The internet has exploded with stories of the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) taking Mosul in Iraq. Most of the stories do not do justice to understanding the forces currently at work in Iraq. One of my favorite websites Strategy Page is very helpful for those wishing to comprehend who the players in Iraq are currently, and their strengths and weaknesses:
June 11, 2014: In the north ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) have driven the security forces out of most of Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq. This is going to get interesting because the Kurds believe Mosul is theirs and have the military force capable of taking and holding it. What has stopped them thus far has been the Iraqi attitude that such a move would be an act of war. Mosul and Kirkuk have oil and until the 1980s were mainly Kurdish. Then Saddam began forcing Kurds further north and giving their homes, land and jobs to poor Sunni Arab families from the south. After 2003 the Kurds came back to reclaim the property Saddam had taken from them. The Sunni Arabs resisted, and continue to resist. The claims of all the Kurdish refugees have never been completely settled and the Kurdish government of the autonomous (since the 1990s when British and American warplanes and commandos aided Kurdish rebels in expelling Saddam’s troops and keeping them out) north threaten to take back Mosul and Kirkuk (and the surrounding oil fields) by force. This would trigger a civil war with the Arabs which would probably end in a bloody stalemate. The Kurds support the Kurdish militias in Mosul who keep Sunni Arab terrorist groups like ISIL at bay and since the Americans left in 2011 the two cities remained the scene of constant ethnic (the Kurds are not Arabs) warfare.
Through all this the well-armed and organized Kurdish army in the north stayed on their side of the provincial border while the Sunni Arab Islamic terrorists fought the Shia dominated army and police force. In the last year Shia soldiers and police were joined by Shia terrorists and vigilantes carrying out “payback” attacks on Sunni mosques and civilians. This motivated the ISIL to put more armed men into the city and strive for a takeover. The radicals in the Sunni Arab community welcome more violence because they believed that if enough Sunni Arabs were killed by the Shia the Sunni governments in neighboring countries (especially Saudi Arabia and, once the Sunni rebels win, Syria) would intervene and restore the Iraqi Sunni Arabs to power. Most Iraqi Sunni Arabs understand that this would never work, but speaking up against the radicals (including ISIL, which has always been a Sunni supremacist outfit) can get you killed. Despite that threat many Iraqi Sunni Arabs do fight the radicals, but that’s a war they seem to be losing as the Shia are coming to believe that all Sunni Arabs are their enemy and all should be treated roughly. One thing most Sunni Arabs can agree on is the need to be united in dealing with the Shia dominated government. The growing violence led to calls for an autonomous Sunni Arab government in Anbar (the province that comprises most of western Iraq) and that is what ISIL is fighting for now. Mosul is the capital of Nineveh province which is adjacent and to the north of Anbar and has a 500 kilometer border with Syria. Taking control of Mosul gives ISIL another victory and even if it does not last it helps with recruiting and fund raising. ISIL is competing with al Qaeda for recognition as the most effective Islamic terrorist group in the world. Whoever holds that position gets most of the cash donations from the many wealthy Gulf Arabs who support Islamic terrorism and that means ISIL would also get most of the young Sunni men from the Gulf States looking to jihad a bit. ISIL has also made Iraq and Syria the main battleground for the continuation of the ancient battle between Shia and Sunni militants. Saudi Arabia leads the Sunni bloc and Iran the Shia. Overall, the Shia are winning in Syria and that is partly because ISIL has concentrated most of its manpower in eastern Syria and western Iraq in an effort to establish a Sunni Islamic State.
Go here to read the rest. What may well be going on now is the long predicted three part division of Iraq: Kurdistan in the North, a Sunni dominated state in Mosul and a Shia state dominated by Iran in the South. The Shia, by far the most numerous of the factions in Iran, dominated the governments elected after the fall of Saddam. They had a golden opportunity to mend fences with the Sunni and establish Iraq on a non-sectarian basis. They failed miserably at this and may end up with a much reduced Iraq as a result, one that may or may not include Baghdad, and be forced to dance to the tune of Iran due to the unwillingness of their soldiers to fight. As for American interests in Iraq and an increasingly chaotic Middle East, we need have no fear. The hashtag diplomacy of the Obama administration will no doubt safeguard those.