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14 June 2014

Press review 14-06-2014 - ISIL launches its Fall Gelb

In Normandy most political world leaders were gathered to signal the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord. In Iraq a large scale military operation lead by ISIL was under way, that in spite of the screaming irony of the date, more resembles Fall Gelb. A highly mobile force of unknown numbers stormed several cities almost simultaneously: Mosul, Baiji, Tikrit, Samarra, Ramadi, to which added bombings in Baghdad and other cities in the south. A front line of almost 400 km was open.

The usual western media branding of "terrorism" or "sectarian violence" no longer applies to the actions of ISIL in Iraq. A force capable of withstanding and win an urban battle in a city of over 1 million inhabitants is not a terrorist group, not even a guerilla, it is an army, fighting a conventional war. In a week it took two entire provinces of the country: Nineveh and Saladin, amounting to an area the size of Latvia and home to almost 2.5 million folk. Although accurate information is scant, ISIL should now be in control of at least 15% of Iraq's petroleum exports. At the time of this writing ISIL is still expanding its attacks into at least the provinces of Diyala and Sulaymaniyah.

After the usual news of "violence" over the weekend, this dispatch from ITAR-TASS made me realise that something entirely different was afoot:
ITAR-TASS
Sunni insurgents seize government buildings in Iraq's Mosul
10-06-2014

Sunni extremists seized government buildings in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The fighters of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) overwhelmed the defense of government troops and police and completely controlled the western part of the city on the fourth day of fighting, Egyptian media reported. Islamists continued the attack in the morning, moving to the southern districts of Mosul, where the military airfield army base and security forces jail located.

The governor of Nineveh province (Mosul is the administrative center) escaped from captivity and death. Atheel al-Nujaifi said that he had disappeared from the administration building for a few minutes before the rebels broke the resistance of security.
Most of the western media tries to give an idea of a linear advance from the north towards Baghdad.
The Telegraph
Iraq at risk of civil war as al-Qaeda-led uprising pushes to within striking distance of Baghdad
Colin Freeman, Peter Dominiczak and Ben Farmer, 11-06-2014

A day after snatching control of the northern city of Mosul, fighters were on Wednesday night within 60 miles of the Iraqi capital, encountering little resistance from government troops.

En route they seized major towns, oil refineries and military bases and embarked on an orgy of kidnappings and executions, forcing an exodus of more than half a million people across the north.

[...] By Wednesday afternoon, the militants were reported to have reached the holy city of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad. It is feared they will try to reignite Iraq’s sectarian civil war by destroying a revered Shia shrine. An al-Qaeda bomb attack on the same shrine in 2006 sparked a two year sectarian conflict that killed an estimated 30,000 Iraqis.
In fact, the attacks in Saladin started either simultaneously or even before those in Nineveh. The geographic reach of the ISIL has been simply startling.
Global Post
Militants attack Iraq's Samarra, sparking heavy fighting
05-06-2014

Militants launched a major attack on the Iraqi city of Samarra Thursday and occupied several neighbourhoods, sparking house-to-house fighting and helicopter strikes in which dozens of people were reportedly killed.

Security forces ultimately regained control of the militant-held areas, a senior army officer said, but the attack was yet another example of the long reach of militants in Iraq.

On Thursday morning, militants travelling in dozens of vehicles, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, attacked a major checkpoint on the southeast side of Samarra, killing the security forces guarding it and burning their vehicles, witnesses said.

They then took control of several areas of the city, located north of Baghdad, according to witnesses, who reported seeing the bodies of both security forces and gunmen in the streets.
Soon after the fall of Mosul, Al Jazeera was reporting control over the whole of Nineveh by ISIL, after mass desertions in the Iraqi army.
Al Jazeera
Rebels seize control of Iraq's Nineveh
10-06-2014

Armed fighters believed to be part of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have seized the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh and freed hundreds of prisoners, government officials say.

Overnight, hundreds of fighters launched an assault on the provincial capital Mosul, 350km north of Baghdad, engaging in combat with troops and police, the officials said on Tuesday.

"The city of Mosul is outside the control of the state and at the mercy of the militants," an Interior Ministry official told the AFP news agency, making it the second city to fall to anti-government forces this year.

