Fighting Across Iraq Creates Fear Of Sectarian War

NPR's Arun Rath speaks with correspondent Leila Fadel in Erbil, Iraq, about the advance of forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. In Iraq there are very real fears of a full-on sectarian war. Intense fighting is taking place outside the northern city of Mosul. Meanwhile in Central Baghdad, a car bomb killed at least nine people as a Sunni extremist group joined by others has taken control of swathes of the country. Covering the developments is NPR's Leila Fadel who joins us from the city of Erbil in northern Iraq. Leila, is Iraq breaking apart?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, I think that's the big question. And it appears that way right now. You see the Sunni extremist group allied with the others - disenfranchised Sunni groups taking swaths of the country. Shais mobilizing in Baghdad trying to ward them off. And then the semiautonomous region in the north of Kurdistan that's basically hardening it's borders and also taking territory where the Iraqi Army has fled.

RATH: And who is doing the fighting?

FADEL: Well the Islamic state of Syria and Iraq is the main name that you hear about that took Mosul - that has taken chunks of other provinces. But it's not just them. There are also Baathists on their side, there are tribes on their side. Not necessarily because they agree with their ideology but because they feel marginalized and they feel oppressed by the Shia leadership here under Nouri al-Maliki. Because they feel that they haven't been treated well in this country and been included in the process. And so that's the main problem here.

RATH: Mosul is one of the largest cities that's now under the control of ISIS. Can you tell us about what's happening inside Mosul now?

FADEL: Well we spoke to a few residents today who said, actually it's been pretty normal. The University is open, traffic is flowing well, the checkpoints of the Iraqi army are actually gone. And some people even say, you know, we don't know who these guys are - but the city is functioning fine. There is a charter that was put out Friday on proper Islamic behavior - extreme, actually - in the way that they've described it. But for now, it isn't violent towards civilians and then even refugees who've come out of Mosul say the same thing. Other than where they have seen, like, fighting with the soldiers and the police. They haven't really seen violence against civilians. And that's the situation right now in Mosul.

RATH: At the same time there were the photos that surfaced today posted by ISIS - the extremist group that captured much of the North - showing, apparently, executions. What can you tell us about that?

FADEL: Well it's hundreds of plain-clothes men, apparently, soliders - according to the pictures that were posted on twitter accounts connected to ISIS. That are then laid on the ground and shot. We couldn't verify these pictures independently but ISIS itself, in these twitter accounts, say they executed 1,700 Shia soldiers using derogatory terms to talk about them and basically showing how brutal they can be when it comes to their enemy.

RATH: So what has been the reaction to these horrific images?

FADEL: Well, this is really ISIS kind of bragging. They've also posted pictures of themselves in Humvees and Iraqi army vehicles. And the Iraqi government is coming back with its own bragging, talking about the hundreds of people they've killed in the fight. And you see a huge amount of people mobilizing to join the Army and to join Shia militias to fight back.

RATH: Leila, in terms of the humanitarian crisis Iraq is facing, did you speak with any of the refugees?

FADEL: We did. There are four camps being built in different areas that border or near to Musil. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have come into the Kurdish region looking for refuge. Many of those living with families. Others - the poor, the people that came with no money, the people that walked, that sold everything they could to get to the Kurdish region, are living in tents in very - it's very hot outside but they are getting aid from a different aid agencies at this point.

RATH: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Erbil, Iraq. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you.

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