Political danger is growing in Iraq with Nouri al-Maliki’s failure to put a government together. He won Iraq’s legislative elections in April — but just barely. While the Shiite prime minister appears powerless to act amid violent divisions, Iraq’s Sunni minority complains it is being marginalised.
Just after the elections, Maliki said defiantly: “I consider the turnout in the parliamentary elections to be a slap in the face for the terrorists who wanted to impede the process, through violent acts which were repulsed by security troops, politicians and tribesmen.”
In the wake of a war which rid Iraq of the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein, today’s violence is characterised by sectarian revenge-killings, and now the sustained drive by the Sunni insurgent group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, abbreviated as ISIL. This group is especially ruthless.
ISIL wants strict Koran-based law and an independent state in Iraq and Syria.
It started gaining ground, literally, after a power struggle and severance of ties with al-Qaeda in 2013. Last January, it took Fallujah, and several areas of Anbar Province.
ISIL also has plans for Lebanon. The jihadists are also increasingly dominant in Syria.
Their conquest of Mosul consolidates this, Iraq’s number two city after Baghdad, lying just 70 kilometres from the border. It is a major hub for Iraqi oil exports, and a political and economic centre in the northern Nineveh province.
Analyst Jumaa al-Atwan said: “I think the fall of Mosul is even more dangerous than that of Fallujah, since Nineveh Province borders several other provinces in Iraq. For instance, it borders the Kurdistan Region to the north, Saladin and Kirkuk to the south, which could mean potential threats. This is very dangerous.”
The US completed its withdrawal of military personnel in December 2011, during the ninth year of the war in Iraq. At the height of the conflict, ISIL grew stronger.
The development of Syria’s civil war poured on fuel, creating a cross-border flow of international fighters. ISIL was first loosely allied with the al-Qaeda-associated al-Nusra, among other groups, before they went separate ways.
With Baghdad demonstrating a continuing incapacity to deal with national threats, many observers fear the entire country is at risk of sliding into jihadist hands.
Daleen Hassan, euronews: “With the Islamic State in the Levant’s seizing of the second-largest city in Iraq, the country’s political and security collapse has reached critical levels. To discuss this, we’re joined by Hasni Abidi, political analyst and director of the Geneva-based Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World. How do you explain the fall of the city of Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group within hours and with little resistance from the Iraqi army?”
Hasni Abidi: “This is a very big operation. It’s unprecedented in the history of jihadist groups. That’s especially true for ISIL, which has existed only since 2006. The group has successfully taken over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Iraq has nearly one million men in the police and the military. On the other hand, ISIL has been preparing for this for a long time. That’s why there are so many questions surrounding security measures, and their political administration. The group has the advantage in the current political crisis, with such a security vacuum. We are all used to these things in Iraq. In addition, they benefit because the government still has not been reformed. Another reason ISIL has been able to take Mosul is the crisis in Syria. ISIL has a power base there. It moves easily across the border. These are the main reasons Mosul fell.”
euronews: “Is this takeover the beginning of the formation of a new state considering that the group already controls areas on both sides of the border of Iraq and Syria? What is the impact on the Syrian crisis?”
Abidi: “I think that first a state of emergency rule must be declared, secondly Maliki and the political entities must set aside their own interests, and thirdly all the various sectarian groups in Iraq must come together to work on solutions. That must include the people living in the area around Mosul. If this is not done, then ISIL will advance even more. They have been in Falluja for two years, and have even managed to reach geographic areas that are extremely difficult to get to, notably Kurdish areas in Iraqi territory but which are also in the Turkish sphere.”
euronews: “Maliki has demanded more power but what are his options for solving the crisis? Can he survive?”
Abidi: “What has happened in Mosul actually helps Maliki. With this, he can get a full go-ahead from the Iraqi parliament. He benefits from this. I don’t think that the fall of Mosul happened completely innocently. It serves the political interests for a Maliki government and his political backers.”
euronews: “What are the implications of recent events for Iraqi-US relations, especially after the withdrawal of US Troops? Could this lead all sides to reconsider the withdrawal agreement?”
Abidi: “Officially there has been an agreement between the US and Iraq on arrangements for a withdrawal since Bush was in office, and which the Obama administration built on. This is the first big thing to happen since those troops pulled out. The Iraqi army found out how weak it is when facing armed opposition. Before the final withdrawal, that area had 50,000 American soldiers. They were highly effective in gathering security intelligence. This helped the Iraqi forces a lot. Questions are being raised in both Iraq and the US about whether the Iraqi forces are really operational on their own. They are not ready, Maliki has said, to shoulder the full responsibility for securing the country and protecting it from internal or external threats.”