The rapid advance of ISIS across Iraq

At Blogs of War, John Little describes: the massive upsurge in ISIS’s strength and capabilities. The group now:

I could go on. Bad news is flooding in around the clock. This is a tremendously worrying destabilization that will create an environment in which only really terrible things happen. Jessica Lewis and Ahmed Ali of ISW have given some thought to where all of this is heading and paint a pretty dire picture:

Iraq’s security forces will not be able to retake all of the ground they have lost. They may not even be able to hold what they still have. The best-case scenario is a stalemate in which Iraqis manage to contain the ISIS state and army for now. The more likely case is the creation of another Syrian-style conflict pitting ISIS with increasing international support against desperate and increasingly brutal Iraqi Shi’a militias and ISF elements. The two civil wars, which have now completely merged, will continue to expand, destabilizing an already unstable Middle East and inviting further intervention by the Sunni Arab states and Iran. In the very worst case, the fall of Mosul could be a step down the path to outright regional war.

If there is any hope at all, and I am not sure that there is, it might be in that ISIS has overextended itself and the terrible performance by Iraqi forces has made them appear far more formidable than they actually are. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: As his army flees from an al-Qaeda splinter group, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is rallying Shiite militias to defend his government, raising the specter of civil war in OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer.

In a televised news conference yesterday Maliki urged citizens to take up arms after the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant group seized control of the northern city of Mosul, stealing weapons and helicopters from police and army bases as Iraqi government forces fled. He vowed to build an army of volunteers to “pull the thorns out by ourselves.”

By countering Sunni militants with elements of his own Shiite support, Maliki risks reigniting the sectarian conflict that flared after the 2003 U.S. invasion that led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein. At its worst, in 2006 and 2007, thousands of civilians were losing their lives every month.

“The unleashing of the Shia militias was a driver of the civil war,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior Middle East and North African analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in a telephone interview. “The question is, will Maliki try to maintain order over these militias or will the level of conflict spiral into something deeper?” [Continue reading…]

Fred Kaplan writes: The collapse of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has little to do with the withdrawal of American troops and everything to do with the political failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As the U.S. pullout began under the terms of a treaty signed in 2008 by then-President George W. Bush, Maliki, the leader of a Shiite political party, promised to run a more inclusive government — to bring more Sunnis into the ministries, to bring more Sunnis from the Sons of Iraq militia into the national army, to settle property disputes in Kirkuk, to negotiate a formula on sharing oil revenue with Sunni districts, and much more.

Maliki has since backpedaled on all of these commitments and has pursued policies designed to strengthen Shiites and marginalize Sunnis. That has led to the resurgence of sectarian violence in the past few years. The Sunnis, finding themselves excluded from the political process, have taken up arms as the route to power. In the process, they have formed alliances with Sunni jihadist groups — such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which has seized not just Mosul but much of northern Iraq — on the principle that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. [Continue reading…]

Much as many Americans inside and outside government may now be inclined to view the advance of ISIS as Iraq’s problem, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the jihadist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was held in American custody until his release in 2009.

abu_duaThe FBI “most wanted” mugshot shows a tough, swarthy figure, his hair in a jailbird crew-cut. The $10 million price on his head, meanwhile, suggests that whoever released him from US custody four years ago may now be regretting it.

Taken during his years as a detainee at the US-run Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, this is the only known photograph of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. But while he may lack the photogenic qualities of his hero, Osama bin Laden, he is fast becoming the new poster-boy for the global jihadist movement.

For anyone who has any doubts about the brutality of ISIS, then if you can stomach it, watch some of “The Clanging of the Swords.” This recently released movie could be described as Tarantino-style jihad — repulsive to most people, but presumably appealing to young men who want to kill in the name of Islam.

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