FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Baghdad Fear Index

Iraq is breaking up, with Shia and ethnic minorities fleeing massacres as a general Sunni revolt, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) sweeps through northern Iraq. The Isis assault is still gaining victories, capturing the Shia Turkoman town of Tal Afar west of Mosul after heavy fighting against one of the Iraqi army’s more effective units.

Iraq could soon see sectarian slaughter similar to that which took place at the time of the partition of India in 1947. Pictures and evidence from eye witnesses confirm that Isis massacred some 1,700 Shia captives, many of them air force cadets, at the air force academy outside Tikrit, which proves that Isis intends to cleanse its new conquests of Shia. Sunni cadets were told to go home. If the battle moves to Baghdad, then the Shia majority in the capital might see the Sunni enclaves, particularly those in west Baghdad, such as Amiriya and Khadra, as weak points in their defences, and drive out the inhabitants.

In a misguided effort to sustain the morale of people in the capital, the government closed down the internet at 9am. It had already closed YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The excuse is that Isis uses them to communicate, but this is extremely unlikely since Isis has a more professional communications system of its own. Since there is little confidence in the news on government-run television stations, or provided by official spokesmen, the internet shutdown is creating a vacuum of information filled by frightening rumours that are difficult to check.

The result is an atmosphere of growing panic in Baghdad with volunteers from the Shia militias being trucked to Samarra, north of the capital, to stop the Isis advance. The cost of a bullet for an AK47 assault rifle has tripled to 3,000 Iraqi dinars, or about $2. Kalashnikovs are almost impossible to buy from arms dealers though pistols can still be obtained at three times the price of a week ago. In the Shia holy city of Kerbala, south-east of Baghdad, the governor has asked volunteers to bring their own weapons to recruitment centres.

Many civilians are leaving Baghdad and the better-off have already gone abroad. The head of an Iraqi security company told me: “I am off to Dubai on an unscheduled holiday to see my daughters because all the foreigners I was protecting have already left.” The price of a cylinder of propane gas, used by Iraqis for cooking, has doubled to 6,000 Iraqi dinars, because it normally comes from Kirkuk, the road to which is now cut off by Isis fighters.

Rumours swirl through Baghdad. There was a report this morning that the whole of Anbar, the giant Sunni province, which normally has a population of 1.5 million, had fallen. But a call to a friend in its capital Ramadi revealed that fighting is still going on. A former minister last night told me that Isis, unable to take Samarra, had switched its assault to Baquba in Diyala province, one of the gateways to Baghdad, but a resident denied there was fighting.

It was a different story in Tal Afar, supposedly defended by 1,000 Kurdish peshmerga but they were either overwhelmed or forced to retreat. There are reports the commander of the Iraqi army division fighting there had been captured. The Turkoman Shia inhabitants have fled to Kurdish-held zones and the town is largely deserted. A source in Mosul said yesterday that the Iraqi air force had carried out bombing raids there, and electricity supplies had been cut.

 

What is not in doubt is that the Sunni revolt, in which Isis fighters act as shock troops, is still gathering strength though there has been no serious attack on the capital. If it does begin, Isis will be faced by hundreds of thousands of Shia militia and, if it makes progress, by Iranian military forces probably in the shape of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iraqi media has been reporting that two Iranian divisions are already in Iraq, but as of Monday afternoon I had not met anybody who had seen them.

With regular Iraqi army commanders discredited or distrusted, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force of the IRGC is in Baghdad and is reported to have taken over planning and strategy. Iraqi officials say the Iranians plan to secure the road north to Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, but with a revered Shia shrine, and then use that as a rallying point for forces to re-take Tikrit and Mosul.

An important factor is how far President Masoud Barzani, head of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, who has just made historic gains for his people by taking over Kirkuk and other territories in dispute with Baghdad, will want to join a government counter-attack. The extent to which the entire 350,000 strong Iraqi army forces are demoralised is also unclear. Officers returning from Mosul say that their senior commanders fled or told them not to resist.

