Tag Archives: Baghdad

Baghdad promises revenge after ‘600 wounded,’ 3yo girl killed in ISIS chemical attacks on Iraq

A three-year-old girl has been killed and 600 more people injured after Islamic State militants reportedly carried out two chemical attacks in northern Iraq, local authorities say. The Iraqi government vows that the attackers will pay for the atrocity.

The attacks, which forced hundreds to flee for safety, took place in the city of Kirkuk and the village Taza, according to an AP report citing Iraqi officials.

“What the Daesh [Arabic derogatory term for IS] terrorist gangs did in the city of Taza will not go unpunished. The perpetrators will pay dearly,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.

Hundreds of wounded are now suffering from chemical burns, suffocation, and dehydration, according to Helmi Hamdi, a Taza-based nurse, who added that eight people had even had to be sent to Baghdad for treatment.

“There is fear and panic among the women and children. They’re calling for the central government to save them,” Adel Hussein, a local official in Taza, said.

Hussein confirmed that German and US forensics teams had arrived in the area to test for the presence of chemical agents.

Sameer Wais, father of three-year-old Fatima Wais, who was killed in the attack, fights for the local Shiite forces. After learning of the tragedy, he ran home and took his daughter to a clinic and then a hospital in Kirkuk.

The girl seemed better the next day, and the family took her home. However, things took a terrible turn in the evening.

“By midnight she started to get worse. Her face puffed up and her eyes bulged. Then she turned black and pieces of her skin started to come off,” Sameer said, as cited by AP.

The girl died early in the morning. Hundreds of people reportedly attended Fatima’s funeral, some showing their discontent with the government and calling on authorities to protect the population from IS attacks.

Fatima’s father said that he was returning to the frontline as soon as possible.

“Now I will fight Daesh more than before, for Fatima.”

Last month, US special forces reportedly detained the head of an IS unit that attempted to develop chemical weapons. The US-led coalition also reportedly began conducting airstrikes and raids on chemical weapons infrastructure two months ago.

The chemicals used by IS so far include chlorine and a low-grade sulfur mustard.

On Friday, when asked how big of a hazard such substances present, US Army Colonel Steve Warren told journalists, “It’s a legitimate threat. It’s not a high threat. We’re not, frankly, losing too much sleep over it.”

The latest attacks come just a few days since Taza was shelled with “poisonous substances,” after which dozens suffered from choking and skin irritation.

Iraq isn’t the only country that Islamic State has attacked with chemical weapons recently. Syrian Kurdish fighters came under a chemical attack by jihadists on Tuesday.

Last month, some 30 Kurdish militia members were injured in a mortar attack that supposedly involved shells armed with chlorine.

Islamic State truck bomb kills at least 60 people south of Baghdad

Residents gather at the site of a bomb attack at a checkpoint in the city of Hilla, south of Baghdad, March 6, 2016.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack with an explosive-laden fuel tanker on an Iraqi police checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 70, medical and security officials said.

Responsibility was claimed in a posting on the website of the Amaq news agency, which supports the ultra-hardline Sunni group.

“A martyr’s operation with a truck bomb hit the Babylon Ruins checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Hilla, killing and wounding dozens,” the statement on the Amaq website said.

Hilla is the capital of Babylon province, a predominantly Shi’ite region with some Sunni presence.

“It’s the largest bombing in the province to date,” Falah al-Radhi, the head of the provincial security committee, told Reuters. “The checkpoint, the nearby police station were destroyed as well as some houses and dozens of cars.”

A provincial hospital official confirmed the number of casualties. Many had suffered burn injuries.

 

 

Islamic State militants fight for Iraq’s two biggest dams

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Militants from the Islamic State are battling ferociously to control one of Iraq’s most vital resources: water.

Fighters with the group launched a three-pronged attack over the weekend in a drive to capture Haditha Dam, in western Iraq, a complex with six power generators located alongside Iraq’s second-largest reservoir. At the same time, they are fighting to capture Iraq’s largest dam, Mosul Dam, in the north of the country.

Seizing the dams and the large reservoirs they hold would give the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

They could also use the dams as a weapon of war by flooding terrain downstream to slow Iraq’s military or disrupt life. They have done that with a smaller dam they hold closer to Baghdad. But with the larger dams, there are limits on this tactic since it would also flood areas that the insurgents hold.

