I don’t really have the brain power left right now to write anything interesting about this, but there was absolutely huge news out of Iraq today when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the capital of the northern Nineveh Province. The Iraqi government has declared a state of emergency, obviously, but it’s not immediately clear what Maliki can do to regain control of the city. I don’t think he can pound Mosul with airstrikes and artillery the way he’s been doing with Fallujah; for one thing, Mosul is a more important city that controls the northern oil fields, so it has to be treated more carefully, and for another thing, what Maliki has been doing in Fallujah has pretty much totally failed. Sending ground troops in, though, could be a huge mistake, since ISIS fighters are likely better trained in urban fighting and have been building up a base in the city for a couple of years now:
“We can’t beat them. We can’t. They are well trained in street fighting, and we’re not,” an Iraqi army officer told Reuters on Tuesday after the city of Mosul fell into the hands of Al-Qaeda-inspired fighters. “They’re like ghosts: They appear to hit, and disappear within seconds.”
The specter of Al-Qaeda, however, is real. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have been visible in Iraq’s second largest city for years, coming out in full strength after U.S. troops withdrew at the end of 2011. For at least the past year, elements of the ISIL have been running an extortion racket in Mosul, targeting trucking companies and taxing local businesses for “protection” — further bolstering their financial independence from other armed groups.
Aside from Mosul’s importance in its own right, it’s the first major Iraqi city to fall to ISIS outside of the Anbar cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, which were already mostly out of government control because of the Anbar uprisings before ISIS moved in. This suggests that the insurgency is growing (maybe because Maliki’s State of Law coalition just won the parliamentary elections in spite of the fact that big chunks of the country don’t like Maliki very much any more) and/or that the ability of Iraqi security forces to repel it is declining. Also, and this is no small thing either, Nineveh, which ISIS now mostly controls, runs along a big chunk of the Iraq-Syria border, which you might imagine would be important to a paramilitary organization that has active operations going on in both countries. Definitely a situation that needs to be monitored.