Oil & gas

Analysis: Baghdad Might Fall to Islamist Militants

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International reports indicate locals who fled to Baghdad remain on the edge, fearing that an all-out onslaught on the city by the strong-minded combatants is imminent.


The battle-hardened fighters from the State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), an offshoot of the Al Qaeda, have committed atrocities in areas that have fallen under their control in recent weeks, leaving a trail of unprecedented bloodshed and destruction.


Photos of ISIS insurgents shooting government soldiers and other prisoners of war have riled the world, with politicians including Tony Blair urging the international community to quickly come to Iraq’s rescue.


“Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force. This does not mean Western troops as in Iraq. There are masses of responses we can make short of that. But they need to know that wherever they’re engaged in terror, we will be hitting them,” said Blair in a recent essay on his website.


With fears the ongoing unrest could spark a sectarian war and dismember Iraq, the United States will for the first time since the late 1970s join hands with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government to fight and defeat the advancing militants.


President Obama last week directed that two war ships remain on standby to assist Iraq in an aerial campaign against the Sunni fighters.


However, the Iraq army remains divided along ethnic lines with Sunnis who enjoyed powerful positions in the reign of deposed President Saddam Hussein, looking at the Shias with disdain.


The leader of the powerful Hezbollah military movement, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah has since given a new angle to the conflict, saying the “terrorists marching towards Baghdad would today be in Beirut had Hezbollah not intervened in the war in Syria.”


Nasrallah told Lebanon’s As-Safir newspaper Tuesday that Hezbollah’s presence in Iraq is limited to the north of Iraq after army forces backed by Hezbollah fighters drove them out of the Lebanese border regions.


Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has urged all able-bodied men to pick guns to save Iraq from falling into the hands of Al Qaeda.


The sponsors of the Islamist movement remains unclear but some analysts have pointed fingers at Saudi Arabia’s ruling Sunni family.


In his speech this week, Nasrallah wondered: “Why don’t we hear ‘some [Persian] Gulf and regional countries” who condemned [Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria] condemn ISIL?”


By mid-day Saturday, the Iraq airforce had intensified raids on the militants’ convoys as they struggled to control Baquba just a one-hour drive from the city of Baghdad.


The militants have in the last few days seized large swathes of land and Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul not to mention Hawija and Tikrit.


With Obama ruling out the idea of deploying boots on ground, Iraq is likely to be saved by the powerful Iran Revolutionary Guard.


It is thought two battalions of the Quds Forces, which is the overseas branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, moved to Iraq on Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal.


There they worked jointly with Iraqi troops to retake control of 85 percent of Tikrit and are also guarding Baghdad, as well as two Shiite holy cities that the Sunni jihadists are threatening.


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying his country would “not hesitate” to defend Shia holy sites.


“Regarding the holy Shia shines in Karbala, Najaf, Khadhimiya and Samarra, we announce to the killers and terrorists that the big Iranian nation will not hesitate to protect holy shrines. These terrorist groups, and those that fund them, both in the region and in the international arena, are nothing, and hopefully they will be put in their own place.”

Context


Acording to Russia Today, the US and Iran severed diplomatic relations in 1979, after Islamic militants following Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized the government and deposed the American-backed shah. Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran, leading to the 444-day Iran hostage crisis.


Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran was in a state of heavy international isolation. The US has led the world in debilitating sanctions against the Islamic Republic that have increased as the Middle Eastern country has developed its nuclear program.


Under Hussein’s dictatorship, Sunnis dominated the Iraqi political landscape, even though over 60 percent of Iraqis are Shia. In Iran, over 95 percent of the population is Shia. The two countries are the only majority-Shiite nations in the Middle East. (Over 1.1 billion Muslims around the world are Sunni, while less than 200 million Muslims are Shia.)

From 1980 to 1988, the two nations battled in a deadly war in which both sides deployed chemical weapons. The US sided with Hussein during that war, but turned against the dictator when he invaded American ally Kuwait in 1990, leading to the first Gulf War. Hussein stayed in power until the second Gulf War began in March 2003.

Once Hussein was captured by American forces in December 2003, the Shia majority regained political power. Al-Maliki is a Shiite Muslim and has become unpopular with Iraq Sunni minority, which has accused the government of discrimination. Since 2005, Iran and Iraq have had a flourishing relationship, and are now considered to be each other’s strongest allies.

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