The Ever-Imploding Iraq

Unrest in Iraq

Yesterday, as we noted in a tweet reax, the jihadist militia known as the Islamic State In Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, after the US-trained soldiers reportedly dropped their weapons, put on civilian clothes, and fled the city:

The fall of Mosul after only four days of fighting speaks volumes about both the state of Iraqi forces and the depth of the sectarian division at the bleeding heart of the nation’s ongoing crisis: The population of Mosul is mostly Sunni, and the central government led by prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is widely criticized as favoring the country’s Shiite majority. Al-Maliki is likely to remain in office after the April 30 elections left him with the largest share of votes and negotiating chiefly with other Shiite parties to form a new governing coalition. …

Terrified residents were streaming out of the city—the International Organization for Migration reports 500,000 people have left their homes since Saturday—and there were reports that water and electricity were cut off. On its Twitter account, ISIS gloated about seizing arms and vehicles abandoned by the city’s supposed defenders. Elsewhere in the country, its fighters have been spotted driving Humvees captured from government forces in previous encounters.

Humvees that used to belong to us, of course:

Carl Schreck outlines why this is such a coup for ISIS, a group notorious for its disavowal by al-Qaeda for being too extreme:

With an estimated population of nearly 2 million, Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city and has a Sunni Arab majority, though the city has residents of many other religious and ethnic groups. “ISIL draws its strength from Iraq’s Sunni-Arab community. So there’s an obvious reason for doing that,” Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told RFE/RL.

Mosul’s geography is also of significant strategic importance.

It is located on the Tigris River, giving it access to water trade routes, and it is also home to pipelines that carry oil into Turkey. The city is also less than 100 miles from Syria, giving the group a potentially strong foothold to control territory on both sides of the border. “What they’re looking to do is erase the border. They are looking to set up a unified state within Iraq and Syria,” Pollack said.

Dan Murphy calls the event “a stark reminder of how ephemeral US efforts in Iraq have proven to be”:

In early 2004, Gen. David Petraeus was commander of the 101st Airborne Division in the province, and his efforts there, focusing on hearts and minds, were marketed as the “Mosul model.” Early in the war, Mosul was Iraq’s most peaceful large city, new businesses were opening, and fuel shortages that bedeviled most of the country then weren’t apparent. At the time, the Bush administration, the military, and the US people were still expecting a quick war. … Ten years on, Iraq does not control its border with Syria and it does not control Mosul. If ISIS manages to hang on to the city, even if only for a short while, it will be able to threaten towns farther south and closer to Baghdad, and have greater freedom to organize suicide bombings, something that could spark a major sectarian war like the one that raged in the middle of the past decade. Maliki’s call for arming civilians probably means he intends to use Shiite militias in an effort to regain control.

“The poor showing by the security forces in the city may be due to their low morale,” according to Joel Wing:

Early in the year it was reported that many of the police were receiving only parts or none of their salaries for months because ISIS was stealing their pay. The situation was so bad south of the city that in March the Ninewa Operations Command set up special flights from Mosul to Baghdad for its personnel who lived in the capital to commute there because the highway between the two cities was too insecure. Having not received their pay for perhaps months and feeling besieged within Mosul were the likely cause of the quick collapse by the army and police.

Another view of that collapse:

I am still gathering my thoughts – more to come.

(Photo: An Iraqi woman carries her property while fleeing from Mosul to Arbil and Duhok due to the clashes between security forces and militants of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Arbil, Iraq on June 10, 2014. By Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)