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ON THE BRINK: DIVIDED IRAQ (Last of Two Parts)


 

“U.S. troops that provided political and military restraint were withdrawn from Iraq after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement….”The Dallas Morning News, 18 June 2014

 

In mid-2011, or some three years ago, as the last American troops were being withdrawn, U.S. President Barack Obama described Iraq as “sovereign, stable and self-reliant.”  Last 10 June, PM Nouri Al-Maliki declared a state of emergency and frantically appealed for outside help in the face of the relentless advance of the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  The next day, in league with rebellious Iraqi Sunnis, ISIS took Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein, just 100 miles north of the capital city Baghdad, and bailiwick of the country’s Shiites.  So, wha’ happened?

The Economistof London described the southward momentum of the jihadist militants (14 June), thus:

 “So absolute was the rout of Iraq’s Army in Mosul (Iraq’s 2nd largest city) that soldiers stripped off their uniforms in the street and fled.  The bodies of those left behind, some mutilated, were strewn amid burned-out troop carriers.  Roughly 1,500 jihadists from the ISIS reportedly seized six Black Hawk helicopters as well as plundered 430 million USD from Mosul’s banks.  They released thousands of prisoners from Mosul’s jails.  As the jihadist black flag rose above the government buildings, half a million refugees fled to seek sanctuary elsewhere.”

ISIS allegedly aims to redraw the map of the Middle East by creating a Sunni state, starting with eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq.  Its brand of violent militancy is spreading poison and terror across the Arab world. 

One day, if they have their way, some Middle East watchers opine, ISIS’s terrorists will also target Asia, Europe and America.  They say that without positive actions now from Baghdad and Washington, ISIS and groups like it will succeed in their political goals. 

Immediate U.S. Responses

At a hastily-called White House press conference last 19 June, President Obama affirmed (Federal News Service):

“First, we are working to secure our Embassy and personnel operating inside Iraq.  There is no greater priority than the safety of our men and women serving overseas. 

“Second, we have significantly increased our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to get a better picture of what’s taking place, and how we might support efforts to counter the threats.

“Third, the U.S. will increase support to Iraqi security forces, to include joint operation centers.  Through our new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, we will provide additional equipment and send Special Forces advisers -- up to 300.  American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq.

“Fourth, we’ve positioned additional U.S. military assets in the Middle East to develop more information about precise military targets.  We will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and the region. 

“Finally, the U.S. will lead diplomatic efforts to reestablish stability in Iraq and other countries in the region.  IRAQI LEADERS MUST RISE ABOVE THEIR DIFFERENCES AND UNIFY AROUND A POLITICAL PLAN FOR IRAQ’S FUTURE.  SHIITES, SUNNIS, KURDS – ALL IRAQIS – MUST ADVANCE THEIR INTERESTS AND ASPIRATIONS THROUGH THE POLITICAL PROCESS RATHER THAN THROUGH VIOLENCE.

“The U.S. will not pursue military actions that support one sect at the expense of another.  There’s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one led by the U.S.  But there is an urgent need for an inclusive political process, a more capable Iraqi security force, and counterterrorism efforts that deny groups like ISIS a safe haven.”

Since 2003, the U.S. has suffered some 4,700 patriots killed in Iraq, 40,000 wounded in action, and expended an estimated USD one trillion in operational funds and capital outlays.  The last U.S. combat forces left Iraq towards the end of 2011, after nearly nine years of deadly and divisive war in that country.

Probable Impacts

Earlier, talks that might have allowed a continued major American military presence in Iraq broke down amid disputes about whether U.S. troops could be given immunity from prosecution by Iraqi authorities when crimes are committed against civilians.

Iraq’s security forces, trained by the U.S. at a cost of billions of dollars, have so far proved unable to dislodge the militants from their strongholds in Anbar province, Mosul City and around various oil refineries.  Government units are slowly giving up ground north of Baghdad.

All these will surely exacerbate the growing instability in Iraq and the wider Middle East region, and already escalated oil prices at a time when the global economy is recovering.  Iraq is ranked #5 in the world in oil reserves.

There’s also concern that foreign fighters inside ISIS may go back to their native countries, in Europe and elsewhere, and carry out terror attacks there.  ISIS’s capability to maneuver through parts of Syria and Iraq creates a breeding ground for global terrorists.  Although the group’s focus today is on territory, its leaders say that their targets include the wider Arab regions and the West.  Hundreds of ISIS fighters have European passports.  Already, in eastern Syria, the group has been operating training camps.  That is worryingly reminiscent of Osama Bin Laden’s set-up in Afghanistan, which was later replicated in Indonesia and Mindanao.

