tv Politics Public Policy Today CSPAN February 18, 2015 6:30pm-7:01pm EST
washington is working to reconstitute and field an integrated internal security force. to discuss these differing approaches to isil today we have a great panel featuring michael knights, philip smith, and p.j.dermer. michael knights is a lafer fellow at the washington institute and the author of the just-released study "the long haul: rebooting u.s. skoort cooperation in iraq." philip smythe is a researcher at the university of maryland and author of the blog which focuses on shiite islamist militarism in the reg jor. "the shiite jihad in syria and its regional effects." commenting on the presentations we're really lucky to have p.j. dermer, retired army colonel who served multiple tours in the region, including two in iraq. and served as senior military
adviser for reconciliation to iraqi forces in baghdad in 2008. before we start, just a quick reminder, please put your mobile phones on vibrate. we are live on c-span today, apparently. so we'll start with mike knights. >> thank you very much for coming today. it's great to see such a full room. and my colleagues on the panel with me, it's a real honor to be alongside them. so i'm going to talk today about some of the themes coming out of our new study. "the long haul: rebooting u.s. security corporation with iraq." and i want to go through the study in detail. what i'm going to do maybe is to try and pick out some of the --
i think the key issues and quandaries that come out of our security cooperation with iraqi state, with the kurdish peshmerga, and our coexistence at the moment alongside the popular mobilization units that play such a significant role in the war so far in iraq. now, just to run through a couple of graphics quickly, which are in the study, which is available in pdf form online for you to download. we include, for instance, a full brigade order of battle for the iraqi army and minister of the superior and popular mobilization forces graphically represented. and it demonstrates for one thing how much of iraqi combat power is pooled around baghdad and the immediate invie rons, how few of the military units
are able to deploy over long distances. the distances required for instance to commence a mosul operation in the second quarter of this year it's going to be very difficult to do that. and also the lack of combat-effective iraqi army brigades with the strength required to undertake a very complex, costly operation in mosul. it indicates that the nine brigades u.s.-led trained and equipped program to build oversized, combat-capable deployable units that can continue to operate after taking the casualties required in urban combat that nine brigade training and equipment program is vital. to me it dates that we're not going for a battle to commence in 2014-2015. some people are reason more grumpy about it than that. so, yeah, again, on this slide, you'll see the graphic in the study. iraqi army in yellow.
ministry of interior in black and are and the popular mobilization units in red. if you're interested in looking at the data go look at the study. likewise, we've done the same for the peshmerga in terms of a slightly rougher but quite -- probably the most detailed order of battle you're going to see out there on what the peshmerga really looks like right now and how it is structured. now, on this slide we see -- you know, even from the back it should be fairly visible -- the blue is kurdish regional security forces and the green is the areas where the federal government is contesting. one of the interesting factors in this is that you can see a little thin green line running from the iranian border up to kirkuk. that's the iranian line of supply. that directly supports the popular mobilization units who are gathering and building for a major operation just south of kirkuk at bashir.
i'm not going to talk about the progress of the war against isil. we'll do that in other forums, on other days, through our written products. i believe the war against isil in iraq initially is highly winnable. and, in fact slowly, slowly, we or that trajectory now. for many people, the velocity will not be fast enough. but the vector, the direction is in that direction towards cutting them down to the stage that they are a serious insurgent and terrorist movement. unfortunately, today's best-case scenario were 2013's worst-case scenario. the goal posts have shifted dramatically over the last few years. what we're hoping is that in the next year or so we can cut isis down until it is our worst nightmare from 2013 and then we start again and we start working our way to cut them down to where they were in 2009 when the
security operations were at their most effective, probably and then finally to get them down below that to the hopes that we had in 2009. what i'm going to talk about today more is what if we defeat isis but lose iraq in the process? what if there is another, possibly graver, threat out there which is the threat posed to some extent by the allies that we are working alongside? i'm thinking here about some of the popular mobilization unit elements who are strongly iranian-linked. all the movements that philip's going to talk about in great detail after me. what if we defeat isis but in the process we lose iraq to hezbollahization of the iraqi security sector? it may sound a little dramatic but there's a lot going on in iraq that point in that direction. is this america's yalta moment
in iraq? some people look at the yalta conference in early '45 and they say, well the u.s. government was just being realistic, the soviets were going to dominate eastern europe nothing could stop that. others would say -- would have an emotional reaction. this is when we were consigned to 50 years of communism. you know, left behind the iron curtain. even though i don't think it's a perfect analogy, where i think this is a bit of a yalta moment is that we're in the midst of a war, the war's not over yet, but it's time to start asking tough churchillian questions about how the war ends why we're fighting this war to the end who our allies are and how they'll act after let's say mosul is liberated. how they'll acted fors us how they'll act towards other elements in iraq. i think in the old days afghanistan was the good war and
iraq was the bad war. 2009 onwards. since 2014 iraq seems to be the good war. and syria's the bad war. but in reality, iraq is going to be a lot more complex. i don't think iraq is -- i believe it's a war worth fighting involving the u.s. but it's not a complex or simple war. any sense of us being in any sense allied with iran in this war against isis in iraq is fraught with danger and far more complex than many people would believe. now, one thing i've noticed since i started this study researching, talking to a lot of people just to complete the data collection on it throwing ideas out there about this pyrrhic victory we could win if we defeat isil but in the process hand iraq over to a hezbollahize hezbollahized iraqi security
structure is that a lot -- first of all it struck me that i don't think i ever heard kurds and shia arabs vent so much hatred at each other. our allies in iraq at the moment isis' enemies, are remarkably divided. remarkably resentful of each other. it's sad to see. because the fighting hasn't even vaguely stopped yet against isis. a lot of young shia guys usually will say to me, what have you got against the hashtil shabii units? they're fighting isis, you're fighting isis, fighting and dying. are they really so pad? don't you hold them to a double standard? if the peshmerga did the same thing would you criticize then as fiercely? you want to build up the sunni satwa again, the awakening movements. didn't they do all of these thing in the past? didn't they kill americans too?
