The “Shia Crescent” damaged by Iraq and Hezbollah’s battle



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By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai

The battle of communiqués and social media became red hot in the last few days between a part of Iraq supportive of the Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Sayed Moqtada al-Sadr on one side, and on the other the “axis of resistance” in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon due to ISIS evacuation from the Syrian borders with Lebanon. On top of that, the United States forced its way into the middle in an attempt to show both a “noble” attitude and an inflexible position towards terrorism- whereas its forces in Syria and Iraq were in fact pioneers in supervising an ISIS evacuation from Manbij (Syria) and Anbar (Iraq) last year.

The “battle” began in Lebanon, a country divided between those who are enemies of Hezbollah and those who support it. It is not unusual for a country to contain different loyalties and factions: there are those who support Hezbollah regardless of its acts, and those who are against it for any or no reason.

It all began when, in the last months and days, Hezbollah managed to recover, alone, the territory occupied by al-Qaeda on the Lebanese border. Al-Qaeda, badly defeated, accepted to be evacuated in retreat to the Syrian city of Idlib (7777 militants and civilians evacuated), with Damascus’s approval. The country had finally been freed from the terrorist group that had been controlling parts of Lebanon for years. This victory triggered a shock wave in the Lebanon and the Middle East (not to say in the west) – not because Hezbollah had proved to be a significant military force, highly trained, organised and with a robust ideology- but because most Lebanese “enemies” of Hezbollah found themselves praising the victory. And this raised alarm among the enemies of Hezbollah outside the country, requiring order to be restored among the supporters of Lebanon.

When the battle against ISIS on the Lebanese and Syrian territories (their joint borders) started, the Lebanese Army Forces (LAF) took on part of the front, supported by the US and Britain. Both countries made it clear that no cooperation between the LAF and Hezbollah would be permitted- at the cost of ceasing any military and training support if it happened. Obviously, such a naïve and impossible demand was not met because, militarily speaking, it is not possible to avoid coordination on the same battlefield, with three forces (LAF, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA),and Hezbollah) operating in a designated geographical area with each force necessarily bordering another as they advanced.

The main demand imposed on ISIS to surrender was so that the fate of 8 LAF soldiers kidnapped 3 years before could be revealed- the 9th had converted to ISIS. The terrorist group agreed and the deal was made with the approval of the LAF and the Lebanese political leadership. ISIS respected the deal and revealed that although the 8 LAF soldiers had been considered alive, amongst much speculation, they were in fact dead, killed in 2015. Military commanders agreed that the remaining 309 ISIS personnel cornered in one area would have normally fought to the last man before accepting military defeat, killing many members of the attacking forces even though the outcome was obvious. Hezbollah’s enemies, used this opportunity to attack the group and described the exchange with ISIS as insignificant- disregarding the loss of life that had been avoided by not continuing the battle. Clearing the Lebanese-Syrian borders relieved 1700 Hezbollah and 2000 SAA that were moved to the Deir al-Zour front, leaving just a few dozen personnel in the area.

The biggest surprises came from Iraq, the country that Hezbollah sent its top commanders and trainers to save in 2014 when the Iraqi security forces were on the run, dispersed, and their command in chaos. Leading these was Ali Fay’yad (Abu Alaa’ al Bosnia), the head of Hezbollah Special Forces (who fought also in Bosnia) was killed two years later in Syria close to Palmyra while combatting ISIS. Many Hezbollah commanders, who had fought for years against Israel on the Lebanese front, were killed in Iraq (Jurf al-Sakr, Samarra, TuzKhormato, Mosul…), others were wounded. Very recently one of the top commanders in the Hezbollah military leadership (Haj K.H.) was wounded by a VBIED during the battle of Mosul.

The Iraqi reactions were revelatory: one side aligned with the “axis of the resistance” and the other with the US and its allies. Sayed Moqtada al-Sadr, with his unstable political stand and his shifting alliances, reflects this: he decided to fight the US occupation of Iraq in 2004 to 2008 and then changed his policy following several defections of groups from his military wing (more on him in a future article).

