Iraq crisis: Baghdad prepares for the worst as Islamist militants vow to capture the capital

Collapse of Shia-dominated regime could provoke Iranian intervention

Iraq is breaking up. The Kurds have taken the northern oil city of Kirkuk that they have long claimed as their capital. Sunni fundamentalist fighters vow to capture Baghdad and the Shia holy cities further south.

Government rule over the Sunni Arab heartlands of north and central Iraq is evaporating as its 900,000-strong army disintegrates. Government aircraft have fired missiles at insurgent targets in Mosul, captured by Isis on Monday, but the Iraqi army has otherwise shown no sign of launching a counter-attack.

The nine-year Shia dominance over Iraq, established after the US, Britain and other allies overthrew Saddam Hussein, may be coming to an end. The Shia may continue to hold the capital and the Shia-majority provinces further south, but they will have great difficulty in re-establishing their authority over Sunni provinces from which their army has fled.

Read more: Robert Fisk: Sunni caliphate bankrolled by Saudi Arabia
Patrick Cockburn: ‘Do not fall prey to your vanities’ - the philosophy of Iraq’s new conquerors
Iraq crisis: Islamist militants attack Tikrit and near Baghdad after 500,000 are forced to flee Mosul
Iraq crisis: Capture of Mosul ushers in the birth of a Sunni caliphate

It is unlikely that the Kurds will give up Kirkuk. “The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga [Kurdish soldiers],” said the peshmerga spokesman Jabbar Yawar. “No Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk.”

Foreign intervention is more likely to come from Iran than the US. The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would act to combat “the violence and terrorism” of Isis”. Iran emerged as the most influential foreign power in Baghdad after 2003. As a fellow Shia-majority state, Iraq matters even more to Iran than Syria.

Iran will be deeply alarmed by the appearance of a fanatically Sunni proto-state hostile to all Shia in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, the Isis spokesman, said today that the Shia, 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, “are a disgraced people”, accusing them of being “polytheists”.

Iraq’s Shia may well conclude that their army has failed them and they must once again rely on militias like the Mehdi Army which was responsible for the slaughter of Sunni in 2005 and 2006. At that time, much of Baghdad was cleansed of Sunni. The loss of Baghdad has never been forgotten or forgiven by Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, which has long hoped to reverse the Shia dominance in Iraq.

In Mosul, Isis has so far been careful not to alienate the local population which on the west bank of the Tigris River is Sunni. There are large Kurdish neighbourhoods in the east of the city. Refugees are finding it difficult to enter the Kurdistan Regional Government zone because of stringent checks and single men, suspected of being insurgents, are not allowed entry.

Inside Mosul people reached by The Independent say they are afraid. One woman described how a local petrol station was burnt down by looters though Isis tried to protect it. She said her younger brother had gone to repair it. She says that when her two brothers came back from doing the repair job, “I was horrified that they might have been photographed, their names known and they might be punished when the defeated forces come back.” A reason why many people are fleeing Mosul or are terrified by the prospect of a successful counter-attack by the government is that all the Sunni population is liable to be mistreated as Isis supporters, regardless of their sympathies.

Isis has tried to show that it can run Mosul and the electricity supply has improved to six hours a day since the Iraqi army left. The Isis spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani has told victorious fighters “not to bother those who do not bother you”. But other proclamations announce the full application of Isis’s fundamentalist creed.

The Kurds are taking advantage of the disarray of the government in Baghdad to seize territories along the “trigger line”. This stretches from north-east of Baghdad to the Syrian frontier west of Mosul. The Iraqi Kurds have advanced further towards establishing an independent state, but it is unclear how far they will commit troops to rescue the Baghdad government.

Iranian intervention would probably come through massively strengthening Shia militias. But the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will find it very difficult to reverse the defeats of the last week. 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Recruitment Genius: Fertility Nurse

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join the ho...

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash