Mosul has fallen. Reports from the second-biggest city in Iraq confirm that militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have taken control after clashes began on 6 June and ended when Iraqi Security Forces left the city three days later.
More than 500,000 people have already fled, leaving behind a city where whole neighbourhoods in the west have no drinking water after bombing destroyed the main water station, where food and power are in short supply, and where militants are parading heavy weaponry seized after the armed forces left their posts. Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has urged Parliament to declare a state of emergency.
Iraq, already an extremely violent place, is slipping rapidly into a state of total chaos. A devastating first week of June has seen, according to AFP, a total of 482 deaths from armed violence. Civilians account for more than 200 of these fatalities. Already, in just one week, half as many civilians have died in Iraq as in any of the previous months this year.
More than 60 people were killed on Saturday alone when a wave of car bombs hit mosques, shops, and cinemas in Baghdad. That string of bombings is part of a spreading pattern in Iraq. In 2013 AOAV recorded 18 days in which there were ten or more incidents of explosive violence. In 2013 AOAV recorded almost 13,000 civilian deaths and injuries in Iraq from IEDs, an increase of 91% from the previous year, and a sign of a dramatic decline in security in a country already battered by bombings.
Now, in addition to the tragic litany of IED attacks and gunfire that have dominated daily headlines for years, the Iraqi government is rapidly losing control of large swathes of its territory. Breaking news at the time of writing say that Tikrit is under attack. The central city of Samarra briefly fell to militants earlier in the week. Fallujah and Anbar have been under de facto militant control since the start of the year.
The existential threat to Iraq’s future is severe. The staggering casualty count in the past week attests to the fact that civilians are at ever growing risk of death and injury as ISIS advances.
The precedent in Fallujah suggests that what the government does next will have profound implications for the security of its civilians. Fallujah was taken by ISIS-affiliated fighters in January 2014. Armed forces reacted rapidly by firing mortars and shells into the city.
The shelling of populated areas in Fallujah and to a lesser extent Anbar has continued for five months now with no obvious sign that the approach is achieving the stated military objective of dislodging the militants. But in the meantime at least 80% of the civilian population have fled in terror, and hundreds of people have been killed or injured by falling shells. Between January and April AOAV recorded 163 civilian deaths and 480 injuries from mortar shelling in Fallujah. If this dynamic were to be transferred to what is one of the most populous cities in Iraq the fallout would be disastrous.
Iraq stands at the crossroads. Already civilians in the country are more at threat from explosive violence than anywhere else in the world. That is a threat that is only likely to grow in coming months.
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