In the summer of 2014, Colonel Martin developed three assessment reports to counter massive misinformation in the media and flawed U.S. government intelligence reports when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) during its rise in the Middle-East. Time would prove Colonel Martin’s assessments far more accurate than what was being produced by the U.S. State Department.

Iraq Threat Assessment
July 21, 2014

In a fluid combat environment, a threat assessment requires updating at least each month. The Iraq Threat Assessment I completed the last week of June 2014 is no exception. The environment in Iraq has so significantly changed, and continues to change, that an updated threat assessment is warranted.

The six threat groups I identified last month were identical to what Coalition Forces faced during the earliest days of the war in Iraq: national terrorists, international terrorists (Al Qaeda and others), former regime elements (Saddamists), religious extremists, criminals, and tribes. The parallel between 2013 and 2014 was to be expected as both were developing theaters. Further developments now warrant the adding of additional groups as threats to the Iraqi people: militias, gangs, the Iraqi military/police, and the Iranian military (especially the Qods force).

Concerning international terrorists, ISIS forces supported by Sunni tribes and local communities have essentially reached the limits of their capabilities. Additional major advances are highly unlikely. Fears of them invading Baghdad were not realistic due to the large Shia population in Baghdad and the presence of organized Iraqi military who were not going to run. Concern of ISIS overrunning the Baghdad International Airport did not take into consideration the colocation of the Iraqi Army’s Golden Division (aka Dirty Division).

ISIS is now turning its wrath inward. Although greatly outnumbered by the tribes and communities in northern and western Iraq, ISIS forces are casting their extremism on the region through intimidation and brutality. A reign of terror on Christians and moderate Sunnis is well under way. Reminiscent of the German Holocaust, ISIS forces have commenced spray painting threatening markings on the outside of Iraqi Christian homes in Mosul and other cities. Families occupying these homes are abandoning them and fleeing to safe locations, usually Kurdistan, or living with the knowledge that very soon the doors will be kicked in and they will be brutally executed.

In Tikrit, Iraqi Army forces were defeated by a psychological operations campaign organized by ISIS forces. Upon learning of approaching ISIS forces, the Iraqi Army fled south. The approaching forces turned out to be two small vehicle columns – an advance party. Even when the main forces arrived, the number of its personnel and their equipment capabilities were far inferior to the Iraqi forces previously residing there. Many local residents did try to make a stand. Instead of rushing military forces to back up these citizens, Iraqi Prime Minister/Minister of Defense/Minister of Interior Nouri al-Maliki stood idle. Maliki had the air power and capability to immediately deploy forces. Why he did not move will be left to historians. When that analysis happens, several things should be remembered. This failure to move forces to Tikrit was not unlike the Soviet Union remaining outside the city while the Germans massacred the Jewish population in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. One brigade from Maliki’s Golden Division deployed to Tikrit could have stopped ISIS cold. The concept of Maliki standing idle while Sunnis were killing Sunnis should not be overlooked. Furthermore, controlling the road network in the Tikrit region could have blocked a southern ISIS advance.

Concerning former regime elements, Maliki and the media have been casting a lot of blame toward former officers and members of Saddam’s army who have been joining ISIS. Meanwhile, little attention is given to the fact that Maliki has included a lot of former Baathist’s and Saddam’s officers in his government. Selective memory and reporting is certainly at work here.

Since the last threat assessment, Shia Grand Ayatollah Sistani called out to his followers to join the fight, defend Iraq, and protect the shrines. Maliki used this call as justification to arm anyone who would accept a gun. Putting weapons into the hands of anyone promising to fight against ISIS is an act of desperation that will have serious negative consequences.

a. First is the wholesale slaughter of untrained people. Without training or organization, tens of thousands of these newly armed people have already been packed into buses and shipped to the north and west to fight insurgent forces. Iraqi military trucks are already returning to Baghdad packed with bodies of these same people.

b. Second is accountability of the weapons and whereabouts of many of their new owners. In short, we have Maliki’s version of the “Fast and Furious” debacle experienced by the United States. Once those weapons are released, there is no tracking of where they went. Ultimately, a massive amount of these weapons will end up in the hands of people who only serve themselves.

Other aspects that must be considered are the criminal threat and gangs. We are already dealing with a failed government by which a criminal element and gangs will always thrive. Whether in the quest for personal gain, satisfaction of bringing torment and death to others, or to increase their corrupt power base, these groups are already terrorizing Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. The Iraqi government has readily increased their effectiveness with better weapons and ammunition. We can expect to see more armed assaults on people’s homes, robbery, rape, murder, kidnapping, and every other violation of civilized humanity.

Two organizations at work here are Hakim’s Badr Corps and Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Both organizations are always in position to move at auspicious moments. Neither Hakim nor Sadr desire Maliki to remain in power; however, both are trying to gain as much influence in the new government as possible. Never to be underestimated, Sadr has assigned the Mahdi Army to protect the shrines and holy places. This puts him in favorable standing with the Shia population and ensures he has established outposts at critical locations.

Maliki listens to guidance from Sistani only when it is to his benefit. In 2010, he was informed by Sistani to comply with the Iraqi Constitution and allow Former Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to form the new government. Allawi’s party had won the most seats in Parliament. Ignoring Sistani, Maliki blocked Allawi and maintained power himself. When Sistani recently called upon the Iraqi people to rise and fight against ISIS forces, Maliki jumped on the opportunity and armed hundreds of thousands of them. Now Maliki is ignoring Sistani’s call to step down from being Prime Minister and to support the forming of a new government.