On Friday, the fighters unleashed a powerful attack from three sides on the town of Haditha in western Anbar province. Suicide attackers tried but failed to detonate an oil tanker and several trucks packed with explosives. The aim was to obliterate the final line of defense between the militants and Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River, Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, the commander of Anbar Operations Command, told The Associated Press.

For a brief moment, it seemed all was lost. The Sunni militants seized the army command headquarters in town, with very little stopping them from reaching the dam. But some local Sunni tribes who oppose the militants and feared for their livelihoods if the dam were captured sent fighters to reinforce the 2,000 soldiers guarding the town, allowing for a narrow victory. At least 35 militants and 10 soldiers were killed in clashes on Friday, Fleih said.

But the militants have been fighting every day since trying to take the town, according to four senior military sources in Anbar province. They spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak with the media.

Only 10 kilometers (6 miles) remain between the militants and the dam.

The jihadis are also closing in on the Mosul Dam — or Saddam Dam as it was once known — located north of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants.

Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have managed to hold the fighters off for now, but the growing strength and savvy of these Islamic militants is raising grave concerns.

The peshmerga are “under a great deal of pressure now” as they defend a 150-kilometer (80-mile) frontline against the Islamic State group along the edges of the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north,” Maj. Gen. Jabar Yawer, the official spokesman of the Kurdistan Region Guard Forces, told The Associated Press.

He said late Sunday there were fierce battles ongoing in towns and villages near the dam on the Tigris River. Fearing the worst, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki commanded his air force to reinforce the peshmerga Monday in a rare show of cooperation despite deep political divisions between al-Maliki and the Kurds.

“God forbid, if something happens that results in the destruction of the dam, it will be very, very dangerous,” Yawer said.

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

Worst hit has been the area of Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad. In May, some 12,000 families lost crops and many fled their homes, worsening Iraq’s growing crisis of internal displacement. The Special Representative for the U.N. Secretary General in Iraq called the incident a “water war,” and called on Iraqi forces and local tribes to team up and take back Iraqi waterways.

Doing that with Hadith and Mosul Dams is more problematic, since militant-controlled lie downstream. But damage to either could be disastrous, particularly in the case of the Mosul Dam. It has millions of cubic meters of water pent up behind it on the Tigris River, which — some 370 kilometers (220 miles) downstream — runs through the heart of Baghdad.

“Everything under it will be under five to 10 meters (yards) of water… including Baghdad itself,” said Ali Khedery, head of the Dubai-based consultancy Dragoman Partners and a longtime adviser to the U.S. military, government and companies in Iraq. “It would be catastrophic.”

Dams are critical in Iraq for generating electricity, regulating river flow and providing irrigation. Water is a precious commodity in this largely desert country of 32.5 million people. The decline of water levels in the Euphrates over recent years has led to electricity shortages in towns south of Baghdad, where steam-powered generators depend entirely on water levels.

Water has been used as a weapon in the past. After Shiite Muslims rose up against then-President Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, he retaliated by drying out parts of wetlands in the south of the country that had once generated farming revenues for its Shiite inhabitants.

Water is not the first resource the Islamic State group has narrowed in on as it swept over much of northern and western Iraq and parts of neighboring Syria the past months. The group has captured oilfields and pipelines in Syria and has sold off crude oil, helping fund its drive across both countries.

If it captures the dams, the militants are likely to try to use its electricity and water resources to build up support in nearby areas it controls, where residents often complain of shortages. Or it could try to snarl electricity service elsewhere.

Any disruption to the Mosul Dam “would destabilize the electricity system of northern Iraq,” added Paul Sullivan, an economist and Middle East expert at National Defense University in Washington. “This station is an integral part of the entire electricity grid of Iraq.”

​Iraqi troops push back ISIS militants in Tikrit as PM under pressure to quit

Iraqi government forces backed by helicopter gunships began an offensive on Saturday to retake Tikrit from Sunni Islamist militants, while party leaders pursued talks to end Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s rule, which is seen as highly divisive.

Politicians in Baghdad and around the world have warned that as well as taking back cities captured by insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), Iraqi authorities must quickly form a government that might be able to bring the country’s split communities together.

