5-28-15 – ISIS Tightening Noose on Iraq

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS–The fall of the critically important city of Ramadi to Islamic State terrorists, the widening humanitarian crisis throughout the country involving millions of displaced persons, and the continuing pressures on a still-fragile central government in Baghdad, bode ill for Iraq’s future stability and security. These setbacks for the beleaguered Baghdad government equally shadow Washington where the Obama Administration appears in denial over the depth of this crisis.

The sectarian Islamic fault lines between Iraq’s Shiite majority and the Sunni minority form a large part of the underlying issue; but so is the determined and focused assault by militants of the Islamic State striving to create a radical Islamic Caliphate throughout the Middle East. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) gains from the Iraqi government’s own sectarian favoritism and infighting.

Unquestionably, the Obama Administration’s politically expedient total pullout from Iraq in 2011, has caused a power vacuum being filled both by ISIL (a Sunni faction) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (supporting the Shiite majority). Moreover the Obama Team seriously underrated IS calling the group, a “junior varsity” terrorist organization.   Over the past year, Islamic State has blitzed through northern Iraq, and large parts of Syria, widened its reach, and seized strategic cities such as Mosul and now Ramadi.

The Iraqi army, for the most part, caved in and collapsed. To their enduring credit, the tough Kurdish Persmerga fighters have been the only fire-break to the onslaught.  In some areas, IS has been beaten back by militias, but the overall picture remains grim. American special forces and Air Force strikes have been unable to stem the tide.

Jan Kubis, the UN’s tough point man in Iraq, put the matter bluntly before the Security Council, “ISIL is far from being defeated and government gains remain at times fragile. An ability to liberate a city, territory, doesn’t necessarily mean an ability to hold it.”

In Ramadi, some 120,000 civilians fled the city to seek safety from the onslaught.

Dr. Kubis added, “Vast areas of Iraq and millions of Iraqis remain under ISIL control and influence which continues to perpetrate horrendous crimes and human rights violations against the Iraqi people.”

Kubis added, “ISIL recently added to their crimes the barbaric destruction of Iraq’s cultural and historic heritage in another attempt to destroy its national identity.”

Islamic State has targeted antiquities and historic cities in both Iraq and Syria for destruction. The terrorist group has captured Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, a Roman-era UNESCO world heritage site, expanding its reign of regional terror.

Facing widening attacks on cultural properties, Germany and Iraq are cosponsoring a UN General Assembly resolution which would propose “a clear set of measures to end the destruction and looting of archaeological sites, historical buildings and cultural artifacts” carried out by self-proclaimed Islamic State. Ambassador Heiko Thoms of Germany stated, “Iraq is a cradle of our common civilization; we cannot leave it to face this challenge alone.”

Indeed Iraq’s humanitarian challenge is daunting. Valerie Amos, the UN Humanitarian coordinator told the Security Council that in the past six months, “the number of Iraqis requiring humanitarian assistance has grown to over 8.2 million, an increase of three million in five months…Half of the displaced are children.”

Amos stated clearly, “Conflict, targeted attacks on civilians and intimidation, often along ethnic and sectarian lines, continue to plague the country,” adding,

“Women and girls continue to experience horrific acts of sexual violence, physical abuse, and enslavement.”

Following the fall of Ramadi, the UN’s humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF stepped up aid to refugees.

Amos advised that despite the growing challenges, funding shortfalls have cut aid. Only eight percent of the $1.2 billion required for the year has been received.

“Abandoning the victims of violence is unthinkable, more has to be done,” stated Lise Grande, a UN humanitarian coordinator.

Iraqi Amb. Mohamed Ali Alhakim warned that his country was facing an unprecedented challenge with “terrorists form over 60 countries” coming to Iraq. The Ambassador added, it was crucial to isolate terrorism by “choking it off.” He said his country was faced not only with the “savagery of terrorism” but a humanitarian catastrophe.

For the U.S., the impending fate of a land where so much American blood, treasure, and political prestige was invested seems to have been squandered in vain. The regional balance of power has shifted to the militants. Has anyone noticed?


John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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