There are many news reports stating the ISIS, an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Syria) has conquered much of northern Iraq in a huge offensive. ISIS is otherwise known as Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. They seem to be lightly armed, traveling in convoys of pickup trucks. First in a spectacular blow, the captured the entire city of Mosul, the administration buildings, TV stations, federal police, prisons and airport. During the seizure of the prisons, they freed thousands of prisoners, including many jailed rebels. The Iraqi Army reportedly did not put up much of a fight and instead fled their posts. The ISIS troops traveled through the city, telling people to not worry, that everyone would be safe, even Kurds and Shia, and that everyone should go back to work as if nothing had happened. However, about 150,000 people have already fled Mosul, forming vast traffic jams and encampments in the desert. The speed with which the city fell was shocking. Shortly thereafter, the cities of Baiji, Dhuluiya, Tikrit, and Suleiman Beg fell. Rebels were at the gates of the shrine city of Samarra. Baiji is a Sunni oil town far up on the Tigris towards Mosul. Dhuluiya is south of Samarra on the Tigris. This is traditionally a heavily Sufi area. Sufism is sort of a mystical form of Sunnism and is very popular in Iraq. They tend to be peaceful most of the time (they are sort of like Islamic hippies in a sense), but after a while, the Sufis in Dhuluiya also took up arms against the Americans. Tikrit of course is a Sunni city that was Saddam Hussein’s hometown. minorities. Suleiman Beg is a Sunni city in the desert of northeastern Iraq south of Kirkuk. The Iraqi Army may have also fled their posts quickly in Tikrit, Suleiman Beg, Baiji and Dhuluiya. Ramadi and Fallujah were conquered by the ISIS earlier and remain under total control. A battle for the control of the mixed Kurdish – Sunni – Turkmen city of Kirkuk is underway. Under withering attacks from the ISIS, the Iraqi Army abandoned Kirkuk. However, Kurdish forces quickly took over the city after the Army left and now claim to control Kirkuk. Kirkuk would be hard for the ISIS to conquer because of the large Kurdish population. The mostly Kurdish city of Tuz Khurmatu to the northeast of Baghdad towards the Iranian border is also under siege. Iraqi President Maliki is a Shia who has governed as a blatant sectarian, openly favoring Shia and persecuting any Sunni he can get his hands on. While the Americans were still in Iraq, US officers said that many times they had stood in front of Maliki and stopped him from implementing many of the sectarian projects that he was trying to prosecute. Now that the Americans are gone, Maliki has been free to persecute Sunnis as much as he wishes. Although there is a lot of bad blood between the two, I think that if Maliki had reached out to the Sunnis instead of attacking them, he would not be in the mess he is in now. These Sunni cities are falling so rapidly probably because the Sunni population of these places is so sick of Maliki that they would rather be governed by the ISIS than him. Maliki took to the microphone, denouncing the attacks and vowing to defend Baghdad to the last man. He also excoriated the Army forces who had fled their posts rather than fight, saying that they would be punished for their cowardice. The Iraqi Army recruitment center in Baghdad was flooded with young men, probably mostly Shia, after Maliki issued a call to defend the nation from the ISIS. Apparently up to 40 Sunni officers in Maliki’s forces went over to the rebels. The notion that Al Qaeda could have conquered all these cities so quickly is preposterous. The truth is that a large segment of Saddam’s former army, including the Republican Guard, the Saddam Fedayeen and the regular army, are now under the command of Saddam’s former vice president, a red-haired man named Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri. He was never caught by the Americans, was thought to have fled to Syria, and was long rumored to be involved in the anti-US insurgency from that country. His present whereabouts are unknown. Al-Douri is known to practice the Sufi form of Islam and he has named his army the The Men of the Naqshbani Army after the major Sufi order in the area. Recently, reports stated that Al-Douri had reached an agreement to form an alliance with the ISIS although Al-Douri is pretty secular ISIS are hardcore Islamists. Al-Douri’s nephew, Sabr Abd al-Aziz Al-Douri was a high-ranking general in the Republican Guard who commanded a mechanized infantry and armored division during the Iran-Iraq War. He was also head of Iraqi Military Intelligence. If men like Sabr Abd Al-Aziz are leading this fight, it is no wonder these cities have fallen so quickly. Hat tip to Pat Lang, a friend of mine, military expert and frequent guest of TV talk and news shows, for this theory. The only way that the rapid conquest of these cities by a masterful army makes any sense is if that army in the majority consists of former members of the Iraqi Army, especially the Republican Guard. So instead of seeing this as Al Qaeda conquering all this land, it is better to see it as the former Iraqi Army conquering these cities, which makes a lot more sense. In addition, it hardly makes sense that Al Qaeda would drive through Mosul on trucks with loudspeakers telling everyone, even the Shia and Kurds, that they are safe, that there is nothing to worry about, and that they should all go back to work. Al Qaeda would probably be looking for the Shia so they could persecute them at best or kill them at worst. But the Iraqi Army was never ideologically anti-Shia. In fact, most of the soldiers were Shia and many of the officer class were as well. It is true that there was a war between the Saddam’s forces and Shia forces in southern Iraq after the Iraq War ended, but those Shia were being attacked because they had taken up arms against the state, not because they were Shia per se. This army will have a hard time taking Baghdad because of the large Shia population. Samarra will probably fall soon, although at the moment, the rebels are being fought off by a powerful Iraqi Army force backed by helicopter gunships. US advisers are presently evacuating the major Iraqi Air Base at Balad on the Tigris north of Baghdad apparently because the rebels are nearby and the base may be threatened soon if it is not already. Maliki is responding to the offensive with airstrikes in Mosul, as he does have a sizable air force. The entire US War on Iraq is now looking more and more like a complete failure. All in all, this is one of the more exciting chapters in warfare that has followed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was probably the stupidest thing this county has ever done.
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