A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Fight for Samarra: did ISIS Use a Helicopter?

The Iraqi city of Samarra is shaping up as the point where the Maliki regime and its Shi‘ite militia allies are standing and resisting the ISIS onslaught. Reports today indicate that an ISIS helicopter bobed or strafed Samarra today (above), the same day Prime Minister al-Maliki reportedly met with snior generals at a military base in the city. If the helicopter story is true, it raises many questions; Its known helicopters were captured in Mosul,  but it is unclear how they could be flying them, unless Iraqi pilots have also defected to them.

I would urge caution about the photo, though. It shows a high-flying attack helicopter, probably either an Mi-28 or an Mi-35. It has been reported that Iraq has been using both types in a ground attack role  around Samarra, and given the lack of context in the picture (from Twitter), I think this might show an Iraqi government helicopter operating against ISIS. ISIS has made at least three attempts to take Samarra in the past few days, and given the street-to-street close-order fighting I would not rule out the possibility that, if a helicopter did bomb an Iraqi base, it might have been a friendly fire mistake. If ISIS really does have operational helicopters, the question of who is piloting them needs to be answered.

Many accounts say that the core of the resistance to ISIS in Samarra may no longer be the Iraqi Army but the remobilized Shi‘ite militia groups rushed to the scene.
Although Samarra is today a mostly Sunni city, it is of profound symbolic importance to Shi‘ites, as it is the final resting place of two of the Twelve Imams of Shi‘ism, as well as the site of the disappearance or occlusion) of he Twelfth Imam. The Al-‘Askari or ‘Askariyya mosque/shrine (right, in better days) contains the final resting place of the 10th Imam, ‘Ali al-Hadi, and his son the 11th Imam, Hasan al-‘Askari. Shi‘ites believe the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, went into occlusion in an adjacent site, becoming the Hidden Imam or Imam Mahdi, who will someday make himself manifest again.The shrine was bombed on February 2006, destroying the golden dome, and again on Jun 13, 2007, destroying the two minarets. It has since been restored, but there are reports ISIS has threatened to destroy if if the city does not surrender peacefully, which has not happened. The Shi‘ite fighters appear determined to fight to protect it.

The downside may be if so much effort is being expended to defend Samarra, who's watching the back door, namely the western approaches to Baghdad via ISIS held Falluja and Ramadi>

Samara was founded in 836 AD by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutasim, who moved the capital of the Caliphate to his new city, which he named Surra man ra', "he rejoices who sees it," but this was soon shortened to Samarra. It remained the capital until 892, when the Caliph al-Mu‘tadid returned it to Baghdad.

Samarra shrank in importance, but the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 means there are almost no intact ‘Abbasid sites still standing in Baghdad, while a number, including the Great Mosque with its spiral, ziggurat-like minaret (left).


Sniper said...

Looks like a Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter.

Iraqi Insight said...

No Helicopters were captured in Mosul, that was a rumor that was never confirmed by Coalition of GoI