There’s more news today from Iraq, most of it bad and getting worse. ABC reports that the Kurdish Peshmerga have advanced to the south to seize Jalula in order to help relieve the Iraqi army forces in Baquba, but not with too much success. The Peshmerga have fought more effectively than the Iraqis, but they cannot blunt the momentum of ISIS on their own. As this video shows (some of which has graphic images from a BBC camera crew caught in a firefight), the Kurds can’t convince the local Sunni tribal chiefs to switch sides back to the Baghdad government:
Rawah fell to Isis overnight:
The mayor of a town northwest of Baghdad says it has fallen into the hands of Sunni militants, the second to be captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the mainly Sunni Anbar province.
Mayor Hussein AIi al-Aujail said the local army and police force in Rawah pulled out when the militants took control.
ISIS also seized Qaim, a town on the Syrian border, after a lengthy battle with the Iraqi army. That gives ISIS control of a border crossing and pushes the Iraqis further into retreat. It also allows for greater flow of heavier arms into Anbar:
Sunni militants have seized an Iraqi crossing on the border with Syria after a daylong battle in which they killed some 30 Iraqi troops, security officials said Saturday.
The capture of the Qaim border crossing deals a further blow to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which has struggled to push back against Islamic extremists and allied militants who have seized large swaths of the country, including the second largest city Mosul, and who have vowed to march on Baghdad.
Police and army officials said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and allied militants seized the crossing near the border town of Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad, after battling Iraqi troops all day Friday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media, said people were now crossing back and forth freely.
Sunni militants have carved out a large fiefdom astride the Iraqi-Syrian border and have long traveled back and forth with ease, but the control of crossings allows them to more easily move weapons and heavy equipment to different battlefields.
The Sunni-Shi’ite battle may not be the only divide in Iraq, either. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’ite militia, dormant for years, held a military parade in Baghdad yesterday to show their defiance of ISIS and their Sunni allies, but also perhaps to Nouri al-Maliki. The prime minister has pleaded with the US for assistance against ISIS, but Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi forces went into the streets chanting “No, no to America”:
The parade, which was called for by Sadr, began with mud-smeared trucks mounted with tubes for launching rockets. Then came rank upon rank of fighters, most dressed in camouflage uniforms but some wearing black, armed with weapons including Kalashnikov assault rifles, shotguns, Dragunov sniper rifles, light machineguns and rocket launchers.
Armed guards watched over the parade, most with assault rifles but some carrying heavier weapons. Some units shouted “Mahdi”, the name of the 12th revered Shiite imam, every four steps as a cadence as they marched. One unit chanted the full name “Jaysh al-Mahdi”, or “Mahdi Army” — Sadr’s officially inactive militia that battled American forces in past years.
Some of the fighters at the lead of units carried Iraqi flags, while others held signs with messages including “We sacrifice for you, oh Iraq,” “No, no to terrorism,” and “No, no to America”.
A Sadr lieutenant made it more explicit:
A Shia cleric loyal to anti-US cleric Moqtada al Sadr has warned that the 300 US military advisers en route to Iraq will be attacked.
In a sermon from Baghdad’s Sadr City district, Nassir al Saedi threatened what he called “the occupier”, saying: “We will be ready for you if you are back.” …
Al Saedi’s threats highlight a potentially dangerous secondary front for US forces heading to Iraq. Moqtada al Sadr’s militia fought the Americans in at least two rounds of street warfare during the eight years US troops were on the ground there.
Speaking of welcomes, Maliki’s may have expired too:
The fall of the border crossing came as al-Maliki faces mounting pressure to form an inclusive government or step aside, with both Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the White House strongly hinting he is in part to blame for the worst crisis since U.S. troops withdrew from the country at the end of 2011.
If al-Maliki were to relinquish his post now, according to the constitution the president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would assume the job until a new prime minister is elected. But the ailing Talabani has been in Germany for treatment since 2012, so his deputy, Khudeir al-Khuzaie, a Shiite, would step in for him.
Shiite politicians familiar with the secretive efforts to remove al-Maliki said two names mentioned as replacements are former vice president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite and French-educated economist, and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who served as Iraq’s first prime minister after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Others include Ahmad Chalabi, a one-time Washington favorite to lead Iraq, and Bayan Jabr, another Shiite who served as finance and interior minister under al-Maliki.
The return of Sadr will split the Shi’ites just as ISIS is convincing the Sunnis to unite under their banner. That does not bode well for the defense of Baghdad, which has a significant population of both. Unless the Iraqi political leadership can find a way to demonstrate real leadership and end the divisions in the capital, it may be time for everyone else to get to Basra — or Dubai, or as far away as they can get.
But there may be one bright spot today, and it comes from the New York Times. Not all is well in the Sunni alliance either:
In a sign of a split in the coalition of Sunni Muslim forces supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militants clashed with an Iraqi Baathist faction allied with them, Iraqi security officials said on Saturday.
The clashes took place in western Kirkuk and the suburb of Hawija, a longtime stronghold of the Men of the Army of Naqshbandia, a group formed by former army officers who served under Saddam Hussein andjoined with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in its drive through Iraq.
A security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy, said militants from the two factions fought one another Friday night after ISIS tried to disarm the Naqshbandia. However, someone in Hawija who witnessed the clash said the two factions had fought over control of gasoline and oil tanker trucks brought by the Sunni militants from the refinery at Baiji, which they have been attacking for nearly a week now. …
The Naqshbandia group was formed under the leadership of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Hussein’s few top commanders to escape capture by the American military. The group includes Baathist party members and former military officers, and has a Sufi, nationalist philosophy that is at odds with the ISIS ideology.
Douri was one the “deck of cards” targets of the 2003 invasion that managed to slip away from US forces. He was the King of Clubs, and probably one of the more recognizable of Saddam Hussein’s leadership due to his red hair. Since 2007, he has led the banned Ba’ath Party in Iraq, and spent the last year encouraging a Sunni uprising in Anbar and Nineveh against Maliki. ISIS serves those purposes, but Douri won’t be looking to share power if he gets to Baghdad. He’ll be looking to run the show — and may already be exerting his power to take command now. If Douri ends up on top, the Sunni tribal leaders will not be easily swayed back to the government fold.