Experts have warned since U.S. forces left Iraq in late 2011 that the divided nation would not find peace unless Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took steps to include Sunnis and others in his Shiite-dominated government.
Tragically, that didn’t happen. Nor did Maliki agree to U.S. requests to leave troops in Iraq after 2011 to continue the training of national forces. Now his nation is under siege, his under-trained troops in Sunni territory are fleeing and the country is at risk of breaking apart. This has Maliki now asking the U.S. to bomb his enemies to help rout them.
In the interim, he is asking citizens to take up arms. More than a half-million Iraqis are fleeing.
On Tuesday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — originally an appendage of al-Qaida — took control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, expelling U.S.-trained security forces from most of the city. On Wednesday, ISIS fighters overran Tikrit, less than 90 miles north of Baghdad.
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The black flag of ISIS also flies over Fallujah and Baiji — as well as at least three Syrian cities. Some of these cities are contested, but ISIS controls a massive chunk of territory stretching from Fallujah to Aleppo in Syria.
This catastrophe has been spawned by a group whose abhorrent brutality is even rejected by al-Qaida. The ISIS assault, which has been building for months, presents a threat to the entire region.
As its name suggests, ISIS wants to establish an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, under a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
The chaotic advance of ISIS in Iraq was preceded by its advances in Syria, a battlefield incubator for recruited fighters. Therefore, stopping this force will require more robust support to the opposition in Syria that is fighting Bashar Assad and ISIS.
The rampant, disastrous success of ISIS escalates the need for the U.S. to continue to provide the Iraqi government with military hardware. The $14 billion aid package — including F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters — is a good foundation, and future aid should be contingent on necessary reforms that ease sectarianism in the Iraqi government and society. The outlook without major efforts at reunification is grim.