ISIS drive for Baghdad slows - for now
the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the terrorist group that captured Mosul and Tikrit last week, appears to have paused in its drive to take Baghdad.
It is unclear if Iraqi forces have stopped them or if they are regrouping to continue the assault.
However, the militants of the Al Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) appeared to be holding onto two key cities captured from Iraqi forces earlier this week.
Fighting was reported outside the town of Tikrit, less than 90 miles north of Baghdad. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iraqi soldiers are using the town of Samarra, about 10 miles south, as a jumping-off point for an assault that would re-take Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, from ISIS. The Journal also reported that ISIS fighters were using Saddam's well-reinforced presidential palaces as bases of operations as they fought with security forces in the southern parts of the city.
Elsewhere, The New York Times reported clashes in three cities in Salahuddin Province, just north of the capital, with inconclusive results.
However, the city of Mosul remained largely quiet on Saturday as ISIS fighters maintained their grip on the city. On Friday night, Iraqi government airstrikes targeted Iraqi military facilities that ISIS overran during its early morning conquest of the city on Tuesday.
Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's battle to regain control of his own country has been aided by the large numbers of Shiites who have responded to his and a prominent cleric's calls for ordinary citizens to wage war against ISIS in what is quickly becoming a sectarian fight.
"The Iraqi fighter is well known for his courage and valor, he has never been known to be defeated or deserted," Maliki's office said in a statement Saturday.
The Washington Post reported that recruitment centers had been set up in mosques and private homes in Baghdad. Busloads of people had poured into Baghdad from Iraq's heavily Shiite south to answer the call to jihad issued Friday by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
The volunteers were first taken to an assembly center in eastern Baghdad, where they were handed military uniforms, and later went to Taji, home of Iraq's largest military base north of Baghdad, to undergo basic training. State-run television aired footage of the volunteers being drilled, still in their civilian clothes.
Dozens climbed into the back of army trucks, chanting Shiite slogans and hoisting assault rifles.
Obviously, the new recruits have yet to make an impact on the battle. But their long term importance may be that they stoke the fires of civil war.
Prime MInister Nouri al-Maliki has been pleading with Iraqis to forget their Sunni-Shiite differences and fight for a united Iraq. But then the Shia cleric Ayatollah al-Sistani issued a call for volunteers to defend Shiite religious shrines and cities. This has caused further mistrust of the government, thanks to Maliki's overt sectarian administration.
Will the Sunni tribes rise up and join the ISIS? So far, this hasn't been a big problem thanks to the brutality of the ISIS. But if the Sunnis feel the army is coming for them, anything is possible.
The other question being asked is are there enough loyal Iraqi army troops to not only defend Baghdad but take back territory won by the terrorists? You would think out of half a million troops you could find a few units with the training, leadership, and discipline to take on the ISIS. The Iraqi troops are better armed than the terrorists - they have armor and air power. But as the rebels in Syria have shown, that doesn't necessarily give much of an advantage to the attackers.
Even if the attack on Bagjdad has been halted or delayed, the situation is still perilous. America will apparently offer some air strikes on ISIS staging areas. But beyond that, Maliki is on his own.