Iraq crisis: Iran to step in to defend Baghdad from Sunni extremists and prevent collapse of Iraqi state

Revolutionary Guard to help defend Baghdad from Sunni extremists; Top cleric calls on Shias to take up arms; Reports of mass executions as two more cities fall to Isis rebels; Militias fill vacuum as security forces refuse to fight

Iran is moving to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) from capturing Baghdad and the provinces immediately to the north of the capital.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is taking a central role in planning and strategy in Baghdad in the wake of the disintegration of the Iraqi army in the country’s north, an Iraqi source has told The Independent.

With the Iraqi army command completely discredited by recent defeats, the aim of the IRGC is to create a new and more effective fighting force by putting together trustworthy elements of the old army and the Shia militias. According to the source, the aim of the new force would be to give priority “to stabilising the front and rolling it back at least into Samarra and the contested areas of Diyala”.  The Iraqi army has 14 divisions, of which four were involved in last week’s debacle, but there is no sign of the remaining units rallying and staging a counter-attack.

Militants driving pick-ups with machine guns in the back have captured two towns, Jalula and Sadiyah, in the mixed Sunni-Shia-Kurdish Diyala province. Both have been the scene of bloody sectarian fighting in the past and Sadiyah is only 60 miles from Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions without offering any resistance after being given an ultimatum that they must hand over their weapons if they wanted to leave unharmed.

 

The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, told the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, by phone that “Iran will apply all its efforts on the international and regional levels to confront terrorism.” Iraq, with its long common border with Iran and a 60 per cent Shia majority, is Iran’s most important ally, more important even than Syria. The Iranians are horrified by the sudden military collapse of their ally and the prospect of a viscerally anti-Shia quasi-independent Sunni state emerging in northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria. This would create problems for Iran in Syria where it has been struggling with some success to stabilise the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

The leading Shia clerics in Iraq are likewise anxious about the future of Iraq as the first Arab state to be ruled by Shia since the days of Saladin (in the 12th century). The senior cleric, Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbaklai, who normally represents the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shia spiritual leader in Iraq, said at Friday prayers “that citizens who can carry weapons and fight the terrorists in defence of their country, its people and its holy sites should volunteer and join the security forces”.

The US, Britain and their allies such as Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf might object to further Iranian involvement in Iraq. On the other hand, Washington’s only effective alternative policy would be air strikes, but even these may not be enough to put down what is turning into a general uprising of the Sunni community in Iraq, which is five or six million strong and mainly concentrated in the north and west.

It is becoming clear that Isis is not the only Sunni militant group involved in the Sunni insurgents’ multipronged offensive that was carefully co-ordinated. Among those engaged are the Jaish Naqshbandi, led by Saddam Hussein’s former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, former members of the Baath party, the Mukhbarat security services and the Special Republican Guard. It is these groups, rather than Isis, which captured Tikrit.

Mr Maliki has blamed “a conspiracy” for the army failing to fight and, though he produced no evidence, it is possible senior Sunni officers in the Iraqi army were involved in a plot. Some 80 per cent of the senior officers in Saddam Hussein’s army are estimated to have been Sunni and Mosul was famous as the home of many of them. Saddam traditionally picked his defence minister from Mosul.

Isis fighters are the shock troops of the Sunni offensive but are also part of a broad anti-government coalition, the unity of which may be difficult to maintain if Isis gives full range to its bigoted anti-Shia ideology and starts destroying their mosques, churches and other religious monuments. Some leaflets circulating in Mosul insist that women should not leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

The victories of Isis over superior forces in such a short space of time will greatly increase its prestige and its appeal to the Sunni not only in Iraq but in the rest of the Muslim world. It has also captured military equipment including at least two helicopters. Government forces have made some air attacks – such as one against a mosque in Tikrit yesterday – but not enough to prevent the advance of Isis, whose commanders are eager not to give their enemy time to reorganise. Intoxicated by unexpected success the Isis fighters will be difficult to stop.

For the moment, the government in Baghdad appears paralysed, Mr Maliki having failed to assemble a quorum in parliament to give him emergency powers. But even if such powers had been secured it is not clear how far they would enable him to tackle his main problem, which is that security forces are refusing to fight.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness