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Monday, October 24, 2016

By Mitchell Prothero, McClatchy Foreign Staff

IRBIL, Iraq — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took control Monday of the last major city that had been held by the government in northern Iraq, forcing hundreds of families to flee for the safety of nearby areas controlled by Kurdish militias.

ISIS’ capture of Tal Afar allowed the group to consolidate its control of a strategic supply corridor between its Syrian and Iraq strongholds.

It also ended, at least for now, any claim by the central government in Baghdad to authority in northern Iraq and allowed ISIS to claim for its nascent caliphate a contiguous territory that stretches from the Syrian city of Raqqa through Iraq’s Nineveh province to the outskirts of Baghdad.

The fall of Tal Afar was freighted with historic import. American troops battled ISIS’ early incarnation, al-Qaida in Iraq, for control of the city in 2005. At one time, the pacification of Tal Afar was considered a major triumph for U.S. forces.

In the wake of Tal Afar’s capture, ISIS reportedly offered a temporary cease-fire Monday in its battle with Syrian rebel groups. The cease-fire was intended to allow ISIS to respond more forcefully to attacks by Syrian government forces in Deir el-Zour province, which lies between ISIS’ Raqqa stronghold and ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq’s Anbar province.

ISIS-related Twitter accounts also celebrated the apparent capture at Tal Afar of Iraqi Gen. Abu al-Waleed, the onetime commander of the elite U.S.-trained Wolf Pack counterterrorism unit often accused by Sunni Muslims of committing a range of crimes against civilians.

The Iraqi government denied that al-Waleed had been captured, but his status was unclear and he made no public appearances.

Refugees and residents from Tal Afar who spoke with relatives in Irbil described Tal Afar as mostly in ISIS’ control, though some skirmishing was still taking place.

The rapid advance by ISIS to the outskirts of Baghdad has put the capital on edge. On Monday, the United Nations announced that it would pull at least 58 staff members from its mission in Baghdad and move them to Amman, Jordan. The announcement came a day after the United States said it had reassigned an undisclosed number of staffers from its embassy in Baghdad to Amman or the relative safety of Irbil or Basra, in southern Iraq.

Iraqi state television said airstrikes targeted ISIS formations around the ISIS-controlled city of Tikrit, but these claims couldn’t be verified.
Whether the United States would take any action to assist the Iraqi government remained uncertain. In comments Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry put special emphasis on U.S. frustration with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“We are deeply committed to the integrity of Iraq as a country,” he said. “We are deeply committed to the constitutional process, but we’ve also had great difficulties with the existing government in their unwillingness to reach out and be inclusive and bring people to the table and be sufficiently responsible in their pluralistic approach to governance.”

Interested in learning more about the crisis in Iraq? You can read more here.
AFP Photo/Ali al-Saadi

  • Sand_Cat

    Another gift from “the Decider.”

    • Independent1

      The “Decider” being GWB?? Because it’s GWB who’s responsible for what’s happening in Iraq today; his right hand man in Iraq, Al Maliki, has basically created the fighting going on now by working over the past 2 years to cut the Sunnis out of virtually any responsibility in the Iraqi government.

      See these excerpts from the DailyKos article:

      That’s why, as Fred Kaplan put it, “The collapse of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has little to do with the withdrawal of American troops and everything to do with the political failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.” It was, after all, Maliki who refused to sign a permanent status of forces agreement with the U.S. It was Maliki who cracked down on Sunni opponents and put the tenuous relationship with the tribal sheikhs at risk. And Nouri Al-Maliki was George Bush’s man in Baghdad.

      Time and again, American commanders have told me, they stepped in front of Maliki to stop him from acting brutally and arbitrarily toward Iraq’s Sunni minority. Then the Americans left, removing the last restraints on Maliki’s sectarian and authoritarian tendencies.

      In the two and a half years since the Americans’ departure, Maliki has centralized power within his own circle, cut the Sunnis out of political power, and unleashed a wave of arrests and repression. Maliki’s march to authoritarian rule has fueled the reëmergence of the Sunni insurgency directly. With nowhere else to go, Iraq’s Sunnis are turning, once again, to the extremists to protect them.

      To the whole article:

      10 lessons from Bush’s fiasco in Iraq

  • Joann Roxbury

    Hussein Obama’s claim that Al Qaeda is somehow equivalent to a junior varsity basketball team seems rather delusional./n/nOne has to wonder – where was Hussein Obama on September 11, 2001?

  • DRS

    You guys think that you have any remote grasp on what is really the situation with the war in Iraq/Syria. Here is the VERY HARD TRUTH THAT NONE OF YOU WISH TO ACCEPT—- WE actually LEFT OUR OWN IRAQI SUPPORTERS AFTER THE FIRST GULF WAR AFTER PLEADING FOR THEM TO RISE UP!!! We left them high and dry, and now we wonder why they became total reclusive, reluctant jerk-offs?? REALLY?
    If we had not withdrawn our forces when our newer President took charge (which all you know only happened because you all complained about it for nearly five years straight), we’d still have about 15,000 to 30,000 troops–mainly US SOF/i.e Special Operations.
    ISIS wouldn’t have spread ANYWHERE if we’d had a highly kinetic and aggressive Special Mission Unit (i.e Delta, Army Special Forces, SEAL Team 6, what-have-you).
    This is what happens when we starts happening when we begin to claim we’ve lost before we’ve even withdrawn (like we did recently) and then we leave a power vacuum for these people and start wondering why it happened.
    In my opinion, we should’ve behaved in a ruthless manner the min people turned their faces. I don’t care about torture. Look at the Jordanians. When was the last time you saw a terror attack there? They are absolutely terrifying for a reason…NO ONE messes with them because they don’t have rules. There’s a lesson to be learned there