Since the beginning of June, ISIS jihadists have overrun mainly Sunni areas in the north and west of Iraq.

ISIS’ aim is to re-create a medieval-style caliphate stretching from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. They believe that Shiite Muslims are heretics that should be killed, and there is already confirmation that they have staged mass executions of Shiite government soldiers, as well as civilians captured in Tikrit.

On the battlefield, Iraqi troops have been advancing on Tikrit from Samarra, and have stemmed the militant advance south towards Baghdad.

Iraqi special forces air-dropped snipers inside Tikrit University on Thursday, which had been taken over by ISIS fighters. Helicopter gunships were used against other targets in the city on Saturday, and ISIS fighters abandoned the main city administration building.

A senior Iraqi official told AFP that his security forces were coordinating with Washington, which has military advisors on the ground to help push back the militants. There were also reports of US drones flying over the city, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Qassim Atta, a spokesman for the Iraqi military, told reporters on Saturday that militant commanders are starting to struggle because “their morale has started to collapse.” He added that 29 terrorists were killed in Tikrit on Friday.

But in the south of the country, ISIS militants were on the offensive. In Jurf al-Sakhar – located 85 kilometers south of Baghdad – police sources said that 60 ISIS fighters and 15 Iraqi security forces were killed in an attack on an army camp, but the militants retreated when they could not hold their positions.

Political wrangling

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a powerful Shiite cleric, intervened Friday and urged Iraq’s political blocs to agree on a new premier, parliament speaker, and president before the newly-elected legislature meets in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia promised US Secretary of State John Kerry to use his influence to encourage Sunni Muslims to throw their weight behind a new, more inclusive Iraqi government, in an effort to undermine support for the Sunni Islamist insurgents. The king’s words are a significant shift from Riyadh’s unwillingness to support a new government unless Maliki steps down, which may reflect his disquiet about the regional implications of ISIS’ rise.

A Shiite lawmaker from the National Alliance, which groups all Shiite Muslim parties, said that a session of the Alliance – including Maliki’s State of Law party – would be held throughout the weekend and that a number of Sunni political parties would also meet later on Saturday.

The next 72 hours are very important to come up with an agreement to push the political process forward,” the lawmaker, who asked to be kept anonymous, told Reuters.

Iraq’s Sunnis accuse Maliki of pushing them aside and repressing their community, which has led many armed Sunni tribes to support the hardline ISIS insurgency.

The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region has also said that Maliki should go. Maliki’s party won the most seats in the April election and was pushing for a third term before the ISIS offensive began. Now, some senior officials in his party say there is a possibility of him being replaced.

“It’s a card game and State of Law plays a poker game very well. For the Prime Minster, it will go down to the wire,” one official told Reuters.

Meanwhile, on the Iraq-Syria border, other Islamist rebels have challenged ISIS’ grip on power and have launched a counter-offensive on the border town of Albu Kamal.

Maliki rejects calls for emergency government

Nouri al-Maliki , in his weekly address, urged political parties to put aside their differences.

BAGHDAD – Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday rejected demands from rival politicians for an emergency national unity government, as al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents gained more ground, assaulting a former U.S. air base and pushing toward one of the country’s largest dams.

In his weekly address to the nation, he described such efforts as a “rebellion” against the constitution. The United States is pressing Iraq to create a more inclusive government, urging Maliki, a Shiite, to reach out to the country’s disaffected Sunni Muslim minority.

With the country’s conflict expanding, Baghdad is locked in a period of intense political maneuvering that could result in Maliki’s loss of the premiership. Given the violence, he is likely to struggle to form a government although his party won the largest share of the vote in April parliamentary elections, analysts said.

Despite his outright rejection of a “national salvation” government demanded by politicians, including the secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, he struck a somewhat conciliatory tone in his speech. He urged political parties to lay aside their differences before the first session of Iraq’s newly elected parliament, expected to take place next week.

“We desperately need a united national stance to defy terrorism,” Maliki said.

His speech, delivered two days after he met with Secretary of State John Kerry, contrasted with his public declarations earlier in the crisis, which have appealed to religious motivations and called for citizens to protect the country’s Shiite Muslim shrines.