Asked about the cause of defeat, one recently retired Iraqi general said: “Corruption! Corruption! Corruption!” He said it started when the Americans told the Iraqi army to outsource food and other supplies in about 2005. A battalion commander was paid for a unit of 600 soldiers, but had only 200 men under arms and pocketed the difference which meant enormous profits. The army became a money-making machine for senior officers and often an extortion racket for ordinary soldiers who manned the checkpoints. On top of this, well-trained Sunni officers were side-lined. “Iraq did not really have a national army,” the general concluded.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
Nick Pemberton
Gen Z and Free Speech
Bob Lord
The U-Turn That Made America Staggeringly Unequal
Josh White
The Most Important Election in British History
Daniel Warner
The Hillsborough Soccer Tragedy: Who is Responsible?
Dean Baker
The Big Deal in Warren’s Prescription Drug Plan
George Ochenski
Another Utility Disaster Headed Our Way
Binoy Kampmark
Spying on Assange: the Spanish Case Takes a Turn
Victor Grossman
Big Rallies and Big Differences in Germany
L. Ali Khan
A Playboy Misrules Pakistan
William J. Astore
How American Exceptionalism is Killing the Planet
Susie Day
The Mad Activist Impeaches Western Culture
Andrés Castro
Look Out for the Drift
December 04, 2019
Jefferson Morley
RIP Fred Hampton: a Black Visionary Assassinated by the FBI
Vijay Prashad
Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer
Kenneth Surin
The Tory Election “Campaign” to Date
Maria Paez Victor
Indians Shall Not Govern
Peter Lackowski
Bolivia’s Five Hundred-Year Rebellion
Dave Lindorff
Billionaire Entitlement Run Amok: the Case of Michael Bloomberg
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Is Corbyn for Christmas Just Another Stove Pipe-Dream?
Howard Lisnoff
Elizabeth Warren: Savior of a Fallen System?
Robert Fisk
The Remembrance Poppy is Becoming a Weapon Against Immigrants to Canada
Dean Baker
NAFTA was About Redistributing Wealth Upwards
Richard Greeman
French Unions and Yellow Vests Converge, Launch General Strike
Binoy Kampmark
Legitimised Surveillance: Kim Dotcom’s Case Against GCSB
Walter Clemens
Goodbye Law and Morality, Welcome Pretend Tough!
Sam Pizzigati
Football Without Billionaires? Why Not?
Anthony Giattino
Royal Forests of America
December 03, 2019
Richard Lachmann
Can the US Get Out of Its Endless Wars?
Ramzy Baroud
Israel’s Unfinished ‘Coup’
David Rosen
The Dialectics of Postmodern Sexual Identity
Robert Fisk
Reporting Syria: I Talked to Everyone, Except Assad
Patrick Cockburn
Why the Resignation of Iraq’s Prime Minister May Not Stop the Mass Uprising on the Horizon
Norman Solomon
For Corporate Media, It’s ‘Anybody But Sanders or Warren’
Bob Scofield
Uruguay Turns to the Right
Joe Emersberger
Talking About Ecuador’s Political Prisoners: an Interview With Marcela Aguiñaga
Medea Benjamin
Trump Was Right: NATO Should Be Obsolete
Nyla Ali Khan
Lesson in Diplomacy for India’s Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty
William Gudal
The Bubble Machine
Gaither Stewart
Dirty Hands
Peter Certo
End the Wars, Win the Antiwar Vote
Binoy Kampmark
The Liveris Formula: Dow’s Inclusive Capitalism
Dan Bacher
California Freezes New Fracking Permits – But All Oil Drilling Permits Still Outpace 2018
Kay Sather
Can’t Get No Satisfaction?
December 02, 2019
Rob Urie
Ukraine, the New Cold War and the Politics of Impeachment
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail