Al Qaeda’s ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) captured the northern Sunni Arab city of Mosul in Iraq on Tuesday, home to two million residents — and leading to questions about whether America’s promise to help keep the terror group at bay was ever realistic.
The seizure of the area by Al Qaeda sent the Shi’ite-led forces of Baghdad’s government fleeing, with many stripping off their uniforms as they ran, reported international media.
The Al Qaeda fighters now hold key western towns on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border after four days of heavy fighting in the border province of Nineveh.
This, after a promise by the United States when it withdrew its troops two and a half years ago, to help Iraqi leaders “push back against this aggression.”
However, ISIL, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, apparently recently broke with al Qaeda’s international leader, Osama bin Laden’s former lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri. The group has also clashed with Al Qaeda fighters in Syria, leading to speculation over its role in any future establishment of emirates in the area.
ISIL appealed to Sunni Muslims in a newsletter to join the group in a fight against the Iraqi government’s “Safavid” army – a reference to the Persian dynasty that promoted Shi’ite Islam.
Of major concern to all powers in the region are the large and profitable oil fields in northern Iraq.
Bodies of soldiers and police officers littered the streets of Mosul, according to a Reuters reporter, some of them mutilated. “We can’t beat them,” one officer was quoted as saying. “They are well trained in street fighting and we are not… They’re like ghosts: they appear, strike and disappear in seconds.”
Thousands of residents are now reportedly fleeing the city, heading north towards the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region where the Peshmerga military force is empowered.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it would “support a strong, coordinated response” and would “provide all appropriate assistance to the government of Iraq… ISIL is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region,” the statement said.