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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Rapidly-Chaotic Collapse of the Cradle of Civilization

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The visuals that come from Mosul, the town that is under the complete control of ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant - are pretty disturbing for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike; apart from endless human suffering, the well-orchestrated destruction of ancient mosques, shrines and churches, the magnificent monument that stood the test of time for centuries, is not something pleasant to watch, even if you don’t belong to any of the sects of the religions in question.

Through the rubbles of organized chaos, the march of ISIS, continues unabated despite the rhetoric of the Iraqi army, which wants the rest of the world to believe otherwise.

If things progress at this rate, the militants will reach their secondary goal, in terms of monument-capture – Karbala, the holiest shrine of the Shiites. What they would do with it, remains to be seen, although, nothing can be ruled out at this stage. Shiites, not only in Iraq and Iran, but also in the other parts of the Middle East and beyond, may be watching the situation carefully, which has the potential to trigger off a sectarian catastrophe across the region, if the worse comes to the worst.

The Iraqi crisis reached another milestone on Saturday, when ISIS released a video, in which its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in public for the first time, who up until then remained a shadowy figure, leading an organization with a very fearsome reputation.

There are a few theories in circulation in explaining the rationale of the appearance of al-Baghdadi in the video – a very risky move, indeed: some say he wanted to quash the rumours of him being critically wounded or dead, most probably spread by al-Maliki’s Shia-dominated government; others say even moderate Sunni clerics wanted to see his face in return for the allegiance; al-Maliki government, meanwhile, said that it was not al-Baghdadi, perhaps, in order to cover its own weaknesses on the battlefront.

Al-Baghdadi did not address the faithful inside a cave as Osama bin Laden did, a few years ago. On the contrary, it was inside a grand mosque in Mosul that he delivered his speech. It contradicts the media sensation that the Iraqi army has been nurturing about the militants being beaten back.

Neither the arrival of Russian fighter jets nor the enlistment of thousands of young men of fighting age, seems to have any measurable impact on the progress of ISIS from the North and West of Iraq towards Baghdad.
In another development, Saudis deployed 30,000 troops, 1/5th of its army, along the border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which is 900km long. The significance of the number is astonishing, yet has all the hallmarks of a logistical nightmare: if you do simple maths, it turns out to be 3 soldiers for every hundred metres along the long volatile border.

The information is vague about the unexpected development: the Arab television network, al-Arabia, showed a video clip purporting to show the desertion of over 2500 soldiers on the orders of al-Maliki government, which the latter denied; the cynics think the Iraqi government deliberately did it so that Saudi Arabia, a formidable foe in the eyes of Shiites and a fierce opponent of the American involvement in the crisis, in order to bolster a Shite regime, has its own ‘taste’ of the problem on its own doorstep.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, meanwhile said that he was planning to stand for a third term, in what appeared to be a bizarre move, when the entire country is in flames. If he doesn’t reach out the Sunni population in Baghdad and the areas that surround it, the situation only gets more and more volatile in proportion to the geographical advance made by the militants of ISIS.

To make matters worse, the Kurds are talking about holding a referendum to become an independent state. Although, it received a lukewarm reception from the US, the apparent weakness of the al-Maliki government in maintaining friendly ties with the minorities has the potential to play into the hands of separatists, which in turn, may put Turkey, which has its own problems with the Kurds, in the lurch as a consequence. The Kurds are already controlling Kirkuk, the main oil production site in the Kurdish controlled North.

ISIS repeatedly made it clear that they do not recognize the present border between Iraq and Syria, drawn up in 1916. They have already effectively erased what was left of the border. They released a map this week while depicting how the Islamic caliphate would look in five years’ time – covering vast swathes of land including India and Sri Lanka!

Before that, at present, the relatively small states like Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar are under threat, as there is no strategic plan to take them on – either on a national platform of an international one.

The motto of al-Baghdadi is simple: hold on to the territory and expand. It seems to be working well, as they seem to be encountering little hindrance against the progress, while defying many conventional military odds.
In this context, only a delusional leader can blame the inability of an army to counter the threat on the lack of air force – or planes for that matter. President Obama is right not to get involved directly while exposing the civilians to guillotine of collateral damage. The US government knows the political nature of the crisis, about which it had been warning al-Maliki for years.

It is difficult to understand the mind set of al-Maliki, when the country is being carved along the tribal fault lines. The sooner he comes out of the shell of complacency, the better it is for him in particular and many peace-loving Iraqis in general – and the region as a whole, of course.

- Asian Tribune -

Rapidly-Chaotic Collapse of the Cradle of Civilization
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