Iraq’s disintegration may be imminent, as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears incapable of stopping the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The terrorist offshoot of al Qaeda now has its sights set on the capital city of Baghdad. Adding to the chaos, the city of Kirkuk was overtaken by Kurdish soldiers absent any resistance by government forces. After having ignored the prescient warnings of Iraq’s fragility post-U.S. abandonment, the Obama administration and Democratic Party’s determination to end America’s involvement in Iraq irrespective of events on the ground is rapidly approaching its inevitable—and disastrous—conclusion.
Those events on the ground are changing dramatically and quickly. On Tuesday, after only five days of resistance, the city of Mosul fell into terrorist hands as ISIS seized government buildings, the airport, and large quantities of U.S.-supplied weaponry, when Iraqi security forces and police reportedly abandoned their posts and joined the 500,000 refugees fleeing the city of 1.8 million residents. ISIS fighters also freed up to 2,400 prisoners from jails in the northern Nineveh province, reprising the successful raids they conducted against the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons last July. On Wednesday the Turkish consulate was also taken and its diplomatic staff was kidnapped, precipitating an emergency gathering of Turkish officials by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss their options.
Yet by far the most daunting aspect of Mosul’s seizure are reports that the terrorist organization gained access to $500 billion Iraqi dinars, or $425 million, making it one of the richest, if not the richest, terrorist organization in the world. Gunmen initially looted Mosul’s central bank, and according to Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of the Nineveh province, they garnered additional funds from numerous banks across the city as well as a “large quantity of gold bullion.” Regional analyst Brown Moses tweeted that such a windfall will “buy a whole lot of Jihad,” further noting that “with $425 million, ISIS could pay 60,000 fighters around $600 a month for a year.”
In Kirkuk, Kurdish security forces known as the “Peshmerga” took control Tuesday of the oil-rich city that has been the focus of a long-running dispute between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds. The Kurds have autonomous control of their own region in the northern part of the nation, and while Kirkuk sits just outside of that area, the Kurds have long considered it to be their historical capital. And once again, government security forces fled without a fight. “The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga,” said Secretary-General of the Ministry of Peshmerga Jabbar Yawar. “No Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk now.”
Maliki, who in an earlier televised conference called a national emergency while urging the public and government to unite “to confront this vicious attack, which will spare no Iraqi,” alluded to the fact that military was disloyal. He also called for a 10 PM curfew in Baghdad and the surrounding towns, while Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for the formation of “peace units to defend the holy sites of both Muslims and Christians in Iraq, in cooperation with the government.” Other Shi’ite leaders reported that four brigades known as the Kataibe Brigade, the Assaib Brigade, the Imam al-Sadr Brigade and the armed wing of the Badr Organization had been hastily assembled to protect Baghdad and the government. Each group contains 2500-3000 fighters.
Wednesday also saw the capture of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s former hometown, by ISIS forces, but by yesterday, state-run Iraqiya TV claimed the city had been re-captured by government forces. Yet a later report by Al-Sumaria television indicated the battle for control of the city was ongoing.
By late Wednesday, ISIS was joined by Sunni militants alienated from Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government, and together they were battling government forces at the northern entrance of Samarra, a city only 70 miles north of Baghdad. Samarra is home to the Askariya Shrine, one of the Shi’ites’ most treasured religious symbols. Its golden dome was shattered by a bomb in 2006 in an effort to ignite a sectarian civil war, and ISIS commanders once again threatened to destroy it if those defending it refused to lay down their arms.
It was initially reported that government soldiers offered little resistance, leading to speculation that they have been ordered to surrender. In an interview, a local commander in the Salahuddin Province that contains the city of Tikrit, confirmed that assessment. “We received phone calls from high-ranking commanders asking us to give up,” he claimed. “I questioned them on this, and they said, ‘This is an order.’ ” Residents of Tikrit also reported that government soldiers willingly gave up their weapons and uniforms to the militants, a notable deviation from the expectation that they would be killed on the spot.
By Thursday, the battle for Samarra had reportedly tilted in the government’s favor. The Long War Journal noted attempts by ISIS to enter the city had been blunted by government forces that stopped an armed convoy from entering the city. Aircraft deployed by the government were part of the equation, as were the aforementioned Shi’ite brigades organized for the battle.
The battle for Tikrit had reportedly turned as well—courtesy of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Two battalions of the Quds Forces have been sent to aid Maliki, and combined Iraqi-Iranian forces have retaken 85 percent of that city, according to security forces from both nations. The combined forces were also helping the government retain control of Baghdad and Najaf and Kabala. While Iran is helping a fellow Shi’ite ally, keeping ISIS out of Najaf and Kabala, which are sacred sites on a par with Mecca and Medina.