we do need to think hard about these questions. we do have somewhat of an emotional reaction against the mobilization units. let's look at that. let's dig into that for a second. all these bad guys? i don't think so. they're brave fighters going to the front line. many of them are not psychos. many of them are not trying to take on sectarian mass customers. they're just normal people. i had a similar feeling when meeting hezbollah infantry men down in southern lebanon in '99. sitting about it them and their families in their houses. but behind them often far behind them there was the islamic revolutionary gad corps guys that i never did meet. and they had a very different attitude. and i certainly became personally aware of the difference between being in their midst ask not their target, as i was in southern lebanon, to later when i was operating in iraq being actively targeted.
there's something under the surface of these predominantly shia popular mobilization units that we need to look at very closely. you know again just to underline the point, on the left-hand side in the top we have the satwa guys. they look pretty scary, right? they're supposed to be our allies. in the top right we have these crisply pressed shia popular mobilization units backed by the iranian iranians. who looks scarier? i would argue, for a number of reasons i'll come to in a second, actually the guys on the left. we need to treat both business care. but the guys on the right are not as cuddly or safe or trust worthy as they look. the guys on the left, in some ways because they are cut off, i think, from major state support because they are not intricately networked into these revolution guard corps force. because they pull in smaller
increments. because they are divided rather than having the potential to form into one large hezbollah-like shadow defense institution that could threaten and overwhelm ultimately things like iraqi ministry of defense ministry of interior. i believe the guys on the right are a bigger threat. likewise, look at the bottom. there you have a western private security detail vehicle taken out by extraordinarily accurate and effective explosive formed projectiles fired by the shia groups. on the right you have a marine corps ripped to pieces by a sunni ied way back. both have killed us. both probably would kill us again, if they needed to, if they felt like they wanted to. personally, i'm more afraid of the capabilities of the iogc kurds force based special groups. 2011 they killed 16 americans
because it seemed like perhaps we were going to rethink our withdrawal from iraq. i think they're much more dangerous than the sune fee-led groups. but i'll talk about why very quickly. two main reasons. one, the -- an increased involvement of the iranian-backed popular mobilization units, particularly in areas to the north like mosul, tikrit, places out in the western anbol where they're at the moment being welcomed in piecemeal, i think they'll wear out their welcome pretty soon. i think the involvement -- overreliance on these units will lengthen the war against isis. these guys are, if you look at this, i've blanked out the gruesome images of dead body suspended from a lamp post, left there by the pmus.
