Al-Qaeda rebels take Tikrit, force 500,000 to flee Mosul

Tikrit may be remembered more for being Saddam Hussein’s home town. Today it fell to radical Sunni extremists linked to al-Qaeda as western Iraq spins out of Baghdad’s control. ISIS also tightened its grip on Mosul and took aim at the Iraqi oil infrastructure, hoping to establish its own transnational state with territory it controls in Syria:


Iraqi security officials say al-Qaida-inspired militants have seized the northern city of Tikrit.

The two officials in Baghdad told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Saddam Hussein’s hometown was under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose fighters this week took control of Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

The BBC reports that 500,000 refugees have fled Mosul to escape ISIS, and that the terrorists have seized diplomatic personnel from Turkey:

As many as 500,000 people have been forced to flee the Iraqi city of Mosul after hundreds of Islamist militants took control of it, theInternational Organization for Migration (IOM) says.

Troops were among those fleeing as the jihadists from the ISIS group took the city and much of Nineveh province.

The head of the Turkish mission in Mosul and 24 consulate officials have been seized, local sources say.

PM Nouri Maliki has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency.

The US said the development showed ISIS was a threat to the entire region.

Yes, but what is the US prepared to do about it? Not much more than cheerlead from the sidelines, according to McClatchy:

U.S. officials were quick to express solidarity with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who was elected to his post originally during the American occupation and whose administration the U.S. has backed with weapons shipments and military training. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was working closely with the Maliki government, and Brett McGurk, the State Department’s top diplomat for Iraq and Iran, pointed out via Twitter that U.S. and Iraqi soldiers “have suffered and bled together, and we will help in time of crisis.”

But the nature of that help was perhaps best encapsulated in the response of Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby that made it clear that the U.S. was unlikely to become directly involved in Iraq’s battle with ISIS. “This is for the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government to deal with,” Kirby said.

In comments Tuesday, U.S. officials left no room for direct involvement in the conflict there, where ISIS, analysts said, had demonstrated that it could successfully and simultaneously control parts of two major Iraqi cities, while battling multiple forces inside Syria, including the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah and al Qaida’s Nusra Front. …

The performance of the Iraqi military at Mosul was another source of embarrassment for American officials, who had spent billions of dollars training and equipping the Iraqi military, only to have its soldiers shed their uniforms and flee before the ISIS attackers.


As I wrote earlier, there isn’t much we can do now. Despite the predictable return of al-Qaeda and ISIS to western Iraq, the Obama administration failed to reach an agreement with the Maliki government for a residual force to support Iraq’s security services in that eventuality. We have no footprint on the ground any longer in Iraq, and other than long-range bombing missions that would do damage to the Iraqis as well as ISIS thanks to the latter’s integration into urban areas, no immediate way to impact the fight.

Our materiel on the ground is worse than useless now, thanks to the Iraqi army’s flight:

With the fall of Mosul on Tuesday, Iraq’s al Qaeda offshoot has not only seized the country’s second-largest city, it appears it also has come into possession of the heavy weapons and vehicles the U.S. military had provided Iraq’s military to fight them.

That’s terrible news for America’s few allies left in Iraq as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) morph from terrorist menace to a military force capable of over-running an army the U.S. military trained for nearly a decade. It also calls into question the American government’s decision to withdraw the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011. Three years later that withdrawal now appears premature. …

General Najim al-Jabouri, a former mayor of Tel Afar, which is a little more than 31 miles from Mosul, told The Daily Beast the bases seized by ISIS this week would provide the group with even more heavy weapons than they currently control. “The Iraqi army left helicopters, humvees, cargo planes and other heavy machine guns, along with body armor and uniforms,” the general, who is now a scholar at the National Defense University, said. He said he was able to learn about the equipment from soldiers and other politicians in and around Mosul with whom he keeps in touch.

