Iraq crumbles

Stopgap measures are unlikely to turn around what has been a significant military drubbing for the Iraqi army.


Editorial June 27, 2014

Whichever way the situation in Iraq is viewed it looks bad for the country as a whole and even worse for the government of Nuri al Maliki. Iraq has no fixed-wing air assets and relies on an ageing fleet of helicopters for aerial operations. It has also run out of ground-to-air missiles and is desperately shopping — and in some instances simply begging — for more wherever it can source them. On June 26, 2014 Iraq launched a helicopter-borne assault on targets in Tikrit and took control — for how long is anybody’s guess — of large parts of the university there. The Syrian air force has come to the aid of the Iraqis and bombed ISIS units holding the al-Qaim border crossing. Iraq has also embarked on a crash programme of buying fighter aircraft from Belarus and Russia, which may take weeks to come to operational status given that they will need pilots, munitions, spares and ground staff to service them.

Stopgap measures are unlikely to turn around what has been a significant military drubbing for the Iraqi army. The ISIS forces may present a picture of being something of a ragtag force, but this is far from so. They have many members of the disbanded Iraqi army fighting for them, and have taken control of large amounts of material that they can operate to its optimum effectiveness. Many ISIS combatants are battle-hardened with experience stretching back to the Iran-Iraq War, unlike the new recruits of the Iraqi army who are still very green and indifferently officered. Iraq can expect little help from its erstwhile allies, and the solution has to be political, but given the serial incompetence of the al Maliki government over virtually all of its tenure, creating an ethnically inclusive political environment that treats all sects with equality is nigh impossible. A possible scenario is that ISIS will consolidate its hold on the territory it has taken, there being no effective counterforce. The Kurds will invest in Kirkuk and Iraq, in under two months, will effectively have been divided into three. An outcome virtually nobody foresaw.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2014.

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