The Iranians lose one… in Iraq

Despite massive problems with their faltering economy and uncontrolled COVID-19 spread,  Iran continues its quest to become the Middle Eastern regional power.  The  ruling Mullahs have a pathological hatred and fear of the United States , which. has not, nor will it, abate  for the foreseeable future. But where are they now?

Is Iran accepting its Defeat in Iraq? From MEMRI 20 April (on line periodical bringing the news and thinking of the Middle East that US  media do not cover.



On April 10, 2020, Tehran welcomed the designation of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s pro-U.S. Chief of Intelligence as its new Prime Minister, a decision reached with consensus among Iraq’s political groups. Abbas Mousavi, spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Al-Kadhimi’s designation is “the right step in the right direction,” wishing him success in his mission to meet the demands of the Iraqi people.[1]

Iraj Masjedi, the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, similarly stated that “Iran supports the appointment of Mustafa al-Kadhimi as the new Prime Minister of Iraq” and that the country “views him positively.”[2] Commenting on the news, Iran’s state-run news agency, Tasnim, anticipated that Al-Kadhimi will succeed in forming a cabinet within the mandated 30 days.[3]

Iran’s welcoming of Al-Kadhimi’s designation came as a surprise. Just a few weeks before he was appointed, Iran-backed political groups accused Al-Kadhimi of providing the U.S. with the intelligence that facilitated the January 3, 2020 airstrike that killed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qassim Soleimani and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.[4]

The new Iraqi designated PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi (Source:

If he succeeds in forming a cabinet, Al-Kadhimi might very well thwart Iran’s ultimate goal of ousting U.S. troops from Iraq, a possibility which Tehran and its proxies in Iraq have been pointing to repeatedly and loudly since the death of Soleimani.

An Iraqi government headed by Al-Kadhimi and supported by the U.S. could also threaten Iran’s economy, which relies on Iraq as a last-ditch lifeline. It would also threaten their land supply route to Syria.

In light of this, the positive reaction expressed by Iranian officials and media raises some serious questions as to what might have prompted Tehran’s change of tune, and whether its acceptance of a pro-U.S. Iraqi Prime Minister signals an overall shift in its policy in Iraq and the rest of the region.

What Prompted Iran To Accept Al-Kadhimi?

To answer this question, one must look back at the recent events leading up to Iran’s acceptance of Al-Kadhimi.

First, Iran’s extensive meddling in the internal affairs of Baghdad has elicited a growing political and public opposition, as evidenced by the anti-government protests which lasted for months, and which resulted in the resignation of one of Iran’s closest allies in Iraq —  PM Adel Abdul Mahdi, who was in power for less than a year. Mahdi is widely accused of making backroom deals that served Iran’s strategic interests and economy and expanded the influence of PMU factions in the Iraqi state.[5]

Second, amid the anti-government protests, said to have been oppressed by Iran-backed groups, came the U.S airstrike which eliminated Soleimani and Al-Muhandis. Iran has been unable to find the right replacements for the two men, and thus failed to ensure its tight grip over the Shi’ite parties and militias in Iraq.

The new IRGC Quds Force commander, Ismael Qanni, has so far demonstrated that he is unable to fill the shoes of his predecessor. His recent visit to Baghdad on April 2 to unify the Shi’ite groups in rejecting a pro-U.S. candidate for the post of Prime Minister has proven to be a failure.[6]

Third, the killing of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis served as the beginning of the fragmentation within the PMU scene. The most obvious symptom of this fragmentation was the withdrawal of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s aligned factions from the PMU and their subsequent plan to merge with the Iraqi security forces.[7]

Fourth, the withdrawal of Al-Sistani’s well-equipped and trained factions from the PMU also signaled the termination of Al-Sistani’s 2014 fatwa, which obligated all capable Iraqi men to take arms against ISIS. Iran took advantage of that fatwa to help establish the PMU as existing outside the authority of the Iraqi state in the fight against ISIS. The termination of the fatwa strips the PMU of the cover of religious legitimacy, which they have been misusing to target U.S. interests in Iraq, thus making them vulnerable to being held legally accountable.

Fifth, the efforts of PMU factions to outdo each other in expressing their loyalty to Tehran resulted in growing rifts between them on the question of who will succeed Al-Muhandis, in addition to further damaging Iran’s ability to agree on how to address the presence of the U.S. in the country.

Sixth, the PMU factions had begun exhibiting signs of their fear of U.S. retaliation, so much so that they began denying their involvement in recent rocket attacks targeting the U.S. embassy or Iraqi military bases that house U.S. troops.

The factions obviously fear facing the same fate as Soleimani and Al-Muhandis. This has limited Iran’s options for targeting U.S. troops.[8] In fact, some of Iran’s proxies went even further, and denounced rocket attacks targeting U.S. troops and interests. For example, the pro-Iran Fatah coalition condemned the three rockets which landed near the site of U.S. Halliburton oil service, saying such attacks “cause severe damage to the Iraqi economy.”[9]

Seventh, Tehran has also realized that any attack against U.S. troops in Iraq will prompt a severe military retaliation from Washington, one which will target not only Iran’s proxies in Iraq, but Iran itself. Iranian officials fully understood President Donald Trump’s message when he tweeted on April 1 that Iran and its proxies will pay a heavy price if U.S. troops or assets in Iraq were to be attacked.[10]

Eighth, Iran’s unsuccessful alternative tactic of creating fictitious Iraqi armed groups such as the League of Revolutionaries or People of the Cave, and blaming them for rocket attacks against U.S. troops has proven to have little — if any —  impact on the presence of U.S. forces in the region. Accusing these groups also demonstrates Iran’s wish to disassociate itself from the more recent attacks.[11]

In this regard, three previously unknown Shi’ite militia groups have surfaced in April: Usbat Al-Thaereen [League of Revolutionaries], Asehab Al-Kahf [People of The Cave] and Qabdat Al-Huda [The Fist Of Guidance]. The three groups have issued threats against the U.S. presence in Iraq, including videos showing drone footage of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone[12] and the Ain al-Assad military base which houses U.S. troops in Anbar.[13]

Lastly, in addition to all these crippling factors, the COVID-19 crisis has brought a sharp drop in oil prices, further aggravating Iran’s economic difficulties and inhibiting Iran’s ability to advance its goals in Iraq.

Does Endorsing Al-Kadhimi Signal A Change In Iran’s Policy In Iraq And The Rest Of The Region?

Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Israel have all taken action to limit Iran’s ability to control Syria and Iraq as part of its scope of influence. And yet, Iran has proved before that it knows how to turn threats against it into opportunities for ensuring the survival of the regime as safeguarding its regional influence.

Recognizing its weaknesses and recent failure in Iraq, Iran’s endorsement of Al-Kadhimi comes as part of a new, pragmatic approach, which is nevertheless limited to Iraq, and not the rest of the region.

Even so, while Iran seemingly accepted Al-Kadhimi’s designation in Iraq, it will continue to obstruct his task of forming a government. In its efforts to do so, Iran will use stalling tactics, and threaten that if the new PM fails to oust U.S. troops from Iraq through diplomatic channels, Iran’s proxies will resort to force once again.[14]

One should also expect Iran to take covert action in its efforts to rid itself of its major opponents, who may continue to threaten the Iranian hegemony in Iraq: President Barham Saleh and his protégée, the designated-PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

My thoughts on this.

MEMRI got it right. While the Washington think tanks are claiming Iran’s continuing successes in Iraq, the MEMRI folks with their connections in Iraqi Social Media are exposing the fragility of Iranian power plays in Syria and Iraq. Iranian propaganda continues to very effective however, with our media and think tanks still viewing Iran as a state with normal interests and issues. As such they believe with some adroit diplomacy and some more inducements we can reel Iran in as “one of us.” The “” Nuclear” deal was a fiasco but the dewy eyed US officials who negotiated it still think it was greatest thing since sliced bread. The Persians fight and negotiate in the Eastern Way of war. They outthink us With their subtle and unfathomable layers of personalties, but in Iraq their traditional hubris fell victim to a society that very well understands duplicity, evasion, manipulation, and intrigue. The mutual antipathy between Arabs and Persians has not faded. So kudos for MEMRi

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Lightning ( killer viruses) does strike twice in Iran

In 1918 the “Spanish Flu” swept over the world killing 50 million people and one of the worst hit countries was Iran. One has to wonder why Iran again? Are there any commonalities we can surface as to why Iran has been twice in 100 years?

Reading an excellent article by Amir Afkhami written in 2003 entitled, “The Iranian Experience with the 1918 Influenza Pandemic,”  ( Bulletin of the History of Medicine  , Summer 2003, gave me some good information to go on.

In depicting the environment of 1918 in Iran and comparing it to today’s surfaced some important facets.

Iran in  1918 was a ravaged nation , invaded and partially occupied by the Russians and British, with a fractured society. People were at their low ebb . Today the Iranians are certainly independent but still wracked by civil disturbances, still recovering from a horrendous war with Iraq, and under economic sanctions. The psychological state of the Iranian people is not buoyant to say the least. The psychological state of the populace has a great deal to do with their physical health.

iran protest

Iranian protest in Jan 2020

The  Iranian government  in 1918 was the lingering remnants of the corrupt Qajars, feeble and ineffective. They did not control their own country. Today they have a strong but economically weak government more interested in expansionism than the welfare of their people. The dual government of the civil authorities and the controlling symbiosis of the pulpit and the sword has the people divided and in tension.

In 1918, the Iranian people were close to a famine stage, especially in the rural areas. Their resistance to disease was very low. Today there is no famine in Iran but because of the stupid priorities of the Iranian regime, downgrading of  quality of life   issues to military and expansionist designs, bringing on sanctions, most Iranian people can barely pay their rent, and buy good food for nutrition.  Moreover a study indicates the Iranians suffer from a deficiency of vitamin D. This seems strange in that  sunshine, of which Iran has a surfeit, provides it. However the dress of women covered in black from head to foot, as well as a traditional avoidance of darkening the skin color, accounts for it in women.  Men in  a Muslim society  likewise avoid wearing scanty clothing. People believe that men who wear shorts are considered homosexual. Most always wear long sleeves.

Traditional beliefs and gender issues always complicate the medical field in the conservative Islamic countries ,and Iran,  especially under the Mullahs have engendered retrogression. In 1918, the  Iranians believed that an evil  wind, known as the “nakbushi” carried the disease. Even Iranian doctors believed that to be true. Today traditional beliefs still inhibit up to date treatment of illness.  Winds still play an important part in Islamic-Persian belief systems. Cutting through the cultural barriers has only been partially accomplished. Many, in 1918, just gave up hope, crawling to the nearest mosque to die. Today there is little confidence in the ruling authorities to provide the required care and home remedies are used. Some clerics were initially telling g their flocks that a good Muslim would not contract the disease.

In 1918, some of the first to die were government officials, creating another void in authority to combat the disease. Ironically it seems that many higher officials in the  current clerical Iranian regime were the first ones affected.

The health care system in 1918 was, at best rudimentary, and today, despite glowing reports  from the World Health Organization (WHO) , and other organizations with a vested interest in conveying an optimistic view of the Iranian health system, the Iranian health care today is broken, especially in convalescent care. A good part of the problem is the low esteem accorded nurses in the Islamic tradition. Iran only has half the required nurses and the care given patients has been surveyed as abysmal. Patients complain of being treated with “no dignity,” confined in unhygienic conditions, no privacy,  no communication with doctors, who are much too few, especially in the rural areas.  The medical staff expects family members to stay with the patients and provide most of the care.

Iran  provides funding for medical education in return for the graduated doctors to serve a certain period of time in rural areas, but, in fact, few do for any length of time.

Finally as written in my last post  middle easterners are a people who do not like distance from one another, especially family members and trying to impose social distances is very difficult even for an authoritarian regime like that of Iran.





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Why Coronavirus is potentially more virulent in Middle East?

As the panic surrounding the Coronavirus continues to grow, it is useful to look at where it would seem it would be most virulent.

The first point here is that health care, like almost every other aspect of life, it is culturally dependent.An excellent book as a primer on this is the Cultural Geography of Health Care by Wilbert Gesler.

As he writes “medical systems must be seen in the context of larger cultural and environmental systems. The context consists of many sub-systems: social relationships, political and economic systems, attitudes and beliefs, topography and climate. All of which determine how health care is delivered.”

First let’s look at some larger cultural attributes of the Islamic/ Middle Eastern world.

To begin with the Arab/Islamic world between the 8th and 12th century. The Middle East was far ahead of the rest of the world. Avicenna’s (Abu Ali Sina)  Qanun of Medicine  was the standard medical  book in Europe for centuries.



With the decline of the Islamic world so well told by Bernard Lewis, (What Went Wrong), many of the strengths of the Middle East mosaic which had made it more advanced than Europe eroded under corruption, sectarianism,  moribund Islamic induced cultural stagnation, and Western-introduced nationalism

The Turks, who were great soldiers, but not great inventors or agents of cultural advance, depended on their millet system of diverse religious and ethnic communities for many of the scientific achievements and managing everyday living institutions. For instance the Jewish millets furnished many of the financiers, and metal shop keepers, the Christians were the barbers, butchers, and medical providers. etc.  But with the coming of nationalism and militant Islam, most of these minorities have been expelled under the ethnic cleansing conducted by Middle Eastern governments – (nationalistic or Islamic) since WWII. So, the stark reality today is the unpreparedness of the Middle East to cope with any pandemic disease.

Ironically there are far more injunctions on cleanliness in Islamic tradition than the Christian, and Middle Easterners are just as personally ( or more) attuned to cleanliness as any other people.  In fact in Islam, cleanliness is considered to be part of the faith. Unfortunately the real world of the Middle East  there are many traits which militate against community efforts against coronavirus.

Some cultural traits adversely affecting  health care:

 The Lack Civic of Responsibility

Anyone who has lived in the Middle East knows well the lack of communal civic responsibility of people, especially in an urban area. Maids sweep apartments squeaky clean and throw the dirt in the street. Garbage is allowed to pile up on street corners,( hello SF and LA)  sewage after a heavy rainfall is always a problem  Smog produced by burning trash is endemic. Even in military headquarters, the VIPS are taken up in elevators because the stairwells are littered with trash. Officers walk outside their offices and throw food wrappers in the hallways.

In the cities, where neighbors are not of the same family or clan, this irresponsibility is most apparent.  On an international level the Middle Easterners do not seem at all embarrassed that the “hated West” supplies most of the medical help for the massive numbers of displaced families in the Middle East. (Exception is  Jordan which has done all that could be expected for about one million Syrian refugees in their country).

The “Potemkin village” aspects of the main westernized centers of the cities, with their gleaming shopping centers and upscale shops, often mislead visitors who do not see the areas of the cities where recent immigrants from the country side live in squalor.  On the other hand, rural villages have much more civic responsibility in that the people are mostly all related to one another and know they must depend on each other because no one else will,  particularly not the government.


In strict traditional Islam human detritus, e.g. blood, human skin, even hair is considered najis, (unclean) which is the main reason that in the Islamic empires, Christians normally performed the roles of butchers, nurses, barbers etc. Today as Christians have become rare in the Middle East, only low class Muslims will perform the role, and only with great reluctance, especially as nurses.  All of the Middle East countries are very short on nursing care. 80% of the nurses in Saudi Arabia are expats. Many stay only a short time, unable to cope with the environment and gender rules of the Wahhabi state. There are so many rules in Islam pertaining to cleanliness and personal hygiene one has to be an Islamic scholar to know them all, therefore the danger of running afoul of some proscription is very large indeed. Unfortunately, many of the rules are only peripherally cogent to personal hygiene. For instance a miscarried fetus is unclean.  a dead body, once it is cold, is unclean, Etc. More pertinently, traditional Islamic forbids postmortem dissection to ascertain case of death or more experimentation.

 Gender proscriptions

Our troops found during Operation Provide Comfort that treating women was a tough problem.   Generally speaking, the Kurds, who are usually less religiously oriented than many Arabs, would not allow male medics to treat women unless accompanied in the clinic with their husbands or senior male relative.

Among the women themselves, their mind set and indoctrination  often kept them from seeing a doctor until their illness was far advanced.  And women doctors are not plentiful in the Middle Eastern countries as there are many restrictions on what they may see and do during doctors training such as  looking at or touching forbidden parts of the body (Awrahs).

And of course, she should never treat men.  For that reason urology is absolutely forbidden to Muslim female doctors.  After going through all their proscriptions and prescriptions to be a doctor the incentive to be a female doctor are few indeed, especially in the more conservative Middle Eastern states.

Privacy and Proxemics

In the Middle East the idea of privacy is an abomination. Middle Easterners are congenial,  communicative,  and outside their homes or villas, very  public people.  Islam tends toward orthopraxy following the traditions of the Prophet. As  evidenced by the ostentatious use of public prayer on streets in European cities. Middle Easterners are a touchy feely people. As Edward T. Hall, the renown American anthropologist explains it, there is no personal space in the Middle East, particularly in the public sphere. This  is why  there  is seldom any such thing as  privacy in the Middle East.  In Arabic there  is no specific word for privacy, and as the Sapir -Whorf analysis showed, people think in words and if there is no word for it they can’t visualize it. Nor is there anything such as a cue , in that people push and shove in a manner that is considered very rude in the West.


My experience was that  people like to be able to smell the breath of the person they are talking to  (perhaps not literally and not mixed genders) but as a rule it is how close they want to be. In terms of privacy, the following scenario is typical.  When an American boards a bus he heads for a seat not only empty but some distance from the other passengers. If an Arab gets on a bus very likely if there is only one other guy on the bus he will go sit next to him.  If he does not the passenger will feel offended.  For these reasons it is it is extremely difficult to put a person in quarantine. A sick person expects to be inundated with visitors.

