All in all this looks to have been the worst week for the Islamists since May of 2011 when Osama bin Laden was killed and his files and computers were seized in the same raid. For every Saudi/GCC proxy in the area, they're in trouble.
All across the board they're losing critical assets and putting their forces in bad strategic positions.
— In Syria they lost their top general and top military leaders for the north of the country.
— In Iraq a couple hundred ISIS fighters and their local Sunni allies are surrounded at Tikrit.
— The ISIS force at Tal Afar (west of Mosul) is outnumbered in a battle against the Kurdish Peshmerga and the usual U.S. air support.
— And on top of all that a large part of the ISIS force out of Mosul is caught out in the open this morning between Baiji and Kirkuk — another battle that's forming up as a super size replay of the Amerli action last fall where an entire ISIS attack group was annihilated.
Turn on a television, spin the dial to network or cable news… you get very little of what is happening. They have their own story to tell. Corporate media talk about Tikrit and how “Shia militia” are going to try to fight ISIS. Big disconnect.
The standard line says that the Iraqi army and Shiite militia are in a big fight to recapture Tikrit from Islamic State. I have heard the phrase “push ISIS out of Tikrit,” implying that the ISIS fighters are going to be allowed to escape to the north. How some ever, based on ground reports and photos here is what the disposition of forces looks like:
Zahor and al Jamia are getting hammered with the heavy guns. When the action got started some number of ISIS or Sunni militia mortars started lobbing shells out of these areas. They didn't do much damage. Thing is, anti-mortar RADAR located their sites and this is what followed.
Qadisiya artillery re-lo'd across Route # 1 from Al Asad/Speicher:
Tigris River bed sited artillery manned by Iraqi Security Force:
And here's the target areas:
I'm reminded of Beirut 30+ years ago. Target area in Tikrit is way smaller. And you're not gong to see the battleship “New Jersey” sail up the Tigris to fire 16″ shells.
No Americans ??? You betcha.
Shi'ia militia, yes. Sunni militia, yes. Iranians, yes. Iraqi Security Force, yes. Hizb Allah/Hezbollah, yes in small numbers to support urban combat. And the Shi'ia and Sunni militias are working in mixed teams. That system was put in place a couple months ago during the fight at Jurf al-Sakhar.
Despite all the media hoopla, what is happening at Tikrit hardly qualifies as a battle.
The artillery units are getting in way too much practice. Other than that the coalition order-of-battle has 12,000 out of Al Asad/Speicher and another 10,000 from the force that started north out of Samarra on Monday. Artillery is the main story. At this point that's more than 20,000 troops against fewer than 500 total for ISIS and allied Sunni militia. There's way more Sunni militiamen fighting for the coalition at Tikrit than there are with ISIS.
Best for the coalition will be to finish the Tikrit mop-up quickly, then turn north to assure that they can trap 100% of the ISIS force in the Little Zeb River area. Stop them before they can escape north.
As we have learned to expect with U.S. media, there's not a word to be heard here about the much larger operation underway up to the north. Peshmerga and coalition forces are hitting a major ISIS force up around Hawija, up by Kirkuk.
ISIS had settled in a force in the mountain terrain there, south of the Little Zeb River. They had launched raids at Kurd and Arab villages as far east as Kirkuk. Action to take them out for good has some 40,000 troops in the field as against at most 2,000 ISIS fighters. Air strikes are also in the mix. This pattern replicates the structure of forces at Amerli where Peshmerga and coalition annihilated a smaller ISIS attack group.
There is nothing on any of the standard media outlets about Nusrah Front/al-Qaeda in Syria taking a major hit from the Syrian Air Force.
CNN keeps talking about a “Free Syrian Army” where what controls those areas is the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.
That's Abu Hammam al-Shami, the top general for Nusrah Front/al-Qaeda in Syria. He was leading a planning meeting for their forces in northern Syria when the Syrian Air Force clobbered their building with missiles and then anti-personnel bombs. Surprise, surprise… no barrel bomb.
These Islamist movements are long on fanatics, short on security. They can't keep their top people alive. This is pretty much a replay of what happened to al-Baghdadi and his meeting at al-Qa'im in Iraq last November.
That bomb's a thumper.
So where are they going to go from here? In Iraq they've split their Mosul assets out to Tal Afar and the Hawija groups. That's not doing well. They're both trying to play defense without artillery. In Syria where the Islamists are not getting hammered by Jordan's Air Force, it's the Syrian Air Force or coalition troops with returning Sunni army guys back in uniform.
The big story on both fronts is the anti-Islamists getting exactly what they want.
Tain't good for Perpetual War. Them folks on the McCain/Hillary/Graham/CIA team who want to send weapons to “Moderate Syrian Rebels” can pretty much choke on it. The Obama team and its plan to string out the ISIS war to 3 years can also choke on it.
All the Saudi/GCC-proxies' soldiers and all of their men can't make up for not knowing what they're doing when they have to fight trained professionals.
Media did mention Gen. Qassem Suleimani. He's running the fight at Tikrit. Seems to be doing an efficient job of it. Like an earlier fight at al-Qusayr in Syria in 2012, he is letting his artillery do the heavy work. Focusing on the surround tasks, so his army won't have to fight the same ISIS soldiers twice.
Each 155mm shell flattens an areas about 100 meters wide. He's letting the guns pound away.
Considering Iraqi construction materials, there's not gong to be a helluva lot left of southwest Tikrit. As a wargamer guess, they'll fire 1,000 rounds to silence the opposition then send in the ground attack. Get the artillerymen and infantry trained to a sharp edge at Tikrit then set off to Hawija and then Mosul.
Sounds like a plan.