Theories behind the ISIS takeover of Iraqi province

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A file picture taken from a video released on January 4, 2014 by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)'s al-Furqan Media allegedly shows ISIL fighters marching at an undisclosed location. (Photo: AFP-al-Furqan Media)

By: Elie Chalhoub

Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Surprising and shocking. This might be the best way to characterize the fierce attack the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) waged inside Iraq, leading to the fall of the entire Nineveh province and parts of Salah al-Din, with its forces almost reaching Baghdad.

This happened only days after a similarly fierce and shocking attack was halted at the doorsteps of the shrine of al-Imamain al-Askariyain in Samarra, as all concerned forces intervened to spare Iraq developments similar to those of 2006.

The fact that this is happening in a country where those in charge have, for over a decade now, failed to build a shadow of a state does not make the attack any less dreadful.

During the Samarra attack, the prevailing view was that ISIS wanted to destroy the shrine in an attempt to drag the country into a sectarian war from which it will stand to benefit the most. The size of the operation that ISIS waged became evident only after the fall of Mosul Airport. The city surrendered to the takfiris only hours later.

Questions emerged from every direction trying to understand what happened. How could ISIS achieve such a victory? Where was the army and the Iraqi security forces? What was the depth of the collusion? There are plenty of questions but perhaps the three most important ones are: Who decided to carry out this operation? What is its objective? And why now?

A lot of theories are being bandied about. The easiest one is the broken record on “mass migration” from Syria and the regional conspiracy led by “Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey” to take revenge against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s electoral victory which made him the sole ruler of Iraq.

No one has information to verify or deny this theory. But informed parties believe that this alleged migration is unlikely in light of the progress on the battlefield that ISIS is achieving on the Syrian front. At the same time, they scoff at the claim that the three aforementioned countries can control this organization, even if they collaborated with it at important junctures when their interests intersected.

The most logical analysis leans in two directions that meet at some point. The first argues that ISIS, which exhibited in Syria an astute ability to detect changes and deal with them smoothly and with flexibility, sensed a US-Iranian understanding on the horizon and the signs of a regional front emerging to liquidate the takfiri Islamist movement including ISIS. The seeds of this front emerged first in Syria, and its signs were detectable in Iraq given the talk about military preparations and arms deals to regain state control over al-Anbar province. All this prompted ISIS to wage a preemptive strike to fortify its positions and prepare for the crushing battle expected to come.

The second direction alludes to an operation meant to lure ISIS into a trap similar to what the United States did with Saddam Hussein before he invaded Kuwait in order to rally regional support to eliminate him.

The international reaction to the fall of Mosul reinforces the second analysis. Affirmation of Washington’s willingness to provide “all the help needed,” including weapons, quickly emerged. And the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon expressed “deep concern.”

The problem with this analysis is that it ignores the fact that with this attack, ISIS violated one of its own rules of engagement in Iraq, namely, to not engage the Kurds militarily for its own ulterior motives. It is certainly in the Kurds’ interest to keep the provinces of Nineveh, Salah al-Din and Kirkuk - most of them are disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil - in a state of upheaval. But the Kurdish authorities will not stand idly by as ISIS sets up its base on the borders of the Kurdish region, when they pride themselves on Kurdistan’s stability. This development puts Erbil and Baghdad in the same trench. The two sides have to put their differences aside to confront the imminent danger besetting both of them.

The other problem with this analysis is that it does not answer the following question: What is ISIS counting on, given that its leaders know this military operation will unite all the parties in Iraq and all concerned parties in the region against them?

Perhaps the most scandalous aspect of what happened is exposing the Iraqi regime; it not only failed at launching the process of rebuilding a devastated Iraq in light of unprecedented corruption, it also failed to rebuild its armed forces. An army that numbers around 1.1 million is unable to establish a sense of security even in the ethnically homogeneous south where takfiris succeed every now and then to block the main road between Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala. Not to mention the dozens of victims that fall daily in Baghdad and the regime’s utter failure to enter Fallujah despite the killing and wounding of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

The only positive outcome in what happened - if it is possible to use this term - is that it has pushed Iraq’s political forces fighting amongst each other to put their differences aside and quickly end the insurmountable governance crisis plaguing the country in light of the threat that besets all of them without exception. This opinion was reinforced by the position of the Shia authority in Najaf, as the decision to forge popular resistance to ISIS by arming the people was leaked. This, however, is a step whereby everyone knows how it starts but no one knows how it will end.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

"failed at launching the process of rebuilding a devastated Iraq in light of unprecedented corruption"

I doubt that there is more corruption in Iraq than the average neo-colonial country or even failed/destroyed states like Somalia, Libya or Afghanistan.

Here is my theory.

It is part of the US/UK PNAC plan to restabilize Iraq by putting Iraq back in Sunni hands (the US cannot stand Shi'ites even though most Americans don't understand the difference), unite Iraq and Syria in order to have a pipeline route from the Iraqi oilfields to the sea, get rid of Assad to keep Israel and the Saudis happy, and deprive Russia of their ally Assad and their naval base (next they will push Kiev to recapture Crimea).

