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Iran Sends Tanks Into Iraq to Fight Islamists

OWoN: The strangeness of it all. Be in no doubt, Iran knows they need to kill this mad dog before it grows and turns on them.

M-60s could devastate militants’ trucks

By Jassem Al Salami
22 August 2014

As American jets flew top cover, in mid-August Kurdish Peshmerga militia and Iraqi special forces troops recaptured the strategic Mosul Dam from Islamic State militants. Meanwhile Iraqi Golden Brigade commandos liberated parts of Tikrit from the Islamists.

But the militants counterattacked—and that drew Iran into the fighting. In a move that could have far-reaching consequences, Tehran has sent tanks into northern Iraq.

As the Kurds and Iraqi commandos gained ground in the north, Islamic State fighters launched a surprise counterattack toward Baghdad. Local fighters resisted the militants north of Balad air base, formerly the center of the American occupational force.

On Aug. 12, Islamic State also recaptured Jalawla, just 20 miles from the Iranian border. In its initial rampage through northwestern Iraq in June, the militants had taken Jalawla for the first time—and even had struck a nearby Iranian border post. The Kurds quickly took back the town and held it until the Islamists’ mid-August counterattack.

Now the Peshmerga have launched yet another effort to liberate Jalawla. And this time the Iranians are helping them. On Aug. 21, Kurdish social media activists published pictures that appear to depict elements of the Iranian 81st Armored Division entering southern Kurdistan via Khaneghein, north of Jalawla.
This photo reportedly depicts an 81st Division M-60A1 in Khaneghein. Via social media

The 81st is a battle-hardened division that fought hard during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. And before that, it had fought Kurdish insurgents in Iran’s restive northern provinces. Today the 81st Division is fighting alongside the Kurds.

After the Iran-Iraq War, the division reorganized and re-armed. As other units gained Russian T-72 tanks, the 81st gathered up all the leftover, American-made M-60s, M-48s and M-47s. More recently, the 81st broke into three largely independent brigades—the 181st and 281st Armored Brigades plus a mechanized brigade.

The units the activists spotted in Kurdistan most likely are elements of the 181st, as it’s responsible for defending the Sar-e-Pole Zahab border town near Khaneghein. Previously, there had been a build-up of armored units on the Iranian side of the border.

Elements of same unit conducted a counterinsurgency drill in mid-May. M-60 and M-48 tanks provided fire support for infantry units in the Zulfaghar war game.

Iranian army aviation stations Cobra attack helicopters in the vicinity of the 81st Armored Division. Iranian AH-1J Cobras are old by world standards, with outdated electronics and limited missile compatibility. But their crews possess a wealth of experience battling Kurdish separatists. They know how to fight fleet-footed insurgent troops.

The 81st’s tanks likewise are old. Iranian industry has struggled to develop a modern armored fighting vehicle. The Iranian army introduced a modernized M-60 tank called the Samsam, fitted with a targeting computer, new optics and reactive armor. But the Samsam has appeared only in parades and press events.

In early 2014, Tehran also revealed an M-47 prototype with a new, angular turret. The prototype lacks modern optics and, weirdly, has no light weapon stations—both critical elements in urban warfare. Even the driver’s position seems to be problematic and unsuitable for combat.

Even during the war with Iraq, Iranian armored divisions were too outdated to risk a direct confrontation with more modern Iraqi forces. Iranian tanks instead functioned as mobile artillery, following behind the infantry.

This likely would be their role in the war against Islamic State. The Kurds are a light infantry force with few vehicles of their own and almost no artillery. Even aged M-60s fill a gap in the Kurdish order of battle.

The Iranian M-60A1s that activists spotted in Khaneghein are vulnerable to the Islamists’ RPG-7 rockets, but if the tanks coordinate closely with Kurdish infantry, they could survive … and prove deadly against the terror group’s pickup trucks.

To be clear, we don’t know whether Tehran intends to directly support the Kurds. It just seems unlikely the tanks would risk combat on their own. And in any event, the armor deployment marks a major escalation of the fighting—and a big boost for Iran’s role in the campaign.

