ISIS is now claiming to have planted sleeper cells within Baghdad and has instructed these sleepers to rise up at zero hour and to aid in an assault on the Iraqi capital. Whether this is merely hot air or a credible threat remains unknown but the Iraqi government is taking it seriously. It does appear that some ISIS fighters are approaching the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, to the north the Kurdish President is urging Kurdistan’s parliament to vote on a declaration of independence.
Sunni Fighters Closing in on Baghdad?
When Sunni fighters under the banner of ISIS poured across the Syrian border and sent the Iraqi military running with its tail between its legs, the general assumption was that the military would entrench itself and hold Shia territory. Now, that assumption is coming under question as ISIS forces are now approaching the capital of Baghdad.
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How close ISIS forces are remains unknown. ISIS claims that they are already bearing down on the capital and will launch a wide scale attack in the near future. The Baghdad government thinks it still has time and is prepping its military to make a stand. Meanwhile, Shia militias are organization while Sunni citizens appear to be staying off the streets.
The Iraqi government estimates that there are some 1,500 sleeper cells already in place within central Baghdad and an additional 1,000 on the outskirts. Apparently, the aim of these sleeper cells is to aid fighters coming in from outside of the capital, and to disrupt the military and government within the city.
Supposedly the attack will come at “Zero Hour”. When that is and how the sleeper cells will coordinate themselves remains unknown. While it might be tempting to assume that “Zero Hour” is merely a scare tactic, if the government’s estimates of the number of ISIS agents already in the city is accurate, an attack might be inevitable.
While the insurgent was initially led by a small group of radicalized ISIS fighters, they are drawing the sympathies, or at least interest, from Iraq’s Sunni community. The Iraqi government has heavily favored Shias over Sunni, resulting in rising tensions as more and more Sunnis have become disenfranchised.
Kurdistan Moving Towards Independence
While the central Shia government in Iraq is under siege, the Kurdish government to the north appears to be on the verge of declaring independence. Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani has asked his parliament to prepare the country for a referendum to consider independence, a sign of his growing in patience and lack of faith with the Shia government.
That being said, Kurdish forces have expanded their control outside of their autonomous zone. When ISIS sent the Iraqi military fleeing, large areas of Kurdish dominated areas still under the central government’s control were left exposed. Kurdistan’s famed Peshmerga military force quickly moved to secure these areas and protect Kurds from any attacks by ISIS forces. It’s estimated that the Kurds have expanded their territory by as much as 40 percent.
The Kurds represent Iraq’s strongest and most organized military power, but so far they seem to have little desire in projecting their power outside of Kurdish predominate areas. The Kurdish military is perhaps the only force in Iraq in a position to dispel the ISIS forces, but so far the two sides have largely ignored one another, outside of a few minor skirmishes.
Will Iraq split up?
If Kurdistan does vote, and votes for independence, it might permanently cleave Iraq. With the central government already under siege, the loss of Kurdistan would be a further blow to the Shia government so desperately seeking the confidence of its citizens. Even should the central Iraqi government manage to repel ISIS, they would likely lack the strength to force Kurdistan back into the fold.
The loss of Kurdistan, however, would likely be a huge blow to the government. Besides Sunni and Kurdish populations, the rather moderate Shia government also has to contend with more radical elements within the Shia community. The loss of Kurdistan could stoke tensions within the Shia community and empower more radical elements of the Shia community. This could result in the radicalization of the Shia community and government itself.