As SecDef Hagel Exits, an Iraq Daesh/ISIL Scorecard

By Juan Cole | —

Mosul rose up in alliance with Daesh /ISIL against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on June 9 of this year, sparking a crisis in Obama administration foreign policy. Obama had been open to keeping some troops in Iraq, but the Iraqi parliament did not want that, and Obama acquiesced in the legislature’s decision. (Obama is criticized for giving in, but it is not clear how he could have kept troops in Iraq over the objections of the Iraqi parliament without exposing them to war crimes trials in Iraqi courts whenever anything went wrong on the battlefield.)

It is not clear how central Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was to crafting a response. But he must have been intimately involved in aspects of it. I don’t see anyone talking about how that response has gone. Here are what seem to me the major outcomes of the new Defense Department involvement in Iraq:

In mid-June, Daesh (what Arabs call ISIL or ISIS) made a move toward Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and initially defeated lightly armed Peshmerga national guard troops.

The Obama administration, of which Hagel was a key principal, decided to use the US air force in the response. Obama has an aversion to getting too deeply involved in Iraq, but he could not afford to run the risk that the siege of, e.g., Iraqi Kurdistan would turn into a rout and result in large numbers of people killed.

The air intervention pushed Daesh back from the Kurdistan capital. It improved the morale of the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga, so that it began taking further territory after an earlier collapse of esprit de corps. That intervention to save Kurdistan has to be pronounced a success so far.

Threats that Daesh might go on down and try to take Baghdad itself receded.

The US military hoped also to stiffen the backbone of the Iraqi army (which had collapsed in June), retrain Iraqi army troops and to help them deploy to stop the march of Daesh on Baghdad and points south.

Whether the US is responsible or not, the Iraqi military and allied Shiite militias and the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga (one who stands before death) have now taken territory back away from Daesh.

The Iraqi forces loyal to Baghdad have had some successes. The Shiite militiamen appear to have taken the lead in Jurf al-Sakhr, where a Sunni town of 80,000 that had thrown in with Daesh a couple years ago, was subjected and Daesh and expelled. Jurf al-Sakhr was a radical Sunni base from which attacks on Shiite interests in the south were launched. The political fallout of Shiite militias taking a Sunni town is probably negative, but in purely military terms this was a success; Daesh no longer has a major base south of Baghdad.

Iraqi troops and militiamen, along with Sunni Arab tribal levies, also took back the oil refinery in Beiji in Salahuddin Province, which they had previously relinquished to Daesh. Crude oil is not valuable and cannot be smuggled, whereas refined petroleum products like gasoline can be sold to other countries. Without the refinery, Daesh may not be able to make as much by gasoline smuggling.

Just on Monday, the Kurdish town of Jalawla in Diyala province fell to a mixture of Iraqi forces, including IA, Peshmerga and Shiite militias. Diyala is a mixed province but the northwest had begun falling to Daesh in June and ripostes had earlier been ineffective. Now Daesh is losing towns there.

So in Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces, Hagel and his allies have had some success.

In contrast, Daesh has strengthened its positions among Sunni Arabs in Al-Anbar Province, and no progress has been made toward dislodging it from the populous Ninewah Province in the north.

It is a mixed bag of a story, but the long and short of it is, that Hagel at Defense has some genuine achievements, or at least that counter-Daesh strategy on the ground has, with Hagel’s DoD providing close air support in many instances. Whatever the reasons for Hagel’s departure, it is hard to see how this record in Iraq, where Daesh has largely been contained and even slightly rolled back, can be it.


Video added by Juan Cole:

Kurds Ambush ISIS Near Sinjar, Iraq

cheers Juan

11 Responses

  1. After submitting to the bullying of John McCain and Lindsey Graham at his nomination hearings, Hagel took up his office as a wounded leader with a tarnished image. At his hearing he should have stuck with his former position on Iran and told those two bullies what Dick Cheney reportedly told Pat Leahy; that is, “Go ….” Of course, that would have guaranteed his job application would have gone to the shredder, but he would have had the respect of many Americans who, probably, now pity him.

