The Kurds Dig In

Unrest in Mosul

Today in Kirkuk, the Iraqi army fled and Kurdish forces took their place to try and hold the city against the ISIS onslaught. The fall of Mosul might actually end up benefiting the Kurds:

Ironically, ISIL’s takeover of Mosul may now present a “golden opportunity” to advance long term Kurdish objectives, according to some Iraqi Kurdish politicians. With Baghdad’s request for military backup in a campaign the Iraqi army alone is almost sure to lose, Erbil now has the green light to send its troops into disputed territories and stake its claim. …

Unsurprisingly, the fall of Mosul has raised alarms in Ankara; the Turkish press is rife with fears that the involvement of Peshmerga troops would embolden Kurds to further their secessionist ambitions, or worse yet, that the PKK may be invited to join the fight as a counterweight to ISIL.

Juan Cole expects Shiite militias to soon come into play as well:

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his colleagues in Najaf, the seat of Shiite religious authority, issued a statement roundly condemning the Iraqi political class for its divisions and wrangling and calling on them to unite to protect Iraqi citizens from the terrorist groups that had taken over Ninevah Province (i.e. Mosul and environs). Sistani also expressed condolences for the Iraqi troops killed by ISIS fighters and pledged the religious authority’s support to the Iraqi army in this struggle. It is more or less a declaration of Shiite jihad on ISIS.

In a penetrating analysis of the situation, Mushreq Abbas explains why the Iraqi forces in Mosul collapsed:

The best explanation of the collapse of the Iraqi military — which spilled over on the same day to the cities of Siniya and Beiji in Salahuddin province, as well as Hawija, Sulaiman Bek and Rashad in Kirkuk — is a fundamental flaw in planning, leadership and training. These have been defects in the Iraqi security forces over the past few years, despite their receiving sophisticated equipment and weapons.

Throughout the years, Baghdad has failed to produce a professional army or provide efficient training programs, hence the clear hostility between the population in Sunni areas in general and the army, whose members mostly hail from Shiite areas in central and southern Iraq. This failure is definitely linked to the inability to represent all demographics within the military, something the Sunnis have complained about for years. Meanwhile, the pressures to which the army and police forces were subject in the months that followed the outbreak of fighting in Anbar since late 2013 have in turn affected the efficiency of the security establishment.

Fred Kaplan is more succinct, blaming Maliki’s divisive approach to governance:

One problem always was, and still is, that Maliki had no interest in conciliatory politics on a national level. And that’s why he’s now facing a monumental, even terrifying armed insurgency. His troops in Nineveh province simply folded when they came under attack, not because they weren’t equipped or trained to fight back but because, in many cases, they felt no allegiance to Maliki’s government; they had no desire to risk their lives for the sake of its survival.

Omar al-Jaffal solicits the perspective of one of the soldiers who fled, which illustrates the confused and leaderless state of affairs:

At 3 a.m. on June 10, Twitter users affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) began tweeting that ISIS had control of security centers in Ninevah. An officer from the army’s 2nd division in Ninevah province, who spoke to Al-Monitor by phone on condition of anonymity, said, “It was during these hours exactly that the army was without leadership.”

“We received messages stating that parts [of the city], that were under our control, had fallen. But we were without leaders and had no orders to act,” the officer said. “The soldiers were perplexed,” he noted, adding, “We put the options in front of them and said: ‘Whoever wants to fight, fight; whoever wants to flee, flee.'” He continued, “At 4 a.m., another officer and I decided to change out of our military uniforms. We took a civilian car and headed to the Kurdistan Region [of Iraq].” Speaking from Erbil, the officer said, “No one understands exactly what happened.”

Wladimir van Wilgenburg talks to Mosulites who claim that ISIS was welcomed there:

“The Iraqi army oppressed the people, they stole their money,” said Ali Ahmed, a driver, who was shot while fleeing Mosul. According to Ahmed, the local population in Mosul welcomed ISIS. “The people in Mosul do not like Daash [an acronym for ISIS’s Arabic name: Dawlat Islamiyya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham], or Maliki, but they now feel better under Daash, and water and electricity returned.”

Ahmed al-Ghadra, 74, a former resident of Mosul, told Al-Monitor the army mistreated him. “The Arab Iraqi people want Maliki to go to prison. He is a traitor. Fourteen Daash members come, and the whole Iraqi army flees. The people of Mosul do not want the Iraqi army in Mosul. I’m an old man, and they stopped me for one hour at a checkpoint, using bad language.”

More witnesses confirm that ISIS treated the civilian population well, and told them that they would only punish those who work with Maliki.

But Human Rights Watch warns that civilians face threats from both sides:

“I don’t feel safe at all,” the Mosul resident told Human Rights Watch. “I fear ISIS, they might kill me for any reason: because I worked as a government employee … if they noticed that I don’t go to the mosque and pray as they want everyone to, [or] if my beard wasn’t long enough.” He did not know whether ISIS had killed any civilians or soldiers since it took over the western part of the city. Another Mosul resident told Human Rights Watch that as of June 10, he had heard that ISIS had killed “only five or six people” who stole police cars to sell them later or sell them as parts, and killed an army colonel named Rayan, who was a former SWAT officer based in Mosul.

Two other Mosul residents told Human Rights Watch they feared the government’s response. Between June 6 and June 8, according to Mosul residents and local media reports, the government carried out what appeared to have been a series of indiscriminate attacks.

Previous Dish on the Iraq crisis herehere, here, and here.

(Photo: Peshmargas of Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government patrol on the region to prevent infiltration of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant militants who seized Mosul, in Iraq on June 12, 2014. By Onur Coban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)