The extremist takeover of Iraqi cities will put the region into chaos

  • Najim al-Din Omar Karim,

    Kirkuk province's Kurdish governor Najim al-Din Omar Karim, wearing a bullet-proof vest and holding a helmet in his hand, listens to a commander of the ...

  • Baghdad

    Mourners grieve near the coffin of a victim killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up inside a tent filled with mourners in Baghdad, ...

  • Sunni militants

    Volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants, who have taken over Mosul and other Northern provinces, travel in ...

  • Islamic State of Iraq

    Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul. (Reuters)

  • Nineveh province

    Iraqis fleeing violence in the Nineveh province wait in their vehicles at a Kurdish checkpoint in Aski kalak, 40 kms West of Arbil, the capital ...

  • Mosul

    A family fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul waits at a checkpoint in outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region. (Reuters)

  •  Baghdad

    Iraqi men line up outside of the main army recruiting center to volunteer for military service in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP/PTI)

  • Iraqi Kurdish

    An Iraqi Kurdish security guard waits to check the ID cards of Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern Nineveh province as they gather at ...

  • Families fleeing

    Families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul arrive at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region. Iraqi Kurds ...

This is the stuff of nightmares. An al Qaeda affiliate is taking over major cities in northern Iraq. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) overran Mosul on Tuesday, sparking the exodus of half a million Kurds living there.

The ISIS is now in control of Falluja, the oil refinery town of Bayji, and Saddam Hussein’s stronghold, Tikrit. The Sunni extremist group is reportedly moving towards Baghdad from both the north and west. Iraqi forces are failing to put up a fight, fleeing in places and leaving behind a huge cache of weapons. The ISIS created havoc in the Syrian civil war in recent years. Its energies have now been directed to the Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict in Iraq, which has ravaged the country since the US invasion in 2003. The Americans invaded the country and left hastily, leaving the Shiiite majority that suffered under Saddam, a Sunni, in charge. Analysts believe that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made matters worse by openly backing the Shiite majority in the sectarian conflict, thus setting the stage for a Sunni counter-reaction through ISIS.

This development has a huge bearing on the future of Iraq and the region. ISIS is expected to continue its surge in Sunni areas, where the invasion is said to enjoy a measure of popular support. There is a fear that Iraq, in time, will effectively splinter into three parts controlled by the Kurds, Shias and Sunnis. It remains to be seen if Mr Maliki and the Iraqi forces will take the fight to non-Shia areas and retake lost cities.

The US has termed the situation as “extremely serious” but it is not clear if Western nations will take steps beyond exporting weapons and urging Iraqi forces to fight. The Obama administration is facing criticism for failing to leave a troop presence in Iraq that could have ensured stability. But Washington will be wary of getting drawn again into a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Instead, it may oddly hope that Iran tackles this crisis. The US must, however, do what it can to prevent the break-up of Iraq. It is the least it can do for a country irrevocably scarred by its ill-conceived invasion.

 

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