Date: 07 Jul 2014, Politics and Current Affairs
Question setter: John Karslake

ISIS in Iraq

Will Tikrit be in the hands of The Islamic State [of Iraq and al-Sham / The Levant] (Isis) at the end of July 2014?


Answer: Yes
Confidence level: 69%
Mean confidence level (all requests): 37.80%

The Iraqi army is still trying to dislodge the "Islamic State" (IS) after a week of fighting. Despite many army claims of success, they have failed so far. Now there are photos emerging of captured volunteers held by IS at Tikrit university where the army had formed a base. The Sunni population of Tikrit has little sympathy for the official forces and will provide succour for IS and their more experienced fighters. it is unlikely the Iraqi soldiers will succeed without help and the US and Iran are waiting to see if the army fail before committing. IS seems prepared to consolidate gains for now. It is likely that Iran will back Shia militia to bombard and contain Tikrit till it is starved out, if the current frontal assault is repulsed. This could take weeks and incur heavy civilian casualties. So, despite the possibility that IS is expelled from Tikrit at some point this year, the likelihood is that sectarian divisions will be reinforced. Tikrit could then become part of the Sunni sector as Iraq becomes permanently divided in three between Shia, Sunni and Kurd. IS will hold Tikrit beyond the end of July and any subsequent loss of the city will prove temporary.

Outcome: Yes
Score: 69
Mean score (all respondents): 13.80

Expert opinion:

Answer: Yes

Selected Expert Answer from Nicholas Beadle:
US air power, or Iranian support, will be able to save Baghdad and halt ISIS (or ISIL) progress but now there is a Shia uprising the US risks fuelling sectarian violence if allows itself to be used to remove ISIS from traditional Sunni strongholds such as Tikrit. An Iraqi civil war will rage unabated and the prognosis is for what we have seen in Syria. Well-armed militias with a taste for atrocities already exist. This will get worse before it gets better.
ISIS has already become a significant force in ‘Syraq’ with the potential of becoming a Sunni version of the Hezbollah model. With up to $2Billion in funding for governance and services such a move would consolidate power and gain greater support among dispossessed Iraqi Sunnis.
Only an inclusive political settlement offers the slimmest of chances of returning Iraq to a unified state. Part of that will mean more power and revenue being devolved to the regions. Maliki fought hard and spent big on securing a third self-serving term. Iran continues to back him and will not welcome the prospect of a compromise PM. So, getting the sort of political agreement needed may no longer be possible. The prospects for bringing the Kurds back into the fold let alone the Sunnis are not good. Iraq, America and the regional powers must try to find a solution but that will take months.

Answer: No

Selected Expert Answer from John Karslake:
Tikrit has now, 7th July, become one of the key battlegrounds for the Iraqi army and allied Shia militias in their attempts to stem the advances of the Islamic State (IS). IS has lost the momentum it had advancing through predominantly Sunni northern Iraq and is encountering some genuine resistance. The IS' declaration of a caliphate has promoted fears of further expansion and radicalisation of youth in Western countries, creating a coalition of convenience to repel them. The US and its allies are colluding with Iran and Russia to see off the threat. Separately, Saudi Arabia and the Kurds are taking measures to defend their territory, the latter actively fighting IS in Jalawla,. Most immediately, the battle will be determined by whether
a) the Iraqi army and new militias can work with (Irani) trained Shia militias battle hardened from fighting US & UK forces and
b) IS has the numbers to maintain their successes.
IS will be pushed out of Tikrit over the coming weeks. If Iraqi (Shia) forces fail in their current attack, the Iranians will use bombardment and encirclement to lever them out eventually. US aided defence of Baghdad and Shia militia protection of the Samarra shrine will support this effort. Then, ability to recruit to the Caliphate will determine IS' future.

Outcome: Yes

Comment on outcome from Mettletest Panellist:
The battle is raging for Tikrit but so far the Islamic State does not seem to have been dislodged. The Iraqi army, supported by Shia militias and Iran have claimed some successful attacks but ISIS continues to destroy their supply lines and access. There are signs, mainly from Mosul and Fallujah, that some of the Sunni tribes may be turning against the self-proclaimed caliphate. These tribes facilitated ISIS' quick rampage through northern Iraq and now fear their own loss of power. In the long run their attitude will probably bear more influence on the fate of ISIS than the efforts of the Iraqi army and its allies.