The capture of Mosul by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is the latest manifestation of the collapse of regional security system on the Iraqi-Syrian border. The civil war in Syria and the divisive sectarian politics in Iraq have created a security vacuum that was always likely to be filled by terrorist groups and non-state actors.
ISIL came into existence after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It commanded a certain presence in the Iraqi provinces of al-Anbar, Ninawa and Salah al-Din. In the 2000s, it carried out deadly attacks against American troops in Iraq. It exploited the grievances of Sunni Arab tribes against the increasingly sectarian and Shiite-dominated political environment of the post-invasion Iraq.
ISIL became a significant force in northern Syria in 2013 and fought against other opposition groups. Various reports confirm a certain relationship between ISIL and the Syrian regime. For instance, it is no secret that the Syrian regime uses ISIL to divide the opposition forces and weaken the Free Syrian Army. It also uses brutal beheadings and summary executions by ISIS terrorists to present itself to the West as a 'peaceful' and 'reasonable' alternative to violent extremism. ISIS fights with opposition groups and Syrian Kurds more than the regime. After months of fighting, even al-Qaeda announced that it cut all ties with ISIL in Syria.
In Syria, ISIL uses the civil war to expand its dominance and recruit new fighters. The longer the war in Syria continues, the larger the terrorist threat will grow with groups like ISIL. With its support for ISIL, the Syrian regime has combined state terrorism with militia terrorism. This security threat extends to Syria, Iraq, Turkey and other countries.
Turkey has been trying to contain ISIL and similar groups along its long border with Syria. But the international community's failure to help the Free Syrian Army has emboldened both the Syrian regime and ISIL fighters.
After the capture of the Turkish consulate in Mosul on June 11, the claim that Turkey supports ISIL has been shattered. Currently, the Turkish government is seeking the release of Turkish citizens.
Turkey has not been engaged in military combat with any groups in either Iraq or Syria. But it has sought to secure its border against terrorist attacks and activities whether they are by the Syrian regime or terrorist groups. Despite the facts on the grounds, the anti-Turkey propaganda machine claimed that Turkey supported ISIL and other al-Qaeda groups against the Kurds in northern Syria. This is totally false. Turkey has taken strict security measures against all terrorist groups in Syria. It has established channels of communication with legitimate and moderate groups from among Arabs, Kurds and Turkoman of Syria.
ISIL will continue to expand its dominance in Syria until and unless the international coalition against the Assad regime acts in unison and with determination. Otherwise, the ISIL threat will spread to other countries.
Back in Iraq where it was born, ISIL is exploiting the political and economic grievances of Sunni Arabs in northwestern Iraq. The flee of Iraqi National Army forces from Mosul without putting up any resistance is not only the collapse of the security forces but also the Maliki government. The rise of ISIL and similar security threats reveal much about the current state of Iraqi politics.
Under Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi politics has turned increasingly authoritarian and sectarian. Shiite groups including al-Hakim and al-Sadr groups as well as the secular Shiites such as Iyad Allawi have criticized Maliki's authoritarianism, nepotism and ineptitude. To these, the Sunni groups have added divisive sectarianism, corruption and the unfair treatment of Sunnis. Instead of implementing political and economic reforms, the two Maliki governments have turned Iraq into a police state.
Despite major investments in arms and military training, Iraq has one of the worst security records in the world. In 2013, close to 10,000 civilians have been killed in various terrorist attacks in Iraq. Thousands of Sunni Arabs have taken to the streets to protest Maliki's sectarian and brutal policies. Unemployment, inflation, petty crime, political fighting and ineffective policies have contributed to the steady deterioration and collapse of order and security in Iraq.
The seizure of Mosul by ISIL militia is a wakeup call for the dire situation in Iraq and Syria. Ending the war in Syria and establishing an inclusive government structure in Iraq is key to ensuring security and stability in this most volatile part of the Levant.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey