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3 Reasons Why the Current Crisis in Iraq Has Everyone Panicked

3 Reasons Why the Current Crisis in Iraq Has Everyone Panicked

Written by Hayes Brown

Iraq roared back into the headlines this week with news that a terrorist group successfully captured the second-largest city in the country. Since then, the militants allied with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — took another two major cities, Tikrit and Kirkuk, and managed to continue its hold on Fallujah. As the militants attempt to continue their momentum, here’s a look at the most worrying elements of the current crisis:

1. The current fighting will only strengthen sectarianism among Iraqis.

The post-Sadaam government in Iraq has been predicated on one main idea: a balance between Iraq’s Shiite majority and the minority Sunni and Kurds could be maintained and keep the country together. Sunni insurgents opposed to this concept have been plaguing the government since the days of the invasion and ISIS sustained itself in the years since through terrorizing Shiite communities. With their latest push to seize territory, however, ISIS has reopened old wounds. Kurdish forces on Wednesday took control of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk from ISIS, as peshmerga fighters, the security forces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north, swept into bases the Iraqi army had previously vacated.”The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga,” said spokesperson Jabbar Yawar. “No Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk now.”

But the freeing of the city from ISIS presents problems of its own. Kirkuk is an oil-producing city, and a large one at that, one whose fate has been hotly contested between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Just yesterday, the Kurdish government told investors that Baghdad owes Kurdistan $6 billion for the last six months of its share in the Iraqi budget. The fate of Kirkuk after any eventually defeat of ISIS would help solve some of the money woes of the KRG, upping the chance for further strife between the Kurds and central government.

On top of that, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said on Wednesday that he was ready “to form peace units to defend the holy places” of both Muslims and Christians. In the years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, al-Sadr’s Madhi Army militia attacked coaltion forces and drove up tensions between the Shiite and Sunni communities. Whether or not al-Sadr forms his proposed “peace units,” it seems that Shiites are already calling up forces, which will likely concern the Sunni population. “Shiite militia leaders said that at least four brigades, each with 2,500 to 3,000 fighters, had been hastily assembled and equipped in recent weeks by the Shiite political parties to protect Baghdad and the political process in Iraq,” the New York Times reported. “They identified the outfits as the Kataibe Brigade, the Assaib Brigade, the Imam al-Sadr Brigade and the armed wing of the Badr Organization.”

2. The Iraqi Army we spent billions of dollars developing is falling down on the job and the U.S. may soon be pressured to step in.

The United States spent more that $20 billion in its efforts to train and equip the Iraqi security forces over the last decade. When confronted with ISIS’ offensive, however, military leaders instructed their troops to flee. In Fallujah, the Army has proved unable to dislodge ISIS from their strongholds, despite having superior numbers and access to aircraft. And on Thursday, ISIS posted a video on YouTube allegedly showing thousands of Iraqi soldiers captured in ISIS’ takeover of Tikrit. After the fall of Mosul on Tuesday, the government appealed to Iraqis to join in the fight against ISIS, leading to photos of crowds of men outside of recruitment centers in Baghdad. But given the lack of success the soldiers already serving have demonstrated, the new recruits’ effect is uncertain. Iraq’s parliament is also currently refusing to grant emergency powers to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, concerned that he will abuse them or not return them after the crisis has ended.

Though the last American soldier left Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011, Iraq is now asking for the U.S. to renew military action within its borders. According to the New York Times, al-Maliki “secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas.” Al-Maliki raised his request, the Times reports, with both Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of U.S. Central Command, and Vice President Joe Biden last month. In these conversations, al-Maliki “indicated he was prepared to allow the United States to carry out strikes using warplanes or drones.”

The U.S. has so far rebuffed these requests for direct intervention. “Ultimately, this is for the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government to deal with,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby said Tuesday. But President Obama on Thursday said, “I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foot hold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.” White House officials have since denied any chance of ground troops being used in Iraq, but drone strikes remain a possibility.

Amazingly enough, should the U.S. choose to intervene militarily, it would place America as an ally of Iran in fighting ISIS. The Wall Street Journal on Thursday reported that Tehran has deployed two battalions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to take on ISIS. “Combined Iraqi-Iranian forces had retaken control across 85% of Tikrit, the birthplace of former dictator Saddam Hussein, according to Iraqi and Iranian security sources,” the Journal said, adding that they were also “helping guard the capital Baghdad and the two cities of Najaf and Karbala.”

Upping the chance that the U.S. gets directly involved again, dozens of Turkish citizens are currently being held after ISIS militants stormed a consulate in Mosul. Turkey has promised to retaliate if any are hurt and as Turkey is a fellow member of NATO, should it call on the U.S. for support in its defense, the U.S. is bound to respond in some way.

3. No one has any idea what is going to happen next.

For months in its Iraqi exploits, the rebranded ISIS has stuck to the script of its predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq, setting off car bombs and other improvised explosive devices in Shiite-populated areas. This was extremely effective and highly lethal, leading to last year being the most violent year since the end of the U.S. war ended.

In January, however, something shifted. They captured and managed to hold Fallujah, despite heavy fire from the Iraqi Army. They’ve freed scores of their supporters from Iraqi prisions over teh last year. They stolen millions of dollars from Mosul’s banks on Tuesday. And they’ve begun recruiting throughout the cities they’ve captured, playing off of Sunni dissatisfaction with the rule of al-Maliki. And they still continue to fight on in neighboring Syria.

Despite setbacks in Tikrit and Kirkuk, ISIS still remains unchallenged in Mosul and continues to push south towards Baghdad. The odds of ISIS fighters actually capturing the capital remain slim. However, given that few would have predicted the stunning speed at which the militants have taken territory in the past days, it seems unwise to rule out any possibility. With the resources that are now in the possession of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the dream of creating a state carved out of Iraq and Syria could well be in the process of coming to fruition. Whether or not they actually manage to complete that plan depends on whether or not the Iraqi government pulls together for long enough to actually inspire their troops to fight back, whether the United States decides to intervene, and whether Iranian and Kurdish forces can turn the tide alone. It’s a lot of “whether”s for an extremely volatile situation.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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11:40AM PDT on Apr 26, 2015

An invasion of Iraq should have never occurred, because it's created more instability than less. The UK and US have shown they didn't have a resolution plan after invading illegally.

5:23AM PDT on Jun 30, 2014

David F, you're ignorant as a wet sock. There is NO liberal media, hasn't been since the incorporation of Operation Mockingbird right after WