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Iraq government's situation is very complicated

By David Harding - posted Monday, 16 June 2014

On the night of the 9th June, Iraq insurgent forces invaded the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and in the process captured or killed hundreds of Iraqi citizens, foreign diplomats and government officials. Whilst the world screams for some action, close observation may reveal that there is no such simple solution.

To start with, most Iraqi security analysts would have predicted that with Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki's win of the recent Iraqi national elections, many of the western tribes within the al Anbar province would be alienated and possibly do as they did in 2003 and side with the Jihadists. This is what has now occurred but with the additional complication that several of the other groups within the Iraqi insurgency such as the Islamic Army of Iraq, made up of former Iraqi military personnel, have also sided with the Jihadists. This uprising has been well planned and prepared.

Prime Minister al Maliki is in an unenviable position in that if he sends conventional Iraqi military forces to Mosul and away from their protective duties currently around the capital of Baghdad, he will leave himself and the Iraqi capital highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Al Maliki could utilise local Shiite militias such as the Badr corps or Muqtada al Sadr's Mardi Army to protect the capital. But such a move could alienate the local Sunni population within the city, and whilst may solve a short-term problem, will likely create a much more serious medium to long-term problem.


Alternatively, Prime Minister al Maliki could turn to the Kurds located within the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) region supplying them with armaments to launch counter strikes on the insurgents around Mosul. Unfortunately for al Maliki, once he gives armaments to the Kurds, it might be damn hard to get them back. And forefront in al Maliki's mind would be the Kurdish dream of self government, and the Kurds recent opening of an oil pipeline into Turkey, which went specifically against al Maliki's orders. Not to mention the recent taking of Kirkuk by Kurdish Peshmerga regiments.

An additional complication for the Kurds would be that they themselves could have internal terrorist troubles should the Kurdish Peshmerga leave the KRG. The internal Kurdish terrorist group Ansar al Islam could take this absence of security forces and likely increase their terrorist attacks within the KRG. All of these factors would have as an overlay that the Kurds themselves are not a wholly united front, but instead divided into two bitter camps of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Both groups have gone to war against each other in the past.

At the strategic level al Maliki could request the US for assistance. But this might not be as easy as it seems. Even if the US were to give 'boots on the ground' assistance, unlike the Gulf war's, of 1991 and 2003 the US does not have the advantage of a 'jumping off' position, such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, as it did previously. Neither country is likely at present to be over accommodating to US requests to commence a build up of military forces within their countries.

The US could possibly fly some bombing missions out of their Air Base in Qatar, but the Gulf States and certainly Iran will not take too kindly to such operations. Alternatively, the US could, given the current state of Iran's nuclear negotiations, offer conciliatory benefits if Iran was to lend either passive or military assistance to the al Maliki government. Such a move would certainly add additional strain to the current US/Saudi relationship, not to mention Israel's thoughts on allowing Iran extra opportunities to increase its nuclear program.

A US intervention would also need to factor in the resultant backlash in its home and allies countries should it get involved in a Middle East crisis. Many "home grown" terrorist strikes and plots within the US, Britain and Australia have been the result of each countries involvement in the current Afghan and previous Iraq wars.

The US could change its relationship with Syria's al Assad government and offer support. Such support could turn the Syrian civil war in Assad's favour and possibly lead to the defeat of the Islamists in Syria. It might also relieve some of the pressure around Mosul as insurgent fighters support both insurgencies. But such a move from the US will also alienate most Arab countries, Israel, not to mention the internal political backlash at home. Although US support would likely get approval from Russia and China within the UN Security Council.


Perhaps the situation is not so simple after all.

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About the Author

David Harding is a director of Anshin Consultants, a threat management consultancy, and holds a Masters degree, and has lectured, written, and blogged about international risk, threat and security management.

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