How One Turbulent City In Iraq Can Stand For The Whole Country

With some sections of the Western news media proclaiming imminent victory over the Islamic State (an entirely nebulous concept given the nature of the conflict) it is worth remembering that the possible end of one war will almost certainly mark the commencement of a new one. From Der Spiegel International, an article on Tuz Khurmatu (Tuz Khormato), a minor provincial city in northern Iraq, where Kurdish, Turkmens and Arab communities are engaged in an intermittent and frequently bloody struggle with each other for local supremacy:

“Tuz Khurmatu, located 175 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an unremarkable city of 60,000 residents. But a search for the origins of the sudden violence reveals dark ghosts of the Iraqi past butting up against gloomy prospects for the future. And that makes Tuz Khurmatu something like a canary in a coal mine, particularly as the battle against Islamic State (IS) heats up, most recently with this week’s Iraqi military assault on IS-held Fallujah.

Precisely those groups that went after each other in Tuz Khurmatu are working together as allies in the fight against IS outside of Mosul, 200 kilometers further north. Indeed, the violence in Tuz Khurmatu clearly demonstrates that the assumption that the Kurdish Peshmerga, together with Shiite militias and the desolate, US-backed Iraqi army, can defeat IS and establish stability is little more than a fragile hope.

For the time being, the allies on the frontlines of Mosul are bound together by their common enemy. But even now, all sides have made it clear that the retaking of the city will not mark the end of the war. Rather, it will be the beginning of a fight for supremacy and resources that could tear Iraq apart.

For over a year, the US has been pushing for the launch of an offensive on IS-held Mosul and has been bombing the city almost daily. But despite repeated announcements that an attack was imminent, very little has happened on the ground aside from the recapture of a handful of surrounding towns and villages. Nevertheless, Iraqi commanders have already made competing claims on the expected spoils.

“Nothing and nobody will stop us from marching into Mosul,” says Hadi al-Ameri, the top commander of a conglomerate of Shiite militias that are officially called the Popular Mobilization Units but which are widely known as Hashd.

“All areas of Mosul east of the Tigris belong to Kurdistan,” counters Brigadier Halgord Hikmat, spokesman of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, which controls the Kurdish fighting force. “We aren’t demanding any more than that, and the river is a clear border.”

What’s more, the Sunni ex-governor of Mosul — together with several thousand fighters and the support of 1,200 Turkish troops whose presence in Iraq is tolerated by the Kurds — is planning to invade the city from the north. Under Sunni leadership.”

You really should read the whole tragic story to appreciate the violent, ethnic and sectarian quagmire that is the failed state of Iraq.



  1. Too much blood spilled. Too much hatred generated. Too many competing national and international interests involved. Even if the conflicts end, most of the governments in the region are atrocious – from Bahrain to Israel and Egypt to Turkey – so it will be at best a temporary ceasefire.

    A more cynical person than I would wonder if the various autocratic regimes in the ME aren’t thinking that it’s far better for the young rebels to be fighting in Syria and Iraq than fighting their own repressive regimes. But then Saudi Arabia has cheerfully charged into the graveyard of empires so perhaps malign rational intent is off the table.

    PS – Sykes-Picot There’s a book waiting to be written on how the roots of so many of the wars since WW2 lie in the geographic, racial and institutional decisions the British empire made. Often with the clear intent of causing civil strife – partition of Yemen and India for example.

  2. The Muslim birthrate is so enormous that this won’t make much of a difference. A great shame the Iran-Iraq war ever had to end.

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