Another Iraqi military base has fallen to ISIS. Control of the base, to the east of the city of Hit, which was captured by ISIS yesterday, gives the Islamic State near uncontested control of Anbar province, as well as a major jumping off point for any move on Baghdad. Bloomberg news reports on the fallout:
[ISIS] fighters are battling Iraqi forces in Abu Ghraib, 18 miles (29 kilometers) from Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and government offices.The town of Haditha is “completely besieged” by Islamic State militants and will fall within days without U.S. action to prevent it, Faleh al-Issawi, the deputy head of Anbar provincial council, said by phone late yesterday. He said the jihadists control 80 percent of Anbar province
The article then goes on to argue, however, that Baghdad itself is less threatened than it might appear:
Baghdad will be better defended than Iraqi cities such as Mosul, seized by Islamic State after it routed the Iraqi army during a lightning advance across the north in June[….]“There is simply no way, for instance, Daesh could storm the large, combative Shiite militias that are awaiting in the Iraqi capital, and which enjoy unconditional state backing, from both the local government and Iran,” [Peter Harling, senior Middle East and North Africa adviser at the International Crisis Group] said in an e-mailed reply to questions.
Perhaps, but we are more than a little skeptical of this assessment. It’s worth underlining that these “large, combative, Shiite militias” are primarily Iranian-backed death squads, more practiced in terror and torture than in defending a major city. Amnesty International has released a 28-page report today detailing mass kidnapping, and summary execution of civilians by these militias, which have been granted operational impunity by the Iraqi government. Amnesty:
One government official explained that militias “mostly … kidnap Sunnis, because the victims can easily be labelled as terrorists and nobody is going to do anything about it”. At a checkpoint north of Baghdad, Amnesty heard a member of the ‘Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia say: “If we catch ‘those dogs’ [Sunnis] coming down from the Tikrit area we execute them”
Nor should the actual Iraqi army provide much comfort to those watching Iraq disintegrate. CBS News cites a figure of 60,000 Iraqi troops assigned to defend Baghdad, but given the rampant corruption in the Iraqi armed forces, the official numbers on paper are one of the least important facts about the defending forces. As Haaretz noted in June, a large portion of the Iraqi army is made up of “ghost soldiers” who appear in the official troop count but pay their commanders a portion of their salary in return for being excused from duty. Graft has always been rampant in the post-Ba’athi Iraqi military, with officers stealing not only money and equipment, but even reportedly food and water from their soldiers during ISIS’ June blitz. These factors, while perhaps attenuated, are still very much at play today.