The Middle East Channel

Iraqis Flee Mosul as Militants Expand Control

An estimated 500,000 people have fled the Iraqi city of Mosul after militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) overran the city. Fighters seized control of government buildings, prisons, banks, and the airport. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has urged parliament to declare a state of emergency calling on "all international organizations to support Iraq and its stance in fighting terrorism." The United States said the situation in Iraq remains "extremely serious" and called on the Iraqi government to "step up to the plate" to address political issues and instability. On Wednesday, ISIL and allied fighters pushed south into Baiji, which holds Iraq's largest oil refinery, expanding control from Nineveh province into Salahadin province.

Syria

A new coalition of Islamic rebel factions, the "Operations Room for the People of the Levant," has announced a new offensive against ISIL. On Monday, al-Nusra Front, Islamic Front, and Kurdish fighters launched attacks on the ISIL-held town of al-Bab. Meanwhile, in an interview with Lebanon's al-Akhbar, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that since the beginning of the crisis, Syrians had trusted the state, and that his re-election was proof that this support remains. Syria has begun releasing prisoners under a general amnesty declared by Assad. The amnesty should cover prisoners detained under anti-terrorism legislation and foreign fighters, as long as they turn themselves in within a month. However, it is unclear how many prisoners will be released. 

Headlines

  • An Egyptian court has sentenced prominent pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 others to 15 years in prison for violating a protest law.
  • Israel's Knesset members have elected veteran Likud Party lawmaker Reuven Rivlin to succeed President Shimon Peres when his term ends in July.
  • Former Libyan General Khalifa Heftar's forces have launched airstrikes on three areas of Benghazi after reports that he had agreed to cease-fire through national elections.

Arguments and Analysis

'Inside Mosul: How did extremists take over one of Iraq's biggest cities in just five days?' (Niqash)

"It only took five days for the Sunni Muslim extremist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, to occupy the city of Mosul, capital of the province of Ninawa and one of the biggest cities in Iraq, around 395 km north of Baghdad. The reason that the group, known as Daash in Arabic and formerly affiliated with Al Qaeda, were able to do this was because of the mass withdrawal of the Iraqi army and local security forces. These forces, loyal to the Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad, have been controlling parts of multi-ethnic Ninawa province for the past six years. Other parts of Ninawa are under the military control of forces from neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, which operates partially independently of Baghdad."

'Syria's Very Local Regional Conflict' (Yezid Sayigh, Carnegie Middle East Center)

"But this is no ordinary proxy conflict. The hollowing out of the Syrian state, significant demographic shifts resulting from the displacement of some 9 million Syrians, and the rise of subnational identities as a remarkably diverse society fragments have turned Syria into a kaleidoscope of local conflicts and miniature civil wars. New political actors, social trends, and economic dynamics continue to appear on the ground and evolve constantly. In many cases they are increasingly integrated into crossborder networks, communities, and economies in ways that may be difficult to reverse.

The highly localized nature of the Syrian conflict suggests that no external actor can fully grasp, let alone control, the intricacy and fluidity of complex dynamics at the grassroots level. But given the Assad regime's dependence for its survival both on its external allies and their proxies, as well as on the diverse array of local actors it has brought into being since the start of the conflict, it has little hope of regaining meaningful sovereignty. Indeed, no matter who eventually 'wins' the war, the scale of destruction, the loss of economic opportunity, and the degree of capital flight Syria has experienced mean that the country will remain completely dependent on external assistance and subject to foreign influence for decades to come."

'The Huthis: From Saada to Sanaa' (International Crisis Group)

"The power balance in Yemen's north is shifting. In early 2014, Zaydi Shiite fighters, known as the Huthis or Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), won a series of battles, in effect consolidating their control over Saada governorate, on the border of Saudi Arabia, and expanding southward to the gates of the capital, Sanaa. Now a patchwork of shaky ceasefires is in place, albeit battered by bouts of violence. Tensions are high between Huthis and their various opponents - the Ahmar family, Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (no relation to the Ahmar family) and his military allies, Salafi fighters, and the Sunni Islamist party, Islah, and their affiliated tribes. Fear is growing that an escalation could draw the state into a prolonged conflict. To head off a conflagration, the parties must turn the inchoate understandings reached during the country's National Dialogue Conference (NDC) into an implementable peace plan."

