Only a few years removed from an American-led occupation, it appears that Iraq is edging ever closer to collapse. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has now fallen into the hands of militants that are part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Not since the fall of Saddam Hussein has Iraq enjoyed anything close to stability, but conditions on the ground appear to be only worsening.
ISIS a growing threat in the Middle East
ISIS is a jihadist group that is very active and holds a lot of influence in both Iraq and Syria. The group has been linked to other terrorist organizations, such as Al Quida. Indeed, the group is in fact an offshoot of Al Qaeda and its forces are now among the most active in both Syria and Iraq. Many of the fighters in the group are actually foreign born jihadist driven by ideology, not any sense of local patriotism or desire for freedom.
Mosul lies just 250 miles north of Baghdad and is considered by many to be Iraq’s second most important city. It is a major hub of the oil industry and sits on the banks of the vital Tigris river. The seizure of such a vital city calls the strength and unity of Iraq’s central government into serious question.
Mosul is the capital of the Nineveh state in Northern Iraq. For the last several months militants have been gaining control of the state. Now, following five days of intense fighting, militants have succeeded in pushing the national army out. Beyond weakening the central government, the increasing stability in the north could force Kurdistan to react.
Indeed, reports are rolling in that thousands of refugees from Mosul have been streaming towards Kurdish controlled areas. For now, these areas promise more peace and stability than the rest of Iraq.
Could Kurdistan move towards independence?
Mosul lies near the predominately Kurdish regions of Iraq and some Kurdish leaders claim the city as part of their territory. The Kurdish regions of Iraq have enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since shortly after the first Gulf War. In general, Kurdish Muslims are less extreme in their views. Indeed, the Kurds even appear to have more pro-Israeli views, something that stands in stark contrast to Jihadist Muslims.
It appears that the Kurds in Northern Iraq are even considering a declaration of independence. Some analysts believe that if conditions between the national government and Kurdish government deteriorate much further, Kurdish regions could push for independence. Now, with Iraq’s central government looking weaker than ever
Kurds and Jihadists on collision course?
Beyond the fact that the militants seizure of Mosul might push Kurdistan even further away from the weak central government, the fact that the city lies to close to the Kurd’s central territories also increases the risk that the two groups could come into conflict.
Kurdish controlled areas of Iraq have been a relative bastion of peace and stability. The Kurds have been able to largely keep Jihadists out of their territory and their well-developed police and military forces have provided tight security in the Kurdish regions. Kurdish troops have successfully conquered Mosul previously, though it is not clear is the Kurdish military will intervene now.
Either way, it’s unlikely that the extremist Jihadists and more secular Kurdish will make good neighbors. Kurds in Syria have already come into conflict with Jihadists. Kurdish people tend to be more closely aligned with other Kurds, rather than any particular nation-state. As such, the widening rift between Kurds in Syria and ISIS could play a major role in Iraq.
With ISIS now being all but in control of the Nineveh province and Kurdistan slowly slipping out of Iraq’s orbit, it may only be a matter of time before tensions flare up. If this were to happen, the future of Iraq might depend on whether Kurdistan moves to counter Jihadists in an effort to stabilize Iraq, or instead as part of an independence movement.