Fear, sectarianism behind Iraq army collapse
CAIRO (AP) — The video, set to sweetly lilting religious hymns, is chilling. Islamic militants are shown knocking on the door of a Sunni police major in the dead of night in an Iraqi city. When he answers, they blindfold and cuff him. Then they carve off his head with a knife in his own bedroom.
The 61-minute video was recently posted online by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida splinter group of Sunni extremists. The intent was to terrorize Sunnis in Iraq’s army and police forces and deepen their already low morale.
That fear is one factor behind the stunning collapse of Iraqi security forces when fighters led by the Islamic State overran the cities of Mosul and Tikrit this week, sweeping over a swath of Sunni-majority territory. In most cases, police and soldiers simply ran, sometimes shedding their uniforms, and abandoned arsenals of heavy weapons.
Even after the United States spent billions of dollars training the armed forces during its 2003-2011 military presence in Iraq, the 1 million-member army and police remain riven by sectarian discontents, corruption and a lack of professionalism.
Many Sunnis in the armed forces are unprepared to die fighting on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government, which many in their minority community accuse of sharp bias against them. The Islamic State has exploited this by touting itself as the Sunnis’ champion against Shiites.