When Isis came the deal with the army was, 'don't find us and we won't slaughter you'
Published 24/06/2014 | 02:30
As borders crumble and city after city surrenders to radical Sunni jihadists, fleeing Iraqis are filled with the terrifying truth that the wrath of ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham – is never far away.
In IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps and at the various checkpoints and registration centres, displaced Iraqis look tentatively around before making any comment about their experiences. None will give real identifications and all will tell you they fear recrimination from ISIS or its henchmen and supporters, who they fear walk among them.
Last Sunday, having fled his home in Mosul, Mohammad, 20, of Palestinian ethnicity, arrived at the Mosul/Erbil border.
He quickly realised this grisly reality.
He said: "They took down all of the government flags in all of the highest buildings in Mosul and replaced them with the black flag of ISIS.
"Where I'm from in Mosul, the Iraqi army didn't resist even for one hour when Daash (local name for ISIS) arrived – they knocked on doors asking for civilian clothes and just ran away.
"We all believe that there was a deal between Daash and some in the army – the deal was 'you don't find us and we won't slaughter you'.
"The Iraqi army didn't want to fight for us – to protect us."
In the midst of relaying his disdain for ISIS' abject violence, his account was brought to an abrupt end upon the arrival of two, menacing, angry men, demanding to know the details of our conversation. A stand-off ensued when they demanded to know who was asking about Daash.
Refusing to move, they stood firmly, intimidating, as we engaged in a facade – pretending to talk about Palestinian rights in Iraq. We managed to disperse calmly and they followed us to our driver nearby.
"Never talk about Daash," they ordered, in Arabic to the Kurdish translator.
Just ten minutes earlier, an Iraqi state employee claiming to want to "tell everything" about ISIS presented himself voluntarily.
Not willing to have his real name disclosed, but showing his official Iraqi government employee id, he said: "ISIS is doing no wrong – they are the true liberators.
"I came from Mosul, I said hello to Daash people – they were all Iraqi and there was nobody from anywhere else.
"Daash are revolutionaries, not terrorists. They are made up of tribal groups and they are trying to end the Maliki government."
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has long been the source of scorn for Iraqis, particularly the minority Sunni who have suffered under his sectarian policies for eight years.
In the north, the Kurds have in one way or another borne the brunt of Baghdad's policies through Saddam Hussein – who among other things included used chemicals in massacring over 5,000 people in Halabja in 1988, or through Maliki's sectarian policies and demeaning treatment of the Peshmerga – the Kurdish army – the only properly skilled force in the country.
"It's Baghdad to be blamed; Prime Minister Maliki himself; ignoring the Sunnis, ignoring the Kurds; marginalising everybody; we knew it was a recipe for disaster," says Kurdish foreign affairs minister Falah Mustafa.
In spite of the clear disdain felt towards Mr Maliki and clear opposition to taking on the might of ISIS for the greater good of the country, Kurds also realise they have a golden opportunity laid before them if they agree to be part of the solution to this crisis.
A long-awaited, independent nation-state is almost within their grasp and the case for such getting stronger by the day.
As the rest of the world, including ISIS, talks about breaking borders and reopening post colonial lines, the Kurds see an opportunity in firming up theirs.
And so with the fragmentation of Iraq as we know it, may arrive, the birth of a new nation state.
"It's over anyway; a centralised Iraq is over," says Mr Mustafa.
It is with this carrot that the Peshmerga may, albeit grudgingly, assist the central government forces; uphold their reputation as a noble force in support of a pluralist Iraq.
The peshmerga are actively defending Kurdish borders against ISIS; they have cultivated a reputation based on loyalty, stamina, and skill.
Numbering around 250,000, they pale in comparison in size when compared to the Iraqi army with 1.2 million soldiers; the state forces are also better equipped, financed and resourced.
They did not wilt at the first sight of ISIS however, and has been tactfully successful, of late, in defending its border with ISIS-held Mosul, in particular.
Regarded as a highly dedicated force, they appear to be the only hope for any Iraqi-led approach to ending the conflict; bringing also, a desperately needed semblance of cohesion.
If the US were to agree to recognise and support the borders and a nation state for the Kurds, in exchange for its loyalty and strength in tackling ISIS, a political solution this conflict could well be within reach.
In the meantime, US Secretary of State John Kerry is urging Iraqi leaders to "stand united" – a barely veiled edict in Maliki's direction, whom the US acknowledges, privately, at least, has ruled in a divisive and counterproductive manner.