Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) inspecting military vehicles abandoned by the Iraqi army. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Since they began their blitz just over a fortnight ago, Sunni insurgents in Iraq have destroyed half of the Iraqi army and inflicted $10 billion in losses, a senior Iraqi defense official said.
Those losses continued to mount Wednesday as the jihadi-led insurgents reportedly overran the Ajeel oil site east of the captured city of Tikrit, and Iraqi television showed helicopters flying in troops as fighting continued for Baiji, the country’s largest oil refinery.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki poured cold water on any hope of a resolution to the serious gripes of the country’s very large Sunni and Kurdish populations that lie at the heart of Iraq’s problems.
Two days after US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Maliki in Baghdad to quickly form an inclusive government where the ethnic and religious populations feel empowered, the prime minister rejected the idea on state television.
"The call to form a national emergency government is a coup against the constitution and the political process," he declared in a televised address. "It is an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters," he said.
Maliki’s rejection was seen as an indication he is counting on support from elsewhere, namely Shiite Iran.
The New York Times reported that Tehran is supplying Maliki with tons of military equipment every day, and that the very powerful commander of Iran’s elite Quds force, Qassem Soleimani, has been in Iraq to coordinate the fight against insurgents, who are led by the jihadi Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Iraqi defense official told Rudaw, on condition of anonymity, that his ministry had assessed its losses in a report.
“The damage to the Iraqi army is estimated to be more than $10 billion, not taking into account the hundreds of army officers lost. So far, seven military divisions have been destroyed,” he quoted the report as saying.
Iraq reportedly has about 14 army divisions, which would mean that half have been destroyed.
Fighting was reported Wednesday between ISIS forces and the Iraqi Army in the Uzaim area, only 60 kilometers from Baghdad.
The defense official noted that while Baghdad is predominantly Shiite, it is surrounded by rings of Sunni-populated territories.
“Baghdad will not be spared from the war because every day towns around Baghdad are falling to ISIS,” he warned.
Meanwhile, Hassan Jihad, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi parliament and former member of its defense and security committee, said that only 500 insurgents were involved in the attack on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which fell two weeks ago after the heavily-armed Iraqi army turned and fled.
The defense official said that the army had collapsed because Maliki had ignored military commanders and moved reserve troops from the fallen cities of Mosul, Tikrit and those in Diyala province to the fighting in Anbar, which is now entirely in the hands of insurgents.
He also said that widespread corruption inside the Iraqi army was another problem. Some Iraqi MPs are asking what happened to all the billions given every year to train and equip an army that Maliki had boasted was one million-strong, but which was not there when needed.