National Media Coverage of the Advance of
ISIS Through Iraq, June 2014
Global Policy Research Institute
Center for Strategic and International Studies
June 15, 2015
DESCRIPTION OF TOPIC
On June 10, 2014, the international terrorist group ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State, and
Daesh) seized the major Iraqi city of Mosul, plunging the country into a chaotic power-struggle that
continues to the time of this writing. These disruptions to order came at great cost to Iraq, a nation
that ranks well into the bottom quartile of Middle Eastern countries for government effectiveness and
corruption control, according to the World Bank.1
News of Mosul’s seizure in 2014 sparked
significant apprehension in this politically unstable nation.
Media coverage of ISIS’ descent from Syria into Iraq, culminating in the group’s seizure of Mosul,
was quick to chastise Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, accusing Maliki of alienating ISIS-
aligned Sunnis and citing Maliki’s heavily Shiite-dominated regime as a source of strife. Further
coverage following the seizure of Mosul on June 10 continued to cast a critical eye on Maliki,
implicating the former Prime Minister repeatedly in news articles until his resignation — the first
democratic transition of power in Iraq’s history — on August 15, 2014.
This paper reviews national news coverage of the advance of ISIS through Iraq in the summer of
2014, paying particular attention to criticism by national media of Maliki’s leadership. Drawing
together the most pertinent of national news articles published during this period, it seeks to highlight
the force of national media criticism in the buildup of national and international pressure on Maliki to
relinquish power after his continued failure to contain ISIS-driven terrorism.
The seizure of Mosul sparked heated responses from both national news outlets and leading policy
analysts. In these responses, Maliki’s questionable leadership and sectarian leanings were parsed and
decried. In a special to CNN published just two days after ISIS’ seizure of Mosul, Dr. Anthony
Cordesman, Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, declared
pushing Maliki out of power the solution to the trouble in Iraq, citing Maliki’s abuses of power in the
administration of his security force and funds as evidence. But above these generic abuses of power,
Cordesman argues, Maliki’s mishandling of sectarian opposition is the reason ISIS is now ravaging
Iraq. According to Cordesman, “[Maliki’s] ruthless repression of legitimate Sunni opposition and
pressure on the Kurds — and lies and broken promises to Sunni tribal leaders — have lost him the
support of Iraq's Sunnis and Kurds and empowered ISIS.”2
Cordesman’s analysis takes a firm hand
against Maliki, conceding no excuse for the prime minister’s inability to include and negotiate with
Sunni as well as Shiite leaders.
Center for Strategic and International Studies, Internal Tensions in Iran: Some Underlying Metrics, by Anthony
Cordesman, Washington, D.C., June 18, 2014, 6-9,
Anthony Cordesman, “Time to Push al-Maliki Out of Power,” CNN, June 12, 2014,
It is important to note that some media criticism in this period conveniently eschews mention of
Maliki’s repeated requests for U.S. assistance. An article published on June 13, 2014, by Al Jazeera
America, the U.S.-based arm of Arabic news broadcaster Al Jazeera, notes that Maliki’s repeated
calls for U.S. airstrikes on ISIS strongholds were ignored for months before the seizure of Mosul.3
However, the article also implies that the Obama administration, despite its willingness to consider
emergency action following Mosul’s seizure, continued to show a marked lack of confidence in
Maliki’s willingness to extend consideration to Sunni leaders and potentially unite the nation against
ISIS. Although this Al Jazeera America article reports that the U.S. failed to respond to the Iraqi
government’s requests for assistance against ISIS in earlier years, it remains skeptical of Maliki’s
ability to unite a nation frayed from within by sectarian conflict.
