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
August 20, 2014

Nouri al-Maliki's agreement to step down from power comes not from his desire to serve the interests of Iraq as he claims, but realization that within a month he was going to be removed from his office. His concession came after his threats to remain in power by force could not be implemented. Other than the Golden Division and his 700-member security detail, Maliki had lost control of the Iraqi military and police. The only two choices he had were walking away like Bakr or Arif, or have his executed body dragged out like Faisal or Qassim. Iraq has a terrible retirement plan for former heads of state.

Al-Maliki has decided to return to his small town of Twereag in Karbala Province. This will afford him the ability to be as politically close to Tehran as possible without physically moving to Iran. Karbala Province has long been a stronghold of the Iranian-allied Ammar al-Hakim and his Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq). The enforcement/defense arm of Hakim is the Badr Corps militia.

Al-Maliki has managed to maintain his position as Secretary General of the Dawa Party, of which incoming Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is also a member. Legal action against al-Maliki for atrocities against humanity and crimes against Iraq is unlikely in the near future. However, after he loses control of the military and police forces, and when new leadership feels it is their best interest to turn on al-Maliki, this can very quickly change. Iraqi power brokers have a philosophy: "When I am in a position of weakness, how can I negotiate? When I am in a position of power, why should I?" Another problem facing al-Maliki is that he is a high value target soon to be separated from his massive personal security forces, not to mention others with blood vengeance in their hearts waiting in the wings.

Al-Abadi's ascension to power came with the approval from neighboring Tehran and on-scene Qods Force Commander Major General Soleimani. Washington's blessing is seen in Baghdad as a "me, too" effort and not taken very seriously. U.S. government's years of totally supporting al-Maliki, despite his obvious criminal activity and abuse of authority, has not set well with Iraqi citizens. Approving al-Maliki's attempt for a third term as prime minister, in violation of the Iraqi Constitution, followed by President Obama's congratulatory telephone call to al-Maliki, added to the problem. Iraqi citizens know the election was manipulated through fraud, intimidation, displacement of potential Sunni voters through several years of terror, and the flooding of the Falluja Dam.

Although al-Maliki is yielding power, the damage and instability he created are far from over. His determination for absolute power has resulted in widespread violence and a failed state. Threats now facing Iraq, in descending order, are the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Iranian Qods Force, gangs, criminals, and militias.

Armed with American weapons and equipment abandoned by Iraqi forces, ISIS now has the temporary advantage. That advantage will incrementally disappear. American equipment requires continuous maintenance and replacement parts, as does that of any modern military. ISIS lacks the discipline, parts source, and technical knowledge to ensure that the equipment remains operational. Initially, they will practice cannibalization of parts from other American equipment and the future of that practice will be limited to the level of usage.

This week's success at Mosul Dam by Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraq forces has proven ISIS forces are not invincible. The fear of ISIS destroying the dam and causing a massive flood through the Tigris Valley was very real. ISIS did rig the dam with explosive devices. 170 have been found thus far. Hopefully, these devices and others yet to be found will be disarmed without incident.

ISIS can be driven out of Iraq by an organized, disciplined, and properly armed force. Weapons are now coming into opposing Kurdistan. Unfortunately, not all weapons are making it to the Peshmerga. As discovered this past week, American weapons being sent to Kurdistan are also making it to local war lords and tribal chiefs. In turn, these weapons are sold for profit. A few days ago, we had the case of a Peshmerga warrior who had to buy one of these weapons, magazines, and ammunition from the black market. For years, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has been fighting corruption, but his work is far from completion.

When the American military left Iraq, a fair percentage of weapons systems had been earmarked for the Kurdish Peshmerga. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to release these state-of-the-art weapons to Kurdistan and instead kept the weapons stored at Balad. His desire, as also Minister of Defense and Minister of Interior, was to keep the Peshmerga at a weakened state. Unfortunately, ISIS was able to add these weapons to their ever-growing inventory. Had this equipment been provided as scheduled, ISIS would never have been able to recently threaten Kurdistan and the city of Erbil.

ISIS has taken hits from U.S. military air power. At the end of last week, Central Command acknowledged nine missions had struck four armed personnel carriers (APCs), two Humvees, an armored vehicle, and seven armed vehicles. The standard armed vehicle in that region is a bongo truck (small pick-up) with someone holding a weapon (mounted or not) over the cab. The week before, the White House touted the destruction of an artillery weapon. The bottom line is simple - individual B52s over Vietnam routinely dropped more ordnance than what has been used on ISIS thus far. The amount of equipment destroyed is less than what is found in a single American Army combat arms company.

