Analysts warn the Iraqi government’s loss of the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, to an al-Qaida splinter group poses a threat not just to Iraq, but the wider Middle East region. U.S. officials acknowledge a serious deterioration of the security situation and urge the Shi’ite-dominated Baghdad government to reach out to the country’s disgruntled minority populations.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest Tuesday condemned what he called the “aggression in Mosul” by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” or ISIL. He says it has caused a serious deterioration of the security situation in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Nineveh Province:
"The situation is extremely serious and U.S. officials in both Washington and Baghdad are tracking events closely in coordination with the government in Iraq," he said. "The United States will continue to stand with the Iraqi people and provide all necessary and appropriate assistance to the government of Iraq under the strategic framework agreement to assist it in our common fight against the threat that ISIL poses to Iraq and the broader region."
Earnest says Washington is providing Hellfire missiles, millions of rounds of small arms fire, thousands of rounds of tank ammunition, helicopter-fired rockets, machine guns, grenades, flares, sniper rifles, M16s and M4 rifles to Iraqi security officials.
Appeal to al-Maliki
The White House spokesman also called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shi’ite-led government to do more to address what he calls “unresolved issues to better meet the needs of all the Iraqi people, a viewed echoed by US defense spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby on Tuesday.
"This is for the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government to deal with," he said. "We’re doing what we can through a more normalized military-to-military relationship, and we have certainly made it clear that we encourage Prime Minister Maliki to continue to work with tribal leadership in that area through a more holistic [all parts of society] approach to deal with the threat of extremists inside that country."
Earlier this year, ISIL took over another Iraqi city, Fallujah, and government forces have been unable to reclaim it after months of fighting. To the west of Mosul, the militants have seized control of parts of eastern Syria in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad.
Violence in Mosul
Prospect of an Islamic state
RAND Corporation analyst Ben Connable says the insurgents are seeking to establish an Islamic state with the regions it controls in eastern Syria and western Iraq.
"Their goal appears to be the seizure of all of the Sunni provinces in Iraq, at least for starters, and then I think we can expect some pressure into Baghdad beyond that," he said.
Connable says the loss of Mosul reveals many underlying problems in the country after U.S. forces left in 2011, charging Mr. Maliki with “considerable damage” in the Shi’ite/Sunni relationship. He says Sunni general officers and tribal elders he has spoken with feel disenfranchised from the central government. He says that feeds support for ISIL.
ISIL gaining strength
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki Tuesday warned ISIL has continued to gain strength from the struggle in Syria resulting in an overflow of recruits, sophisticated munitions and other resources to the fight in Iraq.
"The threat that ISIL is presenting is not just a threat to Iraq or the stability of Iraq, but it is a threat to the region. And, this growing menace exemplifies the importance of Iraqis from all communities working together to confront this common enemy and to isolate those militant groups from the broader population," he said.
Rami Khoury, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at Beirut’s American University, says the fall of Mosul poses a huge problem, not just for Iraq, but the region and the whole world:
"What this means is that, first of all, the state of Iraq, the country and the government is not able to control major population centers and has also lost control of huge countryside areas around it. And, the danger of this is that it means that this group [ISIL], they control territory, they control border crossing points, they control oil resources, mineral resources, trade income, they have a base in the middle of the Middle East, and they have popular support… and they can organize and carry out their mission in bigger parts of the Middle East, they can threaten neighboring countries," said Khoury.
Khoury says the advances of ISIL might force both Shi’ite and Sunni-led governments in the region to move toward dialogue and reconciliation in a bid to restore security to both Syria and Iraq, and perhaps even creating a regional security framework involving the Turks, Iranians and Saudis.