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ISIL Terrorists Control Over a Third of Iraq!

Interesting Article: "ISIL Fighters Seize New Iraq City amid Reports of Massacre" by RFE/RL, published June 16th, 2014.

An interesting article mentioned that The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) says it has seized another city in northern Iraq shortly after claiming to have massacred hundreds of Iraqi soldiers. Residents and officials in Tal Afar, some 420 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, told the media that the city fell to Sunni militants from ISIL early on June 16 after a fierce battle. The fall of Tal Afar comes only days after Al-Qaeda offshoot ISIL overran two main cities in the north -- Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

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It is unclear whether Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) can hold the territories gained in its lightning offensive, but it's certain that a new political and social contract is needed in Iraq. The interesting this is that fewer than 1,000 fighters from the ISIL advanced against Iraq's largest city of Mosul on 10 June, sending two Iraqi army divisions (nearly 30,000 soldiers) to a chaotic retreat. To secure their remarkable territorial gains, they quickly moved south, closing in on other Iraqi towns: They attacked and took over Baiji on 11 June
. On the same day, they conquered Tikrit, the town of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, where they were joined by ex-Baathist fighters.

The story of ISIL needs to be examined in greater depth as it stretches throughout the whole geography of the conflict, and is as mysterious as the masked characters who are blowing people up with no mercy and beheading them with no regard for the values of the religion they purport to represent. While the Sunni-Shiite strife is rooted in over 14 centuries of history, modern Middle Eastern states, with all of its corruption and failures, did manage to neutralize much of the violent manifestation of the historical dispute. This was the case until the leader of ISIL, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi from Samarra came on to the scene. When al-Qaeda was ostensibly driven out of major Iraqi cities by 2008, they simply regrouped. The Syrian civil war, which started three years ago, created the kind of security vacuum which allowed them to make their move. But al-Qaeda itself began to splinter, to a “central command”, operating via decrees from Afghanistan and Pakistan, an Islamic Front that hosts several al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, and ISIL, which had its own calculations that go beyond Syria.

ISIL believes that the only way to redeem the honor of Muslims is to re-establish the Caliphate, an Islamic state. The heart of that state, as it has historically been is Sham (Levant) and Iraq, thus ISIL’s name. The stated ambitions of ISIL are to create an Islamist state stretching from northern Iraq to northern Syria as a precursor to a wider Islamist caliphate. Though the fact remains that its attempts to take Baghdad are extraneous to its core mission. The dream of all Sunni jihadists is to have a new Ummah, a land where all Sunni Muslims can be united under a single, pious Caliph.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, took power in 2006 and largely left out many Sunnis from ascending in the political ranks, leaving religious strife as the centerpiece of this disagreement. In the past, al-Maliki has also been criticized for his alleged "spoils system" approach in promoting his political allies to posts in the military. Many cite his regime and rapid promotion process as the chief reason behind an under-prepared Iraqi military after President Obama's withdrawal of all American troops in 2011. Even though, Maliki was taken by surprise, he was warned time-and-time again about the perils of neglecting the Sunni community and shutting Sunnis out of government. Though, what is of concern is that according to reports, Saddam’s former vice-president Izzat Ebrahim Al Douri has emerged from the woodwork along with other former Baathists to join ISIL’s push forward under the banner of the Naqshabandi Army. This is giving rise to theories that ISIL, the wealthiest Jihadist group, represents a gun-for-hire in Iraq, funded by unseen players out to free the country from Shiite dominance. Certainly, ISIL in Iraq is displaying its mellow side compared to its record in northern Syria where its vicious actions have caused even Al Qaida boss Ayman Al Zawahiri to keep his distance. And, whereas in Mosul, ISIL is positioning itself as the savior of disenfranchised Sunnis and, thus far, has refrained from harming the civilian population, in Syria, it is infamous for chopping off heads and hands, torturing and crucifying those refusing to abide by its rules, forcing women to wear the niqab and banning smoking.

Al-Jazeera reports the source of ISIL’s funding and power remains unclear.  According to some analysts though, state funding is complicated to prove but private giving is not. "There are a lot of private donations coming out of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait and the other Gulf states," an analyst noted. "In more recent times, it [ISIL] has its own source of funding controlling gas and oil fields in the east of Syria that gives it a revenue stream and now, having overrun Mosul, it acquired a lot of cash and gold bullion and military hardware. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki even acknowledged that money and assistance are flowing to ISIL from Syria and that it is a matter the United States is raising with Iraq’s Sunni neighbors.

This conflict has drawn in outside entities as well:
-For Turkey, the conflict has already spilled over the border. On the first day of ISIL's seizure of Mosul, 31 Turkish truck drivers were taken hostage. And on the second day, ISIL stormed Ankara's consulate in Mosul and detained 49 Turkish citizens - including the Consulate General, Ozturk Yilmaz, a former advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There is little immediate prospect of Turkish intervention, unless ISIL begins executing hostages; however the group has far more to gain by seeking ransoms, a strategy it has pursued to great effect across the border in Syria.

-For Iran, the possible entrenchment of an exceptionally radical and heavily-armed Sunni jihadist group on its western flank, threatening the collapse of a key Iranian ally, is a matter of grave concern. One Iranian MP observed  that the large number of Shia holy sites in Iraq - notably at Karbala, Najaf, and Samarra - would be "red lines" for Iran, should they be targeted by ISIL. Others - including Iranian officials - have repeatedly alluded to the prospect of direct Iranian intervention ("whatever it takes") in Iraq.

