Friday, June 13, 2014

ISIS gains

The fall of Mosul to the forces of ISIS is a major event in the unraveling of the Pax Americana in the Middle East, for which the US fought the Gulf War.  ISIS stands for "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (or more correctly "the Levant," which includes Lebanon).   ISIS is so extreme in its views and actions that it has been expelled by al Qaeda from its organization and there have been battles between the two groups within Syria.  ISIS has developed as a major belligerant in the fight of Sunni Islamists against Pres. Assad's pro-Shia forces in Syria that are supported by Iran and Hizbollah. 
Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq and controls access to the major oil-producing area in the north.  It is reported that already in one day 500,000 refugees, mostly Kurds, have left Mosul and are spreading north and east.  Beyond this area is the Kurdish semi-autonomous enclave of Kurdish Iraq, and the authorities controlling this area have indicated that they will both accept the Kurdish refugees and fight any attempt by ISIS to extend their control beyond Kirkuk in the north of Iraq using their Pesh Merga fighters.  What was very striking in this attack was the rapidity with which the American-trained Iraqi Army collapsed in one day and left the northern region of Iraq undefended.  This indicates a dire situation for the Shia-led Iraqi Government of Pres. Maliki, who has not been an effective leader.  It is reported that ISIS fighters are now moving south and have captured Beiji and Tikrit (Saddam Hussein's home town) and may soon threaten Baghdad.  This is reminiscent of the way the Taliban over took Afghanistan.
Whether one regards this situation as an inevitable Sunni reaction to the domination of the Shia in a nominally democratic Iraq, or as just a spill-over from the conflict in Syria is secondary.  What is clear is that the Sunni ISIS-led takeover of regions of northern Syria, the main city in Iraq's Anbar province (Ramadi) and now Mosul, reflect the growing strength of the Sunni Islamist threat to the whole region.  ISIS intends to establish a new Caliphate in the areas under their control.  The question arises, should the US and the West view this development as a direct threat to their own security.  I would think that a delay to consider the possibilities is in order.  If ISIS were to threaten a takeover of Baghdad, and especially Kerbala, the Shia holy city, then the Shia heartland would be threatened and Iran would have to come to support their Shia brethren.  Then the full-scale Sunni-Shia conflict that has been predicted for some time might be in the offing.  In that case, it would be astute to let the two Islamic sides fight it out, as Sunni-led Iraq and Shia Iran did during the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88, and let the chips fall where they may.  Having to actually fight a war might make Iran a lot less of a direct threat to the West and Israel, and ironically might reduce its nuclear ambitions.  Iran might have more immediate urgent issues to attend to.


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