The U.N. Security Council meets Thursday to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, as the United States promises new aid to the beleaguered Baghdad central government.
The Security Council will take part in a video briefing from the U.N. special representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, amid reports militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continue their push south toward Baghdad.
Wednesday, the militants captured the city of Tikrit, just a day after Iraqi security forces gave up their defense of the country’s second largest city, Mosul, in the country’s Sunni heartland.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
- Formed by members of al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria and Iraq
- Aims to establish an Islamic emirate across Syria and Iraq
- Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, former leader of al-Qaida in Iraq
- Believed to have 5,000 to 7,000 fighters
- Has launched high-profile attacks in both countries
The militants took control of the western city of Fallujah earlier this year.
The SITE Intelligence Group translated a statement by an ISIL spokesman who said the battle will rage in Baghdad and Karbala.
Iraq’s parliament is expected to consider a state of emergency.
Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to unite behind the Baghdad government.
"I’m urging that the whole international community must be united. We have to show strong international commitment of solidarity to all these terrorists," Ban said.
Ban condemned the seizure of dozens of Turks by the militants in Mosul and called for their immediate and safe release.
US considers options
In Washington, the Obama administration is looking at options to strengthen Iraqi forces that seem unable to stop what Stephen Zunes, a University of San Francisco regional analyst, described as a relatively small militant force.
"The advance has been quite surprising. They [ISIL] are not that powerful in terms of their military capabilities, and they certainly don’t have a lot of support, even among the large Sunni population in that part of Iraq that opposes the Shi’ite-dominated regime in Baghdad," Zunes said.
"However, it appears that the regular forces of the Iraqi government were unwilling, or unable, to repel this assault," he added.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki suggested Wednesday new assistance for Iraq is now under active consideration, although what form it would take aside from the arms and ammunition already being delivered was not disclosed.
"We are working with Iraqi leaders from across the country to support a coordinated response. You can expect that we will provide additional assistance to the Iraqi government," Psaki said.
"We are encouraged by the calls for national unity from Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum. We think that provides a strong unified front," she said.
She expressed support for a security plan being developed by the central Baghdad government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to bolster the Iraqi security forces to hold their positions and confront the ISIL aggression.
Psaki said while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shi’ite-led government can do more to address unresolved issues dividing the Iraqi people, the main threat now is from ISIL.
"They have an ideology that has little to do with Iraqi domestic politics. It has to do with taking territory and terrorizing the Iraqi people," Psaki said.
"So there’s more that can be done, including taking a more unified approach to the challenges and the threats of terrorism that they face, and we are closely engaged with them on these efforts," she added.
Iraqi troop training
Richard Brennan, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation, was a career Army officer who spent five years in Iraq.
Brennan said the U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011 and he fears the Iraqi security forces might not be trained well enough to cope with this latest security threat.
"We left in 2011 with the Iraqi military needing significant capabilities in critical enablers in communications, logistics, maintenance, intelligence, as well as operational support," Brennan said.
"That still exists and so there’s a long haul that needs to get done in order to build an Iraqi government and military that’s able to protect both its internal security as well as external security from other countries in the region," he said.
Brennan said what seems to be happening is a spreading of the Shi’ite/Sunni divide in the Middle East with the civil war in Syria spilling over to Iraq and potentially beyond.
He said the objective of the ISIL is creation of a Muslim caliphate and warned Iraq could be carved up into Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish sections.