Operating for almost eight years as the enforcers of Maliki’s burgeoning dictatorship, the Iraqi military and police have evinced no better ethics than a gang. Nouri al-Maliki has been operating death squads since he first came to power. His overt and covert prisons were always crowded with Iraqi citizens. Many of the alleged “criminals” were from families who had money to pay for their release. The Iraqi military continues to capture people with claims that they are terrorists or criminals. No one captured has the means or opportunity to obtain a real trial. Implementing the “friends and family program” Maliki has been stacking the Justice Department for years. The best evidence of this was in 2010 when he used his puppet Justice Department to rule in his favor concerning the forming of the new government.

A long time ago, I made the observation that Maliki never pays for anything he can steal. If the owners try to prevent theft, Maliki will have them killed. The Ashraf massacre of Sep 1, 2013 serves as a testimonial to this. Throughout Iraq are other testimonials. Families and entire communities have been uprooted from their homes and villages to make room for Maliki and his corrupt government.

Maliki will not be able to form a government without having the civil war continue. Fighting is now on-going in the southern Shia provinces. This past four weeks, members of various Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish coalitions have met in Amman, Jordan, to organize a coalition without Maliki. Even Moqtada Sadr representatives attended three of these meetings.

One person is openly showing cooperation with Maliki is President Talibani. Although Kurdish, Talibani is willing to cooperate if he can get as many cabinet seats as possible. Many times in the past, Talibani cooperated with Saddam Hussein against Barzani and other Kurds. A little known fact is that until Saddam arrived via helicopter at Forward Operating Base Justice for his execution, he thought his request to visit with his old friend Talibani was being fulfilled.

Maliki has made it clear, including in last week’s radio message, he will do everything in his power to remain as Prime Minister. He is already attempting to violate the Constitution’s two-term limit by doing so. If he feels he can pull it off, Maliki will completely throw out the Constitution, declare a state of emergency, and assume dictatorial powers. In an attempt to discredit Barzani, this past week Maliki accused him of supporting and funding ISIS in their attack on Mosul and other Sunni provinces.

Only two things are holding Maliki in power right now. First is his control of the Iraqi military, police, and intelligence forces. Second is Tehran. The mullahs can change their support of Maliki at any time. He is borderline close to being identified as a bigger liability than an asset. Not to be overlooked, is the possibility of an Iranian supported military coup. If so, it will not be the first time in Iraq that an ineffective ruler who put himself ahead of the welfare of the country was overthrown. If this happens, Maliki needs to remember Iraq has a very bad retirement program for dictators.

Iraqi Shia leaders understand that the power and the future of the prime ministry resides in Tehran. This past week, and for the third time, Chalibi, Solaq and Mahdi sent their representatives to Tehran to convince Ayatollah Khamenei that each of them are the most qualified person to replace Maliki. With Khamenei, they are playing the same game Maliki has been doing for years – you support me and I will obey you.

Maliki is more dependent now than ever before on the Iranian government and has openly welcomed Iranian Qods force into Iraq. That support includes ground and air forces directly attacking ISIS-controlled areas. Whether the targets of the attacks are ISIS, insurgent Sunnis, or innocent Sunnis, it does not matter to the Iraqi or Iranian government. They are all considered enemies of the Maliki government.

The involvement of Qods force commander General Soliemani has been on-going in Iraq for many years. It was he who laid out to Maliki the plan to have American forces withdrawn by President Obama. The strategy was simple: set the condition that to remain in Iraq, American troops will be subject to Iraqi law. As predicted by Soliemani, Maliki made the demand, Obama could not accept it, and American troops were withdrawn. As a result, Maliki has control of Iraq and Tehran has pretty much an exclusive relationship with Maliki. The best the United States could do was maintain a relationship with Maliki through foreign aid, weapons sales, and public support – often to the point of media disinformation. Once those three things disappear, so will any relationship between Maliki and Washington D.C.

In addition to direct engagement with ISIS and other hostile forces, the Qods force has the mission to train the Iraqi Army and the militias. This is highly dangerous to whatever independence Iraq currently has from Iran. Maliki had been a puppet of Tehran long before he became prime minister. In spite of this, a vast number of Shias and all Sunnis have worked hard to avoid this control. The Qods force is the most professional exporter of international terrorism in the world. Now they are being provided an Army and militias to build in their own image. Massive death throughout Iraq will follow.

One organization that has been on Tehran’s and General Soliemani’s target list for a long time is the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK), now located at Camp Liberty between Baghdad and the international airport. Since the June threat assessment, slander campaigns by the Iranian and Iraqi governments have claimed camp residents are tunneling out to join ISIS, and that they endorse ISIS. Tunneling out would be a practical impossibility, as the water table in less than six feet down. MeK leadership has completely disproven any allegiance to ISIS whatever. Furthermore, ISIS is extremist Sunni and MeK is moderate Shia. However, the slander campaign will continue. The Iranian government, supported by Nouri al-Maliki, will look for other justifications to attack the camp. One of the greatest dangers for the camp is a ground assault by a Qods force directed militia and/or Qods force dressed in civilian clothes claiming to be militia. Each day, the threat to Liberty residents grows stronger, while the US government ignores the Protected Person status it awarded to each member in 2004.

While the influence of the Iranian government and the power of threat groups increase every day throughout Iraq, the influence of the United States is diminishing. Supporting Nouri al-Maliki for many years, and covering up his blatant atrocities, have already created extensive animosity. Now the Iraqi people see the United States holding back while the Iranian government becomes the dominant foreign power in their country. Iranian dominance is totally in favor of the religious extremist Shia population. Moderate Shias have as much to fear from the Iranian government as do all Sunnis.

Wes Martin
Colonel (Retired), Military Police
Former Senior Antiterrorism/Force Protection Officer for all Coalition Forces
Former Operations Chief, Task Force 134 (Detention Operations)
Former Base Commander, Ashraf, Iraq

©2021 Wes Martin