Tuesday, June 10, 2014

ISIS in Mosul

With two million people, Mosul is Iraq's second largest city.  Its capture by the former al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS is thus a major coup:
The capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — an offshoot of Al Qaeda — and its allies followed four days of fighting in the northern city and attacks in other towns.

Residents said ISIL black flags and banners were flying on captured government buildings...

In a speech on Tuesday, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister Nouri Al Maliki urged the international community to support his country in its fight against “terrorism” and asked parliament to declare a state of emergency.

State television said the speaker of parliament had scheduled an emergency session for Thursday to vote on the motion, which requires a two-thirds majority...

On Monday, governor Atheel Nujaifi made a televised plea to the people of Mosul to stand their ground and fight. Hours later, Mr Nujaifi himself narrowly escaped the provincial headquarters in Mosul after militants besieged it.

Mr Nujaifi’s brother Osama, who is parliament speaker, called on the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to deploy the region’s peshmerga forces to Mosul and wrest it back from “terrorists”.

The KRG’s prime minister Nechirvan Barzani said his region had tried to coordinate with Iraqi federal authorities to protect Mosul, but Baghdad’s stance had made it impossible.
First, for those who are confused about the group's name, it includes in addition to the Iraq the word "al-Sham."  This refers historically to a sort of greater region of Syria much the same as the somewhat dated English term "Levant."  At the same time, even though Syria's official name in Arabic is "Suriya," you will hear people use "Sham" to refer to the country.  Hence, depending on your translation, you get either ISIS or ISIL.

ISIS/L was formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, and since 2010 has been led by a man named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, about whom little is known for sure.  It became involved in Syria's civil war, and birthed an offshoot, Jabhat al-Nusra, also an al-Qaeda affiliate.  However, sometime in 2013, it had a falling out with al-Qaeda Central and JN; the former has disowned it, and the latter is part of a coalition of Syria rebel groups that are now fighting ISIS as well as the regime. 

ISIS still, however, controls a swathe of territory along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria and western Iraq.  Adding Mosul along the upper Tigris is a significant addition to its burgeoning state. Indeed, given its growth and battlefield successes, it is fair to ask whether it is now more important than al-Qaeda Central under Osama bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.  In addition to the wide swathe of central Middle Eastern territory it controls, it has cells in at least Turkey and Lebanon.

The fall of Mosul also has ramifications for Iraqi politics, especially during the coalition-building period after the recent parliamentary elections.  As noted above, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for a nationwide state of emergency, one which would give the already autocratic leader broad new powers.  The article also notes the possibility that Kurdish forces could play a role in attempts to retake Mosul, a possibility which is caught up in relations between the Kurds and al-Maliki's government.

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