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Iraq: Sinking Into the Abyss PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 16 June 2014 02:26

The ill-fated invasion of Iraq by ex-president Bush and his cohorts, and its aftermath are nothing but a terrible tragedy.  I have discussed this crazy adventure on this blog on many occasions, but today I am going to talk about what has been happening there during the last few days which was a great calamity.  The recent calamitous events started with the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], who with a sudden with a drive into Mosul, the second largest city in the country, were able to subjugate it in a very short time and from there started to move southward and eastward ending with controlling almost all of northern Iraq.  ISIS is an extremely radical Islamic group which is dreaming of creating a new caliphate in Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria under the Islamic Sharia law which covers both religious and non-religious aspects of life, something similar to the old Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the group was formed by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, born in Samarra, where his family was from.  Very little is known about him, but a biography posted on jihadist websites last year said he held a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from a university in the capital.  ISIS has been responsible for most of the killing which was tormenting Iraq for the last few years, which claimed more than 5,000 lives this year only, but all that does not compare with what they accomplished very recently when during a little more than a week which started with their drive into Mosul, an absolutely stunning exploit which was described by many people as an earthquake.

What’s happening in Iraq is a disaster and it is astonishing that the Iraqis and the Americans, who have been sharing intelligence, seem to have been caught flat-footed by the speed of the insurgent victories and the army defections.  Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is said to be in a panic.  It is hard to be surprised by that, because more than anyone he is to blame for the catastrophe.  Mr. Maliki has been central to the political disorder that has poisoned Iraq, as he wielded authoritarian power in favor of the Shiite majority at the expense of the minority Sunnis, stoked sectarian conflict and enabled a climate in which militants could gain traction.  With stunning efficiency, Sunni militants in recent days captured Mosul, the second-largest city; occupied facilities in the strategic oil-refining town of Baiji; and are now headed for Baghdad.  Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes and untold numbers have been killed.

This deadly surge in violence is the work of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq and is considered even more violent than its predecessor.  Since the United States withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011, the group has steadily gained strength and recruited thousands of foreign fighters; it broke with Al Qaeda earlier this year and is now viewed as a leader of global jihad. As this week’s events unfolded, it was alarming to learn of the swift capitulation of thousands of Iraqi Army troops who surrendered their weapons to the enemy and disappeared.  After disbanding Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003 after the invasion by coalition forces and dismantling the government, the United States spent years and many billions of dollars building a new Iraqi Army, apparently for naught. The militants have captured untold quantities of American-supplied weaponry, including helicopters, and looted an estimated $425 million from Mosul’s banks.

The aim of ISIS is to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria, and with the seizure of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and their following advances in Iraq that aim appears within reach.  The group now controls hundreds of square miles in Syria and Iraq where state authority has evaporated.  It ignores international borders and has a presence all the way from Syria's Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad, they are continuing their offensive after capturing two major cities earlier this week.  Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has vowed to fight back against them.  He has also called on parliament to declare a state of emergency.  Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdish forces say they have taken full control of the northern oil-reach city of Kirkuk to protect it against the Sunni insurgents.  Iraq's Kurds view Kirkuk as their historical capital, and have long hoped to incorporate the city into their autonomous region in the north.  Kirkuk and the surrounding province of Tamim are at the heart of a political and economic dispute between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds.  Much of the tension stems from Saddam Hussein's efforts to change the demography of the area which drove Kurds from Kirkuk and replaced them with settlers from the south, ensuring Baghdad's control of nearby oil fields.  The Kurdish regional government, which administers three provinces to the north-east, insist s that the changes which followed them be reversed, and that it should control Kirkuk and the oil fields.  However the Arab-led central government, together with the local Turkmen community, maintains that Kirkuk should remain under its control and that the oil should be a national resource.

The growing violence in Iraq was apparent throughout 2013, when more than 5,000 Iraqis were killed, including nearly 1,000 Iraqi security forces, news reports say the militants planned a takeover for more than a year.  Given the Iraqi Army’s weakness, it is understandable that the Kurds, who operate a well-managed semiautonomous region in northern Iraq, on Thursday, took control of Kirkuk, a disputed northern city with important oil resources.  It signals one more step toward the breakup of the state. The turmoil has revived a debate over whether President Obama should have left a small residual force after the 2011 American troop withdrawal.  Falluja was the militants’ first big target, and Mr. Maliki did a turnabout last year and sought help from the White House, which quickly provided Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones, which very evidently were not a great help to the Iraqis.

The fall of the city of Mosul - Iraq's second-largest - has sent shock waves across the Middle East and the world at large, which was described by many people as a huge earthquake.  The insurgents are believed to be attempting to push further south, to Baghdad and regions run by Iraq's Shia Muslim majority.  In a video recording, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani reportedly told fighters to "march towards Baghdad" because they had "an account to settle".

ISIS’s takeover of Mosul, has security consequences for the rest of the country and could further escalate sectarian polarization, the takeover is likely to have further devastating security consequences for the rest of the country, given the vast material and financial gains ISIS has made.  In addition to this, several prisons were broken into and between 2,000 and 3,000 inmates have been freed, providing ISIS with a vast pool of new recruits.  The Iraqi government’s response to this new crisis indicates a sense of desperation in Baghdad.  "Baghdad is a ghost city - everyone is terrified and planning to leave or making his own arrangements to survive in a very desperate situation." Baghdad is a ghost city everyone is terrified and planning to leave or making own arrangements to survive under incredibly perilous conditions, to complicate an already extremely explosive situation, the central government has recognized that the conventional armed forces are unprepared, who are a no match to the jihadists and unwilling to confront them, and  although Maliki has built his reputation on his ability to confront militants, the loss of Mosul represents incompetency of the highest magnitude, and in response to the ISIS’s onslaught, he is increasing his efforts to recruit more ideologically-driven Shia militias who he hopes  are able to fight an unconventional enemy through unconventional means. Iraq’s most influential Shia religious authority, Ayatollah Sistani, issued a strongly worded statement supporting the armed forces in their war against what he called the terrorists’ aggression.

On June 14, The United States ordered an aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, into the Gulf in response to the crisis in Iraq. "The order will provide the commander-in-chief additional flexibility should military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq,"  the Pentagon spokesman, said, all of this is shockingly reminiscent of the days which preceded the unfortunate and absolutely disastrous George Bush’s war in Iraq in 2003.

Najeeb Hanoudi


Sunday, June 15, 2014