The Iraqi Collapse

For most Americans, there’s a sort of numbing familarity to any bad news from Iraq, combined–now that U.S. forces are no longer at the center of that country’s violence–a strong temptation to filter it all out. But the catastrophe apparently underway in that country right now is hard to ignore, viz. these snippets from the latest report by the Guardian:

Iraq is facing its gravest test since the US-led invasion more than a decade ago, after its army capitulated to Islamist insurgents who have seized four cities and pillaged military bases and banks, in a lightning campaign which seems poised to fuel a cross-border insurgency endangering the entire region

The extent of the Iraqi army’s defeat at the hands of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) became clear on Wednesday when officials in Baghdad conceded that insurgents had stripped the main army base in the northern city of Mosul of weapons, released hundreds of prisoners from the city’s jails and may have seized up to $480m in banknotes from the city’s banks.

Iraqi officials told the Guardian that two divisions of Iraqi soldiers – roughly 30,000 men – simply turned and ran in the face of the assault by an insurgent force of just 800 fighters. Isis extremists roamed freely on Wednesday through the streets of Mosul, openly surprised at the ease with which they took Iraq’s second largest city after three days of sporadic fighting….

As security unravelled in the country’s north and centre, the radical Shia Islamic leader Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to reform the Mahdi army – a key protagonist in the sectarian war that nearly ripped Iraq apart in the wake of the US invasion. Militias had primacy nationwide during the worst of the war years and are once again ascendant as the Iraqi military’s authority crumbles….

Statements released by the [Isis] claimed that the assault on Mosul was the beginning of the end of the Sykes Picot agreement – the post-colonial settlement which in 1916 enshrined the nation states of Syria and Lebanon and influenced the drawing of the Jordan and Iraq borders. Isis commanders say they are fighting to destroy the post-Ottoman nation state borders and restore a caliphate that submits to fundamentalist Islamic law.

The group has been steadily building towards such an outcome, rampaging first through northern Syria and then back into Anbar province, the heartland of its earliest incarnation almost 10 years ago. Along the way, it has steadily accrued weapons and gained confidence, storming unopposed into towns and cities that were notionally protected by the best trained and armed military in the Arab world….

“I know the reasons why the army collapsed,” [Prime Minister Nour] Maliki said. “But now is not the time to point the blame to whoever ordered the army to fall back. Even if it’s a ploy, the generals who are responsible must be held accountable. A conspiracy has led Isis to occupy Mosul. Whoever is responsible will not get away with that they did.”

I would underline the third and final graphs: the U.S.-trained and heavily supplied Iraqi Army basically fled from the militants, and the government for which they fight is accusing its leaders of participating in a conspiracy to surrender. Meanwhile, the sectarian militias the Iraq Army is supposed to have supplanted appear to be taking up arms again. And Iraq’s border with war-torn Syria has all but vanished.

This is the stuff of geopolitical nightmares, aside from the fresh suffering of a long-suffering people.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.