The Inshallah  factor

This is overworked factor  in the West when analyzing Arab/ Middle Eastern cultures but it still has validity. From my experience working with Arab soldiers their cavalier attitude handling weapons and driving vehicles is only a few examples. There is a strong belief in predestination as typified by a Jordanian taxi driver, observing me putting on my seat belt, saying “if God wanted you dead would that strap prevent it?”

Islamic  clerical  Misinformation and strong influence of reputation protection

Quite often people who may have the disease do not come forward, being ashamed and afraid of being shunned by relatives and friends.  Recently  an Iranian mullah told his flock that anyone who comes down with the disease is not a good Muslim. They sound ridiculous;lous but many believe that. Two examples from actual cases in Iraq:

An old woman in Iraq felt sick so her daughters and sons took her to the hospital, but deliberately withheld the information that she had been in Iran recently. When she died the children told the staff that she had just returned from Iran. They said – quite typically Arab and commendable – they did not want to leave their mom alone.  But the result is that  nurses and doctors were not quarantined in time.

Another example. An Iraqi tribesman went to the hospital saying he had the flu. When the doctor told him he had to be tested for corona virus. He replied that he would do so but if the test was negative he would sue the hospital and staff for demeaning his reputation. Moreover no one would believe that he tested  negative anyway.

iran corona virus

treating corona virus in Iran


Very often the medical credentials of the doctors in the Middle East are of doubtful credibility. Their training is suspect.  For instance the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are reported to be  sending home hundreds of Pakistani doctors after they learned of the  inadequate professional qualifications they acquired in Pakistan.  Much more importantly, thousands of doctors have fled to the West to avoid the wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as the oppression of State controlled health care in  other Middle East countries.

A number of Middle Eastern countries financially support medical education with the proviso that the graduated doctors serve in rural areas for a specified time but few do because it is a characteristic of most Middle Easterners, that despite the fact the majority of their nations are desert, they  abhor  the desert and rural areas. Most find a way to depart before their specified terms are up.

Surgeons are a very respected profession in the Middle East, which seems to create a dichotomy considering their religious attitude toward blood as unclean.  But the  surgeon is considered an artist. He skillfully cuts and slices, leaving the clean up to the nurses.

Political Barriers

The primary reason for poor or inadequate medical care in the Middle East is the   incompetence and indifference of the ruling elites to their people, excepting those who are the pillars of the regime.  The difference between between military spending and health care is astronomical and the portion  which is allocated to health is siphoned off in corrupt deals. How this corruption and indifference plays out is in several forms;

When sanctions were applied against Iraq under Saddam, the Ba’athist elite did not suffer at all. Saddam continued building palaces and rearming his military, while the poor suffered from malnutrition, and the middle classes began selling family heirlooms just to keep body and soul together.

IZ uday's love palace

Uday’s “love Palace” Let them eat cake!

Looking at the statistics coming out of the Middle East, it would seem at present that with the exception of Iran, the Middle Eastern countries are better off than Italy and possibly Germany. ¹ But the governments  lie about almost everything and their data keeping is inadequate at best.  My view is that Middle East governments  have no real idea how many cases of Coronavirus they have within their borders, and if there are many, they simply lie about it. In fact lying has become a way of life for the regimes,  even if it is not  really their fault. A lack of potable water supplies, adequate power, sewage, and trash collection, and a host of other ills, over and above the constant bloodletting between regime rivals, have made the Middle East a prime area for an uncontrollable outbreak of the virus. But they are by no means alone in this disregard for taking care of their people. In certain parts of our country we have similar problems. Will we take heed?

  1. As a footnote the low incidence of the Corona virus in the Middle East- so far- one may think about the fact that many middle easterners go through life  without having the plentiful availability of drugs, medical care, vitamins. etc that we do. In the Middle East I always advised newcomers to eat whatever, get sick and get it over with. Not being a doctor or even playing one on TV, somehow I think Middle Easterners to some degree, if they survive, become more immune to the diseases which lay us occidentals  low. Just a thought!


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Russia and the Middle East

A recent photo appearing in the news showed   Putin and  Erdogan , discussing their “peace treaty” in Syria, siting in a room overlooked by a statue of Catherine the Great. If one believes in symbology as it seems almost everybody but Americans do,   the Russians were making a not-so subtle hint.


Putin reading the riot act to Erdogan


Renown British diplomat and historian Sir reader Bullard, wrote, “Catherine openly proposed to expel the Turks from Constantinople and re-establish the Byzantine empire under a Russian nominee. ” Catherine the Great built the Russian empire out of the disintegrating Islamic world,  always had deep inroads into Iran, invaded it twice, took provinces away from Turkey and in their protocols  agreement with the Nazi  government,  They  made clear that they intended to eventually control the Bosporous  and Dardanelles. Yet despite some setbacks, the Russians always seem to be the innocent one, leading an expert on the Russian intelligence history to write,

“Though the United States possessed the world’s largest number of public relations experts, it found it difficult to project a favorable – or even balanced – image of its policies to the Third World And yet unlike the Soviet Union, the United States had much that the rest of the world wanted. American music, films, TV, IT, casual clothes, fast food and soft drink were all part of the most pervasive popular culture in world history.”

So why even today the United States is still the great Satin in most of the Middle Eastern and Islamic world? There are a number of reasons, few of which the best public diplomacy in the world can correct.

Envy– Much of the world, including old Europe has an inbred dislike of America and its people’s success. This attitude, so pronounced in France and among the upper classes everywhere in Western Europe, has been well illuminated by Barry Rubin (Hating America) and Jean Francois Revel( Anti -Americanism). The attitude of the European elite is very  welcome to the wannabe elites of the Middle East  (and here as well) who cling to the hope of being included within the circle of the European  anointed ones, giving them intellectual cover for cognitive puerility.

anti ameriv can cartooin

Truman the new Hitler

Colonialism and Anti- Semitism. Whether we like it or not our wagon is firmly hitched to   European “colonialism and imperialism.” We may vociferously protest, going on about Wilsonian ideals and lack of an imperial past but it falls on deaf ears.  We are generally of the same skin color, religion and a similar culture  as Europeans( in Middle Eastern eyes) and that seems to be enough. Secondly, the anti semitism pervasive in Europe, and an Islamist pathology  in the Middle East,  is another  important factor in that we are seen in their world as manipulated by Jews and other miscreants.

anti jewish

NYT adds to anti American attitudes linking Trump and Zionism


Correlation of Forces. A favorite term of Soviet military doctrine-  also sometimes refers to   the inevitability of a communist world dominion. In this case  the attractiveness of Communism or the Soviet model was  found among Middle Eastern intellectuals as a movement to accelerate the progress of a moribund Middle East to catch up with the West.  The Middle Eastern elite  were the impatient ones, shutting aside hundreds  of years  slow building by the Europeans to bypass all roadblocks and obtain instant gratification.  Their inability to do so was explained  in the Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis. Among the lower classes of the Middle East, the eternally disenfranchised peasants and urban poor were susceptible to Soviet propaganda, a fact a Frenchman nailed  when he wrote, “The Soviets are hailed and loved less for what they bring than what they destroy.”The urge to destroy and ravage is a common occurrence in history when the have nots break free of bondage in which they feel they have been held . I saw that in Iraq watching young men destroy and vandalize for no apparent reason. Destroying the remaining vestiges of order  was an aphrodisiac to the people of the Al Sadr city. So it was for the former subjects  to watch the imperious Frenchmen and haughty British depart the Middle East dragging their tails behind them. So it as been with the Americans as well, departing Iraq and soon  ( apparently) Afghanistan. The Soviets have cleverly used that facet of human nature to their advantage.

Russian bear

The Russian bear


Soviet/Russian civilization and Middle Eastern. Russia has been called ” Upper Volta with missiles,” an appellation  applied to a Soviet Union with a massive well armed military compared to a comparable  third world civilian sector.   For many  in the Middle East, the fact that they and Russia had a common enemy-The West- was enough to accept the  incongruities of the Soviet State. Walter Laqueur wrote, ” for Soviet civilization is in some respects closer than Western culture to the feelings and aspirations of the intelligentsia in backward countries…” One of those incongruities was Islam. In the decades past, it was an axiom that Communism and  Islam were incompatible. Deeper studies have revealed that an all -encompassing Islam has more in common with totalitarian communism than democracy, ( Joel Carmichael, “Communism in the Middle East,  Nationalist-Communist Symbiosis.” The level of the average Soviet citizen then and  now is still “closer to the ground,” than most Westerners.  They have few of the amenities available to most Westerners.  I observed this in Egypt., working with Egyptian officers, relating their experiences with Russian advisors. In some ways, the less sophisticated Russian equipment, easier to maintain, and the life style of the advisors themselves, was closer to that of the Egyptians. There was a common understanding of the vicissitudes of life.


über masculine Putin

Closed vs Open Society.  As Christopher Andrew in his book, The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, wrote,  “in the climate of the Cold War, one of the greatest strengths of American culture- its ability to criticize itself- became a foreign policy weakness.” As he correctly points out, our most severe critics were ourselves, particularly during the Vietnam war. The Russians and their vessel states, such as Cuba, didn’t have to dig up much dirt, as conspiracy theorists and left-wing fellow travelers did the work for them. American muck-rakers like Seymour Hersh made lots of money peddling fanciful tales, disgruntled American intelligence employees, like Philip Agee, fingered CIA agents world wide for free (over a thousand employees of the CIA were identified by Agee).  The  Senate select  Frank Church committee  deeply adversely affected the CIA,  failing to separate  domestic spying abuses with legitimate inquiries into American citizens receiving enemy foreign support. Moreover, Hollywood did its best to depict to depict American society as immoral, infested with criminality, and psychotic. The fact that Arabs love our films does not mean that they see them as the model for their society. Quite the opposite.  We send abroad many professors to teach in Middle Eastern institutions, but from my soundings, many of them,  being of the far left of center, join in the s chorus  of anti American criticism voiced by their students. Another  particularly egregiously wrong idea that  has been the bedrock of our appeal to the third world is the oft-quoted idea that all men (the collective term) cherish freedom.  From my experience, especially in the Middle East, it seems to me  that every man wants to be free but does not necessarily want that for his fellow man.  Erich Fromm nailed it in his book Escape from Freedom. 


A big part of America’s public diplomacy  problem


Fear vs Love.  As Osama Bin Laden put it, people always prefer the strong horse and like all people, but more than most,  middle Easterners admire strength and power. The effectiveness of the fascist propaganda in the Middle East in World War II  was due in large part to the  admiration of German Nazi power and their unbridled us of it.  Several militant organizations in the Arab world were modeled on fascist organizations.The totalitarianism of both fascism and communism were ( and still are) powerfully addictive to the young Middle Easterners unable to articulate why their societies lags so far behind the rest of the world. As an example of how fear works, a coup of pages in the book Beirut Rules, by Fred Burton and Samuel Katz,  illustrates why Soviet diplomats and security personnel were mostly immune from the years oof terrorism perpetrated against Americans by Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorists. On September 1985, in Beirut,  the Hezbollah super terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, feeling his oats after terrorizing Americans without response, kidnapped four Russian  diplomats. One of them was murdered by his captors. In response the Russians flew  in their anti terrorist team Alpha Group,  they found out who the captors were  and abducted relatives of the kidnappers. They cut off ears and fingers and send them to the surviving relatives. Later they then abducted another male relative  and castrated him,  leaving his body and his testicles on the doorstep of one of the Hezbollah members doorstep.  The  three other Soviet diplomats were delivered to the gate of the Russian embassy a few days later.

To be loved is nice but in the Middle East  but if one has to choose it is better to be feared.

Russian brutality

Russian walking over mass gave of Chechens



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Syria: The Turkish -Iranian Battleground

In the Syrian war which has been going on since March 2011 and  while some observers say the end is in sight,  in reality it is only about to begin a new phase. The ISIS has been defeated or contained, depending on one’s  viewpoint.   Assad’s loyalists appear to be on the cusp of victory and  exerting control over most of Syria, with some portions under  Turkish control along the northwestern Turkish- Syrian borders, and the northeast under Kurdish where a small American contingent is present. The ISIS still controls small parcels in the mostly uninhabited southeast desert and on the Jordanian border while assorted anti Assad rebels ( most of whom are Islamist  organizations) still maintain  a territory north of Aleppo and around Idlib in northwest Syria.


present approximate situation on the ground

The primary antagonists on the ground are the Syrian Assad loyalists, their allies the Iranians and Russians, with help from Shi’a  organizations such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Hezbollah, pitted against The ISIS, ( ISIL) assorted Sunni Islamist groups,  and most importantly, the Turks. The Kurds are primarily oriented on the Turks as their enemy but also against the various Islamist organizations, and only a tacit agreement with the Syrian government. Some where in this melange of  militias, armies, and terrorists is a small American force, located near Manjib primarily involved in training Kurds. This puts the Americans basically without any allies other than the Kurds.

Recently a upsurge of fighting has featured Syrian government forces clashing with   Turkish troops near  Idlib. According to news reports 33 Turkish troops were killed in a Syrian  air strike. Turkey will not allow this to go without a significant response. The Turks do not want to initiate a conflict with Russia but they are itching to confront Iran and their surrogate, Assad’s Syria.

The Syrians and Turks have many longstanding  issues, some historical, some religious, some political, but all serious. they are:

1.The Arab independence movement during World War I in which a certain number of Arab leaders sided with the British to undermine the Ottoman empire. While the primary leaders  and military forces of the Arab revolt were primarily from the Hejaz, the intellectual heart was in the Levant,  Syria and Lebanon.  The Sultan of the Ottoman empire was the titular head of the  final caliphate of the Islamic Empire and the connivance of the  Muslim Arabs  with British infidels to destroy the Ottoman empire dividing it into squabbling Arab states still rankles the Turkish elite. Although my very popular professor at the American University, Zeine N. Zeine  ( The Struggle for Arab  Independence) averred that the vast majority of the Arab Sunni Muslims  were proud to be part of the Ottoman empire, however the Christians,  Druze, Alawis, and the Shi’a were not. Toward the end of the Ottoman empire, the corruption and brutality  of Ottoman governors turned many Sunni Arabs against them as well.

Ottoman empire map

The Ottoman empire at its greatest extent



Hatay in Red

2.The Sanjak of Alexandretta. On the Mediterranean southern coast of Turkey is the Hatay province, once called the Sanjak of Alexandretta under the Ottoman empire. I visited there in the nineties and it is a beautiful area,  formerly inhabited with a majority of non -Turks,  primarily Arabs  and Armenians plus many other smaller sectarian groups. Through a tortuous process of international deals and heavy handed Turkish intervention, a plebiscite in 1938 was held to determine the future of Hatay in which  the Turks, as they have done in Cyprus, imported a massive influx of Turks, and the vote ( of dubious legitimacy) resulted in the province being awarded to the Turks. In actuality the real reason was that as WWII loomed on the horizon, the French and British, remembering the role of Turkey in World War I, wanted Turkey on the Allies side and Hatay was the sweetener.  The Syrians have never officially accepted that referendum and still maintain a star on their flag representing the Province as part of greater Syria.

hatay antakya

Antakya formerly Iskanderun

Orentes river

Orentes River

3. The Euphrates River Project Turkey beginning in the 1980’s began what is called the Southeastern Anatolia Project  which includes 22 dams on the tributaries of the Euphrates River basically in Hafez Assad’s view , turning northern Syria  into a desert. Hafez came up with the idea of supporting the PKK terrorist/freedom fighter organization against the Turkish government. When the Turks threatened to invade Syria, Assad dropped support of the PKK. The issue continues as the water problem escalates.


The Euphrates project

4.The Alevi Issue. Frequently  even the “experts” confuse the  Alevis of Turkey with the Alawis of Syria. They are both distinct off shoots of Shi’ism, though some  would opine that the Alevis are not really Muslim  at all and identify themselves as Turks, while  the Alawis of Syria  are Arabs and do have some tenuous claim to be Muslims. Despite their  differences, there is a cultural affinity between the two groups and Turkish rulers have accused the Syrians of fomenting trouble among the Turkish Alevis who are found mostly along the Syrian border and in the big cities. The Alevis of Turkey tend to be more secular in outlook and are an anathema to the fundamentalist brand of Sunni Islam instilled by Erdogan. See  my     on the Alevi issue in Turkey

syrian troops

Syrian troops

5. The Turkish -Iranian clash. The antipathy between the Ottoman empire and the Persians dates back some  500 years. In an eerie prelude to the present situation in the Middle East,  Turkish sultan was made of aware of intense Persian propaganda and proselytizing  of his subjects on his eastern flank converting them to Shi’ism. As the renown American Islamic scholar, Norman Itzkowitz wrote, “It is characteristic of Islamic society that social, economic, and political problems are fought out using the rhetoric of religion, and so it was, in great part with irreconcilable enmity  between the Ottomans and the Safavids.” In fact the first Safavid ruler of Iran, Ismail I,  initiated his people’s conversion to Shi’ism, partly to differentiate them from the Sunni Turks and  ingrain a sense of separate identity  into the Iranians. For almost 150 years  the Ottoman-Persian wars  seesawed back and forth across Iraq until  about 1639 when another treaty was signed. The distinctive ways of war then is precursor of the Turkish and Iranian preferred ways of war  today. The Turks  general use of brute force and decisive military battles to achieve objectives is polar opposite to the traditional Persian use of guile, propaganda,  and indirection.  The Turks are very aware that their country is a target rich environment for sedition and trouble-making among the Alevis and Kurds. The Turks very much distrust the Iranian rulers, viewing the Iranians, as they have always have, as  duplicitous, and messianic. They firmly believe in the expansionist nature of the Iranian regime. In this view, Syria has become the primary battleground.


