Fall of Mosul

The capture of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by an al-Qaeda affiliate known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has set alarm bells ringing throughout the Middle East.

The fall of Mosul to the ISIS is a major milestone in the jihadi group’s march to overrun all of Iraq. In recent months, it has made major territorial gains, capturing cities like Ramadi and Fallujah. The capture of Mosul is far more important. Not only is it Iraq’s second largest city but also it is a hub for trade and production of oil.  More importantly, Mosul is informally regarded as the political and economic capital of Sunni Iraq. The ISIS has scored a major victory by wresting control over this Sunni bastion. The spectacular rise in its fortunes in Iraq in recent months punches holes in the US’ oft-repeated claim that it has vanquished al-Qaeda.

The situation in Mosul is grave. ISIS insurgents are in control of local government buildings, police stations, the airport and jails. Recovering control over Mosul must top the Iraqi government’s agenda. Since general elections six weeks ago, Iraq’s Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who emerged with the largest number of seats in parliament, has been trying to cobble together a coalition government that will give him a third term in office.  He has sought to project himself as the only politician who can hold Iraq together.  Not only has he been unable to recover Ramadi and Fallujah after losing them to the ISIS, but also Mosul has fallen too.  Clearly, Maliki’s Shia-led government is unable to hold on to Sunni-dominated areas. 

The ISIS is fighting on several fronts. It Syria, it is among many groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad. But unlike the Iraqi opposition, whose aim is limited to ousting Assad from power, the ISIS’s goals are broader. It wants to establish an Islamic emirate in Syria and Iraq. After suffering reverses on the Syrian front late last year, ISIS turned its attention back to Iraq and made rapid gains here. Its writ runs over a stretch of territory extending from al-Bab, which lies to the east of Aleppo in Syria to Iraq's Anbar province.  Recovering Mosul is a critical test of Maliki’s leadership.

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