[...] In recent days, fighters have launched major operations in Nineveh and four other provinces, killing scores of people and highlighting both their long reach and the weakness of Iraq's security forces.
Baiji was attacked, then completely seized and later abandoned altogether, attesting to the touch-and-run tactics used by the ISIL.
Reuters
Sunni militants push into Iraqi oil refinery town
11-06-2014

Militants from an al Qaeda splinter group who seized Iraq's second biggest city of Mosul this week have advanced into the oil refinery town of Baiji, setting the court house and police station on fire, security sources said on Wednesday.

They said around 250 guards at the refinery had agreed to withdraw to another town after the militants sent a delegation of local tribal chiefs to persuade them to pull out.

Baiji resident Jasim al-Qaisi, said the militants also warned local police and soldiers not to challenge them.

"Yesterday at sunset some gunmen contacted the most prominent tribal sheikhs in Baiji via cellphone and told them: 'We are coming to die or control Baiji, so we advise you to ask your sons in the police and army to lay down their weapons and withdraw before (Tuesday) evening prayer'."
A rare acknowledgement of the dimension of this operation led by ISIL. It is no longer possible to hide the fact that this is a conventional war, an obscene fight for territory, engulfed in hideous atrocities.
Time
Extremists in Iraq Continue March Toward Baghdad
Karl Vick, 11-06-2014

As Islamist extremists captured Tikrit, a major city in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, just a day after taking Mosul, analysts offered sobering assessments of a fundamentalist militant force whose ambitions may no longer be the stuff of fantasy.

Hardened by years of battle in neighboring Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is routing the forces of a modern nation-state and gathering land with the ultimate goal of establishing an alternate form of governance, an Islamic caliphate.

“This is not a terrorism problem anymore,” says Jessica Lewis, an expert on ISIS at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. “This is an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain.”
Remarkably, the Kurds have so far stayed put, and have not engaged withthe ISIL. The two ethnic groups have tolerated each other for long, and in Syria both the ISIL and al-Nusra seem to have voluntarily ceded territory to the Kurds. Both factions share a problematic relationship with the Shiia, engaging might simply not be in neither's interest. But amidst the chaos, the Kurdish army took the opportunity to seize Kirkuk.
Rudaw
Kirkuk Under Kurdish Peshmerga Control
Namo Abdulla, 12-06-2014

The multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, home to one of Iraq's largest oil fields, was taken over by Kurdish Peshmerga forces after Iraqi government troops left the city ahead of a possible attack by radical Islamic insurgents who have already seized two major Iraqi cities.

Jabar Yawar, a spokesperson for Kurdistan's Peshmerga, says Kurdish forces took "full control" of the city Thursday morning because they could not risk leaving the city's Kurdish residents, who comprise majority of the city's population -- and the oil fields -- to the mercy of the radical militants.

Partly because of its vast oil reserves, Kirkuk has long been a flashpoint between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces.

Now, in the absence of a strong force, the KRG says it feared the city's oil reserves would be captured by the Islamic militants, who have already seized nearly a half billion dollars from Mosul banks and are considered the "richest" terrorist group in the world.
It has not been easy to keep up with events. Another information of note that surfaced recently is the involvement of remnants from Saddam Hussein's army and Ba'ath party in this operation.

The US seems to hesitantly signal another U-turn in its foreign policy, shifting support from the Sunni back to the Shiia. Top politicians have been as ambiguous as possible, at one time terminantly rejecting the hypotheses of a novel military intervention, just to hint that some way hours later.

A country that has no doubts on which side to support is Iran. The Islamic Republic cannot possibly afford an exodus of Shiia folk into its territory, much less the neighing of ISIL to its borders.
International Business Times
Iraq Isis Invasion: Iran's Republican Guards Rushed to Defence of Baghdad
Priya Joshi, 12-06-2014

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have been deployed to Iraq, to help government troops defend the capital city of Baghdad from the escalating threat of ISIS insurgents, Iranian security sources have confirmed.

[...] The militant group took control of Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Wednesday (June 11), but Revolutionary Guard and Iraqi troops overtook 85 percent of the city on Thursday (June 12). ISIS militants seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, earlier this week.

Government forces have so far managed to stall the militants' remarkably rapid advance near Samarra - a city 110km (68 miles) north of Baghdad - and are now bombing insurgent positions in and around Mosul.
The expansion of ISIL towards the east can not possibly be a surprise to any one that may have paid even the slightest attention to the raging conflicts in Syria and Iraq. But the geographic depth and time length of this operation points to an ISIL army of a dimension, logistic support and level of coordination that was likely unimaginable before.

