By Elie Chalhoub
Baghdad is in a state of panic. The streets are empty. Gunmen are 20 kilometers (12.42 miles) away from the capital. Popular forces armed by the state are deployed around the city to protect its residents from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). All eyes are on Diyala, the gateway to the south by the Iranian borders. There is no army and no security forces except in the green zone, and their loyalty is now questionable after information was confirmed that senior officers turned against the government and handed their military areas to the newcomers.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed his military officers on TV in light of security reports stating that the attackers are Baathists affiliated with Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri – who was vice president under Saddam – as well as officers from the former Iraqi army and Fedayeen Saddam. According to the reports, more than 40 officers who had served in Saddam Hussein’s army conspired with the attackers. There are tales of betrayal involving senior military leaders including General Abboud Qanbar, Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan and General Mahdi al-Ghazzawi, all members of the former army.
The only solution left is to organize a “popular army” and the enlistment campaign has already started, with the aim of forming a paramilitary organization similar to the National Defense Forces in Syria. It is a return to the notion of self-security which prevailed after the US invasion. It is also a recognition that there is no army, leading to questions like where did US $41 million – that was supposedly spent to strengthen the military over the last three years – go?
All of this to justify a story that sounds more like a fantasy; that within hours, 1,500 fighters from ISIS succeeded in occupying Mosul, where a military garrison consisting of 52,000 soldiers is stationed, before invading Salah al-Din and controlling many neighborhoods in Kirkuk. Everyone agrees that even Samarra has fallen militarily but it was not taken over by takfiris, not because they could not but because they chose not to. Iraqi military units are fleeing their positions whenever ISIS fighters advance and orders are issued to security forces to withdraw from neighbouring cities.In a situation like this, there is no room for politics, as military action has the last word. The position of the Kurds in this context is noteworthy. Appeals were made from more than one side for Peshmerga forces to take part in thwarting the invading forces. But they refused, arguing that they only defend Kurdish and ethnically mixed areas. It is said that US pressure was exerted on Erbil in this regard which led to an understanding between Maliki and Nijirfan al-Barazani stipulating that Peshmerga forces will take part in the battle to recapture Mosul in return for agreeing to secure exports of oil from Kurdistan.
The situation in the occupied areas does not seem as bad as it is portrayed in some media outlets. All the forces involved in the political process left the areas controlled by ISIS, including the governor of Nineveh Athil al-Nujaifi, the more influential brother of Osama al-Nujaifi. He moved to Erbil leaving behind business projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Mosul. It is true of course that tens of thousands of Iraqis left their homes for fear of what is happening and what is to come. No one, however, can deny that years of political, social and economic marginalization, in addition to undermining Sunni leaders, will guarantee ISIS – or any other faction that rises up against the political leadership in Baghdad – popular support among individuals and tribes, even if it is temporary.
It was interesting that the Shia authority Bashir al-Nujaifi blamed the “incompetence and dereliction of duty towards their country by those fighting” for “what we have come to in Iraq.” He called for “speeding up the process of forming a foresighted salvation government imbued with loyalty and love of country.” This allusion was the first of its kind, regarding the political discord going on in Iraq since Mosul fell and the sound of bullets dominated the political arena in the country.
The reality on the ground poses more questions than it provides answers. What are the repercussions of the Shia authority’s appeal to unite in the face of the terrorists? How far will the enlistment campaign, opened to whoever wants to fight the takfiris and protect holy sites, go? To what extent has Saudi Arabia supported ISIS? In light of the kidnapping of the Turkish consul-general in Mosul, what is Turkey’s role in what is happening, as it was quick to summon an emergency meeting of NATO to discuss developments? What are the implications of ISIS’ victories in Iraq on the Syrian front given the financial and military spoils it gained from Iraq? And finally, will the dark days of the ill-fated sectarian war that ignited the whole region return to Iraq?
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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