So absolute was the rout of Iraq’s army in Mosul that soldiers stripped off their uniforms in the street and fled. The bodies of those left behind, some mutilated, were strewn amid burned-out troop carriers. Roughly 1,500 jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), outnumbered by more than 15 to one, reportedly seized six Black Hawk helicopters as well as untold plunder from the vaults of Mosul’s banks. They released thousands of prisoners from Mosul’s jails. As the black flag of jihad rose above government buildings, as many as half a million refugees sought sanctuary.
Two and a half years ago, as the last American troops left, President Barack Obama described Iraq as “sovereign, stable and self-reliant”. Today jihadists are tearing the country apart. Mosul is its second city. On June 10th the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, called for a state of emergency and pleaded for outside help. The next day, in league with rebellious Iraqi Sunnis, ISIS took Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein, just two and a half hours’ drive north of Baghdad.