Is it not shocking to see Moqtada taking over al-Kufa mosque to preach in, in the city that originated in ancient Islam Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Shurayh bin Harith al-Kindi (known as al-Qadi) and last but not least Shimr bin Dhil-Jawshan? The same Kufa city had signed a document pledging the support of Imam Hussein bin Ali bin AbiTaleb bin Abdel Muttaleb bin Hashem to lead their army (18,000 men) against the Umayyad: Hussein was left (after Kufa inhabitants abandoned Hussein’s cousin Muslim IbnAqil to his destiny to be executed. His last words were: “O Allah, you be the judge between us and our people, they deceived us and deserted us”) to the army of Ubayd Allah Bin Ziyad, the Kufa Emir, to be killed in Karbalaa on the 10th of October 680 a.d.

Also, Moqtada is known for his jealousy of Sayed Hasan Nasrallah, and pronounced himself, on many private occasions, “better then Nasrallah”. Moreover, he feels his group is more important than Hezbollah and he believes in contradicting Iran in anything. Moqtada has also decided to become Abadi’s ally in the forthcoming elections (more in a forthcoming article).

This pushed the Prime Minister Haidar Abadi – who made a deal with ISIS to pull out of Ramadi and TalAfar – to ask the Syrian government “to investigate the transport of 309 ISIS and 332 civilians from the Syrian western borders to the Syrian eastern borders”. A requested considered ridiculous since it is the Syrian government who approved the transport within its territory, to leaving room for the reason behind Abadi’s message: promoting himself for the forthcoming election and distinguishing himself from the axis of the resistance.

Abadi not only is interfering in Syrian affairs but has allowed thousands of ISIS to leave Anbar during the Ramadi and Fallujah battle, and similar numbers in Mosul and TalAfar when, for many months, the road to Syria was open to the group from Iraq. In fact, Abadi rejected an Iraqi military plan to close the Iraqi-Syrian borders before the battle of Nineveh. The US rejected the plan and advised Abadi to start with Mosul first and leave the borders. The US benefitted from imposing its plan on Abadi so as to occupy part of Syria (Tanaf and eastern Syria) and to allow ISIS to flow into Syria to keep the Russians-Iranians-Syrians-Hezbollah busy fighting ISIS. The cities of Hawija, Ana, Rawa, Mosul and TalAfar would have been surrounded with no way out for ISIS, had the borders with Syria been closed first. Sooner or later the Iraqi security forces have to coordinate with Syria for the battle of al-Qaem, where the bulk of thousands of ISIS fighters are located.

Iraq, therefore, allowed ISIS to go to Syria on purpose, for the best interests of its military operation, governmental position, and alliance with the US. This choice was made to avoid the loss of US military support for Iraq. Syria, in this case (unlike Prime Minister Abadi), didn’t say “open an investigation” into this decision.

In relation to the US, it was under its own supervision that the first deal allowing ISIS to exit from Manbij was reached in 2016 and in Anbar during the battle of Fallujah and Ramadi. However, it was an excellent opportunity to go along with Abadi’s stand and to show solidarity with the Iraqi people (Moqtada and others) by hitting (just delayed for 12 hours only) the road between Hmaymah and albu Kamal where the exchange of prisoners, corpses, militants and civilians was planned to take place but later changed to Deir al-Zour. The US history is littered with negotiations with groups, starting with the Taliban and ending with ISIS, to date. Today, the US found a golden opportunity to spray gasoline on fire.

Abadi exposed his strategy and position for the forthcoming elections, showing where he is standing to attract local, regional and international support. The Iraqi electoral battle will be without gloves next year.

So ISIS is totally defeated in Lebanon (shrinking in Syria and Iraq) but has managed to create – involuntarily – a breach between the “axis of the resistance” and the “Shia crescent” (Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut) which no one has managed before. This “crescent” – which had inspired fear based on ignorance- is damaged today: the Shia anti-ISIS front is not in harmony even if the enemy is united.

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