Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fired some of the nation’s top army generals amid the growing territorial dominance of the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), hoping the overhaul would fend off future attacks from the terrorists threatening to overtake Baghdad.
At least four senior army officers have been fired directly as a consequence of ISIS’s advances in northern Iraq. Bloomberg reports that three of the soldiers were the top three in charge of security in the province of Nineveh, where ISIS has made unprecedented strides in overtaking the military. The fourth was the commander of the army’s Third Infantry Division, who was reportedly caught fleeing the scene of the battle rather than fighting ISIS jihadists. Australia’s ABC reports that the fleeing soldier is currently still missing, and is being court-martialed for desertion.
Despite the clear issues the Iraqi government is having with control of their military, government officials have begun announced advances in fighting ISIS. In the northern city of Baqubah, officials said they had retaken the city from ISIS soldiers. The victory in Baqubah is especially significant because it is the closest city to Baghdad ISIS has reached.
According to the Washington Post, 52 prisoners interned at a prison in the city were killed during the battle. The fate of the prisoners has become a matter of controversy, as some government sources claim they died in a fire, while others alleged that law enforcement and military personnel killed them. ISIS has not made any public statements indicating that it will seek legal retribution for the attack should the Iraqi government be involved, but they show no signs of relenting in areas where they have created a strong foothold.
If the Iraqi government can hold Baqubah, that could signal the limits of the reach of the Al Qaeda breakaway faction that is leading the antigovernment insurgency. The battle for Baqubah appears to be the closest that the fighting has gotten to Baghdad. As it approaches the capital, however, ISIS will face more mixed populations than the majority-Sunni areas that it has recently taken over. Unlike in Baqubah, ISIS fighters last week overran the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, northwest of the capital, routing government forces.
Some experts believe the Baqubah victory may change the pace of the battle. “The militants’ pace of advance has slowed dramatically,” said the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Biddle to Bloomberg Radio. Biddle predicted the potential for a “long-dragging stalemate” between the soldiers and the jihadists.