General Najim is not alone in this assessment. Jack Keane, a retired four-star Army general who was a key adviser to General David Petraeus during the counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 known as the surge, said ISIS has now established itself as a formidable military force.


Speaking of premature, the troops we trained to replace us ended up demoralized when confronted in the field — and are now deserting in large numbers:

After months of grinding conflict against a resurgent militant movement, the Iraqi Army is having its power blunted by a rise in desertions, turning the tide of the war and fragmenting an institution, trained and funded by the United States, that some hoped would provide Iraqis a common sense of citizenship.

In a nation tearing apart along sectarian lines, Sunnis and Shiites have served together in the military. But the defections of Sunni soldiers threatened to deepen the growing perception among Iraq’s Sunnis that the military serves as an instrument of Shiite power, even while Shiites soldiers have also fled.

The toll of the desertions came into sharp relief on Tuesday, as soldiers and their commanders abandoned bases in Mosul, all but ceding Iraq’s second-largest city to extremist fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The fleeing troops left weapons, vehicles and even their uniforms behind, as militants took over at least five army installations and the city’s airport. In a desperate bid to stem the losses, the military was reduced to bombing its own bases to avoid surrendering more weapons to the enemy. American officials who had asserted that the $14 billion that the United States had spent on the Iraqi security forces would prepare them to safeguard the country after American troops left were forced to ponder images from Mosul of militants parading around captured Humvees.


The Wall Street Journal puts the blame on the Obama administration for its decision to completely abandon Iraq:

Since President Obama likes to describe everything he inherited from his predecessor as a “mess,” it’s worth remembering that when President Bush left office Iraq was largely at peace. Civilian casualties fell from an estimated 31,400 in 2006 to 4,700 in 2009. U.S. military casualties were negligible. Then CIA Director Michael Hayden said, with good reason, that “al Qaeda is on the verge of a strategic defeat in Iraq.”

Fast forward through five years of the Administration’s indifference, and Iraq is close to exceeding the kind of chaos that engulfed it before the U.S. surge. The city of Fallujah, taken from insurgents by the Marines at a cost of 95 dead and nearly 600 wounded in November 2004, fell again to al Qaeda in January. The Iraqi government has not been able to reclaim the entire city—just 40 miles from Baghdad. More than 1,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in May alone, according to the Iraq Body Count web site. …

Its promise of a “diplomatic surge” in Iraq to follow the military surge of the preceding years never materialized as the U.S. washed its hands of the country. Mr. Obama’s offer of a couple thousand troops beyond 2011 was so low that Mr. Maliki didn’t think it was worth the domestic criticism it would engender. An American President more mindful of U.S. interests would have made Mr. Maliki an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Mr. Maliki had to plead for emergency military equipment when he visited the U.S. last year, and the U.S. has mostly slow-rolled the delivery of arms. Now that stocks of U.S. military supplies have fallen into ISIS’s hands in Mosul, the Administration’s instinct will be to adopt an ultra-cautious approach to further arms deliveries. Mr. Maliki is likely to depend even more on Iran for aid, increasing the spread of the Sunni-Shiite regional conflict.

The Administration’s policy of strategic neglect toward Iraq has created a situation where al Qaeda effectively controls territories stretching for hundreds of miles through Anbar Province and into Syria. It will likely become worse for Iraq as the Assad regime consolidates its gains in Syria and gives ISIS an incentive to seek its gains further east. It will also have consequences for the territorial integrity of Iraq, as the Kurds consider independence for their already autonomous and relatively prosperous region.


We gave away all that we won in Iraq, and now the same terrorist network we have explicitly named as our enemy since 9/11 is coming close to creating its own state in the Middle East, complete with standing army and American arms. We may pretend to be able to wash our hands of this outcome, but sooner or later those oil resources will generate billions of dollars that will flood terrorist accounts and fuel attacks against Israel and the US. Right now, we don’t appear to want to do much about it, even to the extent we still can.

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David Strom 2:40 PM | July 24, 2024