How the Iraq crisis threatens to destabilise world peace and the Indian economy

Image credit: dna/AFP

By Samyukta Maindarkar | dna Webdesk

The northern town of Tal Afar was the latest to fall to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants on Monday as it continued its advance across Iraq. The alarming resurgence of the jihadist group, a splinter group of the al Qaeda which the US defeated during its nine-year-long campaign in the oil-rich country but did not destroy, now threatens to tear Iraq and the Middle East asunder.

Violence has escalated across Iraq over the past year, with frequent instances of car bombings, explosions and suicide bombings. The violence continued right through the parliamentary elections, and though Iraqis turned out in large numbers to vote, several people were killed in militant attacks during and after the polls.

The latest wave of deadly violence began on Sunday, June 8, 2014, when militants stormed the Ramadi university campus in western Iraq, and took dozens of students and staff hostage before retreating when they came under fire from security forces.

On June 10, the Sunni insurgents captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. According to the International Organisation of Migration, 500,000 people, including 99% of its Christian population have fled the city since hostilities began.

Mosul’s capture was followed by the fall of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, on Wednesday, June 11. Iraq’s largest oil refinery, the Baiji refinery, is located in this town.

The ISIL’s week-long offensive continued and on Tuesday, June 16, the jihadist group was within 60 km of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, causing the United Nations to warn that the very existence of the country is under threat.

Even as the United States is contemplating the various steps it can take in Iraq short of sending troops into combat, even dialogue with its long-time adversary and Iraq’s neighbour Iran, gruesome images of mass execution of captured Iraqi soldiers by the ISIL have emerged, shocking in their brutality.

But then the ISIL is known for its violent tactics. The extremist group, which started out as the al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was expelled from its parent organisation, the al-Qaeda, in January 2014 for being too vicious.

Apart from Iraq, ISIL, has now also become a dominant player in Syria, where it has seized a string of cities over the past year, often fighting other Sunni groups. The jihadist group, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), aims to establish a purely Islamist state in the Levant, which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the island of Cyprus and southern Turkey.

Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for followers to fight the ISIL rebels, a call that caused thousands across Iraq to volunteer to fight alongside security forces.

Iraq has accused Saudi Arabia of financing militant organistations, and said it should be held responsible for the spread of insurgent groups like the ISIL.

The Iraq crisis and the current tensions between Ukraine and Russia over supply of gas have caused the prices for oil to skyrocket.

Impact on India

The situation in Iraq would also impact oil prices for India, with the international prices for crude oil pushed as high as $112 per barrel. Iraq is India’s second largest supplier of oil, and therefore an obvious impact will be felt. The new Narendra Modi-led government has been wanting to phase out subsidies from petroleum products, which in this context, seems a tough proposition to go ahead with. Either way, the Indian government would have to bear huge costs with or without subsidies.

Amid the escalation in violence in Iraq, India has asked its citizens not to travel to the war-torn country and has also set up a 24-hour helpline to offer assistance to those living there. In addition, India has its citizens residing in Iraq to consider leaving the country in view of the “precarious” security situation there.

Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has condemned the situation in Iraq on the microblogging website Twitter.

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Originally published on Monday, June 16, 2014.

With inputs from agencies.

*Published on on June 17, 2014