likewise, a mosque massacre bottom left. this is not even images from the most recent massacre of '72, alleged massacre. top right. heavy artillery bombardment of sunni villages. they may be mostly depopulated with isis in them, but nonetheless, these guys come heavy when they come. interestingly the bottom right-hand image. you may say, there's a bunch of young fighters holding up an iraqi flag what could be wrong with that? in and of itself nothing wrong with that. what they're doing is holding it up on the main road south of kirkuk and taunting kurdish drivers with it. this isn't smart and it's not helpful. and it's an indicator, even when these guys are not out abusing civilians and undertaking counterproductive military operations or at least -- military operations with counterproductive elements they're also a source of constant friction in many of the
places they're operating alongside krg. likewise, the second maybe point, these iranian-backed militias, if not put under some form of control, will ultimately undermine the strategic independence of iraq and potentially state stability. i think, you know, we see some of the images here. behind that eagle in the top left-hand side sit ss a deliberately concealeded abu modhi u.s.-designated terrorist since i think 2009. who's been pursued for various terrorist defenses right the way back to 1983 involving kuwait. up there at the front lines, taking iraqi senior leadership on a tour of pmu successes. but carefully hidden in this
picture, because it was recognized, it might cause offense, perhaps. likewise, former pm maliki vice president maliki now, meeting up with senior leadership in hezbollah. like wide on the bottom side u.s. enrap, u.s. abrams with flags attached to it. i wish our information operations was as good as that's guise. everything when we do, when we achieve something, what do we do? we like to fall into the background. it's better the iraqis take credit for the things that they've achieved. well, you know what, 100% wrong. when the iogc kurds force guys have any involvement, or even if they have no involvement in a successful operation they get their most senior leadership right there and plaster their faces across every media outlet and social media outlet they can find. i think we need to be doing more to demonstrate what the u.s. and
the international coalition is doing to stabilize iraq. because we're really on a back foot when it comes to information operations. so these guys are ambitious. they are not some kind of minor, small group of concerned local citizens, former satwa, et cetera. in 2009 when the satwa was being set up these guys never disbanded. these guys never did bio met tribes. most of these satwa movements, they came in they signed their piece of paper, they did the biometrics which the iraqi government now holds on them. hezbollah, they never did that stuff. they just said, we might stop fighting you but one day we'll fight you again. but for now, we're willing to take the paycheck for being a son of iraq. these guys are not from the minority like the sunni satwa are. these guys have got a serious state sponsor. these guys are in charge of
mechanized unit capability now. these guys have got multiple rocket launch systems and a regular resupply of ammunition coming from iran. these guys have got iogc kurds force xart are themented intelligence facility skiffs within their headquarters linking them to kurds force drones operations overhead iranian air support potentially iraqi air support being facilitated by the iranians in some ways. they are a powerful entity. they're well armed, they're networked into ministry of interior, and some of the other key iraqi security met quarters. there's transnational. they're linked to other aspects of the axis of resistance lebanese hezbollah kurds force. so this is not -- these are people who will undermine iraq's strategic independence going forward. luckily, bringing us round to the solution at the end, i think a lot of the moderate shia leadership in iraq recognize
that. whether they're in the political sphere, whether they're military men, or whether they're in the religious sphere. iraqi military does not like milllish shark it never did. it doesn't like i think having to operate alongside the pmus although it recognizes they have contributed blood, sweat and tears to stopping isil's advance. i have to give them that absolutely. they deserve our respect as fighting men to some extent and many of them deserve our full respect as fighting men because they have given everything, including their lives, to bring isis to a halt. but the institution that they're part of and the forces that sit behind these often very good fighting men, we need to look extremely closely at them. luckily i think a lot of the senior iraqi leaders agree with the u.s. that they are a threat. luckily we've seen in many cases in the past the iraqi shia vote for iraq rather than vote for sectarianism and vote for iran. for instance iran/iraq war.
not really a shimmer of an uprising against the iraqi state during the iran/iraq war. hundreds of thousands maliki doing charge of the nights. he needed to cut legs out from under the militias before he cut the crown jewel basra. the iraqis understand senior leaders need to do something about the pmus and the sahwa one day. they need governors in individual provinces to say we he don't need a national brithd
for this particular province we're secure. a way of reducing takeover in provinces like basra. it's under prime minister's office, provisional control. all these things are built into the national guard law. and they need to be. the struggle will be implementation. these guys and iranian backed militias will take all the bits they like. we won't get paid, we won't have pensions, light armored vehicles maintained by the government. we want to have light arms provided by the government. but that's how they'll try to play it. that's how they always do. but i need to stay on this. this brings us back to the final point. some of these individuals, dhawa party are trying to lend a hand even though it's run by a bawa level leader.
kazaw sxichlt samir haddad in senior deputy positions within mli. likewise bottom left-hand side you see fayed rung the shahabi portfolio, i guess you could say, the national security adviser. again, some conservative element of dhawa party, conservative as in they don't want a radical change in the nature of power in iraq they don't want to be one day jettisoned as those are the politician that's we iraqi hezbollah, keep in the cupboard and bring them out whenever we want to look acceptable. they don't want that to be the end point for where iraq goes. we've got allies for where we can work in iraq. but the only way we're going to get those allies is if we outperform iran as a security partner. we can't ask for everything we want from the iraqis unless we demonstrate we are seriously committed about going forward, and not just until isis is gone. not just until mosul is liberated but finally until -- no end point.
