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The Fall of Mosul: The Beginning of Something Very Unpredictable and Terrible?

June 11, 2014 - Ray Tsuchiyama

By now, we are pretty numbed by news of a school shooting (no U.S. gun law changes) or a terrorist car bombing in a far-off country.

However, I have been mesmerized by a sudden terrible event in the far-off country of Iraq, where U.S. troops are no longer stationed (after toppling the Saddam Hussein government in spring 2003 former President George W. Bush declared "major combat operations" in the Iraq War are “over”): Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, was taken by extremist militants. More than 500,000 former Mosul residents have become refugees, trying to enter the Kurdish-controlled areas or heading south towards Baghdad.

Mosul is not a tiny collection of mud huts in the middle of the desert – it is a historical city dating back thousands of years, part of ancient civilizations, and a thriving intersection of different ethnic groups, with offices, hospitals, universities, restaurants, hotels, banks, and oil pipelines (all that oil revenue is gone to the Iraqi government, as well). (Note: The University of Mosul Medical School is well-regarded and the second-oldest medical school in Iraq -- who knows what has happened to this teaching institution.)

Simply, the U.S.-trained and –equipped Iraqi government police and army gave up, abandoning a city of 1.5 million Iraqi citizens. Iraqi soldiers with extensive U.S. equipment failed to drive back gutless, cowardly terrorists. There was no combined air-land counter-attack, led by computer-controlled artillery, radio commands, helicopter gunships and assault troops, with Iraqi generals leading the way. It is as if a group of cow rustlers with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades took over Phoenix, Arizona (with similar population).

A huge amount of U.S. tax-payer paid equipment is gone, including armored Humvees now roaming in northern Syria, driven by terrorists. Mosul bank vaults are being raided for millions of foreign currency (euros, US dollars, UK sterling, Turkish lira, other currencies), and now being used to buy more ammunition and guns.

But this was not supposed to happen. In August 2010 the last U.S. combat brigade left Iraq, leaving only administrative, humanitarian, construction, technical, and security U.S. forces in Iraq.

The next month “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (Freedom from dictatorship, war, oppression) was renamed “Operation New Dawn” (reflecting democracy, civil security and order, better lives, education, jobs, food, normality), and then at the end of 2011, U.S. troops lowered the U.S. military flag of command that flew over Baghdad, officially ending the U.S. military mission in Iraq. That is, U.S. fighting soldiers left Iraq to the Iraqis.

Everything (military, police, civil service, banking administration, social welfare) was transferred to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's new democratically-elected government administration. It is important to note that he and his political party are mostly Shiites, the same Islamic denomination as in Iran (and in some regions in Syria and Lebanon). And it is true that Maliki has not been warm and inclusive to the Iraqi Sunni majority, which had been favored by the Saddam Hussein regime. Maliki’s overtures to the Iranian government, which has been accused by the West of developing nuclear weapons and funding terrorist groups, while simultaneously requesting tens of billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance – have not speeded-up sophisticated U.S. jet fighter and helicopter deliveries to Iraq.

Syria has been in a horrible civil war since mass protests in spring 2011 transformed into military action and entire cities were taken by the rebels (but the Syrian regime still continues). Iran supported the President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria (he and other government leaders are Alawites, off-shoot of the Shia denomination of Islam).

The Syrian civil war attracted terrorist groups with extremist Sunni leanings, including Al-Qaeda, a “global” terrorist organization launched by Osama bin Laden, later killed in his Pakistani hide-out, in the late 1980s with Afghanistan roots. One military group was named the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and it began fighting in northern Syria against Syrian government forces. The ISIS was so extreme and independent in its military actions, that Al-Qaeda even disavowed it. Its founder -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – was killed by a U.S. air strike in 2006, but ISIS grew even larger and more powerful since through its successful fighting against Syrian government forces (and other anti-government forces to gain territory and influence) in the past several years (with funding from extreme Sunni groups and local extortion).

The ISIS led the siege and final assault on Mosul, a remarkable military action with hundreds of fighters speaking different Arabic dialects (and some whose native language was Chechen or Serbo-Croatian or Urdu or Pashto or Dari – all non-Arabic languages) that involved rapid coordination against Iraqi police and troops. ISIS imposed Sharia law in Syrian towns it controls, forcing women to wear the full veil, or niqab, in public and banning music – very similar to the early actions of the Taliban when it occupied Kabul, which had a thriving music scene and Western movie theaters, coffeehouses, clubs, and shops, back in the late 1990s until its overthrow by the Northern Alliance and U.S./NATO Coalition forces in fall 2001.

But there were recent signs that things were breaking down in Iraq. According to the United Nations, 2013 was Iraq's most violent in five years, with more than 8,800 Iraqis killed, most of them civilians. Even before the surrender of Mosul, almost half a million people have been displaced from their homes in central Anbar province by fighting between ISIS and government forces. The Fallujah area – barely 40 miles from Baghdad -- has not been under Iraqi government control since the beginning of this year, and represents the farthest incursion of central Iraq by ISIS, and remains alarmingly close to the Iraqi capital.

What can we make of a “terrorist group” that can move in motorized columns from one country (Syria) to another (Iraq), have sophisticated command-and-control (and intelligence) systems to direct fighters, and then launch pin-point assaults on police stations, military garrisons, and defense perimeters – and easily rout entire military units, and take over a city of 1.5 million?

Regarding the endgame to the terrible Syrian Civil War, conventional wisdom said that there would be a rebel coalition with Western leanings and secular thinking and Syria will return to the family of nations as a full-fledged member. Also, this scenario had all terrorist groups with extreme Islamic philosophies to be crushed, along with President Assad’s regime -- all ousted.

Instead, three years later, President Assad has re-established control over formerly rebel strongholds, and there are now “third” local powers, neither Syrian government nor rebels: the rise of trans-national fighter groups with Sharia Sunni Islamic thinking with in-depth military resources and superb commanders forcing military and political re-alignment of sovereign nations.

For example, in the next few days and weeks the Kurdistan region leadership will have to decide whether to commit to a coalition with what-looks-to-be-a-Failed-Iraqi-Military or bunker-down and fight in isolation, protecting their northern oil fields. Every political/military group in Syria and Iraq and Levant – as well as the U.S. and every other regional country (especially Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, even Jordan) and/or with stakes in the Middle East – is witness to the rise of a powerful, mysterious player in the region, crossing national boundaries, and conventional wisdom has gone out the window.


Article Comments



Jun-11-14 11:47 PM

It was predictable, This is the third time in 25 years that the Iraqi national army threw down its weapons and fled.

Why would anyone expect anything else? Same thing happened in South Vietnam. Why would anyone fight for no reason? What reason did the Iraqi national army have to fight?


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