Since I posted about the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Shams (ISIS) ‘seizing’ Mosul a few days ago, my understanding of the situation has progressed.
While it is true Mosul has fallen out of control of the Iraqi government and that ISIS flags have been raised, it is not clear that a Jihadist element is “in control’ of Mosul.
I have had conversations with Iraqi friends and they all certainly confirm the ‘fall’ of Mosul.
However, suggestions about who is ‘in control’ of Mosul vary. There are rumours of “Saddam’s men” being involved. Equally there are reports of foreign Jihadi’s and local sectarian militias. The reality is likely to be all three are involved.
They have been since the early days of the occupation of Iraq in 2003.
When I see reports suggesting Jihadist ISIS has $2.5bn worth of assets after ‘taking’ Mosul, I’m sceptical. There are a lot of things I’m sceptical about with the reporting of the situation, actually (read Juan Cole’s 7 myths).
I do not believe Baghdad is under any ‘threat’ of being captured by ISIS. They have no support base there. There is no way they could hold it.
They may try take back Baqubah though, formerly considered the ‘headquarters’ of the Islamis State of Iraq. They might send in suicide bombers and set up roadside bombs in Baghdad, but that would be nothing new. ISI have been using that tactic in Iraq since the early days of the occupation. It didn’t get them anywhere then, it won’t now.
Baghdad is now predominantly Shia after the civil war of 2006/07, and the Iraqi Government has the backing of the Iran, the USA, the Da’awa Party and local Shia heavyweight Muqtada al-Sadr. The Shia alliance is a real force to be reckoned in Baghdad, Najaf and Basra, one which ISIS have no chance of defeating in the long run.
Under Maliki’s rule Sunni communities in Iraq have lost much of their influence and are currently living through the worst situation they’ve faced in liveable memory.
They are isolated and desperate and, after changing their facebook relationship status with Maliki from “it’s complicated” to “fuck this I’m out of here”, ISIS are now the only well funded potential ally to be found on the ground for Sunni Iraqi’s.
All this started when the US military invaded in 2003.
Shia militia’s rose up as Saddam’s regime crumbled, just as they had when the US and it’s allies took Kuwait back and threatened to topple Saddam in 1991. The Iraqi army disintegrated as the US rolled into Baghdad. They were no longer loyal to Saddam Hussein.
There were tussles between several militia’s in Baghdad in the early days of the occupation, as local militia’s and ‘foreign’ forces vied for influence. It was decisions taken by US forces leader Lt Paul Bremer that ultimately led to the rise of extremist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq and later the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), now ISIS.
Two decisions made by the US military leadership laid the grounds for what is now the fracturing of Iraq along sectarian lines.
The decision to disband the 500,000 strong Iraqi army left not even the appearance of a state for anyone to remain loyal to, only the occupying force. It could not be said that the Iraqi army would maintain order while a new democratic government was formed. That was not happening. There would be no replacement job for these soldiers either.
It was basically a big “FUCK YOU” to anyone formerly associated with the Iraqi military. It was a huge mistake. Most of these soldiers had families to feed and still had their weapons. Initially this led to a lot of localised crime; looting, robberies, carjackings and kidnappings for ransom. But as time went on the situation deteriorated.
Enter the Jihadi element, flush with money from Wahhabi extremists in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations. At first they paid locals to keep quiet about their operations. Then it evolve to do this ‘little job’ and we’ll give you some cash.
And things were only getting worse for the Sunni.
Their leadership was decimated under Lt Paul Bremer’s “debaathification” doctrine, which saw previous members of the Baath Party banned from working government positions. This included school teachers, factory workers and even oil industry workers, Iraq’s economy prior to US occupation had many public companies.
This essentially made most Sunni unemployable. Private jobs that were going were unlikely to go to anyone with a connection to the Baath Party, as the US were playing up fears about ‘regime loyalists’. It’s no surprise people took such bribes when it was literally the only way they could get a pay check, aside from working with US forces of course.
While Sunni communities suffered, Shia political forces were doing comparatively well.
With fear of Saddam’s regime broken, Shia political forces came in ‘on the back of the tank’. Bringing their militia’s with them and claiming territory immediately.
The Da’awa Party, then headed by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, managed to position itself to win the first presidency in the ‘new’ Iraq. The “Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq” (SCIRI), an Iraqi wing of the organisation which created the Shia Islamic revolution in Iran, had it’s military wing ‘Badr Brigade’ on the ground in Baghdad immediately after the invasion.
Baghdadi militia the “Mehdi Army” of Muqtada al-Sadr, took control of ‘Sadr City’ – formerly ‘Saddam City’ – in April 2003, less than a month after the US invasion.
This dynamic exploded in violence with the bombing of the al-Askari Shrine in 2006.
As the bloodbath in Baghdad took hold, both Sunni and Shia suffered. Friends and relatives were killed. Families were split up. People were forced out of homes. The militia’s tactics were increasingly appalling and often targeted at innocent civilians.
It was in that atmosphere that the both the new Iraqi Government and the Islamic State of Iraq were born.
The Iraqi Government under al-Maliki were the paid-for Shia representatives of Iran, seizing control of power with the assistance and backing of the USA and it’s coalition partners. The ISI were a paid-for Sunni response to being ostracised from the instruments of power by this new Iraqi government. But they were never popular.
The US Government began to realise who they were supporting when it was exposed that Shia death squads were operating out of the Interior Ministry of the new Iraqi Government. The US Government responded with a ‘troop surge’ aimed at forcing the Iraqi government to clean up it’s act and convincing local Sunni groups to turn on foreign Jihadists.
The Iraqi Government, the US military and Sunni ‘Awakening Councils’ reached an agreement and managed to turn the tide against the Jihadist elements.
Unfortunately, that was as far as the co-operation went.
The Maliki Government has since completely failed to even try rejuvenating Sunni areas of Iraq, and has been openly confrontational with Sunni political leaders. Even going as far as sentencing the Sunni former Vice President of Iraq to death.
By first providing a legitimate enemy to fight, then disbanding the Iraqi army, banning Baath party members from working, and backing the sectarian al-Maliki Government, the US military have played directly into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq & al-Shams.
They literally require destitution and sectarian conflict in order to survive, without the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, they would never have