The Iraq Crisis
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – aka ISIS – has, in a strikingly short time, gained control of an immense area stretching from the eastern edge of the Syrian city of Aleppo, all the way to Fallujah in western Iraq. Their stated intention is the creation of a new Caliphate – and little seems to be standing in their way.
The fall of Mosul to extremists after the collapse of Iraqi security forces is just the latest example of the extraordinary revival of the militant organization in the past 2 ½ years, aided by the vacuum of power and authority in Syria next door.
The al-Qaeda in Iraq organization that fought U.S. troops renamed itself to better describe its expanded reach into Syria. In the process, it broke with existing al-Qaeda leadership. It has also morphed into something far more dangerous and powerful than it was when U.S. forces were in Iraq.
Most of ISIS's expansion came in the past year, after its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared its new mission in Syria and started recruiting through the northern and eastern parts of the country, which were in rebel hands. ISIS lured into its ranks most of the thousands of foreign volunteers, some from Europe and the United States, who have flowed into Syria to wage jihad, further increasing its strength.
The group's exact strength remains unknown, but Aymenn al-Tamimi, who observes jihadist events for the Middle East Forum, says its swift capture of Mosul at a time when it was also fighting on other fronts clearly indicates that it has forces in excess of the 10,000 or so fighters it is believed to control.
With their own state comes the power to establish training camps and funding sources to facilitate terrorist strikes anywhere in the world - including in the United States.
While the American-trained Iraqi army may indeed have collapsed and left Baghdad at the mercy of ISIS, it remains to be seen whether ISIS can pull off a complete takeover of Iraq. It seems more likely that they will carve out as much territory as they can hold and establish themselves as the world's first terrorist state. The fact that Barack Obama and not George W. Bush is in the White House makes their work far easier for them.
God help those who live in any cities or towns under ISIS control.
It's worth noting, by the way, that ISIS is so brutal, they've even been disavowed by al-Qaeda for their horrific activities in Syria