Turkish troops

So what of the Russians and Americans?  Of all the Arab countries the Russians have dabbled in over the past half century, Syria has been the most favored. The Syrian ports,  modern history of their political system , the Ba’ath party aping the Russian communist structure, and geographic location has endeared the Syrians to the Russian  imperial designs.  In 1957 The Soviets threatened to intervene if Turkey invaded Syria ( which the Turks suspected of becoming a communist state). The entrance of Russians in 2015 into the Syrian civil war did not change the direction of the war but it rapidly expedited Syrian military victories. When they entered  the war it was already  clear that the Assad government  had turned the corner. But their support is now critical.

Russian mecenaries

Russian mercenaries

The Turks and Russians will work hard to avoid a clash  but there are a number of Turkish young officer hot heads who are loose cannons on the deck and may precipitate  a wider conflict they are not looking for.  The long historical enmity between Turk and Russian lingers and is not forgotten. Turks frequently recall  the Russian Czars stated designs on the Dardanelles or that most of the Russian empire was created at the expense of the Turkish speaking peoples. Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov in a note to the  German Ambassador in Moscow ( 1939) wrote that German terms were acceptable, ” providing that the area south of Baku and Batum in the general direction of the Persian Gulf  is recognized as the center of aspirations of the Soviet Union. ”

Fast forwarding to the present time, the Russians will not eject the Turks from the Kurdish areas in Syria they now occupy. They are not interested in controlling all Syria, only in maintaining thier naval port and airbases in which to further their Mediterranean and Middle Eastern designs. But on their side the Russians are using a number of contract soldiers and their discipline is suspect. They too may precipitate a conflict. The Russians will attempt to rein in Bashar from further attacks on the Turks, but Bashar is no Hafiz, with his father’s cautious, well thought out maneuvers, based on careful assessments. He is likely to misstep and embroil Syria in a more serious regional war. Also there are numerous bands of thugs in the pay of other middle eastern countries roaming about the Syrian  countryside who ignite clashes between the major antagonists.   Meanwhile the Iranian Quds force of the IRGC are hard at work instigating  tribal, religious, and national conflict.

Some observers  advocating are advocating that the US step in and assist Turkey with military weaponry. Why I wonder?  Erdogan is not our friend and the Turkish population  evidences  a higher degree of  anti American  attitude than the Arab nations. I have seen that with my own eyes in my visits there. We will receive no  gratitude, and what  strategic  advantage  would we obtain by doing so? How much gratitude did we get for abducting the Kurdish leader Ocalan and turning him over to the Turks?

kurd scary map

Kurdistan map as envisioned by Kurds. Scares the hell out of all their neighbors

The American military mission in Syria- as best I can ascertain it- is to continue to train Kurdish forces and act as a sort of trip wire, symbolizing that we still have an interest in what happens there.  It is a very ambiguous  mission. It reminds me of the American debacle  in Beirut with our ‘peace keeping” mission there. We are not sure who the enemy is, and other than the Kurds  ( who have a different interest than we do) we have no friends there. Our force is much too small to resist a major attack and with the Iraqi militia government attempting to force us out of Iraq  our back is not secure.  Perhaps we should use the wisdom of George Patton who believed the US forces should have stopped at the  Rhine and let the Russians and Germans kill each other. In this case let the   Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and Turks beat each other up. What is the dog we have in this fight?



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The Syrian Background

old syria

old Syria

Once considered the  heartland of the Arab world the Syrian nation was often spoken of as the linchpin of any agreement  between the Western nations and the Arab world. No peace with  Israel was possible unless the Syrians regime agreed…this was the conventional wisdom that prefaced every standard modern history of the Middle East and Arab world. Syria, despite its well deserved reputation of an unstable  state has been able to enjoy a rather cozy relationship with Western journalists and academics. Since it has been  a very closed society and paranoid about security,  inside information has been hard to come by.   To attempt to do  so required the blessings  of the inner circle of Syrian  governments (and there were many: there  had been more than 40 since 1946) Western diplomats and academics constantly dangled the baubles of Western international approbation and prospect of  cloying editorials in the Western “quality press” if only the Syrians  would relent and be nice…and if unable to do that,  then attempt to do better with public diplomacy.  But most of the media and academics,  particularly those  relied on, like Patrick Seale promoted the usual  theme which basically went like this…… Yes Assad is tough, even brutal at times, but the alternative is so much worse.  So we had decades of academics, journalists  and diplomats  hanging around  Damascus hoping for a interview with the beloved leader ,Hafez Assad.

Hafez assad

Hafez Assad

All journalists know that their ability to break out of the pack depends on getting access to the right people but the  way to make that impossible is to criticize the “great leader” of the regime.  Hafez Al Assad was a particularly wily and inscrutable leader to deal with, and ruled Syria with an iron hand.When Assad died and  Bashir was yanked from his practice as an ophthalmologist in London,  the world wondered…could this pencil -necked geek rule this unruly country? For years papa Assad had been grooming his son, Basil as his successor. Basil was everything Bashir was not, handsome, daring,  an equestrian of some note. He was the darling of the Christian minority and the smart set in Damascus. Alas and Alack, driving around the Damascus airport, drunk and irresponsible as always, he crashed and killed himself.  As Fouad  Ajami so eloquently described it, while some Syrians might have been disappointed, the Westerner observers were not.  Surely  a  Western educated, wimpy looking eye doctor in London will bring Western values to this blood drenched  land….. or so the thinking went.  And in the beginning he performed the necessary cosmetic ploys to make this seem possible.  Strolling around the bright lights of Damascus without the usual battalion of security that Papa Hafez always had,  throwing a few secular sounding sops to the elite, releasing a few  political opponents of the regime brought plaudits  of a new era dawning in Syria.

Bashar assad

Bashar Assad

The promise of a more liberal Syria  seemed to be a reality when Bashar Assad kicked out Rifaat  al Assad, brother of of Hafez and a murderous thug similar to Uday Hussein in Iraq. The commander of the brutal and feared “Defense Companies”, the Praetorian guard of Alawite kinsmen who led the fight and slaughter of the  equally barbarous Muslim Brotherhood in their rebellions against the Assad regime,  Rifaat was very proud to take credit for ridding Syria of the Brotherhood scourge.  He apparently entertained notions of succeeding his brother. But he was too murderous and  mentally unbalanced for the coterie of advisors, thugs but sensible thugs, around young Assad.   He was unacceptable  to the ruling elite.  No doubt they figured the young Assad would be more pliable and a weak reed. Apparently, however, some of Papa Assad’s genes have surfaced and Bashar has learned to be almost as duplicitous, and brutal, if not as smart as his father.


Importantly for winning over the useful fools not only in Syria but the “informed”  elite of the West as well, he married a winsome lassie of pure Arabian Syrian stock, highly educated, pursuing a PHD. and most of all a Sunni.   Since Syria is about 80 % Sunni, and generally they hate the Alawi as social inferiors and not real Muslims, this was an important ( hopefully) unifying step.  She was – for a few years – also quite a Western celebrity. Asma al Assad  was accorded a puff ball interview  with Vogue in 2011 entitled   “A Rose in the Desert. ” despite Vogue magazine’s desperate attempts to erase it from the memory it still exists. sample paragraph;


Lovely Asma

“Asma Al Asad is glamorous, young, and very chic-freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and bling dazzle of Middle Eastern Power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination; a thin, long – limbed beauty with a trained analytical mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her ” the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.”

The point of this is not to poke fun at Vogue. After all the interviewer,  Joan Juliette Buck, got an interview that most journalists would kill for. In fact it is a graphic testimony to the slavish adulation the media must proffer to get those up – close and personal interviews of  Middle Eastern dictators,  and also indicative of the mysterious affection so many Middle East journalists and  “experts” had for this malicious regime. Moreover, as Barry Rubin so succinctly surfaced in his excellent book “The Truth about Syria, American officials, especially James Baker, kept sucking up to the Assads and excusing their murderous involvement with Iran’s terrorism program. Others including General Colin Powell and Secretary of State  Warren Christopher were also misled by Syrian  promises of working toward peace with Israel. The regime had nor has had, any intention of establishing peace with Israel. The forever war with Israel is essential to the  well being of the regimes of  Syria,  trying to hold together a former Ottoman territory composed of warring tribes, sects, and classes.

As Patrick Seale  in his sometimes hagiographic  view of Assad ( Asad: The Struggle for The Middle East)- but also a must book for interested readers)   put it, ” More than any statesman of this day, Hafiz al Asad represents the Arab’s aspiration to be masters of their destiny in own region.” He goes  on to write, “Pax hebraica funded and armed by Washington has only produce mayhem on a large scale.” So this is basically the “Experts” brief.  So in the view of the professional Arabphiles,  Assad is the victim, only trying to maintain a defense against a bad environment created by the “imperialists”  and Israeli aggression.  So it seems in the quest to do this he has tried to subvert Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan…with success in some cases.


Iranian hopes

The  Syrian “experts” in the US  to whom U.S. governmental officials paid attention to, Patrick Seale, Joshua Landis, and others were always ready to promote a narrative that included the bedrock belief that the inability to get Syria on our side was the fault of the U.S. , particularly its “pro-Israeli” policies.   The doyens of American foreign policy, such as Strobe Talbot,  Martin Indyk,  and the “think tanks” all push for renewed negotiations, as advocated by Flynt Leverett, “Inheriting Syria; Bashar’s Trial by Fire ( a good book with poor conclusions). According to  Leverett, all that Bashar needed from Washington for the peace process to work, particularly on a U.S.-Syrian strategic package, was in Bashar’s statement, “some words, some rhetoric.”  In other words, effusive praise of the glorious history of Syria under the heroic leadership the Assads, uttered by American officials would do the trick,  This is ridiculous. It is the old and useless application of a cultural trait which posits that words are all Arabs care about. Yes words, and language are very  important  in Arab society, but the worldly wise and  suspicious Arab/ Muslim  leaders are much too astute to buy into American attempts to act like Muslims  or silly gifts like the cake offered to Khomeini by the clueless Reagan advisors.

When the 2011  “Arab Spring” erupted in Syria, the early concessions to the protestors seemed like the death knell of the regime because the history of the Middle East is that any concessions by a despotic regime is only seen as weakness and results in greater violence and confidence among the rebels. That was the lesson in Egypt. But in Syria, Assad’s goons, mostly the Alawite special units and paramilitary organizations quickly began murderous suppression of the revolt, turning it into the Syrian civil war which continues to this day. The early expert prognostications were that Assad was doomed. With  most of his army composed of ill-trained  Sunni recruits, and an incompetent officer corps, according to the experts “he was a dead man walking.”

Syria dead children

Dead Syrian children killed mostly by Assad forces using  chemical weapons.


Into this quagmire of tribal, religious, ideological warfare, the presence of the Islamists of various brands, indirectly assisted Assad. The urban  Sunnis of Syria, while mostly moderately anti Assad,  and sympathetic to conservative Islam, wanted no part of the Islamist world view, neither did the Druze, or Kurds, Christians, or of course, the infidel Alawis.  Assad was able to make use of the useful fools of Hezbollah  and Iraqi Shi’a  of Iraq to help fight his war against his opponents. Central to the success of his forces, was unqualified Iranian support, a support which had been, and still is integral to his regime maintenance. Dating from the  days of the ill fated Marine expedition to Beirut, Iranian involvement in anti American attacks was evident.  The catalogue of Iranian sponsored Syrian attacks on Americans  has continued during the “30 year war with Iran.” Unfortunately it has been a totally one sided war with Syria/Iran always on the offense and American administrations seeking accommodation.

Lebanon marine barracks bombing

recovering injured Marine from the marine barracks


The feeble attempts of the United States to  respond forcibly to the murderous attacks and innumerable provocations has most often ended in humiliation.  Example abound: the disastrous attempt to free the hostages held in the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the shooting down of an American A6-E fighter a necessitating a trip by Jesse Jackson to bring home the one of the two pilots  shot down. Why one asks have we endured such punishment and simply come back for more like an inflatable dummy?  There are a couple of salient reasons.

syria pilot shot down by syrians

American   flier Robert Goodman  with Syrian captor. His fellow airman  Mark Lange “died of injuries.” Jesse Jackson went to Damascus  and bailed him out

In the case of Syria much of it revolves around the the view so eloquently written by Philip Hitti that Syria is the heart of the Arab  world in spirit, history, and intellectual leadership. It has become embedded in academic  and diplomatic circles inhibiting Western approaches to the continual provocations. Notwithstanding the Iranian/Syrian orchestrated attacks on the Marine barracks, and the U.S Embassy , the murders of Marine Colonel Rich Higgins, and   the CIA station Chief in Beirut, William Buckley, etc. etc. the Bush administration went ahead  inviting Syria to the 2007 Annapolis  Peace conference, one of the endless attempts to solve the Israeli- Palestinian issue.


Seaman Robert Stethem Murdered by Iranian orchestrated  Al Amal  gangsters aboard TWA flight 847

Condoleezza Rice  mentioned in her book,  referring to the deputy Foreign minister of Syria, No Higher Honor, “…..  I  made sure to treat him with respect.”  She observed that by sending only the deputy, it was Syria’s way  of having,   “one foot in the international community and one foot in terrorism.” While Secretary Rice was convinced of Iran’s blatant  involvement in terrorism, the U.S. government, despite unequivocal  evidence that Iran was pulling the strings on the Syrian puppet, reserved  final judgement, and in fact it took a court case (Bank Merkazi vs.  Peterson) to fully expose Iranian ties to terrorism committed by  Syrians  with the use of Hezbollah and Amal thugs.

Lebanon Willim Buckley

CIA Station Chief William BuckleyMurdered by Hezbollah  sadists.


The CIA, at the same time, already tainted by political preferences, undermined President Bush’s  anti -Iranian push in the international arena by an  outlandishly foolish National Intelligence Estimate in 2007  opining that Iran had suspended its Nuclear weapons program. It has remained a question whether  our intelligence was that bad or was it another political move to undermine President G.W. Bush, whom the elitist CIA treated with condescension.


American Embassy  in Beirut. another present from the Iranians using Islamist gangs.


iran and syria

Iranian reach

The most glaringly reason for the continued American  hands off policy on Iran has been the entrenched  Obama administration’s view of Iran as the new linchpin of American interests in the Middle East. This attitude  has permeated throughout our diplomatic  service and perpetuated itself and a good part of the CIA as well. Based on the realist view of international affairs that nations only act in accordance with their interests and are therefore rational actors, the belief inculcated deep into  diplomatic service is that Iran, despite its unruly behavior, simply needed the U.S coming to terms with its interests.

Lee Smith in small booklet “The Consequences Of Syria summarized the conduct of the Obama foreign policy officials  toward Syria succinctly by plainly exposing the fact that the tepid American policy toward Syria was based totally on not upsetting the apple cart of the secret deals with Iran.. Syria was recognized as  a fundamental prize by the Iranian expansionists and Obama was of the embedded belief that with enough inducements of various kinds Iran could be brought into the civilized world. The gushy tributes paid to John Kerry, the prime architect of the Iranian nuclear deal, ( JCPOA)  in William Burns book, The Back Channel  highlights the dreamy attitude ( in my view) of the negotiators that an Iranian – American agreement would usher in a new era for the Middle East.  The attitude of the officials  was always based on the premise that we could change the behavior of Iran, and therefore, as the tail of the Iranian kite, Syria as well.  The prevailing attitude was that tiptoeing around  Iranian sensibilities, and fawning camaraderie with Iranian officials at meetings, conferences, with photo ops of smiling Iranian and American officials, and  most all….. cold cash, if needed, would bring the Iranians  around to Western standards of behavior.  The American  negotiators would also ignore continued provocations such as putting seized American sailors on public display in humiliating postures. Most importantly, by agreeing, ostensibly, to suspend nuclear weapons production, Iran was given the green flag to step up their irredentism   by the traditional Iranian way of war, subterfuge, subversion, misdirection and use of surrogate forces for the nasty active warfare requirements.


sailors abducted by Iran

American sailors abducted by Iranians

As Lee Smith points out the problem with Iran is not its behavior; it’s the nature of the regime.  From my long studies of the Iranian history, It is an intrinsically aggressive regime with an element of enduring   apoplectic attitude toward Western “imperialism” aggravated by typical Iranian hubris best described as the Iranian belief that they are, as one long time observer of Iran wrote, the center of the universe. Under the present Iranian military-mullah symbiotic regime, no behavior  change is feasible. as a result no change  in the Syrian satrapy can be  expected ……unless….. the Turks confront Russian and Iranian  control there. That is the next post.

Iran navy hit

Iranian Frigate hit by three US missiles during tanker war This the Iranian understand.


Posted in Arab Culture, Arab Military, Arabs, Communism and Fascism in Middle East, Cross-Culture, Iraq, Islam, Islamism, Middle East Politics, Military, muslim brotherhood, Syria, Terrorism, Uncategorized, Western media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working with the Kurdish Military

I think this narrative presents important aspects  of training Middle Eastern  military forces. I have found over the years that although there have been hundreds of American officers and NCO’s working with the Arabs and Afghans, few actually record their experiences or analyze them.  The after  action reports found at the various Army school houses  tend to be written in this indecipherable , infinitely boring. stilted language of military speak.  Perhaps it is simply a casualty of twitter and facebook,  and our declining educational standards. When I read the autobiographies of our WWII vets and those of the British,  the difference is appalling.


Journal Kept by Stephen W. Richey, Major, U.S. Army Retired, of My Experiences Teaching U.S. Small Unit Tactics for Tanks and Mechanized Infantry to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga Junior Officers in Sulaymaneeyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, Summer and Autumn, 2015


Introductory Note to Readers:



I retired from the U.S. Army in 2010 at the end of a military career that included enlisted service as a tank crewman, graduating from West Point as an Armor officer, and four tours in Iraq.  I was also a student at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg where I was trained to be a subject matter expert in the Middle East prior to my assignment to a PSYOP unit.  I flew to Sulaymaneeyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, in late June, 2015 at my own expense. It was my intention to volunteer my services to the Peshmerga in their fight against ISIS.



