Monday, March 30, 2015

Struggles at Tikrit – Iraq’s Okinawa

The Battle of Tikrit has evolved into a nasty stalemate between the determined 1,000 ISIS fighters and 20,000 mostly Iranian led Shiite militia.  It’s Iran’s worst nightmare because it’s reputation has been severely damaged by being unable to led an overwhelmingly numerically superior force with sufficient equipment and firepower to defeat a terrorist group. Tactically ISIS has brilliantly retreated into denser, more easily defended areas of Tikrit. Urban battles always results in high casualties, particularly with IED devices everywhere. The advancing forces must advance slowly building by building, block by block, an arduously time-consuming affair. By the geographical nature of the urban battlefield, a small, determined group of defenders can hold out for an extended period against a numerically superior force, particularly if they are intimately familiar with the urban terrain.

Iran has already provided two face-saving excuses as to why they’ve failed to secure the remaining urban sectors. Firstly, Iran claims that they’re waiting for the arrival of Sunni Arab fighters as part of a collaborative final push to placate the mostly Sunni-populated Tikrit residents so it does not appear as an invasion or sectarian revenge. This wasn’t an issue when the Shiites were making rapid advances on the city outskirts and in their initial push into the city proper. Such a strategy to include Sunni fighters should have been put in place well before the invasion attempt.

Secondly, Iran claimed that they want to give the Tikrit citizenry time to evacuate or reconsider using different tactics to minimize civilian casualties. Historically a populated urban area is better defended than one which is sparsely populated. But according to reports, most of the city is almost bereft of civilians.

With respect to long-term strategy, ISIS may be using Tikrit the same way Imperial Japan used Okinawa in WW II, essentially as a protracted battle which it will inevitably lose for the purposes of slowing down, the invading forces while building up defenses elsewhere. For Imperial Japan it was the mainland itself. For ISIS it’s Mosul.

The biggest fear no one has dared mention is that there’s a risk during the current U.S. air strikes that an America air crew member could be captured by ISIS. If the air crew member should suffer a similar fate as the Jordanian pilot, the US government may feel compelled to send ground troops, even in a limited capacity, perhaps in the form of Special Forces, to satisfy the public’s demand for revenge. And unfortunately that’s what ISIS may be aiming for.

Tikrit will inevitably fall because there are no reinforcements arriving to relieve the ISIS fighters. Even should Mosul be recaptured sometime in the future, because of the maelstrom in many Mideast and African regions such as Libya, Yemen and Nigeria, there exists a plethora of “job opportunities” for ISIS militants enamored with lost causes.

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