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.
The Iraqi government cannot allow Mosul to remain under ISIL control but may lack enough effective troops to take it back. Right now many of the more reliable army units are in Anbar and helping guard Shia shrines in the south during a period of heavy pilgrim activity. The longer the Iraqi government fails to regain control of Mosul the more tempted the Kurds are to move south and settle the Mosul dispute once and for all by driving all the Sunnis out. This would give the Kurds control of more oil. Apparently the Kurds are quietly negotiating with the Iraqi government over what will happen if Kurdish forces move south. Many Kurds don’t want to get involved in a war with the Sunni Arabs, but given the aggressiveness of ISIL there may not be a choice.
As far as the Shia are concerned they have been very generous with the Sunni Arabs, with the understanding that the Sunni Arab community would respond and help in suppressing Sunni Arab terror groups. The Shia consider the Sunni Arab community to have failed in this regard and must either make a better effort to calm down their own radicals or face the consequences. Some Shia politicians are openly accusing Turkey of backing Sunni protestors and terrorists as part of a conspiracy to regain their lost (because of the British after World War I) Mosul province (the northern third of Iraq). The Turks deny this and there’s no “regain Mosul” movement in Turkey. What the Turks have done is negotiated a peace deal involving the Kurdish government of northern Iraq and Kurdish separatists in Turkey (the PKK). This was all done with little consultation from the Iraqi government. This annoys the Iraqis a great deal because the arrangement allows the PKK gunmen to leave Turkey unmolested and move to Kurdish Iraq. One of the few things Iraqi Arabs agree on is the need to keep the Kurds weak and obedient. Since 1991 Iraqi Kurds have become autonomous and militarily powerful. The movement of thousands of armed PKK men from Turkey to northern Iraq makes it even more impossible to get the Iraqi Kurds back into line.
The government defeat in Mosul was caused by a combination of corruption (leading to poor leadership and morale in the army and police) and years of Islamic terrorism in Mosul directed at the security forces. Without the crippling effects of corruption the army and police would still be in control. ISIL has not taken the entire city. The Kurdish neighborhoods are receiving reinforcements and support from the Kurdish controlled provinces to the north, although many Kurdish civilians have fled north to avoid living in a combat zone. Over half a million civilians have fled Mosul and thousands of them are lined up in an epic traffic jam trying to get into the Kurdish provinces. That is a time-consuming process because the Kurds have kept Islamic terrorists out by imposing effective security measures and not falling victim to the lure of Islamic terrorism. The Kurds are not Arabs (they are related to the Iranians and other Central Asian Indo-European groups) and don’t care much for the Arabs (and vice versa). But business is business and Arabs who will behave are welcome to come visit, which a growing number of Arabs do if only to get away from the threat of Islamic terrorism for a while.
The ISIL victory in Mosul was made possible by the six weeks of heavy fighting in eastern Syria (near the Iraq border). The major ISIL obstacle has been rival Islamic terrorist group al Nusra, which has been fighting ISIL in eastern Syria for months. In the last six weeks at least 500 have died (40 percent ISIL) from this violence and over 140,000 civilians have fled their homes. Throughout this ISIL has remained in control of Raqqa, the largest city in eastern Syria. In Western Iraq (Anbar province) ISIL is struggling to deal with increased pressure from government forces and pro-government tribal militias. ISIL forces are trapped in Fallujah, with the siege of the Islamic terrorists growing tighter and tighter. ISIL has established control of some roads between Iraq and Syria. One of these road leads to Raqqa, the only provincial capital to be captured by the Syrian rebels. The revived (by Iranian Shia mercenaries recruited in Lebanon and Iraq) Syrian government is turning its attention to its Sunni eastern areas and the Shia dominated Iraqi government is increasingly aggressive attacking ISIL on both sides of the Syrian border. Both Iraq and Syria believe that ISIL is intent on creating a Sunni religious dictatorship out of eastern Syria and western Iraq (now including Nineveh province north of Anbar). Except for Nineveh this is a largely desert and thinly populated region. ISIL is actually suffering more casualties in Syria, where its main foe is other rebels. ISIL has also been fighting the Kurds of northeast Syria. ISIL is quite hostile to the Kurds and has been very brutal with any Kurdish civilians they come across. These atrocities play in role in persuading the Kurds in northern Iraq to send their trained (and quite superior to the ISIL or Iraqi Army forces) men into Iraq and Mosul. ISIL is a threat the Kurds cannot avoid.
The Iraqi Air Force has tried to help but has been not been very effective. It’s not for lack of trying. The government has spent billions to buy new aircraft, support equipment and weapons (including Hellfire missiles). Money isn’t the problem, people are. During decades of rule by the Sunni minority (the last Sunni leader being the late Saddam Hussein) the Sunnis monopolized most technical jobs. That included flying aircraft and maintaining them. With the overthrow of Saddam most of those Sunnis fled the country and many of those who stayed were not trusted by the Shia majority (who now controlled the government.) The Shia now had plenty of access to all those good tech and management jobs the Sunnis had long monopolized. The problem was that not enough Shia had the skills or experience to handle all the high tech work now available. The military was worst hit by this shortage because commercial firms could pay the market price (high) for the few competent Shia technical specialists. Moreover, government corruption is more of a problem for those working in the military and there is more dangerous (especially for aircraft crews). Meanwhile Iraq is buying another 24 U.S. T-6C "Texan II" trainer/attack/reconnaissance aircraft. The “C” version includes hard points on the wings for carrying bombs and missiles, or pods for recon and intelligence collecting. Iraq already has AT-6As it ordered back in 2009. A single engine prop driven aircraft, the AT-6 can carry about half a ton of weapons (bombs, missiles, machine-gun pods).
