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ISIS Militants Have Army of 200,000, Claims Senior Kurdish Leader
Exclusive: CIA has hugely underestimated the number of jihadis, who now rule an area the size of Britain
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The Islamic State (Isis) has recruited an army hundreds of thousands strong, far larger than previous estimates by the CIA, according to a senior Kurdish leader. He said the ability of Isis to attack on many widely separated fronts in Iraq and Syria at the same time shows that the number of militant fighters is at least 200,000, seven or eight times bigger than foreign in intelligence estimates of up to 31,500 men.

Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said in an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday that “I am talking about hundreds of thousands of fighters because they are able to mobilise Arab young men in the territory they have taken.”

He estimates that Isis rules a third of Iraq and a third of Syria with a population of between 10 and 12 million living in an area of 250,000 square kilometres, the same size as Great Britain. This gives the jihadis a large pool of potential recruits.

Proof that Isis has created a large field army at great speed is that it has been launching attacks against the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Iraqi army close to Baghdad at the same time as it is fighting in Syria. “They are fighting in Kobani,” said Mr Hussein. “In Kurdistan last month they were attacking in seven different places as well as in Ramadi [capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad] and Jalawla [an Arab-Kurdish town close to Iranian border]. It is impossible to talk of 20,000 men or so.”

The high figure for Isis’s combat strength is important because it underlines how difficult it will be eliminate Isis even with US air strikes. In September, the CIA produced an estimate of Isis numbers which calculated that the movement had between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. The underestimate of the size of the force that Isis can deploy may explain why the US and other foreign governments have been repeatedly caught by surprise over the past five months as IS inflicted successive defeats on the Iraqi army, Syrian army, Syrian rebels and Kurdish peshmerga.

The US and its allies are beginning to take on board the obstacles to fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to degrade and destroy Isis. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Baghdad on Friday in a surprise visit. He said he wanted “to get a sense from our side about how our contribution is going”. Earlier in the week, he told Congress that to defeat Isis an efficient army of 80,000 men would be necessary. Few in Iraq believe that the regular army is up to the task, despite winning a success last week by retaking the refinery town of Baiji and lifting the siege of the refinery, the largest in Iraq.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Hussein spelled out the new balance of power in Iraq in the wake of the Islamic militants’ summer offensive and the military re-engagement of the US. The Kurdistan Regional Government now faces Isis units along a 650-mile front line cutting across northern Iraq between Iran and Syria. Mr Hussein said that the US air intervention had enabled the Kurds to hold out when the unexpected Isis assault in August defeated the peshmerga and came close to capturing the Kurdish capital Irbil: “They were fighting with a strategy of fear that affected the morale of everybody, including the peshmerga.”

As well as terrifying its opponents by publicising its own atrocities, Isis had developed an effective cocktail of tactics that includes suicide bombers, mines, snipers and use of US equipment captured from the Iraqi army such as Humvees, artillery and tanks. To combat them, Mr Hussein says the Kurds need Apache helicopters and heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery.

The Kurdish leaders are now much more relaxed about Isis because they have a US guarantee of their security. The grim experience of the US in seeing the collapse of the government and army in Baghdad, which the Americans had fostered at vast expense, also works in favour of the Kurds.

Mr Hussein does not like to talk about it today, but the Kurdistan Regional Government got a nasty surprise in August when it asked the Turkish government for help in stopping Isis only to be told Ankara planned no immediate assistance. It was only then that the Kurds turned to Iran and the US, both of which immediately acted to prevent a complete victory by the Islamic militants. Iran sent some officers, military units and artillery while the US started air strikes on 8 August.

Mr Hussein speculates that the CIA and US intelligence agencies may only have been speaking about “core” fighters in claiming that the jihadis had at most 31,500 men under arms. But the fighting over the past five months has shown that Isis has become a formidable military force. “We are talking about a state that has a military and ideological basis,” said Mr Hussein, “so that means they want everyone to learn how to use a rifle, but they also want everybody to have training in their ideology, in other words brainwashing.”

A sign of the military professionalism of Isis is the speed with which they learned to use captured US tanks, artillery and other heavy equipment captured after the fall of Mosul on 10 June. The same thing happened in Syria where Isis captured Russian-made arms which it rapidly started using. The most likely explanation for this is that IS’s ranks contain many former Iraqi and Syrian soldiers whose skills Isis has identified. Mr Hussein says that the peshmerga has been impressed during the fighting by Isis’s training and discipline.

“They will fight until death, and are dangerous because they are so well-trained,” said Mr Hussein. “For instance, they have the best snipers, but to be a good sniper you need not only training on how to shoot, but discipline in staying put for up to five hours so you can hit your target.”


There is supporting evidence for Mr Hussein’s high estimate for Isis numbers. A study by the National Security Adviser’s office in Baghdad before the Isis offensive showed that, when 100 jihadis entered a district, they would soon recruit between five and 10 times their original number. There are reports of many young men volunteering to fight for Isis when they were in the full flood of success in the summer. This enthusiasm may have ebbed since the US started air strikes and the Isis run of victories ended with their failure to capture Kobani in northern Syria despite a long siege.