Maliki issued the appeal as Sunni Muslim militants attacked one of Iraq’s largest air bases and seized several small oil fields north of the capital, news agencies reported.

In addition, insurgents were advancing on the Haditha Dam and hydroelectric power plant on the Euphrates River about 175 miles northwest of Baghdad.

There were also reports that Iran is stepping up its intervention on behalf of Maliki, secretly supplying military equipment and using drones to conduct aerial surveillance.

In Brussels, where he attended NATO meetings Wednesday, Kerry said the conflict in Iraq has “been widened obviously in the last days with reports of [Iranian Revolutionary Guard] personnel, some people from Iran being engaged in Iraq, perhaps even some Syrian activities therein.”

Kerry told reporters, “That’s one of the reasons why government formation is so urgent, so that the leaders of Iraq can begin to make the decisions necessary to protect Iraq without outside forces moving to fill a vacuum.”

Striking a positive note, Kerry also said that he was not sure what Maliki meant in rejecting a “salvation government” but that the rest of Maliki’s address was in line with what he pledged to do in their meeting.

Iraq’s Sadr warns will ‘shake the ground’ against militants

Najaf (Iraq) (AFP) – Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr Wednesday voiced opposition to US military advisers who have begun meeting with Iraqi commanders, and warned that his supporters would “shake the ground” in combatting militants.

“We will shake the ground under the feet of ignorance and extremism,” he said, referring to Sunni insurgents who have overrun a swathe of territory in the past two weeks, in a televised speech from the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

He added that he only supported “providing international support from non-occupying states for the army of Iraq“.

The cleric’s remarks came days after fighters loyal to him paraded with weapons in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad, vowing to fight a major militant offensive that has alarmed the world and threatens to tear Iraq apart.

Iraq’s flagging security forces, which were swept aside by the initial offensive but have since at least somewhat recovered, have already been joined by some Shiite fighters, and thousands more are ready to take part.

Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, which battled US forces for years when American troops were stationed in Iraq during their country’s nearly nine-year war, remains officially inactive, but fighters loyal to the cleric have nevertheless vowed to combat the militant advance.

Report : Attack near border with Iraq kills 3 Iranian border guards

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian semi-official news agency says an attack near the country’s western border with Iraq has killed three Iranian border guards.

The Fars news agency on Wednesday quoted security official Shahriar Heidari as saying the troops were killed on Tuesday night while patrolling along the border in western Kermanshah province. A border outpost commander was among those killed.

Heidari says an unspecified “terrorist group” was behind the attack. No other details were immediately available.

Iran has boosted border security amid the blitz offensive in neighboring Iraq by Sunni militants from the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The militants have snatched much of northern and western Iraq from Baghdad‘s control.

In the past, sporadic clashes have taken place between Iranian troops and opposition groups in western Iran.

ISIS takes over Iraq’s main oil refinery at Baiji – reports

A view of Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

Sunni militants have gained full control over Iraq’s main oil refinery at Baiji, south of Mosul, according to media reports.

ISIS takes over Iraq’s main oil refinery at Baiji – reports

Radicals from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, or ISIL) have been attacking the refinery, which is responsible for supplying a third of Iraq’s oil, for the past ten days.

The militants are planning to hand over the complex to local tribes for day-to-day management, BBC quoted a rebels’ spokesman as saying, adding that the militants will continue to make their way to Baghdad.

Al-Arabiya also reported that the refinery was taken over by Sunni militants. Meanwhile three Iraqi officials also confirmed to CNN the militants had seized the Baiji oil refinery.

The Baiji complex plays a key role for Iraqis as it refines the country’s crude into petroleum for domestic consumption, including for transportation and power stations, sparking fears of shortages.

On Monday, Sunni militants retook control over the northern city of Tal Afar and an airport. Tal Afar was first taken over on June 18, after the militants took Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

The ongoing offensive by the ISIS aims at achieving total dominance in Iraq by radical Sunni militants. On June 22, jihadists captured three new towns and two border crossings, one with Jordan and one with Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Monday. He held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.

“The key today was to get from each of the government leaders clarity with respect to the road forward in terms of government formation,” Kerry said.

The US’s help for Iraqi forces to defeat ISIS will be “intense and sustained,” Kerry said.

