Iraq Update: Jihadists Seize 2 More Iraqi Towns; Close To 30 Miles Of Baghdad; Iran Rushes To Help
While the US scrambles to figure out what the least painful way is to admit yet another humiliating foreign policy defeat, things in Iraq continue to deteriorate as the relentless blitzkrieg unleashed by the ISIS/ISIL Al-Qaeda spin off, which has shocked everyone by its speed and scale, takes two more towns, as it rushes for its target: Baghdad itself.
As Reuters reports, "Islamist rebel fighters captured two more Iraqi towns overnight in a relentless sweep south towards the capital Baghdad in a campaign to recreate a medieval caliphate carved out of fragmenting Iraq and Syria. Thrusting further to the southeast after their lightning seizure of the major Iraqi city of Mosul in the far north and the late dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, ISIL entered two towns in Diyala province bordering Iran. Saadiyah and Jalawla had fallen to the Sunni Muslim insurgents after government troops fled their positions, along with several villages around the Himreen mountains that have long been a hideout for militants, security sources said."
As the following map shows, as of this moment the Al Qaeda extremeists are now just 30 miles away from Baghdad and closing fast, although Iraqi forces may have succeded in halting the advance for now near the town of Samarra.
What the map above also shows is the extensive US presence in the region, one which however as Obama stated yesterday, he is so far unwilling to unleash on the ISIS army.
Obama said military action alone was no panacea against ISIL. He alluded to long-standing Western complaints that Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has done little to heal sectarian rifts that have left many of Iraq's minority Sunnis, cut out of power since Saddam's demise, aggrieved and keen for revenge.
"This should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government. There has to be a political component to this," Obama said.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden assured Maliki by telephone that Washington was prepared to intensify and accelerate its security support. The White House had signaled on Wednesday it was looking to strengthen Iraqi forces rather than meet what one U.S. official said were past Iraqi requests for air strikes.
But fears of jihadist violence spreading may increase pressure for robust international action. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said international powers "must deal with the situation".
In Mosul, ISIL staged a parade of American Humvee patrol vehicles seized from a collapsing Iraqi army in the two days since its fighters drove out of the desert and overran the city.
The parade can be seen in the clip below:
So will Baghdad fall as rapidly as all other cities in the north? For now that appears unlikely:
ISIL and its allies took control of Falluja at the start of the year. It lies just 50 km (30 miles) west of Maliki's office. ISIL has set up military councils to run the towns they captured, residents said. “'Our final destination will be Baghdad, the decisive battle will be there' - that’s what their leader kept repeating," said a regional tribal figure.
The senior U.N. official in Iraq assured the Security Council that Baghdad was in "no immediate danger". The council offered unanimous support to the government and condemned "terrorism".
As with the concurrent war in Syria, the conflict cuts across global alliances. The United States and Western and Gulf Arab allies back the mainly Sunni revolt against the Iranian-backed Syrian President Assad, but have had to watch as ISIL and other Islamists have come to dominate large parts of Syria.
Now the Shi'ite Islamic Republic of Iran, which in the 1980s fought Saddam for eight years at a time when the Sunni Iraqi leader enjoyed quiet U.S. support, may share an interest with the "Great Satan" Washington in bolstering mutual ally Maliki.
The global oil benchmark prices have jumped, as concerns mounted that the violence could disrupt supplies from a major OPEC exporter. Iraq's main oil export facilities are in the largely Shi'ite areas in the south and were "very, very safe", Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi said.
Until they aren't. As a reminder, ISIS's immediate ambition is to create an independent religious state-entity/caliphate that looks like this:
Which probably is why none other than the country's most senior Shiite cleric urged broad mobilization, telling people across the land to take arms:
A representative of Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged people in a sermon at Friday prayers to take up arms and defend their country from mostly Sunni insurgents.
Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, who was delivering the sermon at prayers in the city of Kerbala, holy to Iraq's majority Shi'ites, said those killed fighting the militants would be martyrs.
"People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defence of their country... should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal," Karbalai said.
In response, worshippers chanted "Labbeik Ya Hussein", meaning they would act at the behest of Imam Hussein, who is buried in a shrine in Kerbala.
But what virtually assures that it is only a moment of time before the situation spirals out of control is the arrival of Iran troops who are now being sent to guard Baghdad, and fight Al Qaeda:
Reports coming out of security sources in Iran say that two battalions of Quds Force troops from the nation’s Revolutionary Guard have deployed into neighboring Iraq to guard Shi’ite holy sites as well as the capital city of Baghdad. Some have also reportedly taken part in fighting in Tikrit.
The move comes in response to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) taking most of the country’s Sunni west, and moving dangerously close to Baghdad on multiple fronts. Iraq’s Shi’ite government is on good terms with Iran.
Earlier today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country can’t tolerate the growth of a terrorist group so close to their borders, and promised unspecified aid to the Maliki government.
Iran has already been aiding the Assad government in Syria against AQI’s advances there, albeit without much success. As the problem of this new AQI-run state grows, Iran is likely to try to increase support for its struggling allies, out of whose territory the state is being carved.
More from Reuters, which reports that Iran, a Shiite republic, is so alarmed by Sunni insurgent gains in Iraq that it may be willing to cooperate with Washington in helping Baghdad fight back, a senior Iranian official told Reuters. The idea is being discussed internally among the Islamic Republic's leadership, the senior Iranian official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official had no word on whether the idea had been raised with any other party.
Officials say Iran will send its neighbor advisers and weaponry, although probably not troops, to help its ally Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki check what Tehran sees as a profound threat to regional stability, officials and analysts say.
Islamist militants have captured swathes of territory including the country's second biggest city Mosul.
Tehran is open to the possibility of working with the United States to support Baghdad, the senior official said.
"We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East," the official said, referring to events in Iraq. "We are very influential in Iraq, Syria and many other countries."
For many years, Iran has been aggrieved by what it sees as U.S. efforts to marginalize it. Tehran wants to be recognized as a significant player in regional security.
Rouhani on Thursday strongly condemned what he called violent acts by insurgent groups in the Middle East.
“Today, in our region, unfortunately, we are witnessing violence, killing, terror and displacement," Rouhani said.
"Iran will not tolerate the terror and violence ... we will fight against terrorism, factionalism and violence.”
That's right: as a result of the epic US leftover mess in Iraq, it is now up to its arch nemesis Iran to get in and protect the country from none other than Al-Qaeda. And not only that, but Iran is prepared to work with the "great Statan", America, to defend the middle east from Al-Qaeda!
And to think: this is only the beginning.
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