Iraq possesses a number of M-1A1, T-72A and T-55 tanks of its own, but lacks trained crews and adequate logistics. Islamic State has destroyed or captured scores of Iraq tanks.

Iran’s tanks might be old, but its tank crews receive professional training at army academies that the Americans and British established in Iran prior to the 1979 revolution. An old tank with a good crew is superior to a new tank whose crew lacks education, training and experience.

American, Syrian and Iranian jets fly overhead as Kurdish and Iraqi troops fight together on the ground. And now Iranian tanks are entering battle. The war on Islamic State makes for strange allies.



  1. Syria opens door to US bombing of Islamists but White House to go it alone
    Damascus says its ready to work with Washington to fight Islamist 'terrorism' within its borders

    Syria said it was ready to work with the United States to fight "terrorism" as US President Barack Obama approved surveillance flights over the nation, a move that could pave the way for air strikes against Islamic militants, two American officials said.

    Syria, locked in a civil war with various rebel groups including Islamic State since March 2011, said for the first time on Monday that it would work with the international community, including Washington, to tackle the Islamist problem.

    But Foreign Minister Walid Muallem insisted that any strikes on Syrian territory must be coordinated with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

    "Syria is ready for cooperation and coordination at the regional and international level to fight terrorism and implement UN Security Council resolution 2170," Muallem said.

    But White House spokesman Josh Earnest rejected the call from Damascus.

    "There are no plans to coordinate with the Assad regime as we consider this terror threat," Earnest said. The United States did not even recognise the Assad regime as the legitimate rulers of Syria, he said.

    The UN resolution, passed this month, seeks to cut funds and the flow of foreign fighters both to Islamic State and to al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front.

    Western powers fear Islamic State's self-declared "caliphate" could become a launch pad for a new round of global terror attacks.

    While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including air strikes.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said foreign drones were seen over the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Monday.

    One US official said the surveillance flights were an important avenue for obtaining the reliable intelligence the US needed.

    The US began launching strikes against Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this month, with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and a humanitarian crisis in the north as his rationale. Top Pentagon officials have said the only way the threat from the militants can be fully eliminated is to go after the group inside neighbouring Syria as well.

    Obama has long resisted taking military action in Syria, a step that would plunge the US into a country ravaged by an intractable civil war.

    However, his calculus appears to have shifted since Islamic State announced last week that it had murdered American journalist James Foley, who was held hostage in Syria.
    (Read more at link above)

  2. Iran Ready to Join International Action Against Jihadists in Iraq

    Iran Ready to Join International Action Against Jihadists in Iraq
    Tehran | Aug 21, 2014

    Iran is ready to join international action against jihadists in Iraq provided the West lifts crippling sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on today.

    His comments followed a call by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius yesterday for all countries in the region, including Iran, to join the fight against Islamic State (IS) fighters who have seized swathes of Iraq as well as neighbouring Syria.

    "If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side of the negotiations should do something in return," the official IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying.

    "All the sanctions that are related to Iran's nuclear programme should be lifted," he said.

    It is the first time that Iran has explicitly linked its readiness to work with the West in Iraq with a lifting of the crippling EU and US sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme.

    Those sanctions are the subject of ongoing talks between Tehran and the major powers that are due to resume before the opening of the UN General Assembly next month.

    In return for lifting the sanctions, the Western powers are demanding that Iran sharply rein in its nuclear programme to ally international concerns about its ambitions as part of a comprehensive deal they are seeking to strike by November.

    The Iranian foreign ministry confirmed yesterday that discussions were under way with several European governments about the possibility of joint action against IS in Iraq.

    Zarif said tough negotiations were still under way over what role Iran might play in Iraq and what the reward might be for its cooperation.

    "It is still not clear what we have to do in Iraq and what they have to do in return," the Mehr news agency quoted the Iranian foreign minister as saying.

    "And that's exactly the difficult part."

    Iranian and US officials discussed the jihadists' lightning offensive in Iraq in June on the sidelines of nuclear talks with the major powers but both sides ruled out joint military action at the time.

    Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, although they have had contacts over Afghanistan as well as Iraq.


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