-- Mary Casey

SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Militants Seize Iraqi City of Mosul

After several days of fierce clashes, militants believed to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have taken control of most of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. Hundreds of fighters destroyed several police stations and seized the Nineveh province's government headquarters. Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Osama Nujaifi, said that Iraqi forces had "abandoned their posts" and that "terrorists" are in control of Mosul. Nujaifi called for troop reinforcements. According to Nujaifi, the militants had additionally seized the airport and the jails, reportedly releasing about 1,400 prisoners. Militants have launched attacks in Nineveh and four other provinces in recent days. Iraq's deputy migration and displacement minister stated that fighting in Mosul had already forced over 4,800 families to flee their homes. Meanwhile, the Turkish government is investigating reports that 28 Turkish truck drivers have been abducted in Nineveh province while transporting diesel to Mosul.

Syria

Fighting between Islamist brigades, including al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria's Deir al-Zour province has killed 634 people since April 30, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The six-week ISIL offensive has killed an estimated 39 civilians and driven 130,000 people from their homes. ISIL is battling for control of eastern Syrian and western Iraq, and has taken control of most of the northeast bank of the Euphrates River from close to the Turkish border to around 200 miles southeast to the town of Busayra.  

Headlines

  • Egypt has arrested seven men after a video appeared to show a mob sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in Tahrir Square during celebrations marking President Sisi's inauguration.
  • Libyan Prime Minister Ahmed Maitiq said he would step down after the Supreme Court ruled his election unconstitutional.
  • During a two-day visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Ankara, Iran and Turkey signed 10 energy and trade deals and agreed to cooperate on regional security issues.
  • Members of Israel's Knesset are voting on finalists Reuven Rivlin and Meir Sheetrit in the second round of presidential elections to determine a successor to Shimon Peres.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Latest Iranian Distractions' (Norma Claire Moruzzi, MERIP)

"While senior Iranian and US officials are planning bilateral talks over Iran's nuclear research program, the Iranian and world media are distracted by other issues: young women who post images of themselves without hejab on Facebook, and a video of six well-heeled youths dancing to Pharrell Williams' song 'Happy.' The gyrating youngsters were arrested and compelled to issue an apology on state television for what authorities said was a 'vulgar clip' that had 'hurt public chastity.' Meanwhile, an anonymous Facebook page popped up demanding that the women who had photographed themselves with uncovered heads be lashed and imprisoned. The woman who runs the 'My Stealthy Freedoms' Iranian-women-without-hejab Facebook project, journalist Masih Alinejad, has been subjected to relentless blackballing in the state-run media.

The confluence of events is no accident. While parts of the Iranian government seem to be inching closer to resolving the long-standing tensions with the United States, other parts of the regime are energetically targeting symbolic representatives of 'Western' cultural corruption. How better to sabotage political rapprochement than by confirming everyone's worst fear -- that the Iranian state is a rogue actor rather than a rational one?"

'Iraqi election results expose dramatic shifts in power' (Kirk H. Sowell, The National)

"Iraq's parliamentary elections, held at the end of April, exhibited a tectonic shift in the demographic balance of power and sectarian polarisation.

Due to a low Sunni Arab turnout in mixed provinces, Iraq's parliament has an outright Shia Islamist majority, having increased to 181 seats out of 328 for 2014. Whereas 2010 saw a high-water mark for the Sunni Arab-secular Shia coalition, winning 101 seats - 91 of those under the Iraqiya coalition headed by former (secular Shia) prime minister Iyad Allawi - those two groups have been reduced to just 76. The Kurdish parties managed to add five seats, increasing to 62.

The results left Sunni Arab factions both weaker and divided. Speaker Osama Al-Nujayfi's Mutahidun won 27 seats, a clear Sunni plurality, but a pyrrhic victory since his factions held 45 seats in the outgoing parliament."

-- Mary Casey

HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images