The relief of Mount Sinjar is being touted by the White House and State Department as a victory. The question is for whom? It is good that, at least in one location, the genocide being exercised on the Yazidis has been stopped. Unfortunately, by the time they received help, tens of thousands had already died by either execution, starvation, dehydration, or from their wounds. Meanwhile, elsewhere in northern Iraq, targeting and killing by ISIS continue. For the U.S. Administration to justify not further helping to prevent more massacres because of a recent Kurdish and Iraqi military success, makes as much logic as justifying not trying to block the genocide in Rwanda because of the final success of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. To Bill Clinton's credit, he admits he should have done more - 800,000 deaths later. The current death toll of forces aligned against ISIS in Iraq is jumping by leaps and bounds on a daily basis.

"Abandon all possessions and flee, pay a tax, convert to our brand of extreme Islam, or die" are the options being given by ISIS fighters to Christians and moderate Muslims. The reality is unless the victims escape to a permanently safe area, they will be hunted down and killed. Paying a tax is a temporary condition. Paying a tax today will result in the same condition tomorrow. This is very similar to kidnappings of Iraqi citizens that have been going on for years by Maliki's police. Paid fines (ransoms, in reality) result in continual re-arrests until the families have no more money and then the victims are executed. The beheading of photojournalist James Foley and pending execution of Steven Sotloff graphically personalize for the United States the brutality of ISIS.

Meanwhile, the Mount Sinjar assessment provided by the American military team does not balance with other reports coming available. It has to be recognized that the media does not provide news as much as it sells sensationalism. As a result, its reports cannot be completely accepted at face value. This military assessment reminds me of the early days when U.S. division commanders were assuring Lieutenant General Sanchez that ordnance sites abandoned by Saddam's military were secure. One joint assessment mission to a set of sites was conducted by a platoon of the 1st Armored Division and me. My report with accompanying photographs, showing a totally unsecured site, complete with impressions in the ground of 500-pound bombs having been dragged away, was briefed directly to LTG Sanchez. The platoon's report worked its way up through company, battalion, brigade, and division staff. At each level the report was polished to present a better picture than what was received from the lower level. As a result, 1st Armored Division's Commander, Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, assured LTG Sanchez that the site was properly secured and that it was impossible for explosive ordnance to be stolen. This Mount Sinjar report came to President Obama through both the military and political structure, then was presented to the American public with a political agenda. The fact that President Obama's report does not balance with the media is not an issue. What is an issue, is that the President's report does not balance either with the initial report or with what the Iraqi people are stating.

There is another problem with the Mount Sinjar operation. Iraq is melting down. ISIS has the advantage of geography. They are centralized with Syria and Lebanon to the south and west, Turkey to the north, Kurdistan to the east, and Shia Iraq to the south. Opposition against ISIS ranges from piecemeal to non-existent. ISIS is moving freely around northern and western Iraq. A convoy of military equipment moving through Al Anbar Province is about as hard to detect as a column of ants moving across a piece of coarse sandpaper. In one strafing run, the United States could triple the amount of adversary vehicles/equipment thus far destroyed. Instead, American media and government attention has stayed anchored to Mount Sinjar. These air attacks, limited to missions of supporting humanitarian aid and defending American troops in Iraq, are not helping to ultimately defeat ISIS. All we have seen thus far, including in defense of Erbil and Kurdistan, is a containment mission. Vietnam taught us containment missions do not work. Thus far, ISIS recruitment is outpacing its attrition.

Further addressing the question of who is the victor at Mount Sinjar, we need to review another set of facts. The airstrike that destroyed a single artillery weapon taught ISIS the need to use the cover of the local population - not unlike what Hamas is doing in the Gaza Strip. From American military focus and extensive media coverage of Mount Sinjar, ISIS learned the art of distraction. In short, ISIS is operating inside our decision-making cycle when, in fact, we should be operating inside theirs.

By tying American airpower to limited and highly sensational areas, ISIS knows it is free to move elsewhere without concern or fear of attacks. Unfortunately, our intelligence community, executive branch, and media, have been too focused on Kurdistan and Mount Sinjar. While the U.S. administration is celebrating the defeat of ISIS in these areas, no one is asking where the attacking forces have gone. This has created an excellent future tactic for ISIS: use a minimal force to create the appearance of a crisis in one location. Once all attention is focused on that area to run the major effort of its reign of terror elsewhere - a feint operation.

This brings us to the next major threat in Iraq - Iran and its Qods Force. Two weeks prior to being acknowledged by State Department, my sources and I were reporting Qods Force operating north of Baghdad. After the fall of Tikrit, Qods Force was the only thing stopping ISIS advancement to Baghdad.

