ISIS fights on 10 fronts in Iraq

As the Iraqi army fights the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, Iran's president says his country is ready to defend holy sites in Iraq.

al-monitor A cloud of smoke rises from an oil pipeline in Tikrit, April 17, 2014. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

united states, nouri al-maliki, iraq, hillary clinton

Jun 19, 2014

As the Iraqi army confronts the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) on 10 fronts with the support of some tribes and “volunteers,” international and regional circles seem busy trying to cope with this organization. These circles are trying to find a political solution to the crisis of governance, now that it has become clear that a military solution would be impossible, as per the statement made yesterday [June 18] by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, in which he said Baghdad had asked Washington for help with airstrikes on militants.

Major figures of the US administration, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, stepped up their criticism yesterday of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, holding him responsible for failing to manage the state. They stressed, however, that it was "up to the Iraqi people alone" to decide on Maliki’s stepping down.

Meanwhile, Iran is conditioning its cooperation with the US administration to calm the situation in Mesopotamia on the success of the nuclear negotiations, among other conditions that coincided with the announcement of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday that his country was ready “to defend the [Shiite] holy sites.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned during the opening conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah yesterday of “a civil war in Iraq whose repercussions on the region cannot be predicted,” and accused Baghdad once again of implicitly adopting “a sectarian style” and practicing “exclusion.”

The Baiji oil refinery, one of Iraq's largest, turned into a battlefield after an attempt on the part of ISIS gunmen and other armed factions to break into it. Militants, who have controlled the cities of Mosul and Tikrit for nine days, as well as Fallujah and parts of Anbar for more than six months, are opening 10 fronts across a wide area.

Qassim Atta, spokesman for the General Command of the Armed Forces, said during a news conference that the security forces “succeeded in repelling the ISIS attack on the Baiji refinery.” But witnesses from the town, which has been under militant control for days, told Al-Hayat that the town was encircled by ISIS, which managed to break into it yesterday morning only to retreat following fierce resistance from the military unit stationed inside. Smoke plumes were seen rising from the refinery, suggesting its facilities have been damaged.

Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told Al-Hayat, “We are self-sufficient in oil products and derivatives, and the refinery stoppage will not affect the local consumer market.”

Political forces were trying to remedy the situation through rapprochement between Maliki and certain Sunni politicians known for their hostile positions.

A leader in the State of Law Coalition, Abbas al-Bayati, told Al-Hayat yesterday [June 18], “The meeting of the political forces, which was held on Tuesday [June 17] evening, concluded an agreement on the formation of a military force of Mosul residents and led by the governor of Mosul, Atheel al-Nujaifi.”

Even though the implementation of such a move seems difficult in light of the reality on the ground in Sunni areas, where traditional politicians are no longer influential, the expected adjustments must eventually go through the political class, especially parliament.

But the security reality is steps ahead of the political reality, as armed groups led by ISIS are opening 10 fronts at a time, imposing their control over a large geographical area and engaging in daily clashes with military forces stationed in Tal Afar, north of Mosul. Fronts are opening in Baiji, Samarra, Kirkuk, Baquba and areas west of Baghdad and north of Babylon. Add to this their concentration in Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah.

This major deployment of militants raises many questions about the actual size of the forces fighting on the ground, and whether it is possible for ISIS, with all this media attention, to achieve such a deployment.

The armed groups are sharing power in the areas, and the Naqshbandi Army has spread in Kirkuk and southeast of Mosul. These areas have been controlled by this organization for days. For its part, the “Islamic Army” is mainly spread around Baghdad and north Babil, while the 1920 Revolution Brigades are stationed in Diyala.

In Washington, criticism against Maliki has escalated. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on him to step down. She told CNN, “It’s imperative that the government of Iraq, currently led by Maliki, be more inclusive, much more willing to share power, involve all the different segments of Iraq.”

Hagel blamed recent events on Maliki during a congressional hearing, holding him responsible for failing to form a government of national unity. Meanwhile, Dempsey said, "I would describe [Maliki’s] response as a volume of conspiracy theories."

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