Following the trail of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

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Photo: Ruslan Trad

Iraq never managed to restore security in its major cities after the American invasion of 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein. The government in Baghdad, dominated almost entirely by Hussein opponents, made a string of mistakes with regard to the minorities and the predominant Sunni. Revanchism, repressions and controversies have been sprouting in the provinces that have remained loyal to Saddam and oppose the government. In 2012 in the Western provinces and most of all in Anbar, the Sunni started a rebellion against the administration of Nuri al-Maliki, who recently stepped down as Prime Minister under the pressure of events connected with the Islamic State. The errors in his administration since 2006 have led some analysts to believe that inequality and repression are the catalysts for radical groups. Prominent among the Al-Qaeda dominated extremist organizations that emerged after 2003 is the Islamic State of Iraq that sprang up as an Al-Qaeda offshoot, but with the new name Islamic State of Iraq and Syria after its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi saw an opening for the expansion of the turmoil of civil war in the direction of Syria.

Since August, the Kurdish forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmerga have been defending the front lines at Kirkuk, Gwer and Mahmur. They don’t have any weapons or powerful international support to help push out the Islamic State fighters into whose hands Iraq’s second largest city Mosul has fallen. It is from Mosul that the Islamic State has been gaining strength as it seized a great deal of money and arms, used by the Iraqi army. At this time, the Kurdish units are the most active fighting force standing in the way of the Islamic State in Iraq.

Photo: Ruslan TradJournalists Ruslan Trad and Georgi Totev were at the front lines at Mahmur and Guer in an attempt to find out what is going on there. Here is what Ruslan Trad said for Radio Bulgaria:

“In Erbil itself the conflict is not noticeable, but once you leave the city centre the first checkpoints begin and security measures are tighter. But the centre itself is a beating heart – the Kurds want to make Erbil a modern city, a true centre of the future state of Iraqi Kurdistan. Erbil is a seat for many international companies. Tension is not running high in its centre, but just a few kilometers away it is very tangible. There are three fronts in the vicinity of Erbil but at different distances from the town. The closest is in the direction of Mosul where we spent the evening together with the Peshmerga. We went to Mahmur and to Zumara Abdala some 50 kms. from Mosul – that is a real war front.”

Is this campaign by the government forces against ISIS being successful?

“Judging by the conversations we had with the Peshmerga commanders - including when we were at the front line itself and spent one entire evening with them - it is obvious they believe they can succeed, though it would be a difficult thing. They say that if it hadn’t been for the international forces – USA – and the weapons supplies, perhaps even Erbil would have been affected by the Islamic State. There isn’t much cause for joy at the moment, because many realize that the Islamic State is chiefly targeting Syria and especially Kobane, but the moment there is any headway in Syria, they will turn to Erbil and Kirkuk, where the fighting in Iraq is heaviest. There is sporadic fighting there by the hour which goes to show that the Islamic State has not given up on the idea of tightening the grip on Erbil, but at this time they are targeting Syria.”

In this sense, are the US air strikes successful?

“The air strikes are definitely not enough. Frequently they hit locations where there is no one – empty barns, used by the Islamic State. According to the Peshmerga there must be an intervention by land or the Kurdish forces must be reinforced. Actually, what we have at the moment is a front that is not shifting to the East or to the West towards Mosul and it is only thanks to the air strikes that the Islamic State has not advanced towards Erbil.”

English Milena Daynova


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