Rapid Fire
17 Mar 2015|

President Vladimir Putin has been given a platform to explain his ‘reasons’ for taking military action in Crimea

In this installment of Rapid Fire, we take a look at the ground campaign in Iraq, concerns over Shia militias, use of chemical weapons by Islamic State, foreign fighters in Nigeria, Putin’s reasoning for annexing Ukraine, and the Forever War.

Last week, operations to take back the IS-controlled city of Tikrit intensified. One week later, some progress appears to have been made. According to an unnamed Iraqi official, troops found unused weapons caches; evidence that militants have been fleeing ‘possibly to Mosul to the north and Anbar province to the southwest’. But despite proclamations that the campaign’s going well, the outcome is still uncertain. Robin Wright, fellow at the US Institute of Peace, argues  that numbers ‘don’t always tell the story’ and that ‘by numbers alone, the first major Iraqi offensive against [IS] should have been a romp’. It hasn’t been. ‘Sunni militants loyal to [IS] have repeatedly demonstrated more discipline and greater devotion, in Iraq and in Syria, than their rivals’. So despite initial optimism, it’s too early to claim victory. Indeed, the Washington Post reported yesterday that the offensive may be stalling in light of increasing numbers of casualties, which does not bode well for a future victory.

Even if the offensive succeeds, the price for pushing back IS could be high. In this context, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has voiced concerns over the heavy involvement of Iran-backed Shia militias in a primarily Sunni region in Iraq. During a US Senate hearing he questioned ‘what comes after, in terms of their [Shia militias’] willingness to let Sunni families move back into their neighbourhoods, whether they work to restore the basic services that are going to be necessary, or whether it results in atrocities and retribution.’

Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters are claiming to have evidence that IS militants have been using chlorine gas. A statement from the Kurdish region’s Security Council to Reuters stated that the attacks took place between Mosul and the Syrian border. The evidence they claim to possess includes ‘around 20 gas canisters’ and an analysis of soil and clothing samples

Spokesman for the National Security Council, Alistair Baskey, told the New York Times that American officials were treating the situation ‘very seriously’ but so far have been unable to confirm the details. He described the use of chlorine gas as ‘abhorrent.’

It’s estimated that several hundred foreign fighters from South Africa have joining the fight against the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria. According to an unidentified West African security source, paid mercenaries are involved in running major offensives, despite it being illegal for South Africans to participate directly in hostilities for private gain. Mike Omeri, a spokesperson from the Nigerian government, stipulated that the fighters were only conducting training exercises, but the South African government remains wary.

A preview of an upcoming documentary on Russian state-run Rossiya-1 television, provides President Vladimir Putin with a platform to explain his ‘reasons’ for taking military action in Crimea. The documentary ‘Homeward Bound’ depicts Russia’s actions as a rescue mission, with Putin saying, ‘We would do this only if we are absolutely convinced that the people who live in Crimea themselves want this.’ Interestingly, Putin admits to deploying Russian troops to Crimea prior to the referendum. There have been calls for the three-hour documentary to be sent to the International tribunal in The Hague as potential evidence at a future war crimes trial, suggesting that Putin may regret his unguarded comments. Rossiya-1 has not announced when the documentary will be aired.

Meanwhile Rosa Brooks, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, writes in Foreign Policy about the fallacy of the ‘end of war’. Her central argument is that ‘the Forever War is here to stay’. That is, society must stop viewing war and peace as separate entities and ‘begin to develop a politics for the space between total war and total peace’ and accept ‘that a murky middle ground is likely to be the norm for many years to come.’

Sarah Hately is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user World Economic Forum.