Unfortunately, Thursday also saw Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish factions boycott a meeting of the Iraqi parliament preventing a quorum from being attained for a vote on declaring the national state of emergency requested by Maliki, two days earlier. The factions, already alienated by Maliki’s preferential treatment of the nation’s Shi’ite majority, were adamantly opposed to giving extraordinary powers to the Shi’ite Prime Minister.
That reality was also reflected by reports that a number of former Ba’athist military commanders from the Hussein era had joined forced with ISIS in the effort to overthrow the Maliki regime. “These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”
In other words, the ultimate stability of the government—and Iraq itself— remains very much in question.
In the meantime, reports indicate that Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider providing air support to his government, in the form of drones, airmen and drone pilots. “What we really need right now are drone strikes and air strikes,” said a senior Iraqi official Wednesday. Such appeals have so far been rebuffed. Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to comment on the requests. “We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions,” she said in a statement. “The current focus of our discussions with the government of Iraq and our policy considerations is to build the capacity of the Iraqis to successfully confront” ISIS. However, on Thursday afternoon, President Obama hinted at some flexibility. “I don’t rule out anything,” he said in response to a question about possible air strikes. “We do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria.”
Such a statement strains credulity. For the last three years the president and his administration have done nothing to mitigate the rise of ISIS, which has transformed itself from a terrorist group into a full blown army that controls a cross-border swath of territory from Mosul up through the Anbar province, and west to the Syrian town of Al Bab on the outskirts of Aleppo. “This organization has grown into a military organization that is no longer conducting terrorist activities exclusively but is conducting conventional military operations,” said retired four-star Army Gen. Jack Keane, who was a key advisor to Gen. David Petraeus during the war in Iraq. “They are attacking Iraqi military positions with company-and battalion-size formations. And in the face of that the Iraqi security forces have not been able to stand up to it.”
That inability is a direct consequence of Obama’s determination to completely withdraw from Iraq in December of 2011, irrespective of events on the ground and advice of military commanders. Withdrawal was precipitated by the president’s failure to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed some U.S. troops to remain in country. And while the media prefer to blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the fault lies squarely with a president who demonstrated a calculated indifference towards negotiating a deal in 2011 similar to the one George W. Bush procured in 2008 under far more difficult circumstances.
The result was President Obama’s commitment of only 3000-5000 troops to Iraq following the 2011 withdrawal. That number seriously undercut the recommendations of his military commanders who had asked for 20,000 troops to carry out such missions as counterterrorist operations, diplomat support — and the training and support for Iraqi security forces. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen would have been satisfied with 10,000 troops, but Obama rejected this. The Maliki government, already risking a domestic backlash for keeping any troops in the nation, concluded that the political risks involved weren’t worth it when Obama was so transparently unserious.
His fellow Democrats are no better. Ever since the 2004 presidential campaign, when anti-war activist Howard Dean temporarily vaulted to the head of the Democratic pack of presidential contenders, many of the same Democrats who initially supported the war began their long and ultimately successful campaign to undermine it in order to gain political advantage. This includes current Secretary of State John Kerry, who had said there was “no question in my mind that Saddam Hussein has to be toppled one way or another,” Vice President Joe Biden, who said that “Saddam either has to be separated from his weapons or taken out of power,” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who cast her vote for war authorization “with conviction.” By the 2004 election, however — after unanimously voting to demolish the country’s existing political infrastructure — these Democrats spoke of little else but abandoning Iraq and allowing it to degenerate into the sectarian chaos on display today.
After ten years, the Left’s wish for Iraq has finally been realized. Democrats are now in a lurch justifying the descent of the country. Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Clinton hypocritically bemoaned the “dreadful, deteriorating situation,” which she herself played a role in engineering, and claimed she “could not have predicted the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create a new state.” However, the rise of ISIS, due to the dramatic withdrawal of U.S. forces, has been predicted for quite some time. Just last February, a threat assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency asserted that the ISIS “probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria . . . as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah,” due to the weak security environment “since the departure of U.S. forces at the end of 2011.”
Obama, Clinton and the rest of the Democratic Party received ample warning about where their sabotage of Iraq would lead. And despite the clear disaster unfolding in the country, Obama and his party will reprise the same inadequate troop level/scheduled departure strategy in Afghanistan. Does a similar fiasco await us there? Americans should expect nothing less from a party at the helm that conflates abandoning wars with winning them.
Don’t miss Daniel Greenfield on this week’s Glazov Gang discussing “How Obama Surrendered Iraq”: