Monday, June 16, 2014

Iraq: Update--ISIL Sunni Fighters Stop Short of Baghdad, Excersing a Prudent Strategy

According to Reuters, Sunni insurgents seized a mainly ethnic Turkmen city in northwestern Iraq on Sunday (June 15) after heavy fighting, solidifying their grip on the north after a lightning offensive that threatens to neutralize Iraqi security forces.

Residents reached by telephone in the city of Tal Afar said it had fallen to the rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after a battle that saw heavy casualties on both sides.

Tal Afar is a short drive west from Mosul, the north's main city, which the ISIL fighters seized last week at the start of a drive that has plunged the country into the worst crisis since US troops withdrew in 2011.

The advance has alarmed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite supporters in Iran as well as in the US, which helped bring al-Maliki to power after its 2003 invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

In the face of the mounting security crisis, Washington on Sunday ordered military personnel to boost security for its diplomatic staff in Baghdad and said some staff were being evacuated from the embassy as the Iraqi government attempted to hold off insurgents. 

The US is also considering holding discussions with Iran on ways to push back Sunni militants in Iraq, a senior official said on Sunday, in what would mark a major step in US engagement with its longtime adversary. 

COMMENT: After sweeping through towns in the Tigris Valley north of Baghdad, ISIL fighters appear to have halted their advance just outside the capital, instead moving to tighten their grip on the north. 

ISIL fighters aim to establish a caliphate on both sides of the Syria-Iraqi frontier based on strict medieval Sunni Muslim precepts. Their advance has been assisted by other Sunni Muslim armed groups.

President Barack Obama hopefully is now kicking himself that perhaps he did not devote sufficient energy forcing al-Maliki in accepting  a residual Allied security force designed to safeguard Iraq's internal security.

Unfortunately, President Obama must now face the prospects that air power alone will be insufficient to neutralize the Sunni fighters of the ISIL and that ground troops from the Arab League will be an essential component of stopping the Sunni advance. 

In Baghdad on Sunday (June 15), a suicide attacker detonated explosives in a vest he was wearing, killing at least nine people and wounding 20 in a crowded street in the center of the capital, police and medical sources said.

In years of fighting on both sides of the frontier, ISIL has gained a reputation for shocking brutality. It considers Shi'ites to be heretics deserving of death and sends bombers daily to kill hundreds of Iraqi civilians each month.

Captions accompanying photographs said they revealed hundreds of Iraqi deserters who were captured as they attempted to flee the fighting. They were depicted being transported in trucks and led to an open field where they were laid down in rows and shot by masked gunmen.

Obama has come under fire at home for failing to do more to bolster Baghdad. Oil prices have risen to the highest level this year over fears of the violence disrupting exports from the world's second largest oil producer.

If anyone should be concerned for his "skin," it should be al-Maliki.