Although Al Jazeera America is not alone in attributing responsibility to the United States for Iraq’s
vulnerability to ISIS, it is almost unanimously joined by other national media leaders in its
condemnation of Maliki’s leadership. In an article analyzing culpability for Iraq’s ISIS-wracked state
published on June 18, 2014, TIME Magazine notes the exit of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 as a
pressure point leading to the instability that primed Iraq for vulnerability to ISIS.4
other influential voices among national media, TIME also concludes that Maliki’s obsession with
maintaining an iron grip on his perceived power — exemplified by his consolidation of “virtually all
instruments of state power” under the Iraqi office of the prime minister — has done just as much, if
not more, to plummet Iraq into a state of instability.5
The magazine quotes retired U.S. Marine
general Anthony Zinni, who notes among Iraqis a popular lack of faith in Maliki’s intentions to
bridge sectarian divides and distribute power regionally: “[Maliki] made two mistakes: He didn’t
bring enough Sunnis into his government — he didn’t distribute the resources well — and he
controlled everything from Baghdad. There needed to be more provincial and district distribution.”6
Zinni comments further that Maliki “needs a lesson in Governance 101,” a brutal indictment of the
former prime minister’s leadership.7
Unfortunately for Maliki, such criticism was received not as
aberrant disparagement, but as corroboration, for a growing condemnation by key national media
leaders of Maliki’s actions during his tenure as Iraq’s prime minister.
Michael Pizzi and Tony Karon, “Obama’s Iraq Dilemma,” Al Jazeera America, June 13, 2014,
Mark Thompson, “How We Got Here: Assessing Culpability for Iraq,” TIME, June 18, 2014,
In a nation where economic activity is heavily concentrated around the petroleum industry — crude
oil makes up 84 percent of Iraq’s exports — social unrest comes with the potential to devastate
economic as well as social stability.8
According to the World Bank, Iraq is one of the most negatively
affected among the six countries in the Levant by the rampage of ISIS. Furthermore, per capita GDP
in Iraq has decreased by 16 percent since ISIS’ advance through the country.9
Clearly, the threat of
ISIS has thrust Iraq into new and unpleasant economic territory. Future media analysis of ISIS’
advance through Iraq should examine the economic effects of the terrorist group alongside political
mishandlings like those of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
National media criticism of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reached an all-time high following
ISIS’ seizure of Mosul in the summer of 2014. Regardless of their own bias toward U.S. military
involvement in the state of Iraq, leading national news venues such as CNN, Al Jazeera America and
TIME Magazine were united in their criticism of Maliki’s leadership preceding ISIS’ invasion of
Mosul in June 2014. Joining in a single voice of censure, these news leaders decried Maliki’s
corruption, citing his consolidation of power under his own office and his negligence in developing
working relations with Sunni factions of the Iraqi government as evidence. Taken together, these
national media outlets declared Maliki’s governance failures an insurmountable exacerbation to
Sunni-led ISIS insurgency and issued a not-so-subtle cry for Maliki’s resignation. The influence of
national media on the decision of Prime Minister Maliki to resign cannot be underestimated, and
students and scholars should consider the immense force of the media’s condemnation of Maliki in
analyzing the events surrounding the advance of ISIS through Iraq in the summer of 2014.
Elena Ianchovichina, “The Economic Impact of the Syrian War and the Spread of ISIS: Who Loses & How
Much?,” Voice and Views: Middle East & North Africa (blog), World Bank, December 18, 2014,
Center for Strategic and International Studies. Internal Tensions in Iran: Some Underlying Metrics.
By Anthony Cordesman. Washington, D.C. June 18, 2014.
Cordesman, Anthony. “Time to Push al-Maliki Out of Power.” CNN. June 12, 2014,
Ianchovichina, Elena. “The Economic Impact of the Syrian War and the Spread of ISIS: Who Loses
& How Much?” Voice and Views: Middle East & North Africa (blog). World Bank.
December 18, 2014.
Pizzi, Michael, and Tony Karon. “Obama’s Iraq Dilemma.” Al Jazeera America. June 13, 2014.
Thompson, Mark. “How We Got Here: Assessing Culpability for Iraq.” TIME. June 18, 2014.
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