It all makes sense. Obama has been handing out weapons to "moderate" jihadi groups in Syria and Libya like they were lollypops. Ambassador Stevens was reported to have been part of the weapons distribution policy and it may have been a contributing factor to his assassination.

The Iraqi oilfields are currently the potentially most profitable in the world. The oil just bubbles out the ground there unlike the older fields where liquid must be injected to force it to the surface. Uniting Iraq and Syria is all it takes to get the pipeline project going.

They could decide to double-cross ISIS after the fact like Bush did with Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega. I think that's less likely since nobody from US/EU/UK wants to put more boots on the ground.

It's all about the oil (and Israel and Saudi Arabia) like it ALWAYS is.

This is an example of the utter nonsense and hypocritical takhween from the fanatical sectarian Ibrahim al-Amin:
http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/208496

totally ignoring the treachery of Nouri al-Maliki who was cemented in power by the Americans and who is begging the Americans to intervene, the treachery card used by the "Axis of Resistance" isn't worth the wing of a fly.

Your ridiculous know-nothing comments are a joke as are your grasping-at-straws takhween, the only reason the Neo-IbnAlqami Maliki is in power was because of his collaboration with the Americans, something the bogus Axis of Treachery, starting with the Majoosi regime in Iran to the fanatical partisan, Hasan Nasr-Shaytan and his flock never dared to condemn because of their extreme sectarianism, and now Maliki is begging the Americans to intervene.

But do you know what the munafiq Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his Jaysh Iblisi have done ?

Nothing which hasn't been done by Bashar and other Shi'ites throughout history, your ilk are drenched in blood just as much as them.

I do not see the Kurds cooperating with Bagdad on this. I think they will make an arragement with ISIS just as they did with Turkey. They will use ISIS as a buffer and de facto independence is closer to reality.

Is that thinking or wishful thinking?

Sorry Barry, I don't see the Kurds cooperating with the ISIS either. The ISIS are rabid, and they are known for not keeping their word on deals, including the very classical and corny "suicide bomber disguised as peace envoy" ploy. That was against the FSA in Syria.

It's part of their ideology, they are the "State" and "Envoy of God", so all others are subordinate to them, anyone not submitting is in rebellion and there is no "negotiation".

It sounds like a joke, like a classical movie villain, but the biggest joke is that it really IS their mindset. If you showed me a movie with someone like that, I would have called it lazy writing. Looks like real life is a lazy writer too.

Hate to say that it looks like I am proving right (not wishful thinking at all). There are no Kurdish forces advancing. They are buckling down on defending their own turf and some mixed areas.
Not saying they like or trust ISIS. They did not like or trust Turks and now they are business partners. ISIS just looted the national bank. They are richer than the Saudis right now.
The Kurds have no interest in saving the Iraqi state. The Sunnis gassed them. The Shia did everything they could to undermine their perceived self-determination. They have a huge force that can take on anyone. They would rather sit this one out, I think. Looks like as of writing, I was not far off.
I agree with you that these crazed Islamic militias like Boko Haram and ISIS make Hamas look like American college students on spring break in Mexico. They are cartoon characters bent on dragging those around them into the 7th century. How a couple thousand of them were able to pretty much conquer north and central Iraq is beyond belief.

How can it be beyond your belief when it is illicitly supported by and your allies?

You live in a fantasy world, like so many in the Middle East. You think that Jews and America and perhaps the Saudis control everything but sometimes things just happen due to confluences of events. The Berlin Wall fell when Bush 1 did not want it to. he tried to salvage the Soviet Union too.
Israel is the only country in the region without a dog in the fight, but people like you cannot believe that the peoples there are falling into a medieval religious war all by themselves. You keep imagining who pulls the strings while in reality, the string is on fire.

" sometimes things just happen due to confluences of events". Are trying to iply that the Zionist rape of Plestine and the ethnic cleansing performed by the Zionists just happened like that? I advise you to read what the Israeli new historians like Ilan Pape and Avi Shlaim hve to say about all this. Or are you going to tell me that they are self haters?

Eirher your are so naive and uninformed or you are trying to convince me that you are innocent and not malicious. If you are the former, than you are to be pitied for your ignorance. If you are the latter, your are absolutely unconvincing . You neither respect the laws of logic nor do you respect the facts. You do not seem to realize how unimpressive you are in making such delusive statements.

This same week we were reading in the US about deliveries of F-16's to Iraq. Al-Maliki needs to make up his mind. Is he an Iraqi or a US sub-contractor?
How about foreign intelligence agencies giving guidance to the seizure of Mosul etc.? It sounds a little ridiculous after you make clear here that ISIS is "in touch" and al-Maliki is "out of touch"--though you overstate by far ISIS's successes in Syria. This operation sounds more, as you say, like a last gasp, last attempt, but it also sounds like some foreign agency might have calculated that ISIS was ready to try for a "big win" just when that foreign agency was looking for some way to put Shiism in serious crisis just when it seems to be emerging from the Taef-Accord-type of penal sequestration.
In general, that is Israel's foreign policy from the beginning and before: destroy the region so "exceptionalism" can live. So the question here is, what do people in and for Israel think of this: are they ready for Armageddon as this step brings it a lot closer: a world in flames?

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