Iraq has managed to get oil production to over 3.6 million barrels a day, that’s more than Iraq ever pumped during the decades of Saddam’s rule. Unfortunately the oil export facilities have not kept pace and less oil is actually being shipped and sold. Corruption and excessive bureaucracy hamper oil sales and the oil industry in general. But since oil sales provide over 90 percent of the government budget there is sufficient incentive to protect and expand the oil facilities.
June 10, 2014: Iraq asked the Kurds to send some of their troops south to Mosul and regain control of the city. There may be some negotiations first as the Kurds want the Shia dominated Iraq government to stop opposing Kurdish efforts to export and sell oil pumped within the Kurdish controlled areas of northern Iraq.
June 9, 2014: In the northern city of Mosul army and police units began to panic and abandon their checkpoints and bases. ISIL had recently increased its attacks on the security forces in Mosul in hope of triggering a mass panic.
June 7, 2014: In the west (Anbar) troops regained control of Anbar University (in Ramadi). At least a dozen Islamic terrorists had stormed onto the campus earlier in the day, trapping hundreds of students and faculty in some buildings. At least nine of the Islamic terrorists were killed as the soldiers drove the invaders out.
June 6, 2014: Iran criticized Sunni Islamic terrorists for their continued attacks against the Iraqi city of Samarra. Sunni conservatives believe Shia are heretics and that Samarra, where there are many Shia shrines, is an affront to Islam. This is pilgrimage season and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian Shia are coming to the city to pray. Security forces have so far kept the Islamic terrorists out, but that has involved several clashes with Islamic terrorists at security checkpoints. Today there was a major attack which saw Sunni Islamic terrorists getting into some of the outskirts of Samarra before they were driven out. Some of the fighting took place two kilometers from one of the two major Shia shrines. The attackers suffered over a hundred casualties during the failed attack.
June 5, 2014: In the U.S. (Texas) the Iraqi ambassador formally accepted the first of 36 F-16IQ fighters. This is a special version of the Block 52 F-16C and the two-seater F-16D. The F-16IQ is similar to American Block 52 F-16s except they are not equipped to handle AMRAAM (radar guided air-to-air missiles) or JDAM (GPS guided bombs). The F-16IQ can handle laser guided bombs and older radar guided missiles like the AIM-7. It will be several more years before the F-16IQs are ready for combat.
June 4, 2014: For the first time since January the Red Cross has managed to get supplies into Fallujah. Most of the city has been occupied by ISIL gunmen since January and the Iraqi security forces have been unable to drive the Islamic terrorists out. The government does not want to risk high casualties among the few elite units that could carry out a direct assault. Constant shelling and bombing has kept the ISIL from expanding their control but has also hurt some of the few civilians still in the city. Pro-government tribesmen help with the siege, but are unwilling to do house-to-house fighting against the Islamic terrorists. The ISIL forces are slowly getting weaker, but the siege could go on for months longer.
Turkey put ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) on its list of international terrorist organizations. ISIL is run by Iraqis and earlier this year was expelled from al Qaeda and declared (by most other Islamic terrorist groups) to be an outlaw organization. ISIL operates mainly in eastern Syria and western Iraq.
June 3, 2014: In the west (Anbar) a pro-government tribal leader was killed by an ISIL suicide bomber. Four of the leader’s bodyguards also died in the explosion. The dead leader commanded several hundred men of a tribal militia that has been fighting ISIL.
Iraq recently bought seven Aerostats and 14 RAID towers from the United States in order to provide persistent vidcam and radar surveillance of large areas. The aerostats and towers were key American security tools in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. used over 300 towers and dozens of aerostats. Some American allies used this equipment as well.
June 1, 2014: There were 934 terrorist related deaths in May and that was a slight decrease from April. About a quarter of those deaths were security forces and nearly as many were Islamic terrorists. In April there were 1,009 deaths (87 percent civilians, including terrorists and the other 13 percent security forces). About a third of the civilian deaths were believed to be terrorists. Because the Islamic terrorists do not wear uniforms, and pro-government militiamen do not either, it’s sometimes difficult to tell which bodies are actually those of terrorists. The spike in terror related deaths in April was largely to do with terrorist efforts to disrupt the April 30 national elections. This effort failed but hundreds of people died in the process. In March at least 592 Iraqis died from Islamic terrorist violence. Soldiers and police were 18 percent of that and most of the rest were civilians. It’s believed at least 200 Islamic terrorists died. The March death rate was down from February, when there were about a thousand deaths. In the last three months over a quarter of these deaths were in Anbar, where there has been major fighting with ISIL since early January. In May about 20 percent of the deaths were in Anbar. Deaths in January where over 1,500 and over half of those were in Anbar. In 2013 the death toll was 8,900 for all of Iraq and only ten percent of those were terrorists while the majority were Shia civilians. ISIL is believed to have lost heavily in the Anbar fighting and lost even more men in Syria. Nearly 5,000 Iraqis have died so far this year from terrorist related violence.
May 21, 2014: Iraq has ordered 200 M1151A1 HMMWVs (hummers), each with a ring mounted 12.7mm machine-gun. The M1151 is a hummer built to handle the additional weight of 680 kg (1,500 pounds) of armor. More importantly, the armor is easily installed, or taken off. This allows the hummers to operate more efficiently without the armor when the threat of attack is much reduced. The M1151 also has some armor underneath. This is not a lot of protection against mines and roadside bombs, but it is better than none. The Iraqi security forces have several thousand hummers and the Islamic terrorists have captured several hundred of them. Some of these are showing up in eastern Syria.