1) Not only ISIL
Mosul and Tikrit could fall without struggle a) because the Iraqi army was not ready to fight and b) because the local population did not mount any resistance or even supported the insurgency. Otherwise it would be impossible to take such large swaths of land with only several thousands of fighters without heavy equipment.
2) Old resistance and new popular uprising
Which forces are involved? Beside the Jihadis there is on one hand the old army and the Baath party. Izzat al Durri, the highest ranking officer of Saddam carrying on, serves as its symbolic figure. He is leading the Naqshbandiya order which serves as an ideological shield bridging the gap between Arab nationalism and Islamism. On the other hand there are tribal structures which have been regaining influence across some western regions. Very important is Sheikh Harith al Dari, chairman of the Ulama, who is strongly and militantly opposed to the Shiite regime. Within the Sunni milieu there will be very few people not supporting the uprising.
In a phone call on June 15, 2014, Awni al Kalemji, the leader of the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance (IPA), which at the time of the Iraqi resistance tried to provide its political representation, called the current events a “popular revolution”. “Certainly there are Islamists, but they are only one force among many others. At the core stands the old Iraqi army.”
3) Maliki’s responsibility
Maliki had been given power by Washington in order to subdue the Iraqi resistance – in connivance with Tehran. He built a Shia sectarian system. He even liquidated the Sahwa (Awakening) movement raised by the US in order to integrate a section of the Sunnis (tribes, militias, social elites) into the new regime or at least pull them away from the resistance. The recent protests of this very same milieu in the Sunni cities of Ramadi and Falluja were repressed by brute military force thus re-creating the coalition of them with the Jihadis who largely took over these places already before the northern advance.
The sectarian tensions cannot be blamed on one side only. Both sides strongly contributed to drive the communalist spiral, let alone the US.
4) Sectarian partition and the end of Sykes-Picot
ISIL will not be able to advance further to the South into areas populated by Shiite people. Samarra, with its important Shia shrine, will remain on the front line. Conversely, without massive foreign support the Shia regime will hardly be able to re-conquer lost Sunni territories. The US, however, will not dare to repeat its failed intervention. Only Iran would be able to do so (maybe with Washington’s aerial support). But this would prompt the response of the Arab Sunni regimes which are already backing the Syrian insurgency.
In the context of the Syrian civil war and the consolidation of Kurdish power the borders carved out by European imperialism after WWI are de facto nullified, even if they might remain de jure in place.
Baghdad and the South will stay under control of the Shia regime as it enjoys sufficient popular support within its constituencies. While the Maliki government could change soon, the sectarian political system as such seems to be more stable.
A continued sectarian mobilisation and confrontation is to be expected which will lead to massacres, retaliation and displacements as had to be experience in the civil war of 2006/7. Most important will be the struggle for the control of the neuralgic capital Baghdad, where Sunnis and Shias have been living separated from one another already since the last sectarian confrontation.
5) Inner-Sunni civil war
Like in Syria ISIL will try to enforce its exclusive claim on power and cultural rigidity, even if not immediately. Heavy internecine conflicts are to be expected. Despite the fact that the support for Jihadism has grown within the population, Jihadis are structurally unable to construct hegemony. And for state-building they lack international support. Their “natural ally” Turkey does neither want to change borders and thus encourage Kurdish claims, nor will the AKP dare to confront the US which fears ISIL’s further consolidation.
6) Impact on Syria
The Sunni uprising does not only highlight the failure of Maliki’s sectarian strategy but also should be read as a further warning by Assad. His regime happens to celebrate military victories against the Jihadis fighting each other and loosing ground also within their popular constituencies. Assad’s group in power believes to be able to win with its hard-line military sectarian approach. The Iraqi example proves then wrong although it took half a decade to come to the fore so clearly.
The Iraqi events also show the limits of the Iranian strategy. Though they claim to lead the “axis of resistance” against imperialism, they actually have been building a Shiite axis. Here and there they come into conflict with the west. But in other places like Iraq they co-operate with imperialism. Actually the Baghdad regime has been developed based on an Iranian-American condominium despite the global conflict between Washington and Tehran also over Syria.