Worse and Worse: Al Qaeda Offshoot Seizes Another Major Iraqi City

Posted: Jun 11, 2014 4:33 PM

An worrying follow-up to this morning's post, as Islamist radicals remain on the march in Iraq. Al Qaeda-aligned terrorists took over Ramadi and Fallujah (both just west of Baghdad) in January, overran Mosul (in the far north) earlier this week, and have now taken Tikrit (via Ed Morrissey):

Al-Qaida-inspired militants seized effective control Wednesday of Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, expanding their offensive closer to the Iraqi capital as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts following clashes with the insurgents. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control a day earlier of much of Mosul, the country's second-largest city, in a major blow to the authority of the country's Shiite government and a sign of Iraq's reversals since U.S. forces withdrew in late 2011. The Sunni militants also gained entry to the Turkish consulate in Mosul and held captive 48 people, including diplomats, police, consulate employees and three children, according to an official in the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan...Tikrit residents reached by telephone said the militant group had taken over several police stations in the Sunni-dominated city. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of their safety...Two Iraqi security officials confirmed that Tikrit, the capital of Salahuddin province, was under the control of the ISIL, and said the provincial governor was missing.

Half a million Mosul residents are fleeing their city, the BBC reports, desperate to get away from the ruthless and militant occupiers. We're now beginning to get a clearer picture of the sorts of weapons and supplies fell into the hands of fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during their seizure of Mosul:

With the fall of Mosul on Tuesday, Iraq’s al Qaeda offshoot has not only seized the country’s second-largest city, it appears it also has come into possession of the heavy weapons and vehicles the U.S. military had provided Iraq’s military to fight them. That’s terrible news for America’s few allies left in Iraq as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) morph from terrorist menace to a military force capable of over-running an army the U.S. military trained for nearly a decade. It also calls into question the American government’s decision to withdraw the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011. Three years later that withdrawal now appears premature...General Najim al-Jabouri, a former mayor of Tel Afar, which is a little more than 31 miles from Mosul, told The Daily Beast the bases seized by ISIS this week would provide the group with even more heavy weapons than they currently control. “The Iraqi army left helicopters, humvees, cargo planes and other heavy machine guns, along with body armor and uniforms,” the general, who is now a scholar at the National Defense University, said. He said he was able to learn about the equipment from soldiers and other politicians in and around Mosul with whom he keeps in touch.

That Daily Beast story refers to ISIS as a "group so extreme it got booted from al Qaeda." That's...not an exaggeration. Foreign policy expert Tom Rogan analyzes the group, calling them well-organized and well-funded. He summarizes that ISIS is "as bad as terrorism gets." And they now control substantial swaths of territory in Iraq -- the liberation and stabilization of which resulted in a terrible amount of American bloodshed. As we mentioned this morning, candidate Barack Obama used his opposition to the Iraq war as a political springboard in 2008, but emphasized the need to sufficiently train and equip Iraqi forces to maintain control of their country in the wake of a US withdrawal. He also pledged to keep a residual US force on the ground in the country to combat Al Qaeda and support Iraq's security forces. Today, those forces are disintegrating in the face of a burgeoning Islamist threat posed by a group that's too extreme for Al Qaeda. The US military is nowhere to be found because the Obama administration badly bungled negotiations over a status of forces agreement in 2011. Incredibly, a White House spokesman cited a nonexistent SOFA yesterday while fielding questions from reporters. The disquieting reality is that America -- having invested so much in Iraq -- is reduced to watching from the sidelines as the worst case scenario plays out in real time. Al Qaeda and its offshoots are not "on the run;" they're on the rise. "Mass beheadings" in Mosul and Tikrit are being reported. Before you go, click over to this NYT interactive map on ISIS' gains in the region -- which seems to be lagging a bit behind the rapid developments in at least two aforementioned cities, and read the Wall Street Journal's withering editorial on the dreadful consequences of the administration's Iraq policy. Is anyone surprised that Iraq's military has a desertion problem?

UPDATE - As I write this, the Washington Post reports that ISIS radicals now control the city of Baiji, and are also "patrolling the streets" of Duluiyah. They're inching closer and closer to the capital.