what we need is a visionary decade spanning re-engajt with the iraqi government for a deep lasting security cooperation, and why wouldn't we? this is not lebanon. no disrespect to lebanon. but if we lose iraq to hezbollahization of the security structure this is a country with the same oil as saudi arabia, 35, 40 million and going up. connected to every key regional state. this is like losing china in the '50s. this is not some small country even though i think some people within the administration have put it in a small box in their mind. that's not what it is. so we need to do more than the minimum and then leave. we need to demonstrate we're there for the long term. but we need to explain that. i'm going to explain and phillyp's going to explain in the meantime. the iranians are playing. they're there what we used to do. iranian revolutionary guard corps, air force close air
controllers, pilots who know how the su-25s above that iran gave back to iraq work. they're doing this really well. we need to do it really well. and one of the things we need to start doing is put more of our special forces closer to the front line because if we don't demonstrate commitment to the iraqi arm yy they will continue to rely on iranian-backed pmus as their primary weapons system and they can't retake back mosul that way. the moslawis will not accept it. it will cause more problems. and even the pmus probably don't have the force to take back mosul. so if he with want to finish off isil in iraq or even get heavy in that direction we need a major iraqi army build-up we need to demonstrate u.s. commitment and hewe need ultimately to outperform the iranians as a security partner. i'll just finish off by leaving something up. just as i wanted to -- 5k run
walk going on cameron run regional park in alexandria, virginia, may 9th, 2015. if you're interested. there's the url at bottom. www.src www.src. it's a good cause. support it if you can. >> guess my slides are not going up. okay. sans slides i'm going to have to try to work with this. what's really going on in syria right now. we had a jihad that it seemed like nobody even noticed was going on. everybody picked up on isis, al
qaeda, generalate al-nusra a section of al qaeda fighting there. and this was described as the jihad going on inside of syria. but people neglected the fact -- sorry about that, guys. back to the main story. people were neglecting this. this is another jihad, a major jihad that just seemed to float under everybody's noses. well, maybe it looked more organized or maybe it was just organic and there were shia coming to defend this shrine in the back saita zeinab which is south of damascus. that was all it was to many people that okay, a fushia fighters went to syria and they just wanted to defend the shrine. but it's not. it hides something that's much, much larger. we're also seeing it in iraq. we're seeing an ideological spread that iran is trying to push to push their absolute
ideology, among iraqis among other moderate shia. i don't like to use this term, moderate shiashia, but shia who do not believe in their radical khomeinist concepts. this is what was napping shia in a nutshell and now we're seeing it on a regional plane. and it's shocking. it's shocking that not as many people were noticing it. so there are a few myths and facts about this shia jihad. and i think unfortunately in the press because it's hard to cover the issue a few things have popped up. actually, i collected quotes from people that i know who are asking me about it as i was doing research. and one of the them said, but don't all foreign fighters come in sunni? and i included the chart here from the "washington post" which cites isis fighters and other sunni fighters and it just lists them as foreign fighters. one of the largest if not the largest foreign fighter contingent inside of syria had nothing to do with al qaeda, had everything to do with the iranians routing people from iraq, from lebanon afghan
refugees who were living in iran sometimes from afghanistan. they even routed in african fighters. they claimed in route in somalis. they claimed to route in one man that was killed from cote d'ivoire. this was a really large-scale operation. we're talking about tens of thousands of people. another prime narrative in the media, it always goes, you know, isis uses facebook and twitter, they have social media that must mean they're more advanced. i have a little hint for you guys. the shia militia groups that are run by the iranians actually have a far more advanced recruitment structure online. nobody has done anything to really take it off or even investigate it. i mean i could go here if we had facebook up, i could find you one in about five seconds. they're doing this quite openly. and not hiding it. they're putting up extremely graphic images, ones we have written a hashtag about on twitter about isis. much the same kind of material.
there's another issue here. i talked about iran's control of these organizations and the routing of these fighters. so one of the lines that was given to me by a friend, she's probably not going to be my friend anymore was that you know phil all these groups look pretty independent. well, the devil's really in the details. and it's about a granular look. don't miss the forest for its trees but focus on the important stuff. a lot of these groups that were fighting in syria openly stated that they believe in absolute wayatal fakei and they were under the radar. they were fighting with hezbollah, a devoted proxy to the iranians. there is an absolute connection here. they were training in iran. they were being shipped back after they were dying through iran, not directly back to iraq. so they're not that independent. they are directly controlled. another line has been you know they're not as brutal. and we are fighting the same enemy. well, this makes a lot of sense,
kind of. if you get past the whole narrative structure. these groups actually cast a narrative structure that said all syrian rebels were takfirin. they were muslims who wanted to accuse other muslims of apostasy and thus they could be killed. this is how they cast even our -- u.s.'s moderate so, kauld moderate allies. this was a larger narrative process they underwent. and now it's coming to full fold when we're watching iraq. and not that i'm saying it's not isis doing a lot of the fighting. but they have cast kind of this sunni enemy of theirs as takfiris. it doesn't necessarily mean they are your buddies. the other thing is they were just reactionary. well, these groups were around for quite some time, decades even. i'll give you the example of the badr organization in iraq. the iranians created them or helped create them from iraqi refugees who went over to iran in the early 1980s to fight saddam hussein. they were ev