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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
i100
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

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'