A second major Iraqi city, Tikrit, has fallen to the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
Senior Iraqi police officers told agencies that the entire city was controlled by the militants after Government security forces fled, echoing the swift fall of Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, just two days ago.
Once again, ISIS forces circled the city and seized control of checkpoints around Tikrit before freeing prisoners to bolster their forces. The police sources said the government forces were confused by ISIS’s use of official police and army vehicles probably seized when Mosul fell on Tuesday.
ISIS is an alliance of Sunni militants, with strong ties to al-Qaeda, whose aim is to unite Sunnis in Syria and Iraq by forming a single new state, straddling the border of the two countries.
By doing so they hope finally to destroy the unrealistic national border, the Sykes-Picot line, created by European colonial powers after World War I. The colonial division of the Middle East took little account of natural tribal and Muslim sectarian alliances and is a primary reason behind much of the political unrest and anti-Western sentiment in the region.
The Iraqi Government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki still controls the south of the country, but it seems much of the north has been lost, or is vulnerable to the ISIS forces.
Though the citizens of the northern cities may have little love for the extremist views of ISIS, they also have little sympathy for the mainly Shi’ite government installed after the West occupied their country in 2003 to bring down the dictator Saddam Hussein. (Saddam was born in the city of Tikrit and drew most of his closest advisers from the region, which still reveres him.)
Mr Maliki has called for foreign assistance in repelling ISIS but has not yet received any concrete offers. The United States, which withdrew its last occupation forces in December, 2011, is still weighing a possible response. Turkey, Iraqis northern neighbour, has condemned the ISIS actions – the militants stormed the Turkish Embassy in Mosul and seized 48 hostages – but has not hinted at intervention.
A US expert in Middle Eastern politics, Kenneth Pollack, told the ABC’s The World Today program that advances by ISIS will destabilise the entire region and may affect global oil markets.
Mr Pollack, who was formerly a member of the US National Security Council and specialised in Iran-Iraq analysis, said ISIS was perhaps more extreme than al-Qaeda, the group behind the attack that destroyed the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.
“It is likely that what we are seeing is the beginning of a new civil war in Iraq,” he said. – Compiled by Daniel Doody and Newsroom staff from agency and internet sources.
Top photo shows an Iraqi soldier on security patrol during the US occupation. Image from the US Army’s Flickr photostream.