My expertise is as a classroom instructor in tank/mechanized infantry small unit tactics.  I envisioned performing in this role for the Peshmerga. To that end, before leaving the U.S., I purchased a miniature army of little green army men and tanks from Walmart.  When I got my little army home, I arrayed it on the floor of my living room. I organized the infantry by fire teams, squads, and platoons, culminating in a rifle company with supporting antitank weapons and mortars.  I organized the tanks into platoons culminating in an armor company. I used little plastic toy cars that came with the toy sets to represent a scout platoon. I used different colors of paint to color-code selected little soldiers and tanks as fire-team leaders, squad leaders, platoon leaders and company commanders.  Having thus constituted my little army, I packed it in my duffel bag.


En route to Sulaymaneeyah, at a brief stopover at the airport in Amman, Jordan, by pure chance, I encountered a young American man with military experience (National Guard) who likewise sought to help the Kurdish people fight against ISIS.  He and I became inseparable for the next few days. After clearing customs at Sulaymaneeyah airport, we presented ourselves to the first uniformed individual wearing some rank I saw inside the main part of the terminal. I used what few sentences of Sorani Kurdish and Arabic I knew to introduce ourselves and explain our purpose in being there.  As I anticipated, he, like most officials in Iraqi Kurdistan, was at least partially fluent in English. He escorted us to his superior at the airport to whom I repeated my pitch. I unpacked my miniature tank/infantry reinforced company team and briefly went through the paces of what I was prepared to do for the Peshmerga. This man was warmly sympathetic to my cause.  After some phone calls by this official to his superiors, my companion and I took a cab to a hotel where we stayed for two nights over the Islamic Sabbath weekend of Friday and Saturday.


On Sunday, which equates to Monday in the West, we moved from the hotel to the quite large Peshmerga base at Formandee on the outskirts of Sulaymaneeyah.  We were introduced to Mr. Amin Ayad who was a high-ranking member of the Peshmerga intelligence organization and who was the designated “handler” for foreign volunteers.  He possessed excellent fluency in English, having lived in North Carolina for some time. He impressed me as someone we could trust. After our meeting with Mr. Ayad, we were billeted in the enlisted barracks.  There we met still another young American man with military experience (Marine, as I recall) who had come to support the Kurdish cause against ISIS and who had already been there for a few days before my companion and I arrived.  After a few more days and some arrangement-making by Mr. Ayad, my two fellow Americans got their wish and were driven to northeastern Syria, properly Rojava, to join up with the YPG. I have not heard from them since.


I was kept in limbo at Formandee for two months while the high-ranking Peshmerga leadership went through an excruciatingly protracted process of figuring out what to do with me.  During this time I made my pitch with my toy soldiers and tanks at least one more time to at least one more high-ranking officer, he being General Adnan. I was assisted by a mentally brilliant young Peshmerga enlisted soldier, named Dareen, whose fluency in English was superb.  I spent my days typing up lesson plans on my laptop and perfecting my methodology of moving toy tanks and soldiers around on the floor to make my teaching points. I wrote up a draft field manual for tank/mechanized infantry small unit tactics which was an enormously simplified redaction of the doctrine I had learned back in the 1980s.  Mr. Ayad’s team set to work translating it into Kurdish. Then, quite suddenly one day, I was told to get ready to meet with and make my pitch to General Shemsadeen, who I understood to be the ranking man on Formandee, within the hour. My discussion with General Shemsadeen in his office, with about a dozen Peshmerga officers in attendance, was evidently a big hit.  Shemsadeen was all kindness toward me. He was quite happy to accept my services as I described them. Very shortly thereafter, I and all my gear were moved to the Peshmerga tank center at Khaneegomah, a place slightly farther out from Sulaymaneeyah.


At that point, I started the following journal.


Tuesday, 8 Sep 15


I am exiting the officers’ mess after eating breakfast when I see Mr. Amin Ayad (who is visiting from Formandee), BG Fahrayduhn (who is GEN Shemsadeen’s #2), the CO of the IFV/APC Bn., and possibly also (my memory fails me here) the commandant/head instructor of the tank school (who I later learn is named COL Eemahd) conversing in the parking lot.  They are waiting for GEN Adnan. They call me over to join them. We converse briefly and then move inside to BG Fahrayduhn’s office. Much discussion I can’t understand while we wait for Adnan. During a lull in conversation, I ask if the Pesh have a plow or shovel they can fit on the front end of their tanks, and if not, whether it is feasible to improvise or manufacture such devices locally.  The answer is yes, the Pesh do have such devices but they fail to dig deep enough to reach the Daesh IEDs. It is repeated to me that the American MRAPS are ineffective trying to disarm the latest Daesh IEDs. However, during the last operation (says the IFV/APC Bn CO, whose words are translated for me by Amin), a new French vehicle seemed to offer the best solution yet. The Daesh IED is by far the biggest killer of Pesh.  I also learn, to my deep worry, that yes, the Daesh DO have helicopters and that said helicopters carry missiles. We’re still waiting for Adnan. The travelling barber has set up business out in the hall and on the advice of those present I go get a haircut and beard trim. Shortly after I return from the barber, we learn that Adnan is waiting for us over by the tank school classroom/sand table building so we walk over to meet him.


I am next surprised by how quickly things move.  About a dozen 2nd LTs are in the classroom.  I am surprised when I am told to sit at the desk on the dais facing them.  Adnan takes the podium to my left and commences a long, windy speech introducing me to them and telling them what he expects of them when they take my course.  Amin translates from Adnan’s Arabic to Kurdish for the benefit of the students and to English for my benefit. At my suggestion, we take a five-minute break after Adnan is done before I give my speech.  I begin my speech with my Kurdish language intro sentences and then go into the rest of my speech in English for 5-10 minutes. Amin translates while Eemahd sits among LTs in audience. I do my standard shtick about how I am not here to throw out what the Pesh have and replace it but rather to augment what the Pesh have with the American style; I expect to learn as much from my students as they from me; I look forward to working with COL Eemahd; what my motivations are for fighting the Daesh (avenging my fallen brothers who died fighting for Mosul and Tikrit, ground which the Daesh now hold except for Tikrit which was recently retaken), etc.  I conclude my speech and the LTs are dismissed. I sit down in the classroom with Amin, Adnan, Fahrayduhn, and Eemahd to finalize how my class will go when I start my first day of teaching (TOMORROW!). Adnan has drawn on a piece of paper an elaborate sketch map of two mythical countries, the more northern of which is controlled by the Daesh and the more southern of which is controlled by the Pesh. He wants to expand my small unit tactical focus into something integrated up into the strategic level and which includes admin actions at Bn HQ prior to operations.  He proposes a scenario in which the Pesh first defend against a Daesh offensive and then launch a counteroffensive. He wants the sketch map to be replicated for my sand table. Apparently he never read or never understood or has chosen to ignore the topic sequence of, and the platoon-company tactical focus of my lesson plan and class schedule. I ask Adnan how many kilometers long each side of his sketch map is. He says fifty kilometers by fifty kilometers. I now—politely—launch into my objections to, and proposed alternatives to, Adnan’s proposal (which he had, from the beginning, with great graciousness, taken pains to announce as “merely” his proposals).  I say that Bn level staff procedures prior to an operation are intensely complex and that it would be folly of me to try to teach Pesh LTs about Pesh high-level staff operations; my focus is, and can only be, purely small unit tactical. I say Adnan and Eemahd should do all the talking about staff work at Bn and above and only hand things off to me when they are ready to go as low as company. I say Adnan and Eemahd should put their 50 km x 50 km map on the white board at the front of the classroom and let me zoom down the focus to a very few square kms on the sand table. Finally, in order to sustain the logic of how I sequenced my classes, we need to change Adnan’s scenario about defend first-attack later to attack first-defend later.  I’m hugely relieved by how instantly and warmly Adnan and Eamahd acquiesce to everything I propose.


Next, at my request, we make a recon of the complete extent of the maneuver area; to my delight, we all set off in an APC.  After the recon it’s time for lunch. Via Amin, from across the lunch table, Eemahd sends me a little pin that has an enamel Kurdish flag and some writing on it.  Amin tells me that what Eemahd says is that since I am a Peshmerga now, I should have this pin. We agree it would look best above my right breast pocket. Upon returning to my room at C.O.B., I see that pin says “Kurdistan” on it and I cannot afford to be photographed wearing such a politically provocative and problematic word on my person.


Wed, 9 Sep 15


I arrive at the classroom at 0715, fifteen minutes early, and find it still locked.  The duty officer arrives shortly to open it. The whiteboard is bare—no sign of Adnan’s promised strategic scenario map.  The sand table is still totally empty of everything, including sand: it’s just the border boards set up in a big rectangle around an expanse of floor.  Amin and Eemahd arrive. The students—all of them 2nd LTs—start to arrive.  I am cheerfully stunned by the extremity of military courtesy they render to me as each one walks in the door.  When I mention this to Fahrayduhn (or was it Amin?) at the end of the school day while walking back to HQ, he tells me to notice what a broken down, shabby, dirty mess this part of the world is.  For a culture obsessed with appearances, the only way to compensate is to be extravagantly correct in military courtesy, bearing, and turn-out. Adnan phones in and tells us he will be an hour late due to a medical issue.  Contrary to plan, I will be the first to speak. I need to use up an hour. I do so, I think, to excellent effect. With Amin translating, I speak for about an hour about Western Military Theory at the “one-over-the-world” (ultra-macro) level.  I talk about the two different forms of war in terms of symmetric vs. asymmetric. I talk about the two different forms of war in terms of the defense vs. the offense. I present a capsule biography of one Carl Von Clausewitz and his huge book On War.  I go on about Carl’s idea that the defense is the stronger form of war.  I ask the students their opinion about why Carl would make this assertion.  Several raised hands lead to several good answers. When I clap my hands to applaud my students for their answers, all my students clap too!  I expand on Clausewitz’s idea that the defense is the stronger form of war by asserting the offense is the decisive form of war.  A war will last forever unless somebody attacks successfully to put an end to it all.  I conclude my presentation. A student approaches me at the podium to ask me two questions:  1. Why did the U.S. conspire with Israel to create ISIS in the first place? I damn near explode.  I make clear to Amin that I want him to translate the word “bullshit” as literally as he can while I make a pantomime of a cow taking a squat.  I go on a rant to the effect that ISIS is the cousin of Al Queda and Al Queda murdered 3,000 Americans on 9-11. At this moment, the U.S. is dropping bombs on ISIS.  Why would we drop bombs on ISIS if we created it? That makes no sense. I conclude by dramatically begging the LT to “help me kill this stupid lie” that the U.S. created ISIS.  2. If the U.S. could overthrow Saddam in only a few weeks of combat in 2003, why is the U.S. now saying that it will take “years” to defeat ISIS? I reply that it is a matter of political will.  And this is how American politics work. In 2003, we had a Republican president and Republicans are aggressive about using the military. But now, we have a Democratic president and Democrats are pacifists.


NOTE:  Many days before, while still in limbo at Formandee, I had a conversation with Amin in which Amin volunteered the Middle Easterners’ standard take on American politics:  The Republicans are the party of making decisions and taking action. Even if they make mistakes, at least they do something.  The Democrats are the party of weaklings who are forever-in-deliberation and who never do anything.


NOTE:  A couple hours later, during a break between classes, Amin confides to me that he took the liberty of changing my answer to the second question.  He tells me that in his opinion, I gave an inappropriately political answer to a military question. He tells me that the answer he gave to the LT’s second question is that ISIS, being a guerilla/terrorist force, is more difficult to defeat than a conventional foe.


Adnan arrives wearing civvies and spends a number of minutes drawing the promised strategic fantasy scenario map on the whiteboard.  The rest of the instructional day belongs to Adnan. He talks unstoppably for hours from the whiteboard map. I sit in the back of the classroom and listen while Amin first translates from Arabic to Kurdi and then from Arabic to English.  I am only asked to return to the podium for the last ten minutes of the four-hour-long instructional day to speak from my Lesson Plan book about the questions that a tank platoon commander must have answered prior to going on the attack, and, to speak about pre-combat checks for which a platoon commander is responsible.


Eemahd was present throughout the day but said little.  He sat in the front row immediately in front of where I stood at the Podium.  He seemed to approve when I borrowed his copy of the Pesh Tank Platoon Commander’s instructional book, held it up next to my copy of FM 17-15, Tank Platoon (April 1996), and said to the students that the two books are virtually identical, which is true.


This day has apparently set the pattern for all that will follow:  Adnan will take the lead and I will be his more-or-less co-equal co-instructor as we conduct the Pesh equivalent to the Fort Knox Armor Officer Basic Course to about a dozen new 2nd LTs.  It’s Boudinot Hall déjà vu.


Amin tells me to not worry about not wearing the “Kurdistan” pin from Eemahd when I query him on the matter at lunch.  “Just keep it as a souvenir,” he tells me.


Sunday, 13 Sep 15


I arrived at the classroom 15 minutes early and found it open but vacant.  Happily, I saw a six-inch depth of dirt now installed on the sand table. I began the day’s instruction by demonstrating platoon movement formations on the sand table.  The Pesh had lots of toy tanks but their turrets do NOT turn; my toy tank turrets DO turn which makes a tremendous improvement in the clarity of the instruction possible.  Also, I color-coded the gun barrels according to the rank of the TC, something the Pesh never did with their toy tanks. Every few lines of spoken verbiage by me generated whole minutes of animated commentary by Adnan with the LTs and others joining in.  As I got toward the end of my presentation, I started to butt heads (politely, but awkwardly and in the presence of the students) over the purpose and role of the sand table. I THOUGHT the deal we had worked out was that the whiteboard at the front of the classroom would be reserved for the strategic map (which is Adnan’s province) while the sand table would be reserved for micro-tactical practical work (which is my province).  But Adnan took over the sand table and during the last half hour of the day directed the LTs in building an elaborate replication of the strategic map on the sand table.  Apparently, he expects me to conduct lessons on micro tactics on the strategic sand table but that would look, and would be, ridiculous.  I’ll have to move my toy tanks (and students) outside onto the dirt to teach the lessons I am prepared to teach. Also, I met BG Muhammad.


Monday, 14 Sep 15


Today, it all came together beautifully.  Amin could not come this day and Adnan was an hour or so late, as usual.  A young Sergeant named Hussein, whom I had met a few days before during an office call, stood by to be my interpreter.  Eemahd and Muhammad taught the class from the front stage. Eventually, Adnan arrived and Hussein left. Adnan brought me a sack breakfast because he had heard that I routinely skipped breakfast in the officers’ mess in order to be at the classroom on time.  (Adnan has been plying me with big sacks of food for days now.) Then it was my turn to teach. I saw that there was enough open floor space beyond one end of the sand table so I went at it with the toy tanks and soldiers in that location rather than going outside.  (Recall that Adnan had taken over the sand table to build a complex diorama of the strategic situation.) Adnan translated from English to Arabic and Eemahd translated from Arabic to Kurdi. Sheesh, what a situation. Much more important than bringing me breakfast, Adnan brought me blocks of wood to serve as IFVs/APCs.  Each block of wood was actually a 4×6 picture frame with a recessed center within a frame, so, they were perfect for accommodating fire-teams of infantry inside them.  I began by demonstrating how to integrate an IFV/APC platoon into a tank company which morphed in how to employ dismounted motorized infantry integrated with tanks in a hasty assault on a suspected Daesh RPG position which morphed into the pursuit as one post-assault option or consolidation and reorganization on the objective as the other post-assault option.  By now, I knew that the original sequencing of my lesson plan was in ruins but I didn’t care because I was making my topics flow in response to what my audience wanted to know and because I could see that they were learning, even through a double translation process. I’m grateful that the Pesh had toy trucks that I could use for supply vehicles. Crawling about on the floor and pushing around their toy trucks and my toy tanks, I demonstrated the tailgate and service station methods of resupply.  I used my fingers to pantomime transferring fuel and ammunition. I could see that the students were firmly grasping my points despite the double language barrier. Many of my statements that were only of a few seconds duration each generated many minutes of intense conversation between Adnan, Eemahd, and Muhammad. The students laughed and smiled sympathetically as I pantomimed with gestures my dismay at not understanding a word of what was being said about what I had just said. After class, Adnan was effusive in his praise of me as a well-prepared teacher who knew how to get a lesson across in understandable terms.  He conveyed to me the high satisfaction level of the students with my performance which was something I had already sensed from the students. One of the students invited me out for social activities with his friends after class, but I pleaded that I would have to get permission from Adnan first. Upon returning to HQ for lunch, I encountered Shemsadeen by chance in the courtyard as he emerged from a meeting. He gave me my first hug and man kiss on both cheeks. I impressed on him my urgent need to get to the front and shoot a few rounds from a Dishka at the Daesh. At lunch, a captain who has been noticeably friendly to me stated that in the last operation, the Daesh had shown poor morale and training compared to the Pesh.  Adnan raised again the issue that it is Daesh deep-buried IEDs that are killing us, that are causing almost all our losses in both troops and vehicles. And, our engineers have nothing more sophisticated than probing with sticks. I took the opportunity to impress upon Adnan the need to have engineer officers attend the course in order to facilitate brainstorming a solution to this problem.


