On March 29, 2006, President George W. Bush pointed proudly to Tal Afar, which he described as “once a key base of operations for al Qaeda” but described as “now a free city that gives us reason to hope for a free Iraq.” He said that “the story of Tal Afar gives me confidence in our strategy, because in that city we see the outlines of the Iraq we’ve been fighting for, a free and secure people who are getting back on their feet, who are participating in government and civic life, and are becoming allies in the fight against the terrorists.”
His confidence was misplaced and his enterprise in Iraq was foredoomed. As I wrote in March 2003: “Insisting that the nations of the Middle East choose between Western-style democracy or the terror state will do more harm than good.” And here we are.
“ISIS Militants Seize Iraq’s Strategic Town of Tal Afar,” NBC News, June 16, 2014:
BAGHDAD — Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north.
The town of Tal Afar, with a population of some 200,000 people, was taken just before dawn, Mayor Abdulal Abdoul told The Associated Press.
The town’s ethnic mix of mostly ethnic Shiite and Sunni Turkomen raises the grim specter of large-scale atrocities by Sunni militants from the al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who already claim to have killed hundreds of Shiites in areas they captured last week.
Tal Afar’s capture comes a week after Sunni militants took Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in a lightning offensive that has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.
A resident in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, confirmed the town’s fall and said over the telephone that militants in pickup trucks mounted with machineguns and flying black jihadi banners were roaming the streets as gunfire rang out.
The local security force left the town before dawn, said Hadeer al-Abadi, who spoke to the AP as he prepared to head out of town with his family. Local tribesmen who continued to fight later surrendered to the militants, he said.
“Residents are gripped by fear and most of them have already left the town for areas held by Kurdish security forces,” al-Abadi said….