The Cable

Situation Report: Tough start to Ramadi op; China’s new war strategy welcome at Pentagon; new faces at the State Dept.; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Grim beginning. Early reports Wednesday say a series of suicide attacks against Iraqi military convoys and the “popular mobilization” forces consisting mainly of Shiite militias near Fallujah have killed between 17 and 55 government fighters. It’s a tough start to the first day of the offensive to take back ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

Grim beginning. Early reports Wednesday say a series of suicide attacks against Iraqi military convoys and the “popular mobilization” forces consisting mainly of Shiite militias near Fallujah have killed between 17 and 55 government fighters. It’s a tough start to the first day of the offensive to take back Ramadi and surrounding areas from the Islamic State.

Who is this guy? As that operation began to come together over the last several days, we’ve seen Shiite Iraqi parliamentarian Ahmed al-Assadi — who also acts as the spokesman for the broadly Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias who have jumped into the fight in Sunni-dominated Anbar province — emerge as the de facto Iraqi government spokesman for the mission.

He’s been everywhere in the Western press, holding press conferences in Baghdad and speaking to the AFP, AP, and the Washington Post, and a slate of other international news organizations. And his role has given him a platform for blaming the fall of Ramadi on the United States. “This is the army that you have trained for eight years,” he said in one interview with the Washington Post, but addressing the United States generally. “You worked for eight years and made them weak, through policies that were adopted by you. I say that the Iraqi army, supported by the popular mobilizations, do have the will to fight.”

While the local Sunni councils in Anbar have given their blessing to the involvement of the Shiite militias in their backyards, it’s likely they’re not thrilled about the name that the Shiites have given the operation. Dubbed “Labayka ya Hussein,” the name recalls one of Shiite Islam’s most revered imams and hasn’t been popular with the U.S. government. A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren, called the sectarian name “unhelpful” on Tuesday.

Welcome to the publishing game, Beijing! FP’s Keith Johnson has a great, historically-rich writeup of the new military strategy white paper that China has just released. In the document, Beijing promised “not to hit first, but vowing to strike back hard if attacked in a world full of what it sees as potential threats,” Johnson writes. But lest you think the Defense Department is uneasy about the strategy document, spokesman Col. Steve Warren lauded the public dissemination of the paper on Tuesday, saying that this kind of transparency is exactly the type of thing that Washington has been asking Beijing to start doing.

It’s a very Wednesday Situation Report, bringing you all the mid-week news with the energy and passion of a fresh-faced Monday morning. What’s happening? Let us know over here at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Who’s Where When

10:00 a.m. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work welcomes Tunisia’s Minister of Defense Farhat Horchani to the Pentagon for a series of meetings with top defense officials.

11:00 a.m. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks about “Adapting to a Changed Security Environment” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

12:15 p.m. Vice President Joe Biden heads to the Brookings Institution to deliver an address on the Ukraine crisis.

Revolving Door

Following her stint as acting spokesperson, Marie Harf will begin in a new role as senior adviser for strategic communications to Secretary John Kerry on June 1, according to a bulletin from State Department spokesman John Kirby. This month, Kirby was named press secretary for the State Department after filling that same role at the Pentagon. In other personnel changes, Mark Toner will be returning to the role of deputy spokesperson after most recently serving as deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. (H/T FP’s John Hudson)

Business of Defense

Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush warned against the Defense Department becoming too enamored of using commercial technologies in an attempt to save money at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday. As Sydney Freedberg wrote for Breaking Defense, Bush unsurprisingly said that the government still needs its behemoth defense firms to “translate“ the Pentagon’s needs to Silicon Valley and the commercial sector. “We need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently send a message that somehow commercial technology can solve all the problems,” he warned. “We know that’s not the case.”

Islamic State

Now that the Iraqi army has been pushed out of Mosul, Fallujah, and Ramadi, and has lost practically all of Anbar province, FP’s Paul McLeary takes a look at how the group’s military leadership has managed to outmaneuver and out-think the Iraqi generals leading the fight for Baghdad.

Israel

Rockets from Gaza landed near Israel’s port city of Ashdod, Reuters reports. Israel responded by striking four “terrorist infrastructures,” but early reports list no casualties or damage assessments.

Syria

As the Syrian refugee crisis shows no sign of abating, an estimated 36,000 children have already been born in refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey. Those kids face a stateless future where no country can or will claim them as citizens, writes Rolling Stone’s John Knefel.

Afghanistan

Usman Sharifi reports for Yahoo News on recent attacks on another guesthouse in Kabul on Tuesday. Security forces repelled the militants’ advance, but more attacks are anticipated as the Taliban continues to reject repeated overtures to reopen peace talks with the government.

Europe

Moldova’s president declared that the country would rather join the European Union than “stay in the Russian orbit,” writes Amer Cohadzic for the AP. The influence of the Soviet Union lingers, however, and the government “relies on the support of the Communist Party,” which isn’t too keen on pro-EU reforms.

Tom Kington of Defense News reports on Italy’s 2015 defense budget numbers. While spending continues to decline overall, he writes, the taste for high-tech fighter planes like the Eurofighter and the Joint Strike Fighter remain.

Colombia

The BBC announced that a Farc rebel leader was among the five people killed in a bombing raid in Colombia. However, Alfredo Alarcon Machado (alias: Roman Ruiz) has been reported killed previously, only to pop up again and again.

Cyber

Defense giants Lockheed Martin and General Atomics have found themselves on the receiving end of threats from the Islamic State-supporting Twitter account “Magnet gas,” according to the SITE Intelligence group. “On May 23 and 26, the IS-supporting account tweeted information on the two companies with [a] series of numbers indicated as ‘Attack code[s],’” the intel group writes. In each case, the series of numbers — which were not explained by the user — ended in ‘911.’ The Magnet gas account isn’t new to issuing threats. Its owners have previously called for attacks against soldiers and police officers in December 2014.

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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