  2. Pity Hagel? Don’t think so. Can’t hardly wait for his next public appearances and landing zone. As for what he did ” on his watch”? What exactly is to back-pat him about? Bigger dumber military, not much luck with those pesky 4th Gen Wars the Empire keeps sticking itself into, more corruption, more GI on GI rape, how about the downward pressure on enlisted pay and allowances and benefits while the Braaasss gets more gold-plated for all its mega millbabble gold- bricking and disloyalty. Heckuva job, Hag! And let’s not forget the great progress in reining in the enormous corruption and fraud that is the common coin of the Pentagrammers as they spin through the ol revolving door… (Irony alert) Another figurehead goes to collect his rewards.

    • There is also the possibility, if not the probability, that Hagel being damaged goods was more easily manipulated by the top braaasss who have demonstrated a long history of resolving problems by more and more violent means.

      • The reason I saw was supposed containment and slight possible rollback of ISIS in Iraq. Even that claim changes validity minute to minute. The guy was supposed to be SecDef, over the whole War Department. What did he do to address all the other crap that is so terribly wrong (from the standpoint of us taxpayers and ordinary people around the world) with the Imperial Pentagram?

        • What did he do to address all the other crap that is so terribly wrong…?

          There’s lots we don’t know, but chances are very good the braaasss ganged up on him in a way similar to how Betrayus and McKristol ganged up on Obama for the senseless surge in Afghanistan. Let’s not forget Hagel gave the impression of favoring a diplomatic solution with Iran which set McCain and Little Abel after him at his confirmation inquisition.

  3. I suspect that, having seen war close up and personal like, Chuck Hagel has been opposing escalation and new wars at every turn.
    I suspect that, in every meeting with the President,
    as Marty Dempsey says “four more wars,”
    Chuck keeps asking, “yeaah, but what vital US interest is at stake.”
    Bush III believes that being a “war president” will save his legacy. Hagel asks, “at what cost ?”
    by the way, Hagel was brilliant in his Senate confirmation hearing. War mongers wanted him to lie and say the 2007 “troop surge” won the war.
    He wasn’t cowed.

  4. I doubt Dempsey wanted/wants new wars any more than Hagel does. Hagel and Dempsey both more-or-less opposed bombing Syria and trying too hard to overthrow Assad. It seems Hagel decided that ISIS was much the greatest threat to the point where the R2P NeoWilsonians elsewhere in Obama’s cabinet suspected Hagel of wanting Assad accepted and supported as a functional ally against ISIS.

    So is Hagel out? Not until Obama finds a replacement. Which means if enough Senators can reject every replacement Obama nominates from now till January 2017, then Hagel will remain SecDef till then.

    If Hagel is removed, Dempsey will be the next to be removed. As long as Hagel stays, Demsey is somewhat shielded and is harder to remove.
    We should all want Obama’s every replacement nominee to be rejected by the Senate, over and over and over again.

    • I don’t see a Republican Senate confirming Fluornoy.
      What has she accomplished ?
      As opposed to, “what jobs has she held ?”

      me, I’d like to see another enlisted combat vet nominated.

  5. “Daesh has been largely contained and even slightly rolled back.” Exactly.

    American bombs have contained Daesh, but the Iraqi army, Shia militias, and the Peshmerga will have to be the ground forces who roll them back. If we keep bombing the Shiite out of Daesh that shouldn’t be that big of problem.

    It was the election, not Iraq that cause Hagel to get the boot. After the mid term debacle, Obama felt he needed to dump someone and since Hagel wasn’t an insider he got the call. Chuck wasn’t smooth or sophisticated enough to be a long term player on the Obama team.

    Chuck had an style problem. He really needed one of those Hollywood $400 haircuts.

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