As of right now, the Qods force is becoming operationally stretched. General Soleimani is continually having to jump between Baghdad, Syria, and Lebanon. Just as he cannot allow Assad to fall, Soleimani also cannot allow Hezbollah to fail with its original mission - fighting in Lebanon. In support of Assad, the Iranian-backed and financed Hezbollah had previously turned its attention 180 degrees away from Lebanon and toward Syria. Now with ISIS opening up a new front in Lebanon, Hezbollah is going to have to shift back. That, in turn, is going to weaken Asad's defense. A major feint operation by ISIS in Lebanon can be followed by the primary thrust against Assad's regime and also against the moderate Free Syrian Army.

Iran has a lot more forces that can be brought into Iraq and before this fight is over, those forces will have to be deployed. For the Sunni population in northern and western Iraq, the presence of Iranian forces will only prolong their rise up against ISIS. The brutality of the Iranian military may well be no better than what is being endured right now.

The increased presence of Iranian military in Iraq will prevent the success of a true Shia/Sunni coalition government. The Iranian fundamentalists have already made it clear that they are the primary external government influence in Iraq. This was well displayed by Ayatollah Khamenei's push-back of President Obama's suggestion of a joint American/Iranian effort to help Iraq fight ISIS.

The greater the dependency of the Iraqi government on Iran, the greater the threat to the lives of the residents of Camp Liberty - containment location of Iranian dissidents turned over to the Maliki government in 2009. Already attacked multiple times by Iraqi government forces with embedded Iranian agents, the residents have already suffered over 110 fatalities (Ashraf and Liberty combined). At present, the residents are enduring a fuel blockade and denial of several forms of life support to include food. Unfortunately, the United States government has done little to nothing to fulfill verbal and written promises to these residents. When attacks occurred on these residents by the Iraqi government, U.S. State Department went straight into deception campaigns to protect al-Maliki.

Caught in a situation created by U.S. State Department and the United Nations, these residents are already on borrowed time. Unless positive and complete action is soon taken by these two entities, the next attack with include an extensive massacre with survivors taken to Iran for imprisonment and public execution. Right now Liberty residents are into their eighth day of a food, fuel, and blackwater disposal blockade. This is not unlike the blockade that occurred at Ashraf just prior to the massacre. The blockade also serves as testimony that the Iraqi government is paying little to no attention to either the United Nations or the United States government.

The next threats facing Iraq and its citizens are gangs, criminals, and militias. It is typically difficult to separate them. At present, all three are mixed and out of control throughout the cities of Iraq. Death squads are attacking neighborhoods and justifying their actions through religion, revenge, hate, or opportunity. To a much lesser extent, this has been going on for years with the Iraqi police looking the other way (or participating), depending upon the religion of the victims.

Two militias that have been very quiet are the Iraqi Hezbollah (a.k.a. al-Mukhtar), led by Wathiq al-Batat, and the Mahdi Army led by Moqtada al-Sadr. Nearly a year ago, al-Batat had vowed to do everything possible to keep Nouri al-Maliki in power. The reality was that al-Batat was basically running a front organization to protect al-Maliki by claiming credit for atrocities committed by Iraqi government forces. On the other hand, Moqtada is a survivor who knows when to play his hand and when to be quiet. In the last parliamentary elections, he won enough seats to be an influential force in the government. He will use his Mahdi Army as a defense force to protect communities and shrines as the new government develops. He will also work to gain as much influence in the new government as possible. Acting as a radical or religious extremist at this time is not in Moqtada's interest.

The future threat to Iraqi reunification and defeat of ISIS will likely come from the Iraqi population itself. Anger and hate are running strong.

The Sunni population has suffered from eight years of corruption and genocide brought on by Nouri al-Maliki. Now they are suffering genocide from ISIS and an internal breakdown of communities whose populations are split between supporting ISIS, opposing ISIS, and just trying to stay alive. The Shia population has also suffered from family members having died to protect the Maliki government, especially over the past few weeks.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani's call for all young Shia males to defend Iraq and its shrines resulted in tens of thousands joining the fight against ISIS. They were sworn into the military, issued a rifle, provided less than two hours of firearms training, and immediately trucked to the front lines north and west of Baghdad all in the same day. There was no professional command structure. Instead, the only thing Maliki accomplished was the creation of instant Shia gangs with no leadership being sent into Sunni areas. In steady rhythm, the same cargo vehicles that were transporting young men to the front were returning with dead bodies only to restart the cycle again.

Al-Abadi promises unification, reform, and moderation inside Iraq. Hassan Rouhani promised the same last year in Iran. We know how that turned out. Al-Abadi has major problems not being suffered by Rouhani: a hostile force controls about one-third of Iraq as al-Abadi takes the reins of a failed state with numerous threat elements determined to either destroy the government or each other.

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