Tuesday, 15 Sep 15


Today was all mine and it went splendidly.  Eemahd was not there, Amin, Adnan, Muhammad were there.  I was invited by Muhammad to deploy my toy tanks on the little stage at the front of the classroom.  I did so and taught contact drills and action drills. One of the LTs asked what to do if a Daesh tank suddenly appeared.  I seized upon this question to launch into one of my favorite themes. I said, with Amin translating, “Many people ask which is the better tank, the American M1 Abrams or the Russian T-72.  But this is a false question. The best tank in the world is whichever tank has the best soldiers inside it.” At this point, BG Muhammad, who was sitting in the front of the audience erupted.  He practically shouted the old Arabic saying that “it is not the horse that matters, it is the knight who is riding the horse is that matters.” For obvious reasons, I was delighted to learn of this old Arabic saying.  I was further fascinated to learn that in modern Arab armies, this saying is routinely applied to tanks. Muhammad went on. He said, “You must be the master of your tank the same way the knight must be master of his horse.”  He then passionately related a personal experience from the Iran war. During a close range ambush by Iranians with RPGs, his life was saved by his excellent tank driver who knew enough to instantly turn the front of the tank toward the enemy and charge, which facilitated Muhammad killing the enemy with the machine gun.  I followed up by paraphrasing Doc Bahnsen’s “Inches and Seconds” speech, turning “inches” to “centimeters.” I said that in a tank versus tank duel, you will live or die based on matters of centimeters and seconds. I then went one at a time through the four crew positions on a tank—driver, loader, gunner, TC—and I described the specific ways in which each of the four soldiers must be both fast and precise in their individual duties if the crew is to survive.  I regretted that I did not have the ability to show the tank battle scene from the movie “Fury.”  Next, one LT described his own personal idea for how to deal with an enemy contact scenario. I replied that yes, that was fine, that would work.  Then another LT spoke up to protest that the course of action proposed by his classmate was too complicated and too slow and that he would use a faster, simpler technique, which he then described.  I seized upon this situation as an opportunity to make another of my favorite points: There is no such thing as an absolute standard of right and wrong in tactical thinking. Two equally smart commanders will inevitably come up with two different solutions to the same tactical situation.  I repeated my speech of the day before with greater precision and clarity: “It is impossible for me to teach you every solution to every situation you will ever face. If I stand here and teach a hundred different solutions to a hundred different situations, then, I promise you, when you go out in the field tomorrow, you will encounter the hundred-and-first situation for which Major Richey did not teach you a solution.  God gave you a brain. The Kurdish people need you, the Peshmerga under you command need you, to take the general principles I have taught you in this classroom and to use your brain to adjust those principles to the unique situation you face.” We next moved outside where I directed the LTs in building three parallel ridges out of stones and broken bricks. Fortunately, we were able to build this new, outdoor sand table on the shady side of the building; also, the foundation of the building provided a convenient shelf for the LTs to sit on in a row while I made my presentation.  I used the toy tanks to demonstrate first the slow and then the fast methods of bounding over watch with the company commander bounding his platoons. Several iterations of LTs successfully demonstrated their mastery of the concepts with the toy tanks. [I used platoons of three toy tanks each as per Soviet-Iraqi-Peshmerga practice. Bounding overwatch within a platoon of three tanks doesn’t work well, meaning a Peshmerga tank company commander has to conduct bounding overwatch by bounding his platoons.]


NOTE:  When teaching bounding overwatch as part of the movement to contact, it is helpful to stress that recon scouts are NOT available to clear the zone of territory leading up to the enemy front line; therefore the tanks must be their own scouts as they move cautiously forward by bounds.


As always, my comments generated multiples more commentary by the generals.  Adnan thanked me for presenting the American technique but was deeply concerned that the American style of bounding overwatch, conducted over American doctrinal distances, was impossible with primitive Iraqi command and control capabilities.  He was adamant that 400 meters was the maximum permissible distance between tank platoons given what Iraqi C2 could handle. If that’s the case, then, a 400 meter upper limit on separation between tank platoons will indeed render American style bounding overwatch ridiculous.  The instructional day ended with an intense conversation that began with my rhetorical question to the leadership of the Peshmerga: would it be possible to conduct a charity campaign among the super-rich of Sulaymaneeyah to raise money to buy the best civilian two-way radios, the best German civilian binoculars, etc. for the Peshmerga tanks with a view toward improving their C2 such that bounding overwatch becomes feasible?


Wednesday, 16 Sep 15


I arrived at the classroom and was informed through Amin that Adnan wanted to give the LTs a written examination and then go out in the field with real tanks to practice maneuvers.  Adnan was over an hour late. We filled up the time by having me stand on the little stage and answer questions from the LTs with Amin translating. In answer to their questions, I gave the full spiel comparing and contrasting West Point, ROTC, and OCS.  I concluded by referring back to my previous day’s point about how it’s not the tank, it’s the soldiers inside the tank who matter. Likewise, I said, it’s the man who matters, not the name of the school he went to. One person will be a better officer if he went to West Point than if he went to ROTC and he will be better if he went to ROTC than if he went to OCS.  BUT, we are not all the same person. The best OCS grad will be better than the worst West Point grad. I went on to explain how U.S. Army promotion boards work.


Adnan finally arrived with yet another big sack breakfast for me.  We dispensed with the written exam and went to the motor pool in a loose gaggle.  I was about to complain to Amin that in the U.S. Army we would march to the motor pool in formation, but I bit back on the comment without speaking.  Then Amin expressed his despair at the Kurds ever being able to be “professional” about anything, and in response to that I said the words I had just swallowed a moment before.  Amin went on to bemoan to the effect that “In the U.S. Army, all this would be precisely coordinated ahead of time, the tanks would be all lined up ready to go, etc.”  The scene in the motor pool was chaotic. Eventually, three APCs were brought forward with enlisted drivers who had had zero connection with the instructional course for the LTs prior to that moment.  The APCs lacked radios to talk to each other but I was able to accept that situation because I had brought the signal flags with which the LTs would take turns being the Platoon Commander in order to practice formations and changing formations while on the move.  What angered and appalled me was that the APCs also lacked intercom communications between commander and driver. We would have to direct the drivers by poking at them and shouting at them. I proclaimed to Muhammad, Amin, and Eemahd, with Adnan out of earshot, that it was foolish and insane to attempt this maneuver without communications.  Muhammad angrily said yes, he knew that, but, Adnan had insisted on proceeding anyway. I pontificated to Amin, but really for my own benefit, that we would do what soldiers and Peshmerga always do, which is, drive forward regardless of the problems and force a good result to come from a bad situation. We were then informed that four little Motorola hand radios would be brought out to us.  In the meantime, the LTs and the three APCs had driven several hundred meters out into the field leaving me, Amin, Adnan, and Eemahd behind! We started walking across the field in pursuit of the APCs but Muhammad chose that moment to disappear until we returned some time later. Amin, Eemahd, and I walked up to the APCs where they were parked in the field. I gave one of the better LTs the signal flags, told him he would be the first to be platoon leader, explained hurriedly and agitatedly that we would practice platoon formations, and told everyone to mount up.  It went much better than I allowed myself to hope. I was in a hatch halfway between the TC/Platoon Commander and the driver with Amin sitting on the top deck behind me. I told the acting Platoon Commander which formations to call for with the signal flags while I guided the driver by tapping his shoulder to get his attention and pointing to him which way to go. We maneuvered rather handsomely across the terrain in spite of everything. We had to pause for a couple minutes when a soldier came running up behind us to deliver the four Motorolas and while Adnan finally caught up with us on foot and climbed up on my vehicle.  We went a little farther and I switched out LTs to serve as acting Platoon Commander. Then, one of three APCs broke down with a broken transmission and would not move. I ordered that the LTs on the broken down APC redistribute themselves to mine and the other remaining APC, which they did at a commendable run. I realized it was ludicrous to train platoon movement formations with two vehicles, so, to do something to fill the time usefully, I ordered a hasty assault on the next hill, which, I said, had Daesh with RPGs on it.  When the two APCs, which were now on line, reached a ditch at the base of the hill, I ordered the APCs to stop and the excess LTs to dismount and serve as infantry assaulting the hill.  We swept over the hill, APCs and infantry on line together, but only after the LTs took at an inordinately long time to sort themselves out from gaggles clustered behind the vehicles and to get into something resembling infantry on-line in the assault.  Adnan was beside himself with frustration and fury as he strove to control things by Motorola. Amin reassured me that Adnan understood perfectly what I was doing and that he concurred fully with what I was doing, but, he was upset with how ineptly it was being done.  When we got to the top of the hill and had performed some sloppy approximation of consolidating on the objective, Adnan called for everyone to dismount for a group discussion. I was happy that he beat me to making that call by all of one second. Once we were all standing in a circle on the hilltop, Adnan went on at length about what a bungled assault it was, particularly about how the LTs had just run up to the top of the hill in a non-tactical manner.  I asked to speak. I began by saying that the day’s activities were an excellent example of how to improvise solutions in situations where the original plan had become undoable. Next, I apologetically explained through Amin that it had never been my intention to practice an assault that day, that I had only wanted to practice movement formations, but, when we lost a vehicle I had realized that practicing formations had become fruitless and that I ordered the assault on the hill just to do something.  (Somewhere in all this, Adnan asserted that we should have played on with the idea that the broken down APC was knocked out by the enemy.)  I continued saying that I knew the LTs were not trained in how to be infantry in the assault, but that I would fix that shortcoming now. I loudly explained that there must be an Infantry Squad Commander on each APC and that it was the duty of the Infantry Squad Commander to control the tactical movement of each of his soldiers in the assault.  I then picked up a stick, I announced that the stick was my Kalashnikov, and, I then proceeded to demonstrate the three-second-rush, the high crawl, and the low crawl with great gusto and lusty shouts of “bang, bang, bang!” I was delighted by how fun and easy it was to perform those moves at the age of 57. I agreed with Amin that it was time to cut things off at that point, remount the vehicles, and return home.  Adnan, Amin, and I tarried on the hill for a couple minutes while Adnan rather apologetically assessed what a muddle it all was and promised we would do better next time with a marked, flagged enemy position to assault. (At some previous point, Adnan had declared that next time, the LTs would have real AKs for the assault.) I requested Peshmerga to dress up as Daesh and Adnan agreed to try to arrange it. We were the last to climb on the vehicles prior to driving home.  En route, my APC drove past the broken down APC. Amin sardonically informed me I was about to witness a uniquely Kurdish way of solving problems. Then, with a loud heavy metal on heavy metal jarring thud, we successfully push-started the broken APC. Walking back up the hill toward HQ from the motor pool, Adnan said we had made a lot of mistakes that day. I replied that I considered the day to be a success because making mistakes is good if you learn from them. I rode back from the motor pool to HQ as a passenger in Amin’s civilian pickup truck.  He confided to me that he had a low opinion of the character of the new generation of young LTs.


At lunch in the officers’ mess, Muhammad, referring to my horses, asked me if I was good knight.  I at first mistakenly thought he was talking about tanks, not horses, and I said that I was a good knight on American tanks.  When Amin clarified that he was talking about horses, not tanks, I earnestly informed him that yes, I am a good knight. I went on to proudly explain that my horse Northwind is half American cowboy horse and half Arabian.  I continued, saying that Northwind is the best horse I have ever had. He has the good sense and steadiness of an American cowboy horse, but at the same time, he has the fire and spirit and something else (I can’t remember) of the Arabian.  It seemed to me, through Amin, that Muhammad approved of what I said.


NOTE:  Later that weekend, Adnan and Amin treated me to supper at a posh restaurant called “La Vue” in Sulaymaneeyah.  As we were standing on the sidewalk afterwards prior to driving home, they raised with me the fact that the Peshmerga high command wanted me to give a speech giving an outsider’s critical assessment of the Peshmerga.  I said I was willing to give such a speech, BUT, I must visit the front to observe the Pesh in action BEFORE I give any such speech.


Sunday, 20 Sep 15:


As usual, I arrived at the classroom 20 minutes early.  Today, everyone was about forty minutes late, both LTs and cadre.  Amin was first to arrive, followed shortly thereafter by Adnan bringing his usual sack breakfast for me.  Amin looked at the breakfast Adnan brought me and rather snorted that it was an Iraqi breakfast, not a Kurdish breakfast.  (As noted above, Adnan is an Arab, not a Kurd.) Adnan began the school day by giving the LTs a 5-10 minute written quiz based on my previous lessons.  He gave each LT a different question which he had written by hand on a small slip of paper. I had to loan pens to several LTs who came to class with nothing to write with.  Then we moved to the outdoor sand table where I used the toy tanks to teach travelling and travelling overwatch. Next, I re-taught bounding overwatch, but, this time, I incorporated motorized infantry.  I gave it as Richey’s personal opinion that a wedge of APCs should follow a wedge of tanks at a distance of 50-100 meters. As the tanks approach their stopping point at the end of each bound, the infantry must dismount and go in on foot with the tanks to clear the vegetation and rocks of any lurking Daesh who have RPGs.  As usual, every simple statement of mine became attenuated into a long discussion which involved, first, Amin’s translation, and then, interminable questions and comments from Adnan as he struggled to grasp my concepts and convert the concepts to his own Soviet/Iraqi doctrine. I was deeply gratified that the LTs were grasping everything I said, and, even better, in one outstanding case, coming up with an idea of his own to improve on the technique I was teaching.  Specifically, one LT asked if, rather than have the infantry all dismount at once to go in with the tanks, it would be okay to dismount only a small scouting party of infantry at first in order to investigate the ground at the end of the bound. I was effusive in my praise and congratulations for this excellent piece of original thinking, to include giving the LT a Middle Eastern man hug, an act which drew cheers.


Before the LT made this suggestion, the LTs were agonizing over how many meters out the infantry should dismount.  Adnan gave the inflexible Iraqi doctrinal answer of 150 meters, but, when I was pressed, I said that there was no fixed number of meters out in U.S. doctrine (at least, not that I am aware of) but that the answer depended on the situation.  I explained (struggling to get through Adnan’s interruptions) that sometimes the hill to which you are bounding will have high, thick grass and sometimes it will have low, thin grass; sometimes it will have big boulders behind which many enemy can hide and sometimes it will be a smooth dune where no one can hide—the answer to how far out you dismount the infantry depends on whether the terrain on the hill at the end of the bound provides many or few hiding places for the enemy.  “Use the brain God gave you to evaluate the situation for yourself!”—this exhortation has become my mantra.


Also, it was difficult to explain to Adnan through Amin that while the maximum length of a bound can be just short of the effective range of the cannons of the overwatching element, the bounds can be much shorter if the hills are closer together.


In conversations with Amin and Adnan before class, they told me they wanted me to finish the course before the week-long Eid holiday starts on Wednesday.  (This is NOT Eid-al-Fitr which comes at the end of Ramadan but some other Easter-like holiday week.) I said that as long as it would be nobody but me teaching, I could make that deadline easily.  So much for my course master calendar that called for 28 training days, three-quarters of which would be out in the field with the real tanks. We have, so far, had only the one session in the field with real vehicles, and, we might, if we are lucky, have one more.  There simply aren’t enough real vehicles available. Apparently, almost all the tanks, APCs, and IFVs I see in the motor pool are broken down. Almost all the working vehicles the Pesh have are fully committed to the front. Adnan floated the idea that after the completion of this class, he might employ me travelling from post to post presenting two-day versions of my course to higher-ranking officers.  Amin suggested using PowerPoint slides.


I noted to myself, feeling a sense of scorn for Adnan and Eemahd, that the two of them have made absolutely zero use of the indoor sand table they stole from me and then festooned with an almost comically elaborate rendition of the strategic situation.


After class Amin drove me back to HQ.  I expressed to him my concerns about my proposed speech.  I’m badly worried about saying something politically incorrect that could lead to my assassination or something less dramatic but still very bad.  I told him, as we were driving to HQ, that my speech would have three parts. (Actually, my speech should have four parts, the first part being me telling the Pesh leadership what they are doing right, what their qualities are that I find admirable, and thanking them for their hospitality.)  I told Amin the first part of my speech would be “Provide for Your Young Soldiers as if They Are Your Sons,” i.e., don’t tolerate water jugs that are filthy inside, buy them new jugs (and, interpolation here) inspect them periodically to make sure they stay clean; don’t make your soldiers break apart the ice blocks for their drinking water by smashing the ice on the dirty ground, buy them proper, clean ice picks; don’t tolerate the generals having toilets with shiny clean enamel while the enlisted toilets are encrusted with dark brown filth that is several millimeters thick.  The second part of my speech would be “Do the Small Things Correctly,” i.e., don’t move from the classroom to the motor pool in a loose gaggle but march in formation (and, interpolation here, do proper coordination ahead of time to ensure the vehicles are ready to go and are standing by when the LTs arrive). (Another interpolation here: when you disassemble, clean, and reassemble two different model machine guns next to each other, don’t leave a small part lying on the floor and then not know which machine gun it goes to nor how it is supposed to fit inside the machinegun. Furthermore, don’t treat the situation as a joke, don’t shrug and laugh about it, and don’t walk away with the problem unresolved—God knows where that stray part is now.)  The third and final part of my speech, as I quickly told Amin while driving back to HQ, would be “Do the Big Things Correctly,” i.e., don’t tolerate among you the corruption that steals the money that is intended for the young soldiers. Also, the idea of the KDP and the PUK having their own private Peshmerga armies is insane; it’s like the Republicans and the Democrats having their own private armies, something that the American People would never tolerate. There must be ONE Peshmerga that is loyal to the government of Kurdistan REGARDLESS of whether the KDP or the PUK is in power at that moment. Obviously, this is the part of my speech that leaves me badly worried about my life expectancy. Amin said no, you of course cannot say that last part.  His parting thought to me was to impress on me that this speech will be something that he and I work on TOGETHER. Later, over lunch (Amin did not come to lunch) I worried aloud to Adnan that I did not want to give this speech on Tuesday (the day after tomorrow!) as currently planned because I insisted on visiting the front and seeing the Pesh in action first, and, because I wanted to spend a long time working on the speech with Amin to ensure that it said the appropriate things and was of good quality. Making allowances for Adnan’s fractured grasp of English (he thinks he understands English much better than he actually does) I think he acquiesced in my desires regarding the speech.