Kerry added that President Barack Obama is collecting all the required information in case he decides to order airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq, Kerry said in Baghdad on Monday.

“The President has moved the assets into place and has been gaining each day the assurances he needs with respect to potential targeting,” Kerry stated. Obama “has reserved the right to himself, as he should, to make a decision at any time.”

Earlier President Obama offered up to 300 additional American military personnel to go to Iraq and help coordinate the fight, while last week, F-18s started surveillance flights over Iraq as Washington authorized a “manned and unmanned” observation mission.

Shiite militia parade in Baghdade in show of govt’s might as ISIS overruns border town

Volunteers of the newly formed 'Peace Brigades' participate in a parade in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, Baghdad, in defiance of ISIS

Volunteers of the newly formed ‘Peace Brigades’ participate in a parade in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, Baghdad, in defiance of ISIS

Thousands of Shiite militia marched through Baghdad, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities in a show of the government’s force. However, extremists are just winning more ground: the Sunni fighters of ISIS have seized a town on the border with Syria.

Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to take part in a military parade on Saturday. Hosts of Shiite Iraqis answered the call, flooding the center of Baghdad and other cities across the country.

Around 50,000 people joined the rally in the country’s capital, some armed with weapons including Kalashnikov assault rifles, shotguns, Dragunov sniper rifles, light machineguns and rocket launchers. They brandished banners with slogans reading “We sacrifice for you, oh Iraq,” “No, no to terrorism,” and “No, no to America.”

As volunteers gathered in Baghdad, Sunni militants led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) pushed back faltering government forces, seizing control of crucial towns on the Iraq-Syria border. Killing over 30 members of the Iraqi security forces, ISIS fighters attacked the town of al-Qaima and succeeded in taking over the town, which is home to 250,000, and the border crossing to neighboring Syria.

The militant group also made significant gains on the other side of the frontier, bringing them closer to accomplishing their aim of creating an Islamic state straddling national borders.

The border town is located on a strategic supply route, the loss of which would be a significant blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. ISIS has capitalized on the ongoing civil war in Syria to gather weapons and thousands of fresh recruits from around the world. Full control of the border zone would mean potential free passage from Syria into Iraq for the militants.

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To counter the swelling ranks of the Sunni militants, Iraq’s government has officially asked the White House to deploy airstrikes in the region. In response, the White House issued a statement, saying there was no purely military solution to Iraq’s problems, and that it would consider a range of options.

As a preliminary measure, the US has deployed 300 additional military personnel to Baghdad to “assess how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.”

Obama also voiced criticism of Iraq’s leadership, suggesting that Al-Maliki has endangered the country by ignoring the needs of the country’s Sunni population.

“I don’t think that there’s any secret that, right now at least, there is deep division between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders,” Obama said Thursday. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was preparing to consult with the Iranian government over a solution to the crisis in Iraq.

The ISIS-led militants began to show signs of fragmentation on Saturday as fighters from ISIS and the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandiyah (JRTN) turned on each other in Kirkuk. At least 17 people were killed in the ensuing violence.

Iraq crisis exclusive : US rules out military action until PM Nouri al-Maliki stands down

The US has told senior Iraqi officials that the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, must leave office if it is to intervene militarily to stop the advance of Sunni extremists, The Independent has learnt. The Sunni community sees Mr Maliki as the main architect of its oppression and the Americans believe there can be no national reconciliation between Sunni and Shia unless he ceases to be leader of the country.

Mr Maliki is showing every sign of wanting to cling to power despite the disasters of the past 10 days during which his army of 350,000 men, on which $41.6bn (£24.5bn) has been spent by Iraq since 2011, has disintegrated after being attacked by a far less numerous foe. He has blamed Saudi Arabia, the Kurds and treacherous generals, but has offered no real explanation nor taken responsibility for the defeat.

Mr Maliki was effectively appointed by the US in 2006 but is today seen as being under the influence of Iran. The Iranian leadership is divided on whether or not to withdraw its support from Mr Maliki and see Shia dominance and Iranian power in Iraq diluted. Iranian commanders have taken over central direction of the Iraqi army, but Iraqi politicians do not believe that Iran has a coherent plan to rescue the Baghdad government from the crisis. The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, said that “the great Iranian nation will not hesitate to defend the holy [Shia] shrines”. These are at Samarra in the front line, al-Kadhimiya in Baghdad and Najaf and Karbala further south.

