Part one in the video series was originally published on Jun 17, 2014. Below is the information provided on YouTube about the series.
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Last week, the extremist militant Sunni group — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), along with other Sunni militias and former Baathist party members, seized control of large parts of Iraq, including Mosul, the nation’s second largest city.
In many places, the Iraqi army barely put up a flight. Soldiers dropped their weapons and fled, whether because of fear, incompetence, or internal sabotage. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have become internally displaced after fleeing the fighting or the potential for potential Iraqi air strikes.
As ISIS and the other groups continued to fight their way to Baghdad, gruesome videos of brutal executions began to surface. Iraqi army units stationed near Baghdad, as well as Shiite militias, have pledged to not give up so easily.
Many say the conflict was brewing for a while, and that ISIS, along with some of the other groups, has had some semblance of control in Sunni areas for quite some time. They point to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s increasingly sectarian polices and crackdowns on Sunnis as having provoked the events of the last week, and fear this could be the start of a devastating civil war.
In the north, Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga have used the opportunity to seize disputed areas, territories that the Kurds long felt belonged to them but the government was hesitant relinquish. An informal border now exists between ISIS dominated areas and Kurdish territory. There has only been sporadic clashing, as neither group seems determined to break the strange detente.
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As a coalition of ISIS fighters, Sunni militias, and former Baathists continues to push its way toward Baghdad, the Iraqi army and Shiite militias have fought to slow its progress.
In Mosul, however, ISIS and other Sunni forces now exert total control. Confusion remains about what exactly happened there, and why Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts so quickly. There is much speculation about the role high-ranking officers in the Iraqi army might have played, and whether or not they were involved in internal sabotage or had advance knowledge of the assault. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already fired a number of high-ranking officers, and ordered one to be court-martialed for desertion.
After fighting broke out, hundreds of thousands of civilians fled Mosul for territory controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government, many Iraqi army deserters among them. A seven-year veteran of the Iraqi army who sought refuge in Erbil agreed to talk to VICE News about what happened on the condition that we withhold his identity.
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Up until a week ago, the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq was one of the most hotly contested areas in the country, with a mishmash of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans, who all had strong claims to the land. Now that the Iraqi army has fled and ISIS has been repelled, the Kurds are fully in control, and hope to integrate the city into the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
Despite a large Kurdish presence in Kirkuk, this still might not be so easy. The Arab and Turkoman populations have long resisted Kurdish rule, and the large amount of oil nearby — which all of these groups want a fair share of — will only complicate matters further.
The Kurds, however, insist that control over the city is more a matter of dignity. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing throughout Saddam Hussein’s rule, many Kurds in the area were forced off the land during an Arabization process, which sought to change the demographics of the city. Poor Arabs were offered land, houses, and money to move to the city and take over formerly Kurdish lands.
During the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Kurdish forces and American soldiers took the city from the Baathist party. But the Kurdish forces mostly withdrew, and the city was not annexed to the KRG.
Since then Kirkuk has been under a sort of coalition rule, though it is still considered a disputed territory. Kurds have sought to implement Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which would allow the people of Kirkuk to vote on whether or not the city should join the KRG or remain part of Iraq. But this vote has been delayed numerous times.
As recently as 2012, the Iraqi army and the Kurdish fighters, know as Peshmerga, engaged in a standoff that at times seemed like it could break out into conflict. For now though, the Kurds are firmly in control — though south of the city, sporadic attacks continue.
VICE News spoke with Falah Mustafa Bakir, the head of foreign relations for the KRG, who said that the Kurds have no intention of giving up their control of Kirkuk.
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As the Kurds move further into Iraq’s disputed territories, not everyone is thrilled. In towns closer to Baghdad with higher Arab populations, like Jalawla and Sadiya, they have encountered fierce resistance from militant Sunni groups. While Kurdish peshmerga forces have been welcomed in many areas, they’ve needed to fight to enter others.
In our fourth dispatch amid the escalating crisis in Iraq, VICE News embedded with the peshmerga as they struggle to maintain control over their land, as tension in Iraq heightens between its main ethnic and religious factions.
We also spoke with a Sunni tribal leader in Kirkuk about the recent Kurdish takeover and the strategic importance of the city, and with Kurdish soldiers about why they volunteered to fight — and how they are successfully fending off advances from ISIS and the Iraqi Shiite military nearby.
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Here’s Who Is Fighting in Iraq and Why: http://bit.ly/1yFN1ET
Crisis in Iraq: Kurdish Peshmerga Clash With Advancing ISIS: http://bit.ly/1ye4TGF
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