Fears of civil war in Iraq as ISIS expands

The advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to various Iraqi cities has shocked the government and international community, which prompted calls for meetings, while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency.

al-monitor Members of the Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq carry the coffin of a fellow fighter killed in clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) during his funeral in Najaf, June 12, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS.

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syria, nouri al-maliki, muqtada al-sadr, mosul, iraq

Jun 12, 2014

The speed of the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) from Mosul to Tikrit, which was seized following clashes that lasted for a few hours, stunned the Iraqi government. The battle subsequently moved to the north of Samarra, thus indicating that ISIS has mobilized its dormant cells in the areas it has taken control of. This also confirms the cooperation of armed groups and local officials with ISIS in these areas.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed that he would form ancillary forces to fight terrorism, while Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for the formation of “Peace Brigades” comprising various components of Iraqi society. Meanwhile, the southern provinces announced that they have opened the door for citizens to volunteer to fight in Ninevah.

This gave rise to a series of reactions, as international consultations intensified to confront ISIS. For their part, Iranian troops were mobilized on the border with Iraq, and Turkey called for an emergency NATO meeting, which was held at the ambassadorial level. Turkey also threatened to intervene if its 48 citizens, held by ISIS in Mosul, including the consul, are harmed.

The Iraqi army and police continued to retreat for the second day in a row facing the progress of ISIS militants, who were joined by fighters from different groups. These got close to the Sunni-Shiite front lines north of Baghdad, thus raising fears of sectarian clashes.

After gunmen took control last night [June 11] of Tikrit, which is the stronghold of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, they rushed into confrontations at the doors of Samarra. For his part, Maliki promised to punish what he called “the defeatist leaders” and confirmed that he started to form an ancillary army made up of clan members and volunteers.

Witnesses from Tikrit told Al-Hayat that the city fell without clashes, just like the towns of Beiji, Ad-Dawr, Sulaiman Bek and Tuz Khormato. All of these belong to the Salahuddin province, which also includes the districts of Samarra and the predominantly Shiite Balad.

According to witnesses, Tikrit saw the proliferation of armed men who are believed to belong either to the Baath Party or the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi order, led by Izzat al-Duri, as pictures of Saddam and Duri, as well as ISIS flags, were raised by gunmen.

On the ground, violent clashes also erupted in northern and eastern Samarra, where the governor of Salahuddin province and the local government had barricaded themselves since yesterday morning with a large military force responsible for protecting the Al-Askari Mosque.

The sources said that parts of the town of Tuz Khormato, of Shiite Turkmen majority, have fallen, along with the town of Sulaiman Bek, of Sunni majority.

In a televised speech yesterday, Maliki did not provide any explanation for the unprecedented collapse of the security forces. He just settled for confirming that the army fell prey to a “conspiracy” and a “plot,” and called for holding the “defeatist leaders” accountable.

Judging by the evolution of the situation, it is safe to talk about a potential major confrontation in Samarra, which includes the Al-Askari Mosque, and in the south, where there are the two Shiite towns of Balad and Dujail, separated from Baghdad by the towns of Duluiyah, Al-Moushahada and the Sunni Tarmiyah. This paves the way for a sectarian conflict that goes beyond the current boundaries of the confrontation.

Sources in Baghdad talked about the spread of Shiite militias in the streets of the city, while Sadr suggested forming the “Peace Brigades” to defend the mosques and shrines, and expressed his unwillingness to go to war against “dirty” parties.

However, the Shiite alert escalated as tens of thousands of soldiers and officers of the army retreated to the south and Baghdad after abandoning their military uniforms, and local governments in the cities of the south announced the formation of clan forces.

According to the demographic map of the area, the gunmen approached another sectarian demarcation line in the Shiite town of Khalis, in Diyala, in conjunction with the bombings yesterday that left dozens of dead and wounded in the two neighborhoods of Kadhimiya and Sadr City in Baghdad.

In Tehran, informed sources told Al-Hayat that the National Security Council held a meeting yesterday evening to discuss the situation in Iraq and the prospects for its development and its impact on the areas near the border.

Hassan Allawi, the Shura Council representative from the city of Sanandaj, of Kurdish majority, said that the army declared a state of high alert in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in anticipation of any evolution.

The sources said that the ISIS forces may spread to the Diyala province near the common border to form a strip that extends to Syria.

NATO held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation upon the request of Turkey. US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced that Washington is committed to “work with the Iraqi government and leaders across Iraq to pursue a unified approach against the constant aggression waged by ISIS.” Psaki added that the United States is ready to provide additional assistance to Baghdad.

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