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By Dennis L. Cuddy, Ph.D.
September 15, 2014

American government officials said they were surprised by the growth of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the rapidity with which they took over much of Iraq, but they shouldn't have been. Arms were sent to the rebels in Syria from those (assisted by the U.S.) who overthrew Gaddafi in Libya, and some of those weapons wound up in the hands of ISIS (who are Sunni Muslims), which also received funds from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey primarily in 2012 and 2013. See recent Fox News report in which Gen. Thomas McInerney said "some of those weapons from Benghazi ended up in the hands of ISIS---so we helped build ISIS."

ISIS began in 2010 as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (changing its name to ISIS in April 2013), the year after its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (called Caliph Ibrahim by his supporters), was released by President Obama from Camp Bucca where he was held for 4 years. Camp Bucca was an American facility in southern Iraq where the worst prisoners were held, and Baghdadi (whose family claims he is from Muhammad's Quraysh tribe) told his jailers "I'll see you in New York."

The headquarters of ISIS is in Raqqa (which it took over in March 2013), Syria where the members of ISIS first fought against Syrian leader Assad. One would think that Assad would want to strike back at ISIS in return, but he mainly has been attacking non-ISIS rebels instead! ISIS actually sold oil to Assad, who sold weapons to ISIS. All of this allowed ISIS to grow in strength and spread into Iraq, quickly taking the Sunni towns of Fallujah (taken in January 2014), Tikrit, Mosul, etc.

Baghdadi has portrayed himself as a strict Islamist, but when delivering a speech in Islamic garb, his sleeve slipped up revealing an expensive watch, a product of the West whose products radical Islamists are supposed to reject. Baghdadi and ISIS took Mosul in early June of this year, and taking Baghdad was to be a key objective. However, Baghdadi didn't destroy the Mosul dam (30 miles upstream from Mosul on the Tigris River), which they took on August 7 and the destruction of which could have facilitated the taking of Baghdad, which is also on the Tigris River. In late August, air strikes by the U.S. took control of the dam away from ISIS.

When I asked people why Baghdadi didn't destroy the dam, their response was that ISIS wanted to rule Iraq rather than destroy it. At first, that seems to make sense, but before one can rule a country, one has to take control of it. ISIS has shown no reluctance brutally to kill many people, and blowing the Mosul dam would have been catastrophic to the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad.

A few days ago, when I asked the senior governance and development adviser whose portfolio after the 2003 American invasion began included the dam, he contacted the regional project manager who had been in charge of the dam and asked, "Do you remember what effects the Mosul dam failure would pose for Baghdad?" The regional project manager's reply was as follows: "This time of year the dam is at its lowest level. The highest water level gets is 327m (meters) and during the summer it is down to 198m or so. If it fails at 198m the headwater is estimated at 15-25 meters at 5km past the dam and 5-10m at Mosul in about 60 minutes. The flow will take 180 minutes to reach Baghdad and be 3-5m. At 327m the headwater is 50-60m at 5km past the dam and 35-40m at Mosul in 30-40 minutes and to Baghdad in 90 minutes at 10-15m. The flood plain is some 5-6km either side of the river---a true catastrophe."

The adviser whose portfolio included the dam then emailed me on Saturday, September 13 in response to my asking him about the Shiite militia who the U.S. will probably be supporting against ISIS. He said: "Big disaster in the making. These same militias are responsible for many American deaths. More than Sunnis. They are run by an Iranian Officer corps and Qods General. Maliki is still in government. He is a Vice-President now. He still has 4 battalions of 'Special Forces' at his private disposal. They are all Iranians. Iran is also flying some drones in Iraq. They have close to 2-3 battalions operating in Iraq. They are flying all the missions in Russian supplied aircraft under Iraqi markings. Also take a look at Kerry's son-in-law. Interesting ties to Iran. And also take a look at the group that Alastair (Crooke) belongs to. Very interesting."

Had Baghdadi blown the Mosul dam, he and ISIS could have followed the wall of water into Baghdad and occupied the whole city (e.g., Parliament, etc.). He could have taken all the money from the banks there, and used it to bribe Sunnis later returning to their homes in Baghdad to join his forces. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdad Sunnis probably would have joined ISIS not only because of the "carrot" of bank loot, but also because of the "stick" threat by ISIS against the Baghdad Sunnis' wives and children if they did not join ISIS.

What could the U.S. then do? Even when President Bush had the "shock and awe" campaign of 2003, American airstrikes were only against strategic targets like the Ministry of Defense building. If ISIS had placed its forces throughout Baghdad, the U.S. would have had to level the city with missiles/bombs to root them out, destroying all government buildings (e.g., Parliament), banks, private homes, etc., because President Obama said there would be no American "boots on the ground." His plan operationally will need a great deal of cooperation from NATO member Turkey. However, ISIS currently holds 40 Turkish government officials hostage, and if Turkey participates in President Obama's efforts, its hostages could be brutally and publicly executed.

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Obviously, President Obama does not want to face a future with Iraq as a failed state and breeding ground for terrorists. However, if he now aids the Iraqi/Baghdad Shiites (including various militia) against ISIS, that could ignite a religious sectarian civil war resulting in a large death toll. It could also cause tremendous animosity upon the part of Iraqi Sunnis against President Obama, possibly destroying any possibility of reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites in the near future. Supposedly, Maliki's replacement by Abadi as leader of Iraq is designed to make the Iraqi Sunnis more cooperative, but one must remember that Maliki is still in a leadership position as vice-president, and he and Abadi are politically members of the same Dawa Party.

Baghdadi's failure to take advantage of his control of the Mosul dam after August 7 strikes me as suspicious. Perhaps there is more to him than most people realize. Although I think he will be captured or killed sooner than expected, in the meantime he could have American recruits to ISIS return to the U.S. to commit terrorist acts (e.g., set fires, derail trains, poison foods, place Improvised Explosive Devices on roadsides, etc., etc.).

� 2014 Dennis Cuddy - All Rights Reserved

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Dennis Laurence Cuddy, historian and political analyst, received a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (major in American History, minor in political science). Dr. Cuddy has taught at the university level, has been a political and economic risk analyst for an international consulting firm, and has been a Senior Associate with the U.S. Department of Education.

Cuddy has also testified before members of Congress on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice. Dr. Cuddy has authored or edited twenty books and booklets, and has written hundreds of articles appearing in newspapers around the nation, including The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He has been a guest on numerous radio talk shows in various parts of the country, such as ABC Radio in New York City, and he has also been a guest on the national television programs USA Today and CBS's Nightwatch.

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American government officials said they were surprised by the growth of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the rapidity with which they took over much of Iraq, but they shouldn't have been.