Tikrit, Iraq — hometown of Saddam Hussein — fell today. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) took the city by force, just a day after they took over Mosul. The Islamist rebels now control a wide swath of Iraq, and have taken massive caches of American weapons left in Iraq to supply the country’s army.
Al-Qaida-inspired militants seized effective control Wednesday of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, expanding their offensive closer to the Iraqi capital as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts following clashes with the insurgents.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control a day earlier of much of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, in a major blow to the authority of the country’s Shiite government and a sign of Iraq’s reversals since U.S. forces withdrew in late 2011.
The Sunni militants also gained entry to the Turkish consulate in Mosul and held captive 48 people, including diplomats, police, consulate employees and three children, according to an official in the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
An estimated half a million residents fled the economically important city.
Several consequences will flow from this. Iraq and the United States have no Status of Forces Agreement, which President Obama chose during the US exit. A SOFA would have provided for residual US forces to help defeat the terrorists, or for the US to help re-supply the Iraqi military in a crisis like the present one. Iraq therefore cannot depend on us for anything, and will seek help from Iran and possibly Saudi Arabia and its other neighbors. Whether they help Iraq or ISIS is an open question. It depends on what’s in it for them. It’s not out of the question that Iraq’s neighbors will choose different sides and fight it out on Iraqi soil. There are tribal and sectarian factors at stake — and oil. Lots of oil.
Tikrit is just 70 miles from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital. The Iraqi army, mostly Shiite and trained for years by the US military, is now deserting in the face of its enemy all over the battlefield. The Iraqi government is pledging to keep fighting, but we could be in for a grisly siege around Baghdad.
While ISIS gets into position to take over Iraq, it also is likely to help arm Syria’s rebels with some of the American-made weapons it has gained. The Islamists could get a two-fer here, taking effective control of Iraq while weakening and maybe even toppling Assad next door. They would be taking Syria with US help.
That would be two full-blown terrorist states in the heart of the Middle East, one of them built on the ashes of the democracy that the United States tried to install. And then, under Obama, failed to protect.
But at least we still have our pride.