Iraq crisis: The worst is perhaps yet to come

By: Pathikrit Payne
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The situation in Iraq continues to be extremely critical with both sides bracing for a long haul. Even as the deadly terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured almost half of Iraq and declared the establishment of the new Caliphate, the Iraqi government received its first consignment of Russian Sukhoi-25 ground attack aircrafts.

The prompt Russian help for Iraq....

The Iraqi government has been continuing air attacks with helicopter gunships and in certain regions have been successful in inflicting casualties on the ISIS militants especially in the city of Tikrit. Meanwhile even as ISIS militants took control of an 800 km long border between Syria and Iraq, Syrian Air Force planes continued to pound on the ISIS militants who now control a substantial portion of Syria as well.

While the Su-25 ground attack aircraft would act as a significant boost to the arsenal of a beleaguered Iraqi government, and though the planes are expected to be pressed to service shortly, questions do remain as to who would be piloting them.

While a certain number of Russian military experts are now in Baghdad who have come to assist the Iraqi forces to equip the Russians planes for combat service, the possibility of them piloting the planes seem distant even though the current lot of Iraqi pilots don't seem to have any training whatsoever in flying Su-25 aircraft which had not been in service with the Iraqi Air Force for more than two decades now.

Is Iraq frustrated with the American approach to the present crisis?

The Iraqi government's decision to procure the Su-25 ground attack aircraft from Russia marks a significant shift in the approach of the regime which has been increasingly getting frustrated because of the American reluctance to involve American planes in striking ISIS strongholds even as the US government continues to drag its feet over the delivery of the F-16 combat aircraft to Iraq. What appalls many is the insistence of the Obama Administration to continue funding the rebels groups in Syria instead of focusing on Iraq.

The prompt Russian help to Iraq would invariably have a significant impact in the current context of Middle East geopolitics especially because Russia has helped even while US have continued to dither. The Russian help to the Syrian regime too is something which cannot be undermined especially because had it not been for Russian help and its threat to supply Syria with S-300 anti aircraft missiles, American airstrikes would invariably have happened there. Also, Russian help ( as well as Iranian ) in Syria played a critical role in tilting the balance in favor of Assad whose regime has been battling a myriad of terror and rebel groups including ISIS.

The ISIS declaration of the Caliphate- Will the global Islamic community accept it?

Meanwhile, the decision of the ISIS to consolidate their position and their declaration of a new Caliphate under their leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, is a glimpse of grand designs that ISIS has, which incidentally has now renamed itself as Islamic State. The Guardian newspaper reported about the ISIS spokesperson stating, "The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph's authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas."

The strategic move of ISIS coinciding with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, is possibly aimed at garnering a global appeal among the Muslim community. How the Islamic world would react to it is a question mark but the statements made by ISIS that even the emirates and states no longer have any relevance is a direct threat to even those countries like Saudi Arab and Qatar who are accused of allegedly sponsoring and bankrolling ISIS.

Nevertheless, the grand design of ISIS is now clear in as much its intention to shift its image from a terror group or a non state actor to one which aspires to have its own state to be run on Islamic laws. However, their acceptability, given the brutality and horrifying acts of public beheading and crucifixions they commit in addition to imposition of strict Islamic laws and the threat they pose to all Islamic states, puts their durability and acceptability extremely doubtful.

What next for Iraq and Middle East?

The situation as it stands today, it is highly unlikely that the problem is going to be solved soon enough, Even a change of guard in Baghdad with a new regime being put in place of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, may not change the situation much. From the statements and intentions declared by ISIS, it is very clear that the objectives of ISIS is not just restricted to Iraq but has much bigger agenda which is spread across the length and breadth of Middle East and beyond.

Worse, the retreating Iraqi Army and the capture of several major cities and military bases have given ISIS access to sophisticated weapons which has increased its firepower considerably.

Will Iraq remain united or split up?

With ISIS being within 40 miles of Baghdad and Shiite majority Southern Iraq bracing for the assault, with hundreds of thousands of Shiite youth volunteering to join the Iraqi Army, the biggest and the fiercest of the battles are perhaps yet to come.

Another interesting aspect of the entire paradigm of events in Iraq is the realignment of forces and groups happening. The alarming threat of ISIS is now making the Mehdi Army of Mukhtada Al Sadr aligning with the Iraqi government and vowing to fight the Sunni Wahabi ISIS militants and assisting Iraqi government.

With Israel openly supporting independence of the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, with Shia majority Southern Iraq looking up to Iran for all kinds of help the thwart the impending invasion, with Northern Iraq now under complete control of ISIS, the future of territorial integrity of Iraq remains a major question mark. And amidst all this, the world is bracing for major hikes in oil prices which seem inevitable now.

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