomatic failure will become a global disaster that might force the United States to fight—under far worse and far more dangerous circumstances—the very battles it has spent years trying to avoid.

  • LawyerHandle 
    Very good article.  It made me sick.

    The money quote from above…
    “Elevating process over substance, the administration defended each new
    concession with the same rhetorical resignation: “What’s the
    alternative?” And it liberated the Iranians to demand what amounts to a
    slow-motion acceptance of the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power.”
    And exactly what I predicted almost seven months ago…
    diplomatic failure will become a global disaster that might force the
    United States to fight—under far worse and far more dangerous
    circumstances—the very battles it has spent years trying to avoid.”

  • LawyerHandle

    CNN just had a report from Iraq that unequivocally stated the Iranian militias and not the Iraqi army are very clearly in control of the Tikrit operation and they also brought up the war crime allegations against the Iranian militias saying they are not much different from ISIS. Wolf was pretty much speechless and stuttering b/c, especially after the former Gen. they had on also said he has no idea what the end game is here b/c working w/ Iran makes no sense and has had no history of ever working. This is maddening.

  • LawyerHandle

    So now Obama is already planning another way to do an end around congress by speaking w/ the UN security council about removing iranian sanctions so that it’ll make it harder for a future president to un-do a deal. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. Wow. This is proof that it is no longer about what is safe for America; it’s purely about Obama “winning” and getting what he wants.

  • .
    …The Emperor has no clothes… whether we say so or no…  We might as well say so.
    …This will be anything but easy… certainly not the Sunni section.  Or we could just hope that the Iranians… uh, I’m sorry, did I say that?  (Ahem…) that the Iraqi government unifies the country with the firm determination to duly respect and incorporate all sections of the population on the path to a glorious new tomorrow…

  • LawyerHandle

    This sort of ties into what I was saying the past few days… We are so far behind the eight ball now that we let the Iranians take the lead that I don’t see how we can ever recover. The Iranians aren’t going to just let their new found power and influence go without a fight.
    What’s maddening about all of this is that in 2011 b/w sanctions on Iran and the beginning parts of the Syrian civil war we had Iran on the ropes (at least in terms of their regional influence) but Obama chose to do nothing, apparently b/c Obama already had backchannel talks going on with Iran. I think this relatively new revelation further explains why Obama was so eager to get out of Iraq and refuses to budge on it, in spite of the Iraqis and his advisors requests. For so long it appeared that it was all about Obama making good on a campaign promise but that still never made complete sense as he’d backed out of about every other campaign promise that he’d made, so why was he sticking so hard to this one? It was all about Iran.

  • YankeePapa 
    It’s a very shortsighted article.  It does little to no analysis on what a divided Iraq would look like unlike my often stated perspective on what a divided Iraq would devolve into.  Turkey, Iran and Shia Iraq won’t stand for an independent Kurdistan.  The Sunni’s have few resources and a strong memory for when they ran the show.  The Shia after deacdes of oppression want to be the primary decision makers.

    The article addresses those problems by having the US guarantee Kurdish independence.  All that guarantees is a our future involvement in armed conflict and all the complications of supporting a landlocked country.  Further the article “hopes” for an accommodation between the Iraqi Shia and Sunnis.  That’s as likely has a group hug between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Separating one country into three with each having it’s own issues that will drive conflict doesn’t minimize the chances of war where a diversified but united country has a mitigating effect on partisan impulses.  On the contrary, breaking up Iraq encourages more conflict in the region.  It’s like breaking up a team of prima donnas in the minors because one is tired of them fighting each other and expecting them to behave in the major leagues.

  • majrod YankeePapa ,
    …The Kurds are gradually breaking off with or without U.S. support.  The Sunnis in many areas are beyond Baghdad’s authority.  I agree that the suggestions for a happy resolution in the article are a joke.  
    …Don’t know what Turkey will do.  They appear to be on top of a domestic settlement with their own Kurds.  If that happens then Turkey may prefer a border with landlocked state than with Iranian types…  
    …Turkey might feel that it could “manage” a landlocked Kurdish state.  Economic dealings in the past have certainly been to Turkey’s advantage.  

    …As it appears now, a “United Iraq” looks to be an Iranian creature.   The U.S. (and Turkey) may have to decide if they want the Kurds to be part of such a state.

  • YankeePapa majrod 
    Based on the Iranians actions and efforts to dominate Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen they aren’t likely to accept a free Kurdistan.  It would be a proverbial loose cannon on their flank that has pretty good relations with the US and the same issues with Kurdish separatists as Turkey has..
    Turkey is totally engaged with what’s going on in Syria.  If or when that stabilizes, I expect Turkey to return to its tendencies before Syria fell apart which was the revitalization of the Ottoman Empire over time and in the near term achieve the regional influence it believes it should have in the middle east.  Then there’s the respect it has always desired from Europe. 

    Iran will only achieve a “United Iraq” on the graves of a lot of dead Sunnis.  That may be OK with Turkey and the US but I think the images will be hard to ignore.  The Sunnis will resist until the Shia put a “final solution” in place.  I also don’t see the Saudis sitting on their hands which will drive more actors into the play.  Heck, if they are willing to supply ISIS a resisting Sunni movement is a no brainer.  Iran won’t let their hard won Iraq succumb to that.

  • LawyerHandle

    There are several reports coming out today that the Iraqi (Iranian) advance into Tikrit has been stopped dead in its tracks and that the Iraqis are taking unsustainable losses. Strange that we aren’t hearing anything about this on the major network newscasts each night….

