WASHINGTON – If there still were any question of whether or not Saudi Arabia has been quietly supporting ISIS, Iraqi security forces who raided ISIS strongholds in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit have provided further evidence.
In their effort to retake Tikrit, the Iraqis found in ISIS storage areas several tons of foodstuffs and dried fruit from Saudi Arabia along with weapons, according to the Arabic language Al-Qad Press.
The discovery came as some 30,000 Iraqi troops and militias began a counter-offensive backed by airstrikes to take back Tikrit from ISIS fighters.
Iraqi forces are attacking from three sides and now control the northern areas of the Albu Obaid village and west of Tikrit, which would be a stepping stone to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
The operation marks a major test for Iraqi forces. Last June, some 13,000 Iraqi military abandoned their weapons when only 2,000 ISIS fighters captured Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people.
In initially launching the attack, Iraqi security forces came across tons of “humanitarian” foodstuffs with Saudi labels saying: “Saudi Arabia Kingdom of Humanity, Emergency Relief Aid for the Needy.”
The Iraqi forces are being joined by elements of the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribes, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops and Shiite militia, which includes the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Officially, Saudi Arabia and other ISIS supporters such as Turkey and Qatar deny their citizens help ISIS.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar even point to laws they have passed to make it difficult for individuals to send aid to militants.
However, enforcement of such laws and policies is questionable.
According to James Carafano, vice president for Foreign and Defense Policy studies at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, the movement of arms between Eastern Europe, Gulf states and the Middle East isn’t unprecedented, relying on a network of private arms merchants.
While ISIS doesn’t get arms supplies directly from such supporting states as Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey, they come from individuals.
“It’s often individuals that are working in the private sector of arms companies that are making these deals, so they are already in business of logistics and moving stuff around,” Carafano said.
He said the weapons captured while taking Mosul has put ISIS “in good shape for a long time.”
“But the question is, how do they use those weapons, how do they maintain them, where do they get spare parts from?”
ISIS doesn’t know how to use many of the modern U.S. weapons that it has acquired.
Separately, Hussein al-Ramahi, who heads the political commission of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah brigades, disclosed that his forces have discovered Saudi-supplied arms and ammunition in areas taken back from ISIS control that have been dropped to ISIS fighters from unidentified aircraft.
“The Iraqi security and popular forces have discovered Saudi-supplied weapons in regions liberated from ISIS control,” Ramahi told FarNews Agency.
“We have discovered boxes containing weapons and equipment with Saudi names and labels on them,” he said.
The allegation of supplying weapons could not be confirmed.
However, it is consistent with a recent report by the London-based Conflict Armament Research Ltd., which did an analysis of weapons and ammunition captured from ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria late last year.
“M79 90 mm anti-tank rockets captured from ISIS forces in Syria are identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the ‘Free Syrian Army’ umbrella in 2013,” the CAR report said.
Weapons used by ISIS, however, are coming not only from Saudi Arabia but also from such other countries as China, Russia and Serbia.
Also, ISIS has seized a significant number of U.S.-manufactured small arms and rifles from the Iraqi military, including M16 assault rifles manufactured by Colt and FN Manufacturing of Belgium. The weapons had labels designating them as “Property of U.S. Govt.”
When ISIS captured Mosul using only 2,000 fighters, it took hold of a significant amount of weaponry to arm itself like a conventional army.
“You lost approximately three divisions worth of equipment and probably at least three depots in that area, according to Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
ISIS also captured anti-aircraft weaponry when it overran a Syrian air force base last year. It can down aircraft flying at 16,000 feet.
The weapons would be in addition to the various tanks ISIS has captured, including T-55s, T-62s, T-72s and BRDM-2 armored vehicles from Russia, which are Soviet-era weapons. ISIS also has captured MT-LB armored vehicles from Bulgaria, some 20 old Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, a fleet of U.S. Humvees, and countless rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, such as the RPG-7.
In its arms inventory, ISIS also captured various models of howitzers and rocket launchers from Iraq and Syria when its forces overtook military bases in the countries.
In addition, ISIS captured FIM-92 Stingers and SA-16 MANPADS, or man-portable air-defense systems, from Iraqi military bases.
Also, ISIS has captured 9K32 Strela-2 MANPADs, which are prevalent in Iraq and Syria.