After lunch, LTC Rahfid provided me with plastic bags containing the new uniform and boots that Shemsadeen had promised to me.  (Shemsadeen had committed himself to making this gift to me withOUT the least murmur from me on this topic.) I saw that the uniforms were marked size large (I take size small).  I put the uniform on and showed Rahfid the ludicrous looking result. He took me to Fahrayduhn so attired and Fahrayduhn made a call on his cell phone to request a correct fitting uniform.  The boots didn’t fit either. I pleaded that I have odd-shaped feet for which it is very difficult to find boots that make a correct fit and that I had to special order the boots I brought with me from the USA.  I would really, really prefer to continue wearing the boots I brought from the Sates.  Please, I said, give these boots to some young jundee who needs them.  I put the uniform and boots back in their plastic wrappers and Rahfid’s NCOIC took them back with no apparent hard feelings.


Monday, 21 Sep 15:


Adnan and Eemahd are now apparently done with any teaching on their part.  The day was all mine, again, and we moved directly to the outdoor sand table.  I taught travelling, travelling overwatch, and then, I re-taught bounding overwatch but this time integrating motorized infantry into the lesson.


Then Adnan arrived and told me to come in to meet with Shemsadeen in Shemsadeen’s office.  Adnan and myself, with Amin translating, had a wondrously warm, cordial and friendly tea and conversation session with Shemsadeen that lasted a long time.  I was effusive in expressing my gratitude for the hospitality and support I had received. I was asked how the training was going. I replied that Shemsadeen should ask the LTs how the training was going when I was NOT present to influence their answers by my mere presence.  Shemsadeen replied that he had already done just that and that the LTs had told him that my course was of great value to them. We started talking about tanks. Shemsadeen said that he knew that the Abrams was named after an American general and expressed his curiosity about this general’s career.  I went full bore into my military historian mode. I first explained the American tradition of naming tanks after generals: Lee, Grant, Stuart, Sherman, Pershing, Chaffee, Walker, Patton. I then declaimed about young LTC Abrams being Patton’s favorite battalion commander during WWII, how Patton always gave Abrams the toughest, most important missions.  I digressed to describe the massive German offensive in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium that led to the 101st Airborne being surrounded in a small town called Bastogne.  I then returned to speaking specifically about Abrams. I described him as commanding the first tank to break the German encirclement and enter Bastogne.  Then, I followed Abrams’ career culminating in being successor to Westmoreland as American commander in Vietnam and his at least partial success in correcting the mess that the incompetent Westmoreland had created.  I next reiterated my insistence that I must visit the front and see the Pesh in combat before I make any speeches. I received the strongest assurance yet, and from Shemsadeen himself, that I would get my wish. I concluded by saying that I knew that the very recent previous big operation—that I had missed—had taken back several Kurdish villages and that I wanted to be part of the next operation that would take back the last of the Kurdish villages still under Daesh control.  Shemsadeen said that the next village to be liberated in an offensive operation was not in fact Kurdish but Turkoman. The previous American general had vetoed the operation but the very recently arrived new American general was in favor of the operation. It was a truly fun and enjoyable social call with Shemsadeen.


After returning from the meeting with Shemsadeen, I taught the assault.  I assigned a number of LTs to be the company and platoon commanders so they could have a go at it with the toy tanks and soldiers.  I asked the LT who was playing company commander whether he wanted two tank platoons as his base of fire element and one as his movement element or vice versa.  He opted for 2 tank platoons for his base of fire and 1 for the final close assault. I took over moving the toy tanks. I added both available motorized infantry platoons to the one assaulting tank platoon, explaining that the range to the enemy defensive position was too great for the infantry to be effective in the base of fire role.


I explained that IF the enemy defensive line was so long it was impossible to outflank, then, the assault would have to come straight on to make a breach.  But, en shah Allah, an open enemy flank could be found. I assumed an open flank as I continued my demonstration.


As I launched into the climactic phase of the assault, I opined that the tanks should concentrate on destroying enemy machine guns and the infantry should concentrate on destroying enemy handheld antitank weapons.  I explained that this is so because machineguns can inflict terrible damage on infantry while tanks are impervious to machineguns and because while handheld antitank weapons are lethal to tanks, they are virtually harmless to infantry. 


As I moved the toy tanks and infantry to roll up the Daesh defensive line from the flank, the smartest of the LTs objected that, quote, I was “taking a great risk.”  My assault force was vulnerable to attack in the flank and rear by any ***second echelon*** of Daesh defenders. He spontaneously took command of some dismounted infantry and demonstrated how he would deploy them in a quarter circle to protect the flank and rear of the assault force.


I was over-the-top effusive in my expressions of praise and gratitude for this LT, announcing to his classmates that he was destined to become a general.  I gave him a Middle Eastern double cheek man hug to the delight of all.


I next recovered my authority by saying that this was an excellent reason to employ two, not one, tank platoons for the final assault, contrary to what the acting company commander had opted to do.  I then moved a second platoon of toy tanks into the assault and I then deployed this second assaulting platoon to be the flank and rear guard of the first assaulting platoon.  


Throughout the assault lesson, I constantly hammered on the danger of fratricide of the movement element by the base of fire element.  I stated that in the Kuwait War of 1991, more American tanks were destroyed by fratricide than by enemy action. I described various methods of signals that could be used to mitigate the fratricide danger.  When one of the LTs earnestly spoke up to propose a method of using time-distance based phase lines to control the rate of advance of the assault force across the front of the base of fire element, I likewise pointed him out to his classmates as a future general.


Still another of the LTs to spoke up to describe something he had seen in his recent experience of combat.  (I felt inwardly humbled to learn that one of my young students has seen more of war than I have.) This LT stated that a standard Pesh technique was to loudly and publicly announce in advance the time and place of the next Pesh offensive to retake a Kurdish village from the Daesh.  The Pesh did this because, apparently, Daesh morale on the Iraqi Kurdish front was so low they would abandon the village in question without a fight, leaving behind only their IEDs to attrit the Pesh. Amin and I quickly agreed with each other in a mutual aside that while this was an interesting idea with regard to the Daesh, it would be madness against a competent conventional foe.


I repeated the assault lesson but THIS TIME employed the luxury of having a scout platoon available to make the movement to contact much faster and easier.


*** I emphasized the need to have ENGINEERS moving in the company of the scouts to locate and mark Daesh IEDs. ***


Tuesday, 22 Sep 15:


Again, we moved directly to the outdoor sand table.  I added in doing the bypass of an isolated enemy position.  I explained that this lesson was not in my book but was still useful against a foe like the Daesh.  Next, I taught the positional defense followed by the mobile defense. I talked in general terms about preplanned artillery targets and target reference points from which to adjust both indirect and direct fires.  I showed the LTs the sample range card and defensive sector sketch in my pocket notebook. Adnan arrived late and launched into another of his interminable interruptions in which he questioned my extreme emphasis on the counterattack as the climax of the mobile defense.  I explained through Amin that the Germans and the Americans made a fanatical religion of the counterattack. I asserted that the counterattack had two purposes: 1) Kill Daesh, kill Daesh, KILL DAESH. 2) Retake the ground given up in the delay in sector phase and restore the original front line.  What if there was a village of Kurdish people in the territory that had been temporarily given up, I rhetorically asked. Adnan agreed to disagree from his Iraqi doctrinal point of view but the LTs seemed to side with me—as they have seemed to do with all of Adnan’s bothersomely prolix interruptions since the course began.  The LTs and I had lots of rollicking good fun practicing the mobile defense with me playing the Daesh, slowly walking toward them as they maneuvered their platoons. They were picking up the stones we used to make hills on the sand table and pantomimed throwing them at my feet when I pantomimed kicking at their final defensive line with my feet.  The LTs all had a good laugh when I pantomimed running away from their counter attack.


When my smart, astute, free-thinking LTs questioned using the same platoons that had just fought the delay in sector (and which had been thereby depleted) to make the counterattack, I replied that there were two solutions to this problem:  1) IF you have enough forces, have a pre-designated counterattack force sit behind the final defensive line until called for. 2) If you lack the luxury of having such numerous forces as to permit a separate and untouched counterattack force, then, have your support platoon position itself immediately behind the final defensive line to QUICKLY replenish the platoons from the delay in sector before they are sent into the counterattack.  I then made a show of fetching the toy trucks that served as my fuel and ammo resupply trucks and I placed them in the dirt behind the miniature final defense line. The LTs who performed the next iteration of the mobile defense likewise made a show of running the toy tanks that had just returned from the delay in sector past the toy fuel and ammo trucks before launching their counterattack.   


The LTs were desperate to leave early in order to be on time for payday activities elsewhere before the start of the holiday long weekend.  They helpfully gathered up my toy tanks and soldiers and lined them up on the concrete foundation shelf of the classroom building. They then quietly snuck away in ones and twos as Adnan went on and on to Amin and I in another of his impassioned and endless rambles.  He was concerned about my lack of mention of countermeasures against aerial attack. I pulled out my copy of FM 17-15, Tank Platoon, and, using my finger, pointed out the paragraphs and illustrations for first passive and then active air defense.  I went through leading a helicopter by half a football field, leading a jet by two football fields, etc.   Adnan was satisfied by my hasty exegesis.  Given the Pesh’s lack of Stinger and Patriot model missiles, we agreed that passive air defense measures would have to be the mainstay of the Pesh. Adnan animatedly described his experience of how massed small arms fire against enemy aircraft had been highly effective during the Iran war by frightening away enemy pilots even if it did not shoot them down.


Wednesday, 23 Sep 15:


Off for long Moslem holiday.  The pudgy but warmly friendly and helpful Major who is Fahrayduhn’s A.D.C. brought me another uniform from Shemsadeen in a plastic wrapper as well as another pair of boots.  I instantly saw that the uniform was size medium, so, I immediately gave it back without even trying it on. With the help of my Kurdish-English dictionary, I made the major understand that my uniform size is small-long.  The major was cheerfully agreeable about the situation.


Thursday, 24 Sep 13


This being a Moslem religious holiday, Fahrayduhn invited me to come along with him and several other officers on a handshake and greetings tour of the enlisted barracks and mess hall.  After about 30 minutes walking among the barracks, we ended up at a tea and conversation session at the officers’ mess of the tank battalion. We did not sit at the dining table, but in big, posh chairs and sofas at one end of the dining table.  I sat immediately next to Fahrayduhn. The TV was on, showing a Kurdish news program. I recognized Barzani making a speech and I pointed and said “Barzani” to Fahrayduhn. He said that yes, I was correct, that was Barzani. I used this as an opportunity to say to Fahrayduhn that I was confused by there being two Peshmergas, one KDP and the other PUK.  Fahrayduhn favored me with a concise spoken narrative of the history of Kurdish politics. He and I got into a fairly intense discussion of the Sykes-Picot Treaty, Woodrow Wilson’s opposition to same, the perverse Turkish phrase “Mountain Turks” as a twisted code phrase for Kurds in Turkey, the various ways in which Iraq, Iran, and Turkey helped each other repress the Kurds (in the early 1970s, those three countries made a treaty under the terms of which the armed forces of any of them could enter as deeply as 30 kilometers into the territory of another if in hot pursuit of Kurds), the various times at which Iraqi Peshmerga crossed the border to help Iranian Pesh, Joe Biden’s plan to partition Iraq, etc.  I took the opportunity to impress upon Fahrayduhn that I must never be seen having anything to do with the PKK or I would get in big trouble with my own government. Fahrayduhn explained that the PUK maintained close ties with the PKK but he reassured me that he understood my situation completely and he told me that I would not be placed in any such difficult situation. I imparted to Fahrayduhn the American dismay at the insanity of three-sided wars in the Middle East, such as in Yemen, where the government, the Houthis, and Al-Queda are all fighting each other simultaneously. Ditto for the current situation in Syria.


*** Walking back to main HQ, I asked Fahrayduhn where the Iraqi Pesh obtained repair parts for Russian tanks that were 30 years old.  He sort of laughed and said, “black market.” He further explained that at first the Iraqi Pesh obtained parts from the remnants of Saddam’s regime, but now, they were forced to obtain black market tank parts in Syria. ***


Fahrayduhn next volunteered the information that he felt frustrated by the inability of the top Iraqi Pesh leadership to understand how to properly use tanks.  He said that the top Pesh leaders were infantry mountain fighters who didn’t use tanks correctly. He complained that the top Pesh leaders used tanks individually as mobile pillboxes, that they failed to employ tanks en masse.  He said that only very recently, with the coming of the Daesh, had the top Pesh leaders started to grasp the need to employ tanks en masse as offensive weapons.


Obviously, this last exchange made clear to me the obstacles I face in my desire to be not only the Pesh Von Steuben for tanks but also the Pesh Guderian.


Tuesday, 29 Sep 15:


First day back in class after the long holiday.  As Adnan told me last week, this week was to be quick review week prior to the final exam.  As he had warned me last week, Amin was not able to come and translate.  Adnan was, as always, an hour or more late. Eemahd and Muhammad were the only authority figures present.  To avoid wasted time, I simply mounted the front stage with the toy tanks and signal flags and started drilling each LT in turn on platoon formations; I would use the flags to signal the formation I wanted and then I would look over my shoulder to see how each LT did.  (It was obvious that I had the silent approval of Muhammad and Eemahd to just jump right into it like I did.) Fahrayduhn showed up just in time (with his XO Major) to translate for me while I put the LTs through contact and action drills. I would set up a scenario such as a few guys with AKs left side or RPGs within effective RPG range (350 meters) right side or RPGs beyond effective RPG range left side or whatever and then I would observe and critique how each LT did with the toy tanks.  (Fahrayduhn informed me that a new and improved version of the RPG had started to appear in the Middle East with a range of 700 meters.) After a break, we went outside where I continued the review by having the LTs execute first the slow and then the fast methods of bounding overwatch. After another break, we returned outside to review the bypass. Fahrayduhn had gone back to HQ to take care of business, so that left Adnan to translate via Muhammad and Eemahd as best as possible. In this review phase, I added two points of sophistication I omitted when I first taught the bypass:  1. Using scouts to first locate and report the enemy position to be bypassed. 2. Using 2nd echelon motorized infantry to totally eliminate the bypassed enemy position after the scouts and tanks had sped on by to reach the vital “oil field” in the short time allotted.  As usual, lots of impassioned discussion between Adnan and Muhammad with Eemahd making his contribution. As the LTs were leaving at the end of the school day (1200 hours) Adnan showed me an elaborate hand written schedule he composed for how the rest of my review lessons would be interleaved with classes he would teach.  No surprise, his schedule made no sense whatsoever in the context of how I had designed the sequence of my classes to go, specifically, he wanted my next topic to be consolidation and reorganization when I had not yet finished the movement to contact nor the assault. He was quite gracious in granting me permission to deviate from what he had written (God love him.)


Wednesday, 30 Sep 15:


Today was, again, all mine, Adnan’s elaborate schedule which he showed me the day before notwithstanding.  As was the case yesterday, attendance was disappointingly low among the LTs, no doubt due to the fact that this was a work week of only two days duration following a long holiday.  Amin was, as he had warned me, absent all this week, Adnan was an hour or so late, and young Jundee Hussein was not available until the second hour, so, that left it to Muhammad to translate for me, as crazy as that situation was.  It was much less farcical than I feared it would be, no doubt helped by the fact that everything I was saying was review. We went over travelling and travelling overwatch, a.k.a., the two methods of doing a movement to contact when the terrain is perfectly flat, thereby rendering bounding overwatch pointless.  Hussein showed up to translate for the next review lesson which was the assault. Then Adnan arrived, Hussein left, and Adnan translated for my review of the pursuit and consolidation and reorganization followed by my review of the defense. The LTs have it all down quite well by now and I was quite happy that the burden of the review lessons actually was carried by the LTs as they performed all the moves with the toy tanks and soldiers; not much more than a few initial cues were required from me to start any given sequence of moves being carried out satisfactorily.  At about 1130, I announced that I was done, finished, I had no more to teach, and I formally gave the course back to Adnan for which he warmly thanked me.


As I was conducting my final inventory of toy tanks and soldiers, Adnan borrowed my repro Civil War Dragoon officer’s kepi and put it on his own head for some lighthearted photos.


Concluding Note to Readers:

By this time I was so violently sick from bacterial infections picked up from eating the local food and drinking the local water that I had no choice but to get on the next plane headed toward Western medicine.  I got off the plane in Frankfurt and headed for the medical clinic in the airport to get myself stabilized for the rest of my trip home. Upon returning home, I went to the E.R. and was put on antibiotics for several weeks.  I never made it to the fighting front and I never made my speech to the Peshmerga leadership. I have maintained sporadic contact with some of the people I worked with Iraqi Kurdistan.                 



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Israel: The Unlikely Nation

israel creation

The recent unveiling of the “deal of the Century,” begun with the probably forlorn hope of bringing peace to the Holy  land prompts me to go back and see how this small nation  came to pass particularly when there are so many people who  seem to live and breathe  its destruction.

There are a bewildering cascade of events and array of national interests that led to the founding of a Jewish State in Palestine. It is not easy to begin understanding, and made more so by the the cross currents of national interests, few of which had anything directly to do with the “Jewish question.”

I am not going into the futile issue of rights and wrongs and who has the moral high ground- a subject that continues to elicit angry partisans churning out roomfuls of vitriolic literature, few of which add one iota of new information to the “Palestinian Issue.”  My quest trying to find a truly  neutral  historical account  has been fruitless. About the closest to that neutrality and a very brief narration of the Israeli origin is found in Michael J. Cohen’s book, The Origins and Evolution of the Arab -Zionist Conflict

So I start with the Jews. The 1860’s in Europe saw a brief and illusionary period in East Europe, especially the Russian Empire where 80% of the Jews resided.  Tsar Alexander II, gave the Jewish communities hope  of emancipation with a number of liberal decrees but was assassinated in 1881 and the pogroms against Jewish settlements recommenced with renewed fury.   A Russian Jew, Leo Pinsker, began to write about the plight of the world wide Jewish community, positing that the Jews were aliens where ever they were, and they would never be accepted into Gentile society.  Jews began fleeing from inhospitable Eastern Europe but only a minute percentage chose to emigrate to Palestine. Most went to Western Europe and the United States,  prompting the acclaimed father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, to quip that the Jews might flee anti-Semitism but they carried it with them in their baggage. In France the notorious Alfred Dreyfus case of 1894 substantiated the view that nowhere, even in the home of human rights, could Jews be sure of equitable treatment.