-For Syria, the Assad regime has hitherto avoided targeting ISIL, allowing it to remain in control of key areas, on the assumption that the group has weakened more moderate rebel factions and reinforced the regime's message that the opposition is dominated by jihadist actors. It is possible, though by no means certain, that Tehran will apply pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to engage ISIL more directly and effectively. Yet at a broader level, the growth of ISIL strengthens Assad's spurious claim that his own state and regime is the only bulwark against jihadist groups.
In terms of the countries that import Iraqi Oil, the saving grace for import heavy economies for the moment is that ISIL operations are largely centered towards the north, moving downwards from Mosul to Tikrit and eyeing Baghdad. Much of Iraq’s oil production, barring the autonomous region of Kurdistan in the north, is in the south.

The problem with ISIL has been their modus operandi, in which  ISIL has never shied away from using suicide bombers, crucifying people and beheading them. Yet, the extremely radical and cruel group has also been acting like a state. In the districts that they capture, ISIL establishes schools, courts and delivers municipal services. Also, ISIL fighters provide security, acting like police. A 'Daily Sabah' source even pointed out - on the condition of anonymity - that Sunni people living in areas captured by ISIL welcome them due to the pain they have experienced under the Shiite-led Iraqi regime, which has been promoting sectarian division in the country. Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS), in a recently released report, stated that the sectarian division that deepened with the U.S. and Iranian intervention in Iraq's domestic politics paved the way for the recent incidents in Mosul. The report pointed to cooperation between Iran and the U.S. on supporting Maliki politically and militarily. Yet, researchers noted that due to the complicated sectarian structure in Iraq, a model that would accommodate every social and religious group should have been implemented after former President Saddam Hussain was ousted instead of leaving the whole country in the hands of a Shiite government.

This model was what was put forth a while back, directly referring to Iraq's constitution, the idea was to have a Kurdish North, a Shiite South and a Sunni Central, a three state solution basically.
Interestingly, the Kurds grabbed the Fourth-Largest Iraq Oilfield amid ISIL's Advance. More than 100,000 Kurdish fighters, known as peshmergas, are guarding a “front line” from Iraq’s eastern border with Iran to the northern town of Fishkabur near Turkey, Jabbar Yawar. They now occupy areas around the contested city of Kirkuk where BP Plc has been in talks with Iraq’s government to help reverse declining output at the oilfield discovered in 1927. Peshmergas now control all energy facilities and oil deposits in the Kirkuk area other than a refinery in Baiji, 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the southwest, which ISIL forces have surrounded. (Iraq, excluding the Kurdish region, holds 150 billion barrels in proven crude reserves, the world’s fifth-biggest deposits. The Kurdistan Regional Government controls 45 billion barrels and has attracted international oil companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Total SA with financial terms many investors see as more generous than those available in the rest of the country.)

The question now is can ISIL defend its gains? Most likely, yes. In Mosul it seized large quantities of US-supplied military equipment, reportedly stolen over $400m in Iraqi currency from the city's banks, and freed thousands of prisoners, many of whom are likely to join the insurgency. Its ability to hold out for over four months in the western city of Fallujah, forcing the government to resort to indiscriminate shelling in the absence of sufficient airpower, is an indication of ISIL's defense capabilities. However, it remains unclear how much assistance ISIL has also received from outside.

ISIL's military offensives were almost certainly facilitated by smaller militant groups such as the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, an organization of former Baathist Iraqi army officers. As ISIL gains strength, it may command the loyalty of more such combat-proficient groups, thereby increasing its reach; it may also find conflicts of interests with these allies of convenience, particularly if it persists in its brutal behavior.

The greater short-term danger was when ISIL entered Samarra, a city housing holy Shia sites whose bombing (The city is home to the Askari shrine, one of the most venerated Shia Muslim places of worship) in 2006 by ISIL's earlier incarnation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, catalysed a nationwide civil war. For ISIL, catalyzing sectarian violence by provoking Shia reprisals would not only serve its ideological objectives but also push vulnerable Iraq Sunnis into its arms. Only a few days ago, ISIL moved into the city of Samarra. Within a few hours they took over six neighborhoods.  In one street they took over an office building, shooting their way in. With little or no security forces in the area, they faced almost no resistance. Once they had secured the building, up went their distinctive black flag with white writing.

The way to stop the violence may be separation, i.e. the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues. The key to Iraq lies in turning the provinces into administrative units with wide powers that may be similar to the federal powers, in the fields of internal security, investment, construction, services, education, religious and sectarian specificity in exchange for annulling many central service ministries and bureaucratic systems inherited from the former socialist regime.

Empowering the provinces cannot take place without a fair distribution of wealth, ensuring that foreign policy, the military and national security are in the hands of the central authority, and passing a series of laws, most notably the establishment of the Federation Council, as provided in the Iraqi constitution. This Council would be parallel to the Iraqi Parliament and control the ties between the provinces, the regions and authority in Baghdad.

ISIL is a significant actor in the region and able to re-draw the map that was created in the colonial era. The weak central government and the sectarian segregation create a base for this kind of extremist group. According to one estimate, ISIL now controls a third of Iraq. The strike has been so sudden and surprising that other forces haven’t yet responded, but they will. And then the long-sought goal of Zarqawi and his progeny—a vast war inside Islam—will become a reality. Without some local support, it would have been impossible for ISIL to achieve what it did in Iraq. But the great spur has been the money and recruits that its operations in Syria have won it. For many Sunni sympathizers, particularly in the Gulf, ISIS represents the front line in a long war between Sunni Islam and what they regard as linked heresies – Shia Islam in Iraq and its backer Iran, and the Alawism of the Assad regime.



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