Is Iraq-Syria becoming new Afpak?

Is Iraq-Syria becoming new Afpak?

A day after Iranian President Hasan Rouhani called on Turkey to jointly fight against regional extremist terrorism for the stability of both countries and of the Middle East region, jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, including Mosul, and were heading toward the province of Salahaddin, on the road to Baghdad.   

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asked Parliament to declare a state of emergency after thousands of Sunni Islamist insurgents seized control of the country’s second largest city and called on the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League to lend support in Iraq’s fight against terrorism.

Thousands of residents had to flee Mosul, according to eye witnesses, as military units as well as police and other security forces withdrew from the city to the mercy of militants. Al-Maliki announced that the Iraqi government will provide weapons and equipment to citizens who volunteer to fight against jihadists in a risky move to turn each piece of the country into a battleground.   

Believed to be composed of around 10,000 jihadists with some of them even coming from western countries to fight against the Iraqi army and seize control in the country’s mostly Sunni regions, the ISIL denies its affiliation with the al-Qaeda and claims to be moving independently. The ISIL has recently launched operations in different provinces of the country and yesterday seized control of Mosul, a city of Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds.

This province is very close to the Kurdish-controlled northern part of Iraq and the recent offensive
against the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) killing a score of people could also drag the Kurds’ powerful peshmergas into the fire. There is every reason to believe that the unrest in Iraq could get deepened and come to a point that would require international action. There are already calls to Massoud Barzani’s Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to take the necessary actions to stop this dangerous violent campaign of jihadists.

A similar picture is being witnessed in east Syria right on the Iraqi border where the ISIL militants are fighting to control the region and are advancing along the Euphrates River in the Deir ez-Zor province, driving back militants from al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other Islamic fighters.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the ISIL now controls most of the northeast bank of the Euphrates from close to the border with Turkey, down to the town of Busayra, nearly 200 miles (320 km) to the southeast. It aims to extend that control all the way to the town of al-Bukamal on the Iraqi border, strengthening links between its Syrian and Iraqi wings, the Observatory’s Rami Abdelrahman said, according to wire agencies.

It’s no doubt these dangerous developments in Iraq and Syria are closely followed by regional countries, especially by Turkey – whose 28 truck drivers have been abducted by the ISIL – by Iran, by Israel and the Western powers, particularly the United States.  In both Syria and Iraq, the public authority has nearly vanished and their own military capacities are not sufficient to clear the region from these jihadists. For various reasons, the Iraq-Syria theater resembles the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or Afpak, where the Taliban is relentlessly fighting against NATO troops and the national military units of these two countries. It should be noted that despite more than a decade-long struggle, the Taliban forces are still powerful in this region and conducted the massive attack in Pakistan’s Karachi international airport just a few days ago.

No analysts can predict how long this instability will last in the region. In most of Iraq and Syria, home to more than 40 million people, there is a power vacuum in which illegal and extremist groups are enjoying their autonomy. News from these regions tell everyday about new massacres against innocent citizens.  

Entire political groups, individual countries of the region, like Turkey, Iran, Iraq and the international community, all have responsibilities regarding this worrying picture of today. It’s time for all of them and for each of them to start to think about sound moves to fight against these jihadists and provide at least partial stability and comfort to the region. In one way or another, we better start to make all of the necessary plans and preparations for a scenario in which Turkey would also play a role.