BAGHDAD — Iraq is in a state of crisis as the army relinquished control of two more cities to ISIS militant members of the Islamist insurgent group. Mosul fell to ISIS forces on June 11, and the city of Tikrit fell later that night. The recent and sudden expansion has forced over 500,000 people to flee their homes to find safety in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.
Save the Children has called this “one of the largest and swiftest mass movements of people in the world in recent memory.” As the situation continues to deteriorate, more refugees are making their way to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which is already struggling under the weight of 225,000 Syrian refugees.
NGOs and the UNHCR have worked quickly to establish a makeshift safe-zone for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but the UNHCR reports funds are only 10 percent of the necessary $103 million needed to adequately provide for the massive number of refugees.
“You have a problem with water supplies… It’s a confusing and confused situation and it will take a few days before that clears up,” said Saleh Dabbakeh, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad.
Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the State Department, has recently announced the U.S.’s pledge to give $12.8 million in aid for the displaced persons.
ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq, has its origins as an al-Qaeda group based in Iraq. In April of last year, ISIS militants broke away from al-Qaeda to engage directly with Syria. Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda, has condemned ISIS for their brutality and extremism and has made clear that the two organizations are no longer affiliated.
In July 2013, ISIS released hundreds of prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, a prison which holds convicted terrorists. Late in the year, ISIS ousted al-Qaeda from parts of Fallujah and Ramadi. But it was not until the recent victories in Mosul and Tikrit that a state of crisis began to unfold.
“The battle is not yet raging, but it will rage in Baghdad and Karbala,” a statement from ISIS promised.
With just 800 militants, ISIS was able to overtake the 30,000 Iraqi troops which held Mosul in three days. The hometown of Saddam Hussein, Tikrit, was taken over in a matter of hours. Tikrit lies only 200 kilometers distant of Baghdad.
“People truly do fear that ISIS may… make its way to the capital as it pledges to do,” Martin Chulov, a Guardian reporter, said from Baghdad.
The U.S. continues to have strong interests in Iraq and is scrambling to consider all options to prevent Baghdad from being overtaken by ISIS. Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, has reiterated the importance of partnership with the Iraqi government in abolishing the threat.
President Obama has stated he is not ruling anything out, and Psaki has similarly stated that the administration is considering “all options aside from boots on the ground.” Drone or air strikes are a possibility.
The Iraqi government is crumbling under the pressure of ISIS’ advancements. The Parliament recently rejected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s request to declare a state of emergency. A state of emergency would give the Prime Minister more authority to exercise his power. The denial represents a divided government.
France foreign minister Laurent Fabius has expressed his belief that the international community must “deal with the situation.” The AP reported the results from a U.N. Security Council meeting as unanimous for supporting Iraq’s government. The international sentiment is there, but no action has been taken as of yet.
As the White House, State Department and National Security Agency debate military strategy, NGOs operating in northern Iraq beg for humanitarian aid. The number of internally displaced people and refugees from, or in, Iraq has reached over 2 million since the beginning of this year.
“The situation is worsening by the hour as thousands of displaced people are caught in bottlenecks along the way [to safety],” said Aram Shakaram, acting country director for Save the Children in Iraq. “Northern Iraq cannot be left to cope with these crises on its own.”
– Julianne O’Connor