Zionism was not a religious movement but a socialist secular movement with an underpinning of cultural and religious motivations, i.e., a return to their ancestral home¹. Quite understandably, most Western European Jews vociferously opposed the Zionist movement, especially German Jews, which, ironically, was one reason the German Jews were so reluctant to leave Hitler’s Germany in the 1930’s. In fact the most outspoken opponent of Zionism in Great Britain was Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, the highest ranking Jewish member of the British government. Truth to be told, the principal reason so many Western European Jews were against Zionism was the belief that the Europeans would now claim, “Ok you now have a home, leave!” A not ridiculous belief by any means! Among the English upper classes and the military higher ranks, anti -Semitism was prevalent. The political class with the exception of Churchill, Prime Minister Lloyd George sand a few others were also adamantly against establishing a “home for the Jews.” The British renown statesman, George Curzon, and a heavy hitter in political circles, was dead set against the scheme, opining, “that I cannot conceive of a worse bondage than to relegate an advanced and intellectual community to exile in Palestine.” What would become of the original inhabitants he wondered. Would they become simply “hewers of wood and drawers of water?” Curzon also saw the Sykes-Picot treaty as a document drawn up in “gross ignorance” with “fantastic and incredible boundaries” (Curzon by David Gilmour, an excellent but weighty book).

So why did the British end up with “the Palestine?” Well there were many very involved and intricate questions of which I can only provide the essence, not the details.  Where to begin? Well maybe with the visit of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II to the Middle East in 1894. He met with the Ottoman Sultan (and last one) Abdelhamid II, a rather weak but well-meaning ruler. He established great rapport with the Sultan giving a fulsome speech of praise.  According to some other sources the Kaiser became enamored of Islam and saw it as a manly religion versus the passivity of Christianity.  Nevertheless, the Kaiser, who was full of contradictions, also wanted to build up the Lutheran Christianity of Germany in Palestine. German influence was already strong in Turkey and the massive German retinue of 100 soldiers and many palace courtiers accompanying  the Kaiser was indeed impressive to the Turkish media and people.

Kaiser into Jeruslaem

The favorable impression of the Kaiser and German officers who followed up the Kaiser’s visit is chronicled by General Liman Von Sanders in his book, Five Years in Turkey. He wrote an interesting account of his time with the Turks, very positive in his view of their fighting qualities but he deprecated their administrative efficiency. The Germans with traditional efficiency trained an army which fought with great valor, surprising skill, and not so surprising brutality in World War I. They dealt the Allies  two of their most devastating defeats, at Gallipoli  (1916)  and in Mesopotamia.(1916)

von sanders

General Leman Von Sanders

The Germans under the grandiose vision of Kaiser Wilhelm sought to rival the British empire in collecting colonies in the East, including Palestine, making a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a white charger with a huge escort of Turkish and German soldiers and officials. Moreover the German were constructing  the Berlin to Baghdad railroad which had become very important to German imperialistic designs. Turkish support was essential.  Turkey heavily influenced by pro German Turkish military men, and poorly conducted British diplomatic efforts joined the Germans and Austrian -Hungarian Empire in the war against France and Great Britain.  despite British attempts to win their support, or at least neutrality.


Turkish soldiers of WWI. In actuality most wore sandals and were very poorly equipped

Ok.  Let us count the ways Britain came to be to be the unhappy possessors of the Palestinian problem. First off was the East West debate. Within the British government one of the great debates concerning WWI was centered around the question of what strategy was best to defeat Germany. The French and British war on the Western front had turned into a quagmire. Bloody useless offensives resulted in a few miles (or yards) of gain and with the loss of thousands of lives. Far seeing people like Winston Churchill advocated an Eastern strategy, i.e., an attack through the “soft underbelly” of the “Triple Alliance”- an attack on the perceived weakest member of the German allies- Turkey. Therefore the Middle East became the focus of the war, including the people and the territory. However the implementation of this policy resulted in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign as well as the equally disastrous Mesopotamian campaign in Iraq. Turkish valor and spirit with German expertise was greatly underestimated by the British. Moreover, British and French naval and land force coordination, planning, and logistics support was abysmal.They had to look elsewhere for victory.

The British had five strategic objectives in the war: not necessarily in order of importance

  1. Maintain access to oil.
  2. Keep the French in the war
  3. Get the Americans in the war
  4. Keep the Suez canal in British control
  5. Control potential Islamic anti-British sentiment
  6. But at the same time secure perceived world wide “Jewish power.”


  1. The oil. The great British Navy was switching from coal to oil for their ships and the greatest access to it was from the oil fields of Iraq and Persia , especially around Mosul. As Lord Curzon put it, “the Allies floated to victory on a wave of oil.”map_of_iraq


2. Keep the French in the war. The French by 1917 had suffered a huge amount of casualties, and the promise of a war-ending offensive ended in disaster. This resulted in a mutiny that threatened to collapse the French army. Great Britain was desperate to keep France in the War and one of the sweeteners was the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided the Levant into French-British zones of influence. Palestine fell within the British zone. (The French disagreed but to no avail.) There are a ton of books on the evils of the Sykes-Picot agreement, however after decades of Arab and Western academics moaning and wailing about this agreement, which divided the Arab world into squabbling nations, there seems to be little enthusiasm among Arab leaders to erase the borders. Despite many prognostications predicting the demise of Arab borders, the Arab state system has proven stronger than many short lived unions as well as the Islamic State’s forlorn attempt to reinvent the Caliphate.


Sykes-Picot Agreement. nebulous and amenable to interpretation many different ways

3.Get the Americans in the war. The Russian empire had collapsed and with German assistance, the Communists undermined the Russian will to fight, and as a consequence Russia left the War. A tremendous number of German and Austrian forces were then free to move to the western front, facing the war weary British and French. The outcome of the  was in question. The question was how to get President Wilson and America in the war? The British astutely decided on an indirect approach. President Wilson had a number of very influential Jewish confidants, sympathetic to the Zionist cause, such as Judge Louis Brandeis, Hans Morgenthau, and Felix Frankfurter. Wilson although sympathetic to a Jewish Palestine, was suspicious of a British Palestine, but in the end, as he did later in Paris, threw out great ideas and then walked away from implementation. Another important figure in winning Western support for a Jewish Palestine was Chaim Weizmann. He was a scientist of considerable repute, born in Russia and a naturalized British citizen, and close to the British politician Arthur Balfour. He was also influential in American political circles, molding public opinion and leading politicians to view the Balfour declaration positively. He also invented and gave to the British government a process for extracting acetone from maize, giving the British a vital lead in developing more lethal explosives. Of course German brutality conducting their submarine warfare, and the infamous “Zimmerman affair” were even more instrumental in pushing the Americans into the war


Judge Felix Frankfurter Supreme Court Judge nominated by President Roosevelt and accepted by the senate without a single dissenting vote.

4.Muslim Sensibilities.The British were deathly afraid of the impact of the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan throwing their lot in with Germans. The Sultan, as the legitimate successor of the Caliphs of the Ommayad and Abbasid dynasties, was the titular head of all Muslims throughout the world, announced a Jihad against the British and French, which, like today, seems to cast a paralyzing fear over the West. The British Empire contained over 100 million Muslim subjects and made a ready-made target for the Germans. The myth of an “Islamic world” seems to perpetuate itself. The German military advisors in Turkey believed that the British Muslim soldiers would refuse to fire on their fellow Turkish Muslim soldiers. The British commanders, who had a very large number of Indian troops fighting for them, mostly Muslim, recalled earlier Muslim Indian soldier revolts, one time based on a rumor that ammunition was greased with pig fat. The Kaiser’s warm relations with the Ottoman sultan and the ongoing Berlin to Baghdad Express railroad which opened the way for German “archeologists” and many German “tourists” to find reasons to stay in the Middle East, worried the British overseers of the British empire. The British, who always pride themselves on an intimate knowledge of the Arab culture, began casting about for a Muslim counterweight to the Sultan, and they believed they found him in the person of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, ruler of Hijaz and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Sir Henry McMahon, high commissioner of Egypt, began a correspondence with Sharif Hussein in 1915-16 making vague promises of some sort of Arab nation with Hussein as the ruler. At first, little became of it, but with the defection of a Kurdish soldier from the Ottoman army, Lt. Sharif Al Faruki, from Mosul, his claims of a secret Arab society al ‘Ahd, which was plotting against the Turkish control of Arab lands, convinced the British to step up their overtures to the Sharif of Mecca. The British then began to see an Arab revolt as an important asset in their war against the Turks. An Arab Bureau  was established in Cairo and with that  came the adventures of Lawrence of Arabia.  Actually the military value of Lawrence and his tribal Arab irregulars was rather minuscule, but later it became very important politically….especially in popular folklore. Later, after the Turks and Germans were pushed out of the Arab world. Sharif Hussein’s third son, Feisal was temporarily installed as the king of Syria, but as the French then reminded the British of the Sykes Picot treaty, and they did not approve of Feisal.  Feisal was ousted from Syria by the French but the British found a home for him in Iraq as the new king.

Feisel Iraq

Feisal Of Iraq

But returning to the central issue of the Jews and the Zionists,   the entrance of Prince Feisal  into the drama became importance because Prince Feisal and the Zionist prime mover, Chaim Weizman met and discussed the immigration of Jews to Palestine. Apparently the Zionist leader and Prince Feisal got along famously and Feisal signed a document indicating he had no problem with Jewish immigration to Palestine. Of course this is disputed, as is everything else regarding Palestine. But the champion of Arab independence, T.E. Lawrence  was there and read the document to Feisal. Other sources remarked that Feisal thought very little of Palestinians as Arabs, a cultural point that tracks with the general eastern and Gulf Arab attitude toward Palestinians today. A similar exchange between Felix Frankfurter, an important American Zionist and later supreme court justice , contained this in a letter from Feisal to Frankfurter.


“We Arabs, especially the educated ones among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist organization to the peace conference and we regard them as moderate and proper.”

Later in the same letter , Feisal adds. “We wish the Jews a hearty welcome home.” BTW, 10 years later Feisal said he did not remember writing the latter.


This set the stage for the Balfour declaration, issued by the Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, in 1917. This nefarious document, which has been interpreted, reinterpreted, manipulated, scrubbed for satanic verses, blamed for everything including the heartbreak of psoriasis, is a fairly straightforward document. In a letter to Lord Rothschild, a wealthy Jewish banker, Lord Balfour wrote that his majesty’s government “views with favor the establishment in Palestine, a home for the Jewish people……….it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities in Palestine…


Arthur Balfour

6.The “ Jewish international power”

Probably nothing so illustrates the ignorance upon which politicians, rulers, and intelligence agencies made decisions ( and still do) than the belief shared by many Western diplomats and observers that there existed in Constantinople a dark conspiracy which involved the Turkish/ Ottoman and German governments, supported by the financial power of international Jewry. It was a natural result of the fear, prevalent at the time, which brought about the popularity of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a book supposedly written by Russian intelligence Czarists, feeding suspicions among Europeans that international Jewry was manipulating governments. (It is still popular among Islamists and extreme right wing fanatics). With the demise of the Czarist Russian empire and the advent of the communist take over, the number of Jews involved the communist movement gave rise to suspicions of Russian involvement in ousting the “Colonial Powers” as well. The aggressive Germans, with a star struck and mercurial Kaiser, who had also met Theodore Herzl previous to his trip to the Ottoman Empire, was convinced by him to plead the Zionist cast to the Sultan. He was reputed to have tried to convince the Sultan to give his blessing to Jewish settlement in Palestine. This prompted to the British to attach some urgency to a release of the Balfour letter.

protocols of zion

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Has been translated into almost every language and always finds a receptive audience.I saw one  copy prominently displayed in the Amman Sheraton.  sad commentary on the zeal of many to find an outside reason for their miserable lives.


So there you have it, a home for the Jews established by imperial powers with very little regard for the Jews or Arabs, mostly by politicians with very little empathy for the people affected by the swirl of great power politics. Do I blame the Brits? Absolutely not! As Elizabeth Monroe, one of the most noted historians of the British Empire in the Middle East, referring to Palestine, wrote, “Measured by British interests alone, it was one of the greatest mistakes of our imperial history.” Absolutely not! German submarine warfare had so affected the importation of food to the British Isles that people were living on a calorie intake below the minimum amount for sustained survival. The French were faltering of the Western front, the Russian collapse allowed many German and Austrian divisions to return to the Western Front, and the Americans were still debating whether to enter the war. Nation fighting for its survival should not be judged on its actions by chronocentric polemics of ideologues who know little or nothing of history. Do I blame the Zionists? Absolutely not! They were unwanted wherever they were, despite some overcoming adversity to become tolerated, but never entirely accepted. Looking at Palestine in those days, one could see a largely undeveloped land, sparse population and mostly barren. Arab nationalist advocate T.E. Lawrence wrote, “The sooner the Jews farm it, all the better, their colonies are bright spots in a desert.” I cannot blame the Arabs either, although their feigned sense of victim hood has become irritating and a distraction from learning. Their corrupt and rapacious leadership over the years, with the connivance of some Western academics, has turned Palestine into an Islamic and Arab tragedy. It did not need to turn out that way but it has. History is full of serendipitous events for some and disastrous for others. Christopher Columbus sailed to find gold and spices of East Asia and found the new world. That worked out well for the millions wishing to have opportunity and escape persecution from all over the world but not so well for the Indian inhabitants.The Europeans were engaged in a brutal struggle for empire and inadvertently founded a home for people who did not have one. It is the way of the world.

After note.. A Home for the Jews, as earlier proposed by Western Powers included the Sinai, Uganda and later Australia, and Tasmania. But as one might suspect , none of these were very appealing to the Jewish community, especially those of Western Europe and even those of the Middle East. As related by Sir Arnold Wilson, (Loyalties: Mesopotamia 1914-1917). Iraqi Jews said, “This is the garden of Eden (Mesopotamia, Iraq)). It is from this country that Adam was driven forth. Give us good government and we will make this country flourish. For us Mesopotamia is a home, a national home to which the Jews of Bombay, Persia and Turkey will be glad to come.” Unfortunately because of the innate exclusiveness of Arabism and religious triumphalism inherent in Islamism, The Jews were expelled and Iraq is the poorer because of it.

The Zimmerman message was  a secret message  by the German foreign Office  offering  Mexico the states of  New Mexico, Texas and Arizona to declare war against the United States also it sought to promote rebellion among the many German immigrants in the U.S. The sinking of the Lusitania by a German  submarine killing 123 Americans was a result of the unrestricted submarine warfare adopted by the Germans to starve the British.

BTW The Mexican President seriously considered the proposal but his Generals said  wisely …no way! One of the reasons they gave……. The anglo Texan civilians were too  well armed and would not submit to Mexican domination. Keep your weapons Texans!!!











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The Iraqi Army: the Wild Card

izwith barham salih Kurd leader

Me with Barham Salih in 2004, now the president of Iraq

As the Iraqi president continues to discuss with political blocs names of candidates to fill in the post of Prime Minister, the pressure from demonstrators to select an independent figure grows. So far the speculation in the media suggests the head of Iraq’s national intelligence Mustafa Al-Kazimi, and former communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi have emerged as likely most candidates, but as it appears there is a continuing impasse in selection of a Prime Minister, the environment for a military leader to assume control, by appointment or coup grows.


The Iraqi people see the army as the one institution of which they could be proud, even though the army has been involved in a number of brutal suppressions of domestic discontent, and has demonstrated a rather mediocre performance against the Israelis. They have always venerated the Iraq army from the time of its founding under the British. However, due to its earlier involvement in coups, especially the bloody one of 1958, and Iraqi politics, Saddam Hussein, who created the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard to balance the regular army, did not trust it. From then until now the regular army has not been deeply involved in the national politics and has not been an actor in the political chaos enveloping the nation since 2003.


Iraqi Shi’a militia

The collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014 depicted it as a hapless fighting organization and it became an object of ridicule, as well as the American training that preceded the collapse. The reality of the situation was that when the ill-considered withdrawal of American trainers from Iraq in 2011, Iraqi politicians reshaped the army to configure to political considerations and many professional officers left the army. It quickly evolved into a corrupt institution maintained for political and financial reasons by the Shi’a politicians. Its performance in 2014 was an example of its woeful effectiveness.  However with the return of American trainers in 2014, a slow improvement began and a degree of professionalism returned. In the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) several units of the Iraqi army demonstrated combat mettle and impressive effectiveness. One the best is the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), which, is now under the direct control of the Iraqi Prime Minister. Another is the 9th Mechanized division which has most of the best armor in the Iraqi army. These two units carried the fight to the ISIS.  The CTS organization, which is the headquarters of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Forces, also known as the Golden Division, lost a large number of their personnel as they performed as shock troops ferreting the ISIS terrorists out the city of Mosul.  Fighting in a traditional Arab city such as Mosul is one of the difficult operations one can attempt and the ISOF took many casualties doing it.

Iraqi officers

Iraqi army officer cadets


The ISOF been rebuilt to some extent but its present capabilities are probably not up to pre-2014 standards, and some of the former prime minister Al-Maliki’s induced corruption has crept in, but it is still a good unit. The former commander of this unit, Lt. General Abdul-Wahhab Al Saadi became a popular figure and has been lionized by many of the current Iraqi protestors who are frustrated by the corruption and inept governing regime. Because of his popularity he was, in typical Arab style, pulled out of his command over troops and relegated to a desk job, which he rejected and preferred to retire. This is a symptom of one of the main problems affecting all Arab armies, the politicization of the officer corps. Advancement is the reward for mediocrity.

To an extent , the effort to establish a quota system to create the army with the “face of Iraqi diversity,“ requiring the military to represent general proportion of the sectarian groups, i.e., Shi’a, Sunni and Kurds,, has been a drawback, as it requires the absorption of many recruits of lower standards just to meet the quota system. However, on the other hand, because of their historical and traditional role, composing the majority of the officer corps, the return of the Sunni officers has re-energized the quest for professionalism. While the quota is an obviously important political measure to forge a sense of Iraqi solidarity, it, to some observers in Iraq believe it does not enhance the quality of the army. I would suggest suggest, however, that it has increased the professionalism of the officer corps, with a greater loyalty to the nation rather that political blocs.

Iraqi training army 2

American training of Iraqi army

Another factor of importance is that the regular army has had far more exposure to American training and culture and many are pro-American in attitude, particular the officers at a junior and middle level. This sets them at odds with the Iranian supported Shi’a militias, many basically paid and directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to further Iranian interests. The innate rivalry to be expected between the Shi’a militias and regular army has grown to animosity down to the junior officer rank, even among the Shi’a officers.

So how does this play out?

The main point is this; It only takes a few units to effect a coup d’ etat. Most military coups in the Middle East have been carried out with very few units. There are three main criteria; one is that is that be a cohesive unit in which the officers are loyal to their commander, and the troops obey their officers. The troops need not be particularly in sync with the political motivations of their officers and commander.  Secondly the unit must be near the capitol to seize the primary means of communications and governing institutions to move quickly and unobtrusively into the governing center. Thirdly the coup must be done with lighting speed and firm direction. The loss of will on the part of the Turkish plotters in the 2016 attempted overthrow of Erdogan is one example of a loss of will. The book to read on this is  the classic  Coup d’ Etat: A Practical Handbook. Revised Edition. by Edward Luttwak.

There are several aspects of Iraq that make a coup d’ etat easier. Iraq, like most Arab counties is a mostly an urban population and is centralized around three main cities of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul.   For generations it has been governed by an authoritarian highly centralized regime. All power emanates from Baghdad. Take Baghdad and the rest of the country will follow, perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.

Iraq has been soaked in blood for decades. The people are tired of constant tension, violence, wars, and pervasive corruption.  The present situation presents a picture of a total breakdown of authority and order.  The old Arab saying, which could be applied anywhere in the world, ” a thousand days of tyranny is better than one day of chaos.” In Iraq, some (perhaps quite a few) yearn for the dictatorial Saddam regime and all wish for a strong leader to appear.  The mishmash of various Shi’a armed political organizations, all vying for power, destroying Iraq in the process, has worn the luster off their earlier heroic stance against the depredations of the ISIS, following the collapse of the Army in 2014.

An ambitious Iraqi general with a degree of charisma, a strong will, and from a reputable family,  with a loyal unit of perhaps no more than a reinforced brigade  with heavy weaponry could overpower the lightly armed militia groups. These groups are not unified, do not have uniform direction, and lack the religious fervor they possessed against the Sunni ISIS. Their leaders are mostly criminal type thugs and do not engender respect among the regular army officers. In a head to head confrontation, the militia groups could not prevail against armor and artillery. As Hafez Assad did against the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama in 1982, using artillery units manned by mostly Sunni soldiers, he pummeled the city until the Muslim Brotherhood was broken.  The Iraqi unit could do the same against the militia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad.  The Shi’a militias would splinter as the undisciplined militiamen of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) remember their first priority is their families and leave the battlefield to save them. One must remember that in the Middle East the “hearts and minds” philosophies are not only disregarded, but also actually seen as weakness.

wolf brigade

Iraqi soldiers celebrate capture of Mosul

The conventional wisdom that the mostly Shi’a soldiers of the army would not fire on their fellow coreligionists, Shi’a militia members, is simply not viable. As has been shown so many times in recent era, the quest for power, or survival, always trumps religious considerations, even in the Islamic world. In the Shi’a revolt against the Saddam regime following the Gulf war in 1991, many Shi’a tribes not only failed to support the rebellion but also actively fought against it. In the American liberating invasion, the hoped for Shi’a collaboration did not materialize and later they became the prime opponents of the American efforts to fashion some sort of a viable democratic government.

As the military attaché in Jordan during the Palestinian- Jordanian civil war (some say Jordanian Arab Army versus the Palestinian Liberation Organization) I watched the resentment of the ordinary Jordanian soldiers build day after day as the PLO Fedayeen drove around in their Toyotas, harassing people, showing off their tiger uniforms , flirting  with young women,  and basically indicating they were in charge. The same is happening in Iraq. The militia will continue to play the hero with all the publicity and Western “experts” lauding their prowess, or opining that we must deal with them. This “prowess” was primarily in terms of propaganda in the dark days against the ISIS, as they swarmed into the streets of Baghdad, giving residents a feeling of security as the routed Iraqi army fled south from Mosul. However in the years of the tortuous march up country, reclaiming Iraq against the ISIS, it was the Army and the CTS that did most of the fighting. The militias followed as a sort of mop up force.

Since the regular army shows some attachment to the American military and the Shi’a militia forces are in the pocket of the Iranians, this coup would have international repercussions, leading some to forecast the destruction of the army. I disagree. Iran would not venture to put conventional troops into Iraq and the probable entrance of more IRGC forces would only lead to greater embarrassment for Iran by turning the coup into a classic Arab- Persian struggle. Of course this assessment can only be valid if the United States continues to show some backbone in the continuing confrontation. The Iranians must remain fearful of strong American intervention.

Is there a charismatic power hungry military Army commander (or perhaps an idealist) who can fill the role of the “man on horseback?” I do not know, but my background of Middle East experience suggests there is one, and as the turmoil in Iraq continues, public entreaties and pressure for someone to clean up the mess will create the right environment for the man, even if he, like Mohammed Naguib of Egypt, will only be temporary until an Iraqi Nasser emerges.   In the meantime the Iraqi army tanks and artillery remain in cantonments, waiting for the orders.





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Oman: An Amazing Arab Country

Of all the twenty plus countries I have visited or lived in over the years, one of the most interesting is the Sultanate of Oman. Certainly it is the most interesting of all the countries, emirates, etc in the Arabia peninsula. The diversity of people, cultures,  topography, history and strategic location  make it a singularly important  small nation that few, even American Middle East “experts” know much about.( Digression…more and more I put parenthesis around the term Middle East “experts,” particularly after their whining and idiotic reactions to the  elimination of the “Che Guevera” of the Middle East,  Qassem Suleimani.  Also I needed refuge from the fake “impeachment” show trial.


The Sultanate of Musqat and Oman as it was originally known. The Musqat region in red and the Omani Imamate in orange.

I visited there with an officer student in about 2000 or earlier and I was very impressed with the possibilities of the country with the right leadership.  Since 1970 until January 2020 they had that leadership, under the Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who died on 10 January  2020.  Qaboos was  gay and had no children. He was married briefly for cosmetic reasons but divorced a few years ago. He selected his cousin Haitham bin Tariq al Said as the new ruler.I know very little about Haitham but had a chance to observe the Sultan while visiting Salawah, the western- most city in Oman.  Amid the blaring of horns and a lot of yelling we watched a caravan of the Sultan in a convertible followed by  a number of pickup vehicles with a bunch of young men packed into them. Unlike the rest of the Arab world,  he had little or no security escort.  The young men did not appear to be armed.  How different from every other place I had visited or lived in during my time in the Middle East over the years.

Sultan Qaboos sent his father  Sultan, Said Bin Taimur, 1932-1970  packing after  Qaboos returned from the British Military Academy (Sandhurst). Bin Taimur was a larger than life character. He was the very embodiment of a reactionary and feudal leader. He told the British commander of the Sultan’s forces, Colonel David Smiley, that he did not want any more health clinics, saying,

We are a very poor country which can only support small population. At present many children  die in infancy, and so the population does not increase. If we build clinics many more will survive- but for what? To starve? “

When British officials pressed him to educate his people he replied,

“Where would the teachers come from? …They would come from Cairo and spread seditious ideas among their pupils. And what is there here for a young man with with education?  He would go to the university in Cairo or the London School of Economics, finish in Moscow and come  back here foment trouble.” The Sultan may have been reactionary but he was no dummy.  His only son, Qabuus returned from Sandhurst and  sent his father to London for good, assuming the rule of Oman.

However Oman has never been an easy  country to rule. It’s history  is replete with brutal factional and tribal warfare, dating back to the original division of the Arabs, the Adnani and Qatani tribal confederations. In fact there are some 200 tribes that reside in Oman, which coalesce around two main factions, the Ghafiri and Hinawi confederations. This rivalry is magnified by the fact that the Hinawi strongly identify with the Ibadis and the Hinawi with the Sunni.

The Ibadis are one of the three main sects of Islam, the Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadi. The Ibadis have a long and bloody history. They originated with the Kharajites, the most militant of the various forms of Islam. The Kharajites originally formed as the result of  the Battle of Siffin in which Ali, the son in law of the Prophet Mohammed was vying for the leadership of the Umma ( the Muslim Community). Ali unwisely chose to negotiate with the pretender Muawiyya, and came out the loser. The Kharajites, ( also known as the seceders), believing that Allah did not accept arbitration,  withdrew from the support of Ali and became his most implacable enemy. One of them assassinated Ali near Kufa in Iraq.

The Kharijites evolved into many branches,  mostly very violent , and influenced the leader of the Zinj revolt in Iraq, who led the black slaves ( originally imported from East Africa) of the Abbasid regime, employed in the saltpeter mines of southern Iraq, in one of the bloodiest revolts of all history. According to the German orientalist, Theodore Noldeke, the storming of the last bastion of the Zinj rebels, “Thus ended one of the bloodiest and most destructive rebellions in the history of West Asia records.”

The branch of the Kharajites who settled in Oman evolved into a rather inoffensive branch and in practice their day to day religious activities differ very little from the Sunni. however they generally do not intermarry with the Sunni and zealously guard their identity.

At one time Oman was a vast empire, stretching from east Africa  to Western India and the Omanis were intrepid seamen, ferrying goods from the Middle East as far as Indochina. One of the principal commodities were humans…the slaves from east Africa. This was one of the principal slave  trade  routes from Africa to the Arab world and East Asia.  It was a trade involving human suffering not exceeded in any epoch of history. A full  and gut wrenching  description of the Arab slave trade and its effects  can be found in Oman: a History by Wendell Phillips, (Longmans, 1967).  This aspect of the Arab slave trade has been largely ignored by modern writers, one of the many baleful effects of being “politically correct” ( dishonest, being  a more truthful description).

Since 1750 the Al Bu  Said family has ruled Oman and lived in near isolation, invaded by the Portuguese,( for over a hundred years), the Persians, and their Arab neighbors, the Saudis. When not under foreign rule, the Omanis were at each others throats, leading the most renown historian of the Persian Gulf region, J.B. Kelly, Arabia, the Gulf and the West, to write. As an aside perhaps it should be mentioned that none of the European imperialists could possibly approach the brutality of the Portuguese who routinely slaughtered women, and children,  burning down the towns. The Portuguese era in the Arabian peninsula is a very interesting one. I need to read more about them. Any way the quote by JB Kelly,

“Centuries of feuding have bred in them ( Omanis) a rancorous disposition , and long isolation has made them intensely suspicious of strangers and foreign influences. The contentiousness which is so marked a feature of Omani life is due in large measure to the inveterate religious discord and factional rivalry that exits within Omani society.”

I found that to be true. They were not of the generally welcoming nature one finds in Arab culture. Most Omani individuals seemed very dour and reserved but not as bad as their neighbors the Yemenis. There were some great exceptions but these mostly turned out to be  Indians, or Persians. Most of the shops were managed by Persians and Indians, both Hindu and Muslim but the shop owners were  Omanis, who largely eschew work as something real men don’t do. The oil wealth of the Omanis, not approaching anywhere near that of the Persian Gulf emirates, nevertheless has exacerbated the lack of a work ethic.  However,  what they lack in civic virtues they more than make up in martial qualities. The Dhofaris of the Dhofar  region of western Oman are justly renown for their soldierly qualities. as are the tribesmen of the Green mountain region of north east Oman..

I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the Trucial Oman Scouts in 1968, the British officered, Arab defense force of the Emirates ( now UAE). I was with the Squadron that was almost entirely  Dhofaris. They were  excellent tough soldiers and I very much enjoyed my time with them.

TOS dhofari soldiers with SAS

Dhofaris of the Trucial Oman Scouts ( the paleface in the back is a Brit SAS troop)

Oman under the wise and benevolent rule of Sultan Qabuus leaped from the 15th Century several hundred years ahead. The society is still fairly primitive but the progress made under the late Sultan is truly remarkable. He is the example of what could happen in the Arab world if they had decent  leadership…….leaders who actually cared about the people instead of pursuing glory, quest for more power and personal wealth. It is probably the most peaceful nation in the Middle East , boasting of  many years of stability. He had maintained a miraculous degree of neutrality in a region wherein it is almost impossible to do so, amicably working with the Arab nations,  Iran, and Israel. He had not become embroiled in the useless and self defeating Palestinian issue.

Bibi, wife and Qabus

Bibi and wife greeting Sultan Qabuus. Note that Ms. Netanyahu is not wearing hair covering as so many American female  diplomats do  hoping to curry favor.

To be sure the British have played an important part in the stability of the Sultanate, very visible in the government  since  about 1891, when Oman became a British protectorate. In 1958 the Omanis and the British concluded an agreement in which the British assumed control and training of the armed forces of the Omanis. The Commanders of the British advisory in Oman have been some very famous British Officers. Brigadier Pat Waterfield , and especially retired Colonel David Smiley were among them at the time most crucial to the survival of the Sultanate.

Almost all the equipment  of the Omani military is of British origin, including the main British battle tank, the Challenger II and Typhoon fighters. British support has been critical in supporting the Sultan. The reign of Sultan Qabuus’s father, Said bin Taimur, was not always peaceful as the Marxists, Arab nationalists, and  the Saudis of Saudi Arabia have tried to overturn the regime. The first attempt was called  the Jebel Akhdar rebellion which lasted  from 1954 to 1959. One can get the left wing view of the war from wikipedia or the British view from J.B. Kelly and Wendell Phillips. The former depicts it as a war over oil discovered in the region, eagerly sought by the rapacious Sultan  and pushed by the greedy British imperialists. The British saw it as a war to  consolidate the rule of the Musqat  Sultan al Said over the rebellious interior which was involved in tribal warfare fanned by ambitious tribal sheikhs, amply supported by Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia with arms and training.  After some serious losses by the Sultan’s forces, the British began deploying regular units to defeat the rebels. In 1959 the British deployed  major Special Air Services units ( SAS) and  air force assets to decisively defeat the rebels.

map oman2

Green Mountain revolt  in the brown area in the north and the Dhofar rebellion in the south shaded area.

The more serious revolt fanned by Arab nationalism and Marxist expansionism was the Dhofari revolt, which dragged on from 1963 to 1976.  In this war, the British, the Shah’s Iran, Jordan, and Egypt assisted the Omanis,  while the Soviet Union, China, South Yemen, and Iraq supported the Dhofari rebels. Again it was the British SAS which made the difference and finally defeated the  Dhofari rebels in 1976.

Oman is  polyglot of different people, including Arabs, Persians,  Baluchis, Indians, East Africans, and a substantial number of British expatriates who are very involved in every aspect of Omani life.  In fact, the Dhofaris have their own own dialect of Arabic which sounds very different to the ear from Arabic, including traces of Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. In the Musandem peninsula, live a tribe called the Shihuh,  who also speak a different brand of Arabic mixed with Farsi. They are famous for a long handled axe which they use in an upper cut fashion to slash the throat of their opponent.

shihuh axe

The Jizr of the Shihuh

I bought one off a Shihuh tribesman who showed up at our campfire when I was with the TOS soldiers. Unfortunately in one of our many moves it disappeared.

oman market place

Market place in Musqat

oman me at harbor

The blogger hanging out in Musqat on the waterfront

oman pool

One of many amazing things about Oman is the amount of water found in many parts of the Sultanate


water water… not everywhere but Oman is blessed

smiling Omani

a grocer in a small town north east of Musqat. A happy guy. Doesn’t look like an Omani.


hello! whats your sign?


me with grocer

at the market with a contented grocer. The Omanis have the water in certain areas to grow almost anything,

But the most fantastic part of the visit to Oman was the time spent in Salawah, on the further most  western tip of  Oman. Flying from the city of Musqat to Salawah we flew over hundreds of miles of sun-baked desert with practically no vegetation, and then suddenly we flew into a fog shrouded mist that covers a good part of the region around Salawah and everything below turned green. It reminded  me of the movie Shangri La. This drastic change of scenery is the result of the tip of the Indian Monsoons reaching Salawah and the surrounding mountains to the north keeping the dry hot winds from Arabia from burning up the terrain.


The interior Omani desert

camels and mist

Approaching  Salawah the humid but cool mist comes into view

me on rock

At Salawah near the Ocean

Many Brits go camping in Oman and if properly equipped it is very enjoyable…… I was told. I chose to camp out in the Salawah Holiday Inn.



oman map 3

Salawah is about a 1000 KM from Musqat. One can drive there is about a 10 hour trip.


near Salawah

salawah 2

Streams near a park in Salawah

So in conclusion I am wondering why anyone with a choice would prefer stumbling around  cathedrals  and crumbling ruins in “old” Europe,  fighting their way through throngs of other tourists and being cheated by every surly arrogant shop owner the guide brings you to. I prefer being cheated the Arab way…with smiles and proffered coffee and tea. But there is no accounting for tastes!!!











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