It was barely a year ago, in April 2013, when ISIS announced the expansion of its operations from Iraq into Syria.  By changing its name from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and adding the words “al-Sham,”translated as “the Levant” or “Greater Syria, (ISIL)” it signified its quest to conquer a wider area than present-day Syria.

States Of Jihad

ISIS may now catalyze the disintegration of Iraq and Syria.  Armed with weapons seized in Mosul and capturing enough cash to pay its troops, it can more easily hold its ground in the two countries.

On the other hand, many experts claim that ISIS/ISIL can be stopped.  Today, it has a total of some 11,000 fighters, boosted only by recruits it has picked up along the way and prisoners it has freed from jails.  Following elections that he won last month, PM Maliki is struggling to form a Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish coalition.  The capture of Mosul has given him the opportunity to abandon Shia triumphalism, and form a government for all Iraqis, including moderate Sunnis and Kurds in its leadership.  That would curb ISIS, especially if the Kurds commit their militiamen to the elusive coalition.

The scale of the attack on Mosul was particularly audacious.  But it did not come out of the blue – it resulted from months of organization and training.

Rather than fight simply as a branch of Al-Qaeda (“The Base” in Arabic), as it did before 2011, ISIS/ISIL has aimed to control territory, dispensing its own brutal brand of justice and imposing its own strict moral code:  for example, no smoking, no football, no music, and no unveiled women.  And, it is able to impose taxes in the parts of Iraq and Syria it has conquered.

In other words, it is creating a pseudo-state in the territory straddling the borderlands between Syria and Iraq.  ISIS/ISIL warriors are surprisingly proficient in the operation of captured U.S. arms and equipment; and also in the use of the internet and social media.

Diplomatic Moves And “Soft Power” Measures

International leaders and Iraq's Shiite religious elite have called on the Iraqi people to unite to counter the massive insurgent threats, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rushing this week to Baghdad from Amman and other key Arab centers in an urgent push to stabilize the beleaguered country.

Even as Kerry went on his second visit to Iraq since taking over as the top U.S. diplomat in early 2013, Washington already has deployed an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and is flying manned and unmanned surveillance flights.  Senior U.S. officials say Special Forces sent to advise Iraq could call in air strikes if necessary.

For his part, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also has warned military strikes against the jihadists, which could prove counterproductive without any movement toward inclusive government.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a revered cleric among Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, pleaded to the Iraqi people to band together against the onrushing  rebels  before  it  is too late, even as the  U.S. called for broader-based leadership.

If the ISIS/ISIL is not "expelled from Iraq, everyone will regret it tomorrow, when regret has no meaning,"announced the Grand Ayatollah’s spokesman.

The reclusive Sistani, who heads a Council of Senior Clerics, said Iraq's next government must be "effective"and should avoid "past mistakes,"in an apparent rebuke to PM Maliki.

The Fall-Out On Asia

From Jakarta comes the worrisome report (Agence France Presse, 21 June):  “Indonesians are joining the procession to Iraq nd Syria, sparking fears that they will revive sophisticated terrorist networks when they return to their homeland.  Analysts say these fighters return home with honed insurgency tactics and international militant connections, echoing the concerns of Western governments.”

SHOULDN’T THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT LIKEWISE BE DISTURBED ABOUT THESE DEVELOPMENTS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA, AND ACCORDINGLY UNDERTAKE A GREATER INTELLIGENCE CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT OUR NATIONAL SECURITY INTERESTS FROM THREATS ARISING THEREFROM?

LET’S ALL REMEMBER:  THE ABU SAYYAF EMANATED FROM THE AFGHANISTAN WAR WITH AL-QAEDA AS ITS TERRORIST MODEL AND CONNECTED WITH THE JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH IN INDONESIA TO FORM OSAMA BIN LADEN’S SECOND FRONT IN ASIA.  HAVE WE FORGOTTEN THE DEPREDATIONS OF THE MURDEROUS ABDURAJAK JANJALANI (A.S.) AND THE EQUALLY DEADLY FATHUR RAHMAN AL-GHOZI (J.I.) IN THE PHILIPPINES???

Please send any comments to fvr@rpdev.org.  Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.

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