Terrorists have captured four cities of Iraq in five days. They are moving to the South to capture Baghdad which is the capital of Iraq. ISIS terrorists have control on Mosul, Falluja, Kirkuk and Muatassam. However, losing control in Mosul is the biggest jolt to the Iraqi government, as it is the main city of northern Iraq and a major political and economic centre, with a population of 1.8 million. It is also a gateway to Syria and Turkey. After the US-led invasion in 2003, Mosul became a bastion of resistance to the occupation, which its Sunni Arab majority opposed and Kurdish minority supported. Years of bombings and shootings by militants linked to al-Qaeda led to an exodus of thousands of people. It was not until 2009 that a semblance of normality returned to Mosul, but terrorists maintained a firm hold. Sectarian violence increased after US troops withdrew in 2011. It has surged since early 2013 when Shia Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s government launched an offense against ISIS while also moving against Sunni opposition figures and protesters.
The monarchy was eventually overturned by a Baathist coup similar to the secular, nationalist and modernising forces that propelled the Nasser regime to power in Egypt. It is this edifice that was eventually headed by Saddam Hussein whose Sunni-dominated regime dealt harshly with Shia and Kurdish sentiment. Western support for Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War only seemed to consolidate his brutal regime. Those borders could now be in peril for two main reasons – the continuing fighting and fragmentation of Syria and the ISIS assault in Iraq. Unless the military gains of ISIS can be reversed, the Iraqi state is in peril as never before. The dual crises in Syria and Iraq combine to offer the possibility of a “state” encompassing eastern Syria and western Iraq where the jihadists of ISIS hold sway. This would have huge implications for the region and beyond. Iraq has to a large extent staggered from crisis to crisis, so what went wrong? For some, Iraq’s problems began at the creation, with the founding of the modern Iraqi state itself. Britain, as the colonial power, established a Hashemite kingdom that took little account of other communities like the Shia or the Kurds – a theme that was to recur throughout Iraq’s turbulent history.
Religious extremism is always a challenge for Islamic dominated countries. Militants have taken control of these countries, now Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, the most dramatic success yet in a rapidly expanding rebellion that appears to have caught the authorities off guard. In 2009, then CIA Director Michael Hayden said al-Qaeda was “on the verge of a strategic defeat in Iraq”. Today, its successor control territories stretching for hundreds of miles through Nineveh, Anbar and into Syria, where it hopes to establish an Islamic state. More than 8,860 people were killed in Iraq in 2013 – the highest number of deaths since the peak of the sectarian insurgency between 2006 and 2008. So far this year, more than 4,700 have died. ISIS has gained strength and momentum from the situation in Syria, from where it has transferred recruits, sophisticated weapons and resources to fight in Iraq since 2012. It has also dexterously exploited the political stand-off between the central government and the minority Sunni Arab community, which complains that Maliki is monopolising power and targeting them by pursuing policies like the mass arrests in the name of fighting terrorism.
Shia and Sunni Muslims are in rift from ages, perhaps extremism in Islam is born with these differences. Lethal clashes erupted in Mosul on 6 June, when militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda, launched an assault on the northern city with allied Sunni Arab tribesmen. The sudden collapse of the security forces in Mosul alarmed the US. It called on the Iraqi government to “step up to the plate”, warning that ISIS was “a threat to the entire region”. It pledged to help Baghdad “push back this aggression”. The Iraqi government is believed to have about 930,000 security personnel under its command, on paper they ought to be able to easily overcome the hundreds of militants who attacked Mosul. Maliki has vowed to crush the militants, but they are still in control. Soldiers have become disillusioned by the conflict against ISIS and brutal attacks by the group – including beheadings and crucifications – leading many to desert; they were losing as many as 300 soldiers a day to desertions, deaths and injuries. However, the same might have been said in late December after ISIS militants and allied tribesmen seized parts of Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar, and most of the nearby cities of Falluja, amid clashes triggered by the clearance of two protest camps.
Backing for extreme Sunni fighters from the Gulf States has also facilitated the emergence and consolidation of groups like ISIS with a broader regional agenda.
And while direct collusion between the Syria’s Assad regime and the militants is hard to prove, there have been consistent reports that the Damascus government’s military has paid far less attention to such groups while concentrating its fire on more moderate Western-backed fighters. This has given ISIS room to establish its own administrative structures in the areas it controls. Tikrit, the hometown of former leader Saddam Hussein, lies 150km (95 miles) north of the capital Baghdad. The insurgents are from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). As many as 500,000 people fled Mosul after the militants attacked the city. The head of the Turkish mission in Mosul and almost 50 consulate staff are being held by the militants.
** With Inputs from various news agencies