Isis insurgents seize control of Iraqi city of Mosul
Maliki seeks to declare state of emergency after Sunni militants with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant overrun northern city
Islamic extremists have seized control of much of Mosul in northern Iraqafter troops abandoned their posts and government buildings, in a serious blow to Baghdad’s efforts to slow a raging insurgency.
After four days of fighting in which the country’s third most populous city all but slipped from its grasp, Baghdad announced it would arm citizens in a bid to curb the threat from extremists in three cities and much of the northern countryside. Details about the plan were initially sparse, but Iraqi officials suggested a collaboration between tribal leaders and the US military that quelled an insurgency in 2007 might be used as a template.
The incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said during a televised news conference that he had asked the Iraqi parliament to declared a state of emergency.
Officials in Mosul say the city is now effectively in the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), a group inspired by al-Qaida that has remained in control of parts of Falluja and Ramadi for the past six months. Isis has carved out a cross-border swath of influence in Syria; from al-Bab, east of Aleppo, through the lawless eastern deserts and into Anbar province, Iraq.
The Iraqi military has been unable to stop Isis’s advances, or the multiple-bombing campaigns the Sunni extremist group frequently launches in an effort to disrupt the country’s Shia power base and to re-establish a caliphate governed by fundamentalist Islamic law.
With its authority steadily crumbling, Iraq has asked the Obama administration to provide it with missiles and artillery. Iraq has not sought a return of US forces and Barack Obama has been deeply reluctant to commit to deploying troops in the region.
Strategic posts in Mosul were seized after four days of running battles with security forces, many of which withdrew on Tuesday after hundreds of extremists armed with assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launches edged closer to the city centre.
Militants released prisoners from the city’s prisons and are reported to have raised the Isis flag above civic buildings. Developments appear to have caught senior Iraqi officials off-guard in Baghdad, where Maliki has been trying for the past six weeks to assemble a coalition that would secure him a third term as leader after parliamentary elections in May.
In a statement released on Tuesday, he said he would create a leadership group responsible for sourcing and arming residents. He offered no details of when arming might take place, or who might receive weapons.
Maliki had positioned himself as the only Iraqi politician who could stand up to Isis. But his forces have been unable to win back Fallujah, or Ramadi and seem increasingly impotent as the insurgency gathers steam.
Iraqi officials believe about 6,000 Isis militants are in Iraq, although the number could be several thousand greater with members regularly crossing the porous border with Syria. The group’s leadership is almost exclusively comprised of Iraqis, battle-hardened by close to a decade-long insurgency against US forces and a gruelling civil war against the country’s Shias. But its rank and file hails from all corners of the Arab world, as well as Europe, south Asia and south-east Asia.
Isis played a prominent role in Syria’s civil war throughout last year, subverting both moderate and Islamist groups lined up in against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the north of the country. Its influence, though, was sharply curtailed earlier this year when opposition groups ousted it from Idlib and Aleppo, two Syrian cities where it had been most active.
Ever since, Isis leaders have consolidated their power base in the eastern city of Raqqa while intensifying their operations in Iraq. Mosul had remained restive even after the Awakening project, which quelled an earlier jihadist insurgency in 2007.
Then, as now, jihadists aspiring to restore a caliphate, had imposed a ruthless hardline regime upon communities that had initially agreed to host them. The « Anbar awakening » helped to bring relative normality to Falluja and Ramadi until late last year, but Mosul and its surroundings were still largely ungovernable.