In an impoverished region with few jobs, Isis pay of \$400 (£250) a month is also attractive. Moreover, Mr Hussein says that in the places they have conquered Isis is remodelling society in its own image, aiming to educate people into accepting Isis ideology.

The Kurds have recovered their military self-confidence in the knowledge that they are backed by the US and Iran. The peshmerga have taken back some towns lost in August, notably Zumar close to the Syrian border, but not Tal Afar and Sinjar where 8,500 Yazidis are still besieged on their mountain top. But there are limits to how far the Kurds are willing to advance even if they succeed in doing so. Mr Hussein says that the Kurds can help an Iraqi army, supposing a non-sectarian one is created, but “the Kurds cannot liberate the Sunni Arab areas”.

This is the great problem facing a counter offensive against Isis by Baghdad or the Kurds: it will be seen by the five or six million Sunni Arabs in Iraq as directed against their whole community. Hitherto, the US has been hoping to repeat its success between 2006 and 2008 in turning many Sunni against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Mr Hussein ticks off the reasons why repeating this will be very difficult: the Americans then had 150,000 soldiers in Iraq to back up anti-al-Qaeda tribal leaders. Isis will savagely punish anybody who opposes it. “We have seen what happened in Anbar to the Albu Nimr tribe [that rose up against Isis]. They stood bravely against the terrorist but 500 were killed. It was a disaster.”

Overall, Mr Hussein says he does not see any convincing sign of resistance from the Sunni Arabs. Many of them may be unhappy, particularly in Mosul, but this is not translating into effective opposition. Nor is it clear what outside force could organise resistance. The Iraqi army might be acceptable in Sunni areas but only if it is reconstituted so that is not dominated by the Shia.

At the moment, the Kurds see little sign of its presence. They have been asking for regular troops to defend the Mosul Dam on the Euphrates so they can use up to 3,000 peshmerga stationed there, but no Iraqi troops have turned up. “Those who are now defending Baghdad are the army of the [Shia] parties. To re-establish a professional army needs time.”

Mr Hussein did not say so, but it may be too late to establish a competent cross-confessional regular army in Iraq. The counter-offensive by Baghdad is led by the three main Shia militias which have almost the same ideological fervour and sectarian hatred as Isis. Any advance on the battlefield leads to the population deemed loyal to the losing side taking flight so the whole of northern Iraq has become a land of refugees.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Kurds, Shias and Sunnis 
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  1. All against all, enemy and ally alike, with the U.S. no different. The only side being fought on is that of death and destruction. Should any faction win, it will immediately turn on its former allies.

    Somehow Saddam, bad as he surely was, now seems more like the friendly despot Donald Rumsfeld shook hands with and supplied with weapons to try to destroy Iran.

  2. Adar. says:

    When the CIA says they have 31,500 “soldiers” they mean a man wearing a uniform, carrying a weapon openly, belonging to a unit, having some form of training that took weeks or months, fighting according to a plan, accepting discipline, etc. “Soldiers” as that term understood in western circles. I would venture a guess that those additional numbers of fighters are what used to be called levies. Raw material and used in a haphazard manner, without much training if any. Most men in that part of the world can load and fire an AK but not with a whole lot of expertise.

    This almost sounds like the disagreement during the Vietnam War between the CIA and MACV [American military command in Vietnam] as to how many troops the VC had in the field. CIA said 800,000 and MACV said about 200,000. CIA counting a seven year old boy setting up a booby trap or an eighty year old man sharpening a punji stake. MACV counting only those enemy personnel with some sort of rudimentary but prolonged military training.

  3. edwardk says: • Website

    They also have an army of Hebrew speaking oil traders and petroleum logistics specialists:

    “The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began selling Iraqi crude oil extracted from oil fields which it seized in recent months and is exporting it through the Kurdish region to Turkish refineries and from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan ultimately to Israel.”

    “According to numerous reports by Reuters, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, the tanker SCF Altai transferred a cargo of Kurdish oil from another tanker United Emblem, which had been plying the Mediterranean for two weeks after loading at the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The SCF Altai then docked at the Israeli city of Ashkelon and off-loaded its crude.”

  4. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    “The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began selling Iraqi crude oil extracted from oil fields which it seized in recent months and is exporting it through the Kurdish region to Turkish refineries and from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan ultimately to Israel.”

    “According to numerous reports by Reuters, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, the tanker SCF Altai transferred a cargo of Kurdish oil from another tanker United Emblem, which had been plying the Mediterranean for two weeks after loading at the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The SCF Altai then docked at the Israeli city of Ashkelon and off-loaded its crude.”

    This is Israel’s indirect means of supporting the Kurds:

    (Reuters) – A tanker delivered a cargo of disputed crude oil from Iraqi Kurdistan’s new pipeline for the first time on Friday in Israel, despite threats by Baghdad to take legal action against any buyer.

    The SCF Altai tanker arrived at Israel’s Ashkelon port early on Friday morning, ship tracking and industry sources said. By the evening, the tanker began unloading the Kurdish oil, a source at the port said.

    The port authority at Ashkelon declined to comment. Securing the first sale of oil from its independent pipeline is crucial for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as it seeks greater financial independence from war-torn Iraq. But the new export route to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, designed to bypass Baghdad’s federal pipeline system, has created a bitter dispute over oil sale rights between the central government and the Kurds.

    How ISIS is selling its oil is another question.

    • Replies: @edwardk
  5. edwardk says: • Website

    It is highly doubtful that shia Iran is buying sunni extremist ISIS oil, but it seems clear that criminal networks take it through Kurdistan (which itself sells its own oil illegally) From there it is apparently shipped onto Turkey or to Israel. (see above)

    “The organisation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began yesterday evening selling crude oil extracted from the Ajeel oil field and exporting it through the Kurdish region to local refineries or across the Iranian border, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday.

    The mayor of Tuz Khurmatu, Shallal Abdul Baban, said in a statement: “This evening, ISIS began shipping 100 tanks loaded with crude oil extracted from the Ajeel oil field which the organisation took control of last month. ISIS sells the crude oil at a price ranging between \$12-14,000 per tank to finance their operations.

    Abdul Baban said: “People who buy the oil use paved roads controlled by ISIS militants and take it through the cities of Kifri or Qadir Karam to civil refineries or across the Iranian border or they go through the city of Makhmour to the Kurdistan region in coordination with the checkpoints.

    In any case, it is no small logistics effort to run an armed convoy of 100 oil tanker trucks through ISIS Iraq into Kurd territory, and then exchange the cargo for cash and refined products, not to mention the security issues involved with American and Iraqi overflights and interference.

    So ISIS has a very sophisticated trading and logistics function, comparable to major transnational oil companies in the region. And they don’t apparently object idologically to trading with the Kurds, Israelis, and Turks. The Iraqis and Syrians are the losers here of the crude oil, their central governments in turmoil, therefore they are unlikely to be state sponsors of the trades and logistics.
    This leaves some entity with a sophisticated security-trading-logistics capability in the region, and friendly relations with both Turkey and Israel (despite their bilateral tensions). Implicitly, this is then a BP Shell offshoot, for example :

    “In 2011, [former CEO BP ] Hayward joined forces with British financier Nathaniel Rothschild to acquire a Turkish firm already operating in Kurdistan. The firm, renamed Genel Energy Plc (GENL), says it’s poised to raise production at Taq Taq and other fields to 70,000 barrels a day this year from 44,000 in 2013. On May 8, Hayward was named chairman of Glencore Xstrata Plc (GLEN), the mining company that is also one of the world’s biggest crude traders.

    [there is a problem in that the Kurdish oil is actually Iraqi owned]

    In December, the KRG agreed to work with the central government in Baghdad in determining how to distribute revenue from Kurdistan oil exports, though a lot of questions remain unanswered, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in a note published on April 29.

    “The resource base is too big for a solution not to be found,” analysts led by Hong Kong–based Neil Beveridge wrote. ”

    Hypothesis: ISIS is a Rothschild financed private army protecting and extending its Kurdish oil investments all the way into Iraq and Syria with close air support from the United States coalition

  6. Vendetta says:

    My own personal guess is that they have around 30,000-40,000 available for front line duty and at least that number (and perhaps up to twice that) of local conscripts and auxiliary garrison troops.

  7. This journalist is fooling you since he is in bed with intelligence services of MI6-Israel- CIA

    He is with the plot of the west to destabilize the regional states, to create ‘kurdistan’, a Zionist stooges area, for the interest of the ‘greater Israel’, and “new world order” run by the rootenchild family and soros and their extension. The plot against Syria and creation of so called ISIS/ISIL, all is WESTERN CONSTRUCT toward ‘world government’ where every single person must fight against and spit at it and their designer and supporters. Massacare in Syria was designed few years earlier and the MI6/CIA trained terrorist, known as ISIS/ISIL are part of the plot against Syria and other targeted regional countries.

    To know more about it please watch former FM of France. Down with Britain, US and Israel.

    France’s Former Foreign Minister: UK Government Prepared War in Syria Two Years Before 2011 Protests

    • Replies: @edwardk
  8. edwardk says:
    @No Second Israel

    To deploy 50K soldiers in the field, you need weapons , ammo, food and transport , lets say 1000\$ a month, thats 50 million a month. Theyre not financing that amount with oil sales because the reported revenues dont equal profits .

    This army has a major state sponsor(s), or private cartel, with very deep pockets.

    And the fact that rothschild-BP plc is operating in the same geoeconomic geography is indicative.

    Coburn deliberately ignores the geo-economics and finances of ISIS.

    Photographed in London, Tony Hayward, the CEO who left the oil giant BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, joined forces a year later with British financier Nathaniel Rothschild to acquire a Turkish firm already operating in Kurdistan. Photographer: Daniel Stier/Bloomberg Markets

    I have not seen any MSM mention of the BP-Rothschild presence in ISIS Iraq Kurdistan.

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