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Iraqis at a checkpoint near the Iraqi city of Arbil on Tuesday. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a state of emergency for the entire country. (Credit: Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

'Mosul Is Now Hell': Civil War Fears Become Reality in Iraq

Eleven years after US invasion, mass exodus follows violent assault on nation's second largest city

Jon Queally

The entire nation of Iraq is under a declared state of emergency on Tuesday after a military assault by Sunni insurgents overpowered government soldiers in the northern city of Mosul.

"It’s clear that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed a brutal, bloody, Sunni-Shiite civil war across the region." —Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com

As the Iraq Army retreated, reports indicate that the anti-government militias have seized military bases and prisons in the city, releasing more than a thousand prisoners who were held.

The Guardian reports that Iraqi government officials in Mosul "say the city is now effectively in the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a group inspired by al-Qaida that has remained in control of parts of Falluja and Ramadi for the past six months."

“Mosul now is like hell. It’s up in flames and death is everywhere," said Amina Ibrahim, a resident of the city who spoke with a Reuters reporter as she fled north from the city with her children.

As this tweet from BBC shows, Ibrahim was not alone in her attempt to escape the violence:

In response to his military's defeat in the nation's second largest city, Iraq President Nuri al-Maliki declared the national emergency as his government was seen scrambling to respond to the escalating internal violence that has gripped the country since the last U.S troops left the country in late 2011.

According to Reuters:

Police, military and security officials told Reuters the insurgents, armed with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, had taken over almost all police and army checkpoints in and around the Mosul early on Tuesday.

"We have lost Mosul this morning. Army and police forces left their positions and ISIL terrorists are in full control," said an army colonel at the local military command. "It’s a total collapse of the security forces."

Two army officers said security forces had received orders to leave Mosul after militants captured the Ghizlani army base and set more than 200 inmates free from a high-security prison.

A Reuters reporter saw policemen swapping their uniforms for plain clothes and discarding their weapons before fleeing the city. The bodies of soldiers and policemen, some of them mutilated, littered the streets.

"We can't beat them. We can't. They are well trained in street fighting and we're not. We need a whole army to drive them out of Mosul," one officer said. "They're like ghosts: they appear to hit and disappear within seconds."

Previous fighting between Sunni militias and the Iraq Army in Fallujah and other areas closer to the Syrian border have exposed the deep tensions and bloody rivalries that remain in the aftermath of the U.S. occupation of Iraq that began in 2003.

Tom Engelhardt, editor of the TomDispatch website, published an extensive, and particularly relevant, essay early on Tuesday in which he laid out the case for why the failure of U.S. foreign policy—specifically the unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003—deserves the bulk of the blame for the sectarian violence and political volatility that has now engulfed the country.

Instead of sowing human rights and democracy in Iraq, as was promised by Bush administration officials and their supporters leading up to and during the war, the country is now, according to Engelhardt, "a riven, embattled, dilapidated country" wracked by violence.

As events in Mosul on Tuesday show, the nation is likely no longer on the verge of civil war—as many have suggested and warned against in recent months—but actually engaged in one.

"It’s clear," Engelhardt writes in his piece, "that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed a brutal, bloody, Sunni-Shiite civil war across the region. [...] One result of that invasion and the subsequent occupation, as well as of the wars and civil wars that followed: the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, while major areas of Syria and some parts of Iraq have fallen into the hands of armed supporters of al-Qaeda or, in one major case, a group that didn’t find that organization extreme enough."

Engelhardt was not alone in placing the blame for the current state of Iraq on the 2003 U.S. invasion. On Twitter, journalist Greg Mitchell jabbed prominent Iraq War supporters, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for their role in the destruction of Iraq:

And Hisham Melhem, bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC and correspondent for the Lebanese daily Annahar, said:

And Wajahat Ali, co-host of The Stream on Al Jazeera America, tweeted:

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