The terror organization ISIS has taken over more and more of northern Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is facing accusations that the security catastrophe is his fault.
The governor of Mosul looked visibly exhausted as he appeared before the press in the Kurdish capital of Erbil on Wednesday (11.06.2014) to confirm that his city had been taken over by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror organization. Atheel al-Nujaifi had deep rings round his eyes after fleeing his residence at the last moment and taking refuge in Kurdish regions before ISIS stormed his office, occupied TV stations and attacked the airport.
ISIS fighters, dressed in black, flew jihadist flags from buildings and chanted in the streets that they had liberated Mosul. Al-Nujaifi said his city had been without water and electricity for two days, while thousands had fled their homes; some estimates say half a million refugees have come from Mosul and the Ninevah province. The United Nations mission in Iraq said schools have also come under targeted shellfire - not exactly the hallmark of liberation.
In the meantime, the Iraqi army has now completely withdrawn from the city - indeed from the Ninevah province as a whole. Anbar, the province west of Baghdad, is already an operational base and safe zone for ISIS. In Baghdad, rumors abound that ISIS is planning to take over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the neighboring provinces of Salah al-Din und Diyala. But it was Kurdish fighters who took control of Kirkuk on Thursday.
If ISIS were to succeed and eventually gain control of Kirkuk, it would control virtually all northern of Iraq - bar the three Kurdish provinces. The extremists would then be significantly closer to their ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic state. Iraqis can remember what that means: flyers ordering the wearing of Islamic clothing, the bombing of shops which dared to sell alcohol, the shooting of women seen driving.
At that time, too, ISIS, born of al Qaeda, was the umbrella organization uniting all radical Islamist terror groups. Its head, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was shot dead by US soldiers in 2006 in a house in the Diyala province.
The new leader was called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who initially fled to Syria when the Iraqi population refused to support al-Baghdadi and his supporters and a Sunni alliance, Sahwa, drove them away. For four years, the Americans and the Iraqi government claimed that al Qaeda had been swept from Iraq for good. They were wrong.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now has his back against a wall, for it isn't only the governor of Mosul directing the blame at him. Politicians of all stripes are holding the prime minister responsible for the catastrophe, not least because, for the past four years, the 63-year-old Shiite has been defense and interior minister as well as head of government. In other words, he has been commander-in-chief of the country's security forces, and their failure is also his.
Maliki himself, meanwhile, blames the war in Syria for ISIS' growing strength in his country, and in a recent interview with France 24, he claimed that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing the terrorists with their financial support in order to topple his Shiite government.
It's undeniable that the devastating situation in Syria and the growing power of ISIS there is having consequences in Iraq - but this is only one force in a very complicated battlefield.
Iraq observers guessed that this scenario would come to pass.
"If Maliki gets a third term in office, there will be civil war," a well-informed source predicted ahead of the parliamentary election on April 30. Even representatives of the Iraqi-German Economic Forum in Baghdad, organized by Germany's economic bureau in Baghdad, agreed during their last meeting that Maliki needed to go. Both Iraqi and German businessmen complained that the prime minister had fallen out with all of Iraq's various groups - the Kurds, the Sunnis, and even some of his own Shiite partners - all of whom were blocking each other and holding the country back.
While terrorist attacks abated following election day, they increased again once results were announced, culminating in the ISIS assault on the provinces.
Maliki still has the strongest parliamentary faction behind him - 95 seats - and so can claim his third term in office, despite more than 1,500 charges of electoral fraud. But his appeals for unity in the fight against ISIS have so far fallen on deaf ears.
Cry for help
In his desperation, Maliki has now called for help from abroad - in other words, from the US, who he allowed to withdraw completely in 2011 because he was unwilling to grant American soldiers immunity.
Washington is of course well aware of the political tensions in Iraq. A spokesman for the White House said that Maliki would receive more military equipment, but he would have to deal with his problems himself now. And Maliki has left it up to the Iraqi parliament to decide what to do - itself a sign of the prime minister's vulnerability.
This is the first time in his eight years in office that he has decided to consult parliamentarians before making an important decision.