  • LawyerHandle 
    I saw these reports yesterday (read three of them in different pubs) and am following to see if any military insight can be cleaned from the casualties, types of weapons used and tactics employed.  I think I’ve found some interesting stuff.
    I always find it interesting when the press doesn’t report developments in a story they were falling all over themselves to initially report.  My initial guess is Iranian/Iraqi success might demonstrate less need for US military power buying the administration time.  Second, the media celebrates a foreign military’s success to reinforce the image of receding American power.  It’s in their genes.

  • LawyerHandle

    I think the silence is due to the fact that it shows te Iraqi military, even when backed by the Iranians, lacks the ability to launch successful offensives against ISIS and that American troops (at least American backed troops) are needed.
    That narrative is completely opposite from the narratives they were running with over the past two weeks- that the Iraqi’s ( and if they did mention Irans role; they’d use “Shia militia”) now have ISIS on the run in Tikrit and did it all w/out American support. As you say, they were falling all over themselves to report that.
    The reality is that all one must do to gauge ISIS’s effectiveness against a sectarian state army backed by the Iranian Quds is look to Syria – and Syria has the additional benefit of Hezbollah lending their expertise. Four to five years of war there have shown that a bloody stalemate is about the best one case scenario. I’m not sure why this point hasn’t been more widely argued other than people in charge and in the press don’t like the implications and answers.

  • majrod LawyerHandle ,
    …And don’t forget that it shows that the Red Army is our bulwark against the Nazis and that we really can do business with Uncle Joe and…  What?  Oh, sorry… wrong history section of my brain…

  • LawyerHandle 
    Yes, pushing the narrative of not needing US troops is what I meant when I said “might
    demonstrate less need for US military power buying the administration
    I think it’s very important to make the link to the administration.  It pushes aside the canard that “war weariness” is the cause and places responsibility firmly where it belongs.

    MSNBC Reports: War-weariness fades; most Americans support ISIS ground war

    CBS reported last month, ” For the first time, a majority of Americans (57 percent) favor the
    U.S. sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS”

    Again, not widely reported and while that’s important the why is critical to understanding how to impact change or at least understand why we don’t do things we should.

  • LawyerHandle

    So apparently we dropped Iran and Hezbollah from the 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment…

  • LawyerHandle 
    Wait till we start giving Iranians medals for fighting ISIS…

  • LawyerHandle

    I wish I could say I was surprised, but no, I am not

  • FASCINATING development.

    US is providing drone/overhead intel to Iraqi forces in Tikrit to break the stalemate.

    Iraq has asked and is receiving US airstrikes.

    Some are portraying this as a defeat of Iranian influence assuming that our involvement means an Iranian withdrawal.  I’d like a nugget of evidence.

    This can be a turning point or it can be the US becoming the Iranian’s proxy forces Air Force.

  • majrod ,
    …Lacking any evidence to the contrary, I would say the latter.  

  • LawyerHandle added this on another thread:
    Saudis are getting ready to move against the Iranians in Yemen while we
    are now directly and overtly helping the Iranians in Tikrit, Iraq…
    The administration can no longer credibly state that we aren’t working
    with Iran in Iraq.”

    I’d add the money quote is, 
    “If this leads to the Iranians forced to concede defeat, that would
    be a satisfactory outcome,” said an unnamed defense official in The
    Daily Beast’s report.
    Huh? That’s a strange statement. Precisely how would aiding the
    success of an Iranian-backed advance into Tikrit resulting in that
    city’s fall to Iraqi and Shiite forces precipitate Iranian contrition?
    It’s rare that major tactical victories produce an overwhelming sense of
    regret in the victor.
    That quote sounds like a bit of wishful thinking on the part of this
    unnamed defense official, and perhaps it helps for those coming to terms
    with American-Iranian battlefield cooperation in Iraq. But that
    cooperation is coming, and it is forcing America’s traditional Sunni
    allies in Cairo and Riyadh to
    Whether or not some think America’s shifting alliances in the region
    are necessary, this change in U.S. grand strategy is self-evidently
    I thought the same thing reading the articles I posted above.  Yeah, “the Iranians feel defeated”…

  • LawyerHandle
  • LawyerHandle

    Contrary to CENTCOMs statement to Senate Armed Services Committee, Iranian militias are still operating in Tikrit.


    I could also see Iran believing they could benefit from getting some real combat experience for their Officers and NCOs against a force they should be able to beat;  the light infantry of ISIS.

    A side benefit for sure.  Just like we try and rotate troops through combat even when we don’t have to but for sure Iran can’t have another radical Islamic force in the ME besides itself.

  • .
    …So now Iraq shows the Sunnis how Iraqi victory is different from ISIS victories.  
    …Some of this is just normal for the area… but “hearts and minds” definitely not top priority here… (scattered on street doesn’t count…)

  • YankeePapa 
    Nice find.  Disturbing quote;

    “An Iranian fighter, with a
    Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder and a picture of Iranian
    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pinned to his chest, bragging
    about Tehran’s role in the campaign.
    am proud to participate in the battle to liberate Tikrit,” said the
    man, who called himself Sheik Dawood. “Iran and Iraq are one state now.”

    Yesterday I read a report of no prisoners being taken in the assault.  When it was briefed by the Iraqis they were quick to add after seeing the Americans faces that they assumed all living ISIS fighters were suicide bombers.

    I don’t feel bad for ISIS but it does show the character of the Iraq-Iranian military and where this is heading.