The swift pace of the ISIL advance in northern Iraq has taken everyone by surprise. On 10 June the ISIL launched a major assault on western Mosul which later led to the capture of most of the city. The pace of the ISIL victory was matched by the almost unbelievable collapse of the Iraqi police and military. Reports of mass desertions and withdrawals circulated all day and it seemed as if the Iraqi Army was nothing but a force in name only. Very little resistance was offered and by days end ISIL had launched incursions deep into Salah ad Din and Kirkuk governorates. The collapse of the military and police is, on one hand, not too surprising to persons familiar with the conditions they work under. The security forces work long hours, are poorly paid and resourced, lack access to good intelligence and have a generally weak leadership who are better at fleeing than taking the initiative. Desertions among low level police and military personnel have become an increasing phenomenon recently in light of growing militant activity since 2012. In the face of a committed, battle hardened, well-resourced and ideologically driven insurgency the security forces have had little to respond with.
The battle is not yet won, however, and ISIL still has much to do if it is to maintain control of its new found territory. Iraq does have elite forces, such as the Tigris Command and Golden Brigades, at its disposal. There are also the Shiite militias and pro-government tribes scatterred throughout the centre and south which Prime Minister al-Maliki can call upon. The military also has heavy weapons, armour and an air force with which it will use to defend its primary cities located along the Samarra to Kirkuk line. Further north, the Kurd Peshmerga forces are present and on heightened alert. They are well trained and confident and are likely to stop any ISIL advance towards its territory (it should be noted that ISIL are unlikely to seek to engage the Kurds at present). With this in mind ISIL planners may seek to advance before withdrawing to defendable positions in the north. They have already looted millions of dollars worth of government materiel, which will boost its insurgency for years to come. Retreating back to Mosul and holding the city from the inevitable counter-attack would seem to be a logical option. Then again, given the frailty the Iraqi forces have shown to date, the ISIL may well be emboldened to further their assault southwards, even towards the capital.
Conflict Map https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z-ifXIMu7clE.kyhswK8bqCUs