Iraqis Stream Out of Mosul as Army Flees Islamist Advance

Nearly three years after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, Islamic militants on Tuesday overran the northern city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and claimed their biggest prize yet in what has become a metastasizing insurgency that has resurrected a level of violence not seen since the darkest days of the country’s ...

SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly three years after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, Islamic militants on Tuesday overran the northern city of Mosul, the country's second-largest city, and claimed their biggest prize yet in what has become a metastasizing insurgency that has resurrected a level of violence not seen since the darkest days of the country's brutal civil war.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which had been affiliated with al Qaeda until a falling out between the two groups, has reportedly seized police stations, military bases, prisons, and government buildings across the city. Iraqi security forces put up little resistance, fleeing the rapid onslaught of ISIS forces and leaving behind large numbers of U.S.-provided Humvees and other military equipment.

Earlier this year, ISIS seized control of the restive city of Fallujah, but their conquest of Mosul represents something very different. Fallujah had long been a hotbed of the anti-American insurgency and a homebase for large numbers of Islamist militants. U.S. forces, even at the peak of their powers, had trouble holding the city. Mosul, by contrast, has never been seen as a militant hotbed. In earlier years of the war, Iraqis even visited the city for vacation.

Nearly three years after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, Islamic militants on Tuesday overran the northern city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and claimed their biggest prize yet in what has become a metastasizing insurgency that has resurrected a level of violence not seen since the darkest days of the country’s brutal civil war.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which had been affiliated with al Qaeda until a falling out between the two groups, has reportedly seized police stations, military bases, prisons, and government buildings across the city. Iraqi security forces put up little resistance, fleeing the rapid onslaught of ISIS forces and leaving behind large numbers of U.S.-provided Humvees and other military equipment.

Earlier this year, ISIS seized control of the restive city of Fallujah, but their conquest of Mosul represents something very different. Fallujah had long been a hotbed of the anti-American insurgency and a homebase for large numbers of Islamist militants. U.S. forces, even at the peak of their powers, had trouble holding the city. Mosul, by contrast, has never been seen as a militant hotbed. In earlier years of the war, Iraqis even visited the city for vacation.

The fall of Mosul sparked an exodus of people from the city and led Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to declare a nationwide state of emergency. Meanwhile in Mosul, images and video poured out of the city, where militants exulted in their relatively bloodless victory.

In the aftermath of the battle, Iraqi army uniforms littered the area, reportedly after having been discarded by the soldiers to whom they belonged:

As Iraqi security forces fled the city, children threw rocks at their retreating vehicles:

Some American military equipment has reportedly now landed in the hands of Islamic militants in Syria, where ISIS forces are actively engaged in fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad. 

More captured American military equipment:

Inside Mosul, footage shows vehicles on fire, and widespread destruction, and militants cruising around the city on the back of pickup trucks:

More destruction in Mosul:

Meanwhile, residents of Mosul are fleeing the city: 

Here, cars can be seen jamming the roads out of Mosul:

And, here, families are pictured queuing at a checkpoint into the autonomous Kurdistan region:

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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