(Written by Jonathan Schanzer who is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (Washington, DC). Grant Rumley is an analyst currently based in Jerusalem.)
Iraq – Throughout his two previous terms, Nouri al-Maliki managed to create various problems but failed to solve any of them. Instead of winning over the population of the heavily Sunni provinces, and through them Iraq’s wider Sunni community, al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government persistently alienated and discriminated against them. Before long, Sunni areas started to see protests, sit-ins and demonstrations against the policies of al-Maliki and his government. The prime minister’s response was to increase the presence of security and military forces, which were mainly staffed and headed by Shiite personnel. Thanks to his unwillingness to concede to the demands of the Sunni-majority provinces, instead resorting to the use of force, his struggle against the leaders of these provinces (and indeed most opposition Sunni leaders) reached the point of no return. Al-Maliki’s departure, and the formation of a government of national unity of technocrats that could put an end to corruption and at least restore basic services, could perhaps offer a chance for some stability. It would also help end the many disputes and problems al-Maliki has created with the Kurdish regional government, the Sunni provinces, and especially with his own Shiite coalition partners. His insistence on remaining in office will only hasten the start of a destructive and prolonged civil conflict -- all too reminiscent of the catastrophe still unfolding across his country’s north-eastern border.
On the 20 Jun 14 Al-Maliki rejected a US request that he step down because he was re-elected in the April elections. His party is entitled to form a government. He accused the US of meddling in Iraqi internal affairs.
The pattern of the attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) over the weekend (18/19 Jun 14) continues to reflect consolidation of gains. After the blitzkrieg attacks of a week ago into the heart of the Sunni governates, ISIL and supporting groups have moved this weekend to control the borders and other towns they bypassed. In the northwest, ISIL and other anti-government groups managed to take control of Tal Afar airport, after several days of fighting. Tal Afar is on a route from the Syrian border to Mosul. Government forces supposedly still control the oil refinery at Baiji. In the west, the Iraqi government apparently ordered its forces to abandon the border crossing points. ISIL fighters moved in. Iraqi forces withdrew from Qaim, Rawa, Ana, Haditha and Rutba. Qaim, Rawa, Ana and Haditha are near the Syrian border along one of the routes from the border to Baghdad. Rutba is near the Syrian border on another route from the border to Baghdad. The Iraqi border and army units at al Walid border crossing post reportedly withdrew into Syria and left their posts to ISIL. ISIL fighters also reportedly occupied the Turaibil border post, Iraq's only border crossing point into Jordan. Iraq's military spokesman, General Qassim Atta, told reporters that what occurred was a "strategic withdrawal" in some areas. The Iraqi military command reportedly asked Syria to fly airstrikes against the border posts ISIL holds. In the east, fighting centred on the town of Muqdadiyah, where 30 Shiite militiamen died in fighting ISIL. Six civilians died in attacks near the town on Sunday. This town is on the route to Baghdad from the northeast. The Iraqi leadership apparently has decided to concentrate its resources for the defence of Baghdad. Thus, it is withdrawing forces from the periphery or cutting those forces off in order to find a defensive line it can hold and conserve resources. For now, the government is ceding the Sunni Arab regions to ISIL. This is the familiar pattern of a government that is losing the battle. Governments under stress always trade space for time and fall back on the capital, which invariably is the last bastion to fall. That is the seat of power for the unified state. Government also always intend to take back lost territory, but the military formula that has driven the losses makes that almost impossible without large scale outside assistance that can change the formula. Effective large scale outside assistance usually means tens of thousands of soldiers with their own supply lines who can take and hold ground. The Syrian fight is relevant because it is one of the examples wherein outside help enabled a besieged central government to take back territory. The military formula for violent internal instability favoured the rebels and the forces loyal to Damascus were gradually falling back on defence of key towns, ultimately Damascus. The timely and effective intervention of Lebanese Hezbollah forces last year plus some Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fighters from Iran changed the force and resource ratios in favour of the government. Iraq now has three power centres: Mosul (ISIL), Arbil (Kurdish Regional Government) and Baghdad (Shiite-dominated central government.) ISIL already has begun setting up a Sharia-based administration in Mosul. The Mosul power centre wants to capture Baghdad. The Baghdad power centre is determined to take back the territory it lost, but lacks the resources. There is no source of manpower or resources on which Baghdad can draw that would provide a reasonable chance of recovering the lost Sunni Arab governates. The mustering of the Shiite militias should be enough for the defence of Baghdad, but a Shiite army in Sunni Arab land, around Samarra for example, is a prescription for massacres. The Arbil power centre is looking for an opportunity to declare its independence. This is a partial strategic success for the Saudis and Qatar, both of whom Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei blamed for the fighting Iraq.
(Report supplied by KGS Nightwatch dated 22 Jun 14)
Sunni militants are "well positioned" to hold a broad swathe of territory captured in northern and western Iraq if the Baghdad government fails to produce a robust counter-offensive, a senior U.S. intelligence official said on the 24 Jun 14. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which seized the main northern city Mosul on the 10 Jun and has since marched virtually unopposed towards Baghdad, is at its strongest "in years," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive information. The official said ISIL risks over-extending itself if it expands too quickly. The official said ISIL is flush with money and weapons after looting military equipment in Syria and Iraq and raising money through kidnapping, robbery, smuggling and extortion schemes, including the imposition of a "road tax" in Mosul. The official, however, disputed media reports suggesting ISIL's income had soared into the hundreds of millions of dollars, noting its takings in Mosul amounted to "millions" of dollars. ISIL had bolstered its ability to take and hold territory by striking alliances with local Sunni religious leaders and tribes, and by conscripting local men into its ranks, the official said. But some local alliances remain fragile. ISIL already has created a backlash in Syria with policies of sometimes indiscriminate violence, earning it the denunciation of the remaining central leadership of al Qaeda, which has disowned ISIL and proclaimed a rival group, Jabhat al Nusrah, as its official Syrian affiliate. The sudden dash across northern Iraq by armed groups, led by ISIL which seeks to annihilate Shi'ites, has left the Shi'ite dominated government in Baghdad struggling to mount an effective counter-offensive. Crucially, ISIL fighters have received support from Sunni tribes who once fought bitterly against them, a sign of widespread Sunni alienation from Baghdad since the end of U.S occupation. U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that ISIL has fielded a total of about 10,000 fighters, with between 3,000 and 5,000 fighting in Iraq and the rest in Syria. Officials said that it was difficult to estimate how many of the ISIL fighters currently in Iraq are foreigners.
(Terrorism Watch 24 Jun 14)
Islamist militant group ISIS has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, on the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria it was reported on the 29/30 Jun 14. It also proclaimed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph and "leader for Muslims everywhere". Setting up a caliphate ruled by the strict Islamic law has long been a goal of many jihadists. ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) announced the establishment of the caliphate in an audio recording posted on the internet. ISIS also said that from now on it would be known simply as "the Islamic State". ISIS said the Islamic state would extend from Aleppo in northern Syria to Diyala province in eastern Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group said, would become the leader of the state and would be known as "Caliph Ibrahim". In the recording, the rebels also demanded that all Muslims "pledge allegiance" to the new ruler and "reject democracy and other garbage from the West".
Yemen – Yemeni security officials stated al-Qaeda militants had attacked an airport in the country's south and bombed the facility's air control tower. The officials say the coordinated attack on the Sayoun airport in the southern province of Hadramawt started from three different directions early on the 26 Jun 14. The attack came just hours after security forces arrested a number of suspected militants in the same town, known for a strong presence of al-Qaeda militants.