Terror in Iraq

The capitulation of Iraqi forces in two of Iraq’s major cities to the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a dire development in what is becoming a regional war between legitimate governments and extremist Sunni militants with visions of an ‘Islamically’ homogenous and ethnically-cleansed supra-state. On Monday night, terrorists seized control of Mosul — the administrative centre of the northern province of Nineveh and Iraq’s second largest city. On Wednesday, authorities reported the fall of Tikrit, hometown of former leader Saddam Hussein, just 150 kilometres from Baghdad. Reports say that Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions and threw down weapons as they ran and that 500,000 civilians followed them. Their fear of ISIL is astute. The terrorist group grew as an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, which the US claimed to have defeated in 2010. Its resurrection began in Syria where it joined the ‘rebellion’ against President Bashar al-Assad, and made a name for itself through sheer butchery, executing non-Sunni Muslims by the hundreds in ways ranging from beheadings to crucifixion. Eventually it turned on other rebel groups and refused to withdraw to Iraq when ordered by al Qaeda leader Aiman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri excommunicated ISIL from al Qaeda in February this year, but it continued making gains in the porous border region between Syria and Iraq, carving out a mini-Islamist state where brutality is the law. It briefly held Fallujah in January before being forced to withdraw but has returned in strength against a hapless Iraqi government that is in disarray against this well armed foe.  
These developments seriously undermine US claims to have established a competent military after more than a decade of training. The US invasion and occupation cost Washington close to a trillion dollars while Iraq suffered irreparable damage to its infrastructure, and almost a million people dead. The government of Prime Minister (PM) Nuri al Maliki now faces what is looking more like an army than a terrorist group since with the fall of Mosul, ISIL has apparently come into possession of helicopters, humvees, cargo planes, along with body armour and uniforms the US military provided Iraq’s military to fight them. While western analysts seem stuck on the idea of Iraqi political shortcomings, ISIL’s advance shows the shortcomings in strategy of the ‘war on terror’, which removed stable, albeit distasteful regimes, and provided a vacuum for terrorists to enter. Iraq’s political fractures were inevitable given the sectarian nature of its political parties. Western funding of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel groups reopened the door for ISIL and other radical groups. The same pattern emerged in Libya and the worry in Pakistan is that Afghanistan faces a similar fate after NATO troops leave at the end of this year. This is not a regional problem any longer. The terrorist network stretches from Pakistan’s tribal belt to Syria. Iraq faces disintegration and if the terrorists make further gains there, they will attempt the same in other countries as well.  *

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Aaj Kal