The most effective shape for US military support would be air strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) fighters called in by American forward air controllers operating with Iraqi units. Drones would be largely useless against an elusive and lightly armed enemy, though US air strikes of any type would raise the morale of the Iraqi military and the Shia population.

There is a constitutional way of getting rid of Mr Maliki when the Iraqi parliament meets before the end of June. It must chose a speaker and a president who will then ask a member of the largest party to form a government. It is unlikely that Mr Maliki would be chosen Prime Minister as other parties unite against him. “It is impossible that he should serve a third term,” said an Iraq politician who did not want to be named.

But parliamentary procedures may be too slow to remove Mr Maliki and put in place a new Iraqi leadership capable of withstanding an uprising by Iraq’s five or six million Sunni population, led by Isis but including seven or eight other armed groups. The pace of the Isis advance has slowed north of Baghdad in recent days, but it is still capturing Sunni towns and villages where much of the armed male population joins it. The original force of Isis fighters, sometimes put at 10,000 men, is thereby multiplied many times.

This happened in the Sunni town of Hibhib near Baquba, which is 40 miles north-east of Baghdad, over the last two days. A local woman speaking by phone said: “Less than 100 Daesh [Isis] came into the town and soon became more than 2,000 armed men. Even teenagers aged 14 and 15 are carrying rifles and setting up checkpoints.”

The general support for the Sunni revolt in northern and western Iraq will make it very difficult for any counter-offensive, which would be facing far more opponents than Isis originally fielded. Isis now controls almost all the Euphrates valley from Fallujah west of Baghdad through western Iraq and eastern Syria as far as the Turkish border. Any long-term campaign against Isis by the Iraqi government backed by US air power would require air strikes in Syria as well as Iraq. The two countries have effectively become a single battlefield.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

The success or failure of the US and Mr Maliki’s domestic opponents in replacing him in the next few weeks will be crucial in determining the future of the conflict. A chief reason why Isis, Sunni armed groups and the Sunni population have been able to form a loose common front against the government is the antipathy of the Sunni population to Mr Maliki. They see him as systematically reducing them to second-class citizens and putting as many as 100,000 in jail, with prisoners often held because of confessions extorted by torture or without any charge at all. Hostility to Mr Maliki provides part of the glue that holds the Sunni coalition together.

But the Iraqi government’s problems are immediate and require intelligent leadership which continues to be lacking. This was shown in Mosul last week where two senior generals took off their uniforms and fled to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s semi-independent zone. Overall, some 230,000 soldiers are reported to have deserted their units.

Mr Maliki continues to take many military decisions himself. Iraqi sources say that just before Isis stormed Tal Afar, a Shia Turkoman city of 300,000 west of Mosul, last weekend the KRG President Masoud Barzani sent a message to Mr Maliki offering to send peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) to defend it. Mr Maliki rejected the proposal. Such peshmerga as were in Tal Afar were withdrawn and Isis took over.

Unless it is too over-extended to make further advances, Isis may think it in its interests to strike quickly at Baghdad before the US and Iran decide what to do and while the political and military leadership in Baghdad is in turmoil. The Shia are the majority in the capital but there are Sunni enclaves in west Baghdad which might rise up.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce meets with Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Luqman Abd al-Rahim Fayli on Capitol Hill (Getty)

Living conditions all over northern and central Iraq will get more difficult as the economic unity of the country is broken. Baghdadis mostly cook on bottled propane gas, but this can no longer be supplied from Kirkuk because the road is cut by Isis. The insurgents have also taken three-quarters of Baiji refinery according an official speaking from inside the plant. The government’s version of what has happened at Baiji according to state television is that 44 Isis fighters were killed and survivors fled.

Mr Maliki’s best chance of staving off calls for his departure is that the threat to Baghdad will get so severe that Washington and Tehran will have to give support even if he stays. He has already been strengthened by the Shia clerical leadership in Najaf calling for people to join the Iraqi army. Not everything that has gone wrong in Iraq is Mr Maliki’s fault, but his responsibility for the present catastrophe is too great for him to play a positive role in averting a sectarian civil war.

 The Independent.