ISIS, the Islamic terrorists, having taken over Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, is rushing south. It has just captured Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and is only 70 miles from Baghdad. Iraqi troops collapse in disarray in the face of their attacks and the seizure of the capital seems imminent.
Strengthened by their victories and the weapons they have captured from the Iraqi army, ISIS is on a roll. Why is this important? Four things to remember:
First, ISIS is not about the current country of Syria but about al-Sham. Al-Sham is the traditional name for the territories controlled from Damascus. Those territories now encompass Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Occupied Territories, and Jordan. The ambitions of the Sunni militants extend beyond the countries of Iraq and Syria.
Second, the conquest of Iraqi territory, let alone the entire country, will provide ISIS with a stunning array of armaments as well as vast revenues. These will be used to attempt to finish off Syria’s Assad and then lead to new adventures outside Iraq and Syria.
Third, the likely collapse of the al Maliki government in Iraq is not surprising. It has been a model of incompetence, inefficiency and corruption. Iraq is ranked 171 out of 177 countries in the world in terms of corruption by Transparency International (http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2013/results/). Iraq is ranked along with the most ineffective and least democratic countries in the world by The World Bank in its World Governance Indicators (http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/tableview.aspx). In addition, the Maliki government has been ruthless to Iraq’s Sunnis, fueling support for ISIS.
Fourth, the uprising against Assad is in fact a regional war encompassing every country from Lebanon in the West to Iran in the East. Hezbollah has sent vast manpower to fight for Assad. Iran has sent troops, funds, and weapons to Assad. This war will now intensify and Iran will be drawn into protecting fellow Shiite al Maliki just as they are saving Assad.
Two immediate outcomes seem plausible.
ISIS will move rapidly to consolidate its gains and then turn with new ferocity to overthrow Assad. The war will intensify and the US will likely, finally, move to attempt to strengthen its allies in the Syrian ‘dogfight’.
Iran will become more accommodating in the nuclear talks as it seeks to diminish its distractions from the fight to preserve its allies in Iraq and Syria.
The terrorists have scored a victory of staggering importance, giving them a base to consolidate their gains and strike throughout ‘al-Sham’.