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Iraq: ISIL as a tool in a regional axis of conflict

While the mainstream media focuses on alleged links to Al-Qaeda shared by fighters who last week seized Mosul and Tikrit, others see a more complicated internal struggle also involving regional powers

Ahmed Eleiba , Sunday 15 Jun 2014
Tikrit
Image Caption : Gunmen travel on an army truck with members of a police special forces battalion after the latter were captured by the fighters, in the Iraqi city of Tikrit June 12, 2014. Dozens of members of a police special forces battalion were paraded before a crowd in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Thursday after they were captured by fighters who overran their base. Militants have set up military councils to run the towns they captured, residents said. (Photo:Reuters)
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Within hours the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) succeeded in taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, as well as the Iraqi city of Tikrit. Both fell to militants last week. Iraqi security forces withdrew completely, leaving room for militants to control cities of strategic importance in being near central oil wells.

Today, the scene in Iraq is reminiscent of the withdrawal of Iraqi security forces from Baghdad during the US invasion in 2003.

During the past decade, the question has often been posed: Will Iraq be able to build a strong national army that protects the state amid violent variables in the region? Further: Is Iraq the centre of a regional strategic shift, or do political and sectarian loyalties play a role in this context?

In an exclusive interview with Ahram Online, Iraqi academic Ihsan El-Shammari, head of the Iraqi Centre of Political Thought and a political science professor at the University of Baghdad, asserted that Iraq needs new foundations to build an Iraqi army that answers to a new leadership.

In this context, observers believe that ISIL’s control of Tikrit, which was the hometown of former President Saddam Hussein, aims to signal that a role for Baathists in Iraq's political future must be provided. "Baathists are certainly allied tactically with Daesh (ISIL), although there is no ideological parallel," Shammari said.

Shammari continued: "In my opinion, that there is a kind of collusion that happened from the part of the Kurds. They got the oil before and now they want the land.”

“This is an attempt to seize the land that the Kurds and the central authority in Baghdad are disputing over, and this is the first factor that made it easy for militants to move on the ground, as seen in Mosul," Shammari added.

Among the internal factors that facilitated the seizure of these areas is the political conflict taking place between the central authorities in Iraq. For example, Shamarri pointed out, "Nouri Al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, is in conflict with several political figures, such as Usama Al-Negefi, brother of the Mosul governor."

Other authorities colluded, facilitating ISIL’s mission, which is nothing but a tool in a wider struggle.

"We cannot ignore the conflict between regional powers. Iran has announced its support to Iraq in facing the jihadists."

Iran’s Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran will stop the violence in Iraq. Shammari comments on the statement, saying it holds more than one meaning. One probability is Iran offering weapons to the Iraqi government.

The US and Russia have largely abandoned Iraq. Amid the vacuum there are expectations that Gulf states will become involved in Iraq in order to offset any growth in the influence of Tehran.

Shammari affirms this and says that there is a conspiracy taking place, as Iraq will increase oil production by 2016 and this will not work in the favour of Gulf countries.

Shammari adds that he expects Turkey not to intervene in Iraq's affairs.

Shammari also spoke about the international reaction and said there is an effort to seek UN Security Council consensus to form an international coalition to stop the militias.

Regarding the United States, relations between Washington and Baghdad have been characterised by a lack of trust regarding Maliki's government.

Shammari said that the United States now recognises the seriousness of the situation and its implications for its strategic interests in Iraq and beyond.

“The collapse of Iraq would tremendously affect the Obama administration and the interests of the US in the region, and therefore the US must revise its stance at the moment,” Shammari concluded.

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