We will never get to know what painful thoughts raced through the soldierly mind of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he testified before the US senators in Washington on Tuesday, but it certainly wouldn’t have been easy for him to bring himself to compliment Iran’s “most overt conduct… in the form of artillery and other things” in the military operation currently going on to retake the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit from the control of the Islamic State.

For sure, Gen Dempsey knew he was actually complimenting an Iranian general who has been in the American-Israeli ‘hit list’ from time immemorial – Gen Qassem Suleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] of Iran.

To make the point a lit bit clearer still, let me digress for a moment to bring out from my archive a profile of the elusive, charismatic, devastatingly brilliant IRGC general that the New Yorker magazine once had featured in September 2013 in a riveting story entitled “THE SHADOW COMMANDER”. Read it, here, and you will understand why Gen. Dempsey would have been swallowing hard during his testimony yesterday.

But what option would Gen. Dempsey have been left with but to compliment Tehran and distract attention from the central issue – namely, that Baghdad kept Washington in the dark about the Tikrit operations and simply chose to follow Suleimani’s command? The New York Times has an insightful account by Anne Barnard reporting from Baghdad as to what has gone wrong between the Iraqi government and the Americans. As she put it, the Iraqis are frustrated with the “sluggish American pace and pessimistic American estimates of how long it would take to drive the Islamic State from Mosul and the western province of Anbar.” Barnard quotes a close aide to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as saying, “The Americans continue procrastinating about the time it will take to liberate the country,” he said in an interview. “Iraq will liberate Mosul and Anbar without them.”

Now, one option open to Washington will be to sit on the fence and hope against hope that the Iraqi-Iranian joint operation would at some point solicit help from the US forces. But that seems increasingly unlikely and the field reports are increasingly concluding that the IS faces a crushing defeat in Tikrit.

A second option for the Americans would have been to plead that this is a Shi’ite operation and the US cannot identify with sectarian conflicts. But then, the latest reports suggest that thousands of Sunni Iraqi fighters have also been participating on the side of the Iraqi government forces and Iran’s IRGC cadres. In short, this is a classic war on terror – pure and simple.

For sure, President Barack Obama has some answering to do. Why has the US-led “international coalition” been twiddling its thumbs and marking time by needlessly exaggerating the potency of the Islamic State fighters? Baghdad and Tehran have exposed the US and its coalition partners – ranging from the Australians to the Gulf Arabs – and shows them in a very poor light as cowardly or dissimulating (or both.) In fact, there is a deafening silence on the part of Saudi Arabia even as its erstwhile progenies are facing massacre.

M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat who served for more than 29 years as an Indian Foreign Service officer with postings including India’s ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan.

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