All this is happening in what is - for now - the second largest petroleum exporter in OPEC's ranks. And as the following article shows, it cames at a particularly critical moment.
Bloomberg
World Needs Record Saudi Oil Supply as OPEC Convenes
Grant Smith, 09-06-2014

OPEC ministers say they will almost certainly leave their oil-production ceiling unchanged when the group meets this week. What really matters for markets is whether Saudi Arabia will respond to global supply shortfalls by pumping a record amount of crude.

Just six months ago, energy analysts predicted output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would climb too high and Saudi Arabia needed to cut to make room for other suppliers. They changed their minds after production from Libya, Iran and Iraq failed to rebound as anticipated, and industrialized nations’ stockpiles fell to the lowest for the time of year since 2008. Saudi Arabia may need to pump a record 11 million barrels a day by December to cover the other member nations, says Energy Aspects Ltd., a consultant.

“Now it’s not whether the Saudis will make room, but whether they’ll keep it going and maintain enough spare capacity,” said Jamie Webster, a Washington-based analyst at IHS Inc., an industry researcher. “OPEC is increasingly having a hard time just doing its job of bringing all the barrels needed.”

The International Energy Agency, the Paris-based adviser to 29 nations, recommended on May 15 a “significant rise in OPEC production” to meet demand of 30.7 million barrels a day in the second half of the year. Oil inventories in advanced nations were at 2.62 billion barrels in April, the lowest for that month since 2008, the year Brent reached a record $147.50 a barrel, IEA data show.
I have recently laid out the key reasons for this tightening of the petroleum market, in which I referred to a real possibility of an supply shock in Iraq. At that time I missed a spectacular decline in petroleum exports from Angola, down 20% in just one year.
Macau Hub
Oil exports from Angola fall again in March
21-05-2014

Angola’s oil exports fell once again in March to the lowest level in the last three years, according to a report from Portuguese bank BPI on African economies, published on the bank’s website.

BPI cited Angola’s Finance Ministry as saying that Angola had exported 45.6 million barrels of oil in March, compared to 48.2 million in February and 55.7 million – the peak of exports – in April 2013.

As well as this, the report said, oil prices had stagnated leading to a 19 percent drop in state revenues from exporting crude oil against March 2013, although in monthly terms they rose by 9.5 percent.
In face of this tightening market, everything goes, the Environment is reduced to a mere nuisance.
Reuters
EU proposal scraps mandatory 'dirty' label for tar sands
Barbara Lewis, 05-06-2014

European Union policymakers propose to scrap a mandatory requirement to label oil from tar sands as more polluting than other forms of crude following years of lobbying from top producer Canada, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The change removes one obstacle to Canada shipping crude from tar sands to Europe, but will be criticised by environmental campaigners.

The clay-like sands have to be dug up in open-pit mines with massive shovels, or blasted with steam and pumped to the surface, before oil can be extracted.

As a result, the oil costs more to produce than regular crude, uses more water and energy, and emits more carbon.
And closing a press review dominated by petroleum related news, another flag on the spreading coal shortage in India. At the moment it all seems related to outstanding demand on the electrical grid, but an important story to follow nonetheless.
Business Standard
North faces heat as power generation trips
Sudheer Pal Singh, 07-06-2014

States in north India are in the grip of a severe electricity shortage. Angry residents are thronging the streets in protests against the scheduled as well as unscheduled power cuts that last up to 12 hours in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The onset of a scorching summer, coal shortage and financially bleeding power distribution companies, or discoms, are being touted as the reasons behind the plight of these states.

Fresh generation and deficit data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) corroborate the crisis. In north India, there are power plants with a capacity of 56,600 Mw - roughly a fifth of India's total current monitored power capacity of 214,000 Mw. Power generation in all the regions registered growth between April and May, with the only exception being the North. Here, the plants generated 45,702 billion units (BUs) during the period, 23 BUs less than in the same period in 2013. This is in contrast to the 16 per cent growth in generation in the West, 9 per cent in South and 8 per cent in the East. It isn't surprising then that peak power deficit in the North jumped to 7.4 per cent in April (data for May is currently not available) against 5.1 per cent in the same months last year. In comparison, the national deficit went down from 7.4 per cent in April 2013 to 5.4 per cent in April this year.
Have a pleasant weekend.