A new reality now exists in Iraq

Kirkuk Iraq

In Erbil this week senior Kurdish leaders told me that they warned Baghdad about the intentions of Isis based on their intelligence. But even they were astonished that a force of a few thousand fighters was able to take on six divisions of the federal army. It is likely that Isis did not expect such rapid success and now control of vast supplies of top notch American kit.

That the Iraqi army was so useless says everything about the corruption that is corroding Iraq from within. Iraqi officers have been buying their commissions for 2.5 million. When I was told this I assumed it was dinars, which is big in name only. But it is in dollars and the officers can expect to get that back with interest by fleecing folk at checkpoints.

Isis is also a dab hand at extortion but efficient in sending administrators to construction sites to measure up and set the right payment system.

The unknown question is if they can hold their gains and gather steam for further offensives. The auguries are not good. Isis is a seasoned movement that can use the American kit and administer the areas it controls. Their morality allows them to slaughter but they have reined it in for now. This is scant comfort to the 14 Shia villagers near Kirkuk who were too old or infirm to flee in time as we heard today from the very smart Kurd who governs Kirkuk.

But Isis and other assorted jihadists are not the only actors on the resurgent and revanchist Sunni stage. Saddam Hussein’s followers have not gone away.

Needled by Nouri al Maliki’s contempt, arrests and discrimination and with a great sense of grievance they will not stop or be easily routed.

This is why 9 June is 9/11 for Iraq. There was pre-Mosul Iraq and now there is post-Mosul Iraq. The old Iraq died. The hope of equality and federalism was strangled. People talk of a new Iraq PM, federalism 2.0 or even confederation. The facts on the ground make this progressively implausible.

The possibility of a vengeful Sunnistan means war to all its neighbours. Overnight Kurdistan found that it has 1050 kilometres of border with Isis but only 15 kilometres with what used to be called, with some irony, the rest of Iraq.

Erbil is normal except its roads are less congested because thousands of cars are queuing all day to load up on cheap government fuel rations. Some of that will be flogged off to people in Mosul where prices have rocketed.

The Kurds will defend themselves. They are the only ones who can do so and if the terms are fair the only ones who could hold Iraq together if it existed.

But they need help. The transit camp we saw for Arabs fleeing from Mosul is ramshackle and has no sanitation. The £5m from the United Kingdom is good but just a drop in the ocean. Medicines that used to be provided by Baghdad are running low. Resupply is urgent.

But this will be not much good if they are overrun. Senior political and security leaders say their old Russian equipment is no match for the American hardware the Sunnis have. And the Kurds could run out of ammo. Supplying that and British military expertise is now urgent.

The bottom line is that the centre did not hold. The Kurds are in the way of Isis who hate these secular apostates. The Kurds are also in the way of Isis turning on us, as they will. Our partnership with them has gone from optional to obligatory.

The old dogma of territorial sovereignty and one Iraq was discarded when Iraqi soldiers discarded their uniforms and dumped their weapons. A new reality now exists in Iraq.

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Gary Kent reports from Kirkuk. Gary is director of Labour Friends of Iraq and of the APPG on the Kurdistan region. He writes in a personal capacity

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Photo: DVIDSHUB

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  • Paul Harman

    Why didn’t Tony Blair sort all this out in his prestigious role of Middle East pacifier? Who has been impeding global business and financial interests from doing their natural job of managing the world? Who decided that Iraq should have all its former state structures dismantled so that natural market forces could be liberated? A real Labour Friend of Iraq might take a long hard look at the consequences of liberal interventionism. As in Russia, the sudden removal of an over centralised state led to vast opportunities for corruption of all kinds. Democratic controls over the powerful are hard to build and maintain. Ordinary people in the West are now paying for the liberation of global financial interests, just as the people of Iraq will suffer more from the weakness of a State which cannot protect them. Thank Blair and Bush for that.