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Insurgent advance spreads in Iraq’s northwest

June 15, 2014 at 5:50 PM EDT
For more on the deteriorating situation in Iraq, Hari Sreenivasan speaks to Jane Arraf, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera, who is reporting from the ground in northern Iraq.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the situation in Iraq we are joined now by phone from Northern Iraq by Jane Arraf.  She is a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera America.  So Jane have you seen today?

JANE ARRAF: Well certainly here in the north of Iraq, which is much closer to Mosul, it’s really quite tense and that ranges all the way from the towns and villages in the hotly disputed territory between Mosul and the Kurdish capital of Erbil.  It’s weird driving there, you notice ways in which the tension has increased.  There was a school just a little while back where desks were piled on top of each other.  They had cancelled all the classes and final exams and the school that we passed was occupied by peshmerga, by Kurdish security forces. There were other places where you could see that the Iraqi army had melted away checkpoints where they used to patrol with Kurdish forces.  The Iraqi security forces have completely gone from this area.  It happened when they melted away and deserted Mosul.  They also melted away here with the boarder of the Kurdish region.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So the videos of those security forces being killed is making news here, are people in Iraq aware of that?  Is there a reaction to it?

JANE ARRAF: There is so much going on here in terms of video and rumors and government propaganda that it’s really hard for people to disentangle what’s real and what’s not real.  One of the really interesting things that jumps out in talking to people who have left Mosul just in the last day or so, as well as last week when the city fell, is that the administration that’s taken over Mosul a combination of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is the Al-Qaeda offshoot, along with rebel fighters who they call themselves Anbar revolutionaries from the Fallujah area in Anbar province and former Ba’athists are making a real effort to show that they can actually control the city.

The Al-Qaeda linked group for instance has been handing out money to clean the streets.  Its’ been providing more electricity and water than people normally have.  And its fighters actually went around to the Christian community, which has been a target of attacks in Mosul, saying don’t be afraid we will protect you, we will protect your churches.  Nobody really believes them, but they are making an effort to persuade people that they are a different type of group than the Al-Qaeda that plunged this country into civil war.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Is there a sense that things are going to get worse?  Do you see people signing up to fight either for the Shiite cleric and militias or for the army?

JANE ARRAF:  There is definitely a sense that things will get worse.  This is the biggest crisis really that Iraq has faced probably since it pulled itself out of civil war when there were bodies in the streets.

There are people signing up to fight with the Shia militias but so far the one thing that has prevented total dissent and civil war is a wide scale presence of Shia militias in the streets fighting Sunni extremists.  That just hasn’t happened yet.  But there are elements of that and certainly when you have Iraq’s second biggest city as well as other cities taken over by a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, it means that the government has essentially lost control.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are you hearing any interest from the people that you’ve talked to about U.S. involvement?

JANE ARRAF:  Not so much.  The Iraqi government clearly wants the US to be involved in a big way.  They’re asking for help in a way they haven’t asked for help in many years.  It’s a very delicate dynamic here particularly in the north of Iraq where Kurdish forces have taken control of the disputed city of Kirkuk, for instance.

They had control of part of it, now they control all of it.  They say that they need to protect their communities and also make sure that the country doesn’t disintegrate along the Kurdish boarders.  So there’s a lot of flux right now there’s really a lot that’s changing and there’s a limited number of options for the United States.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jane Arraf joining us from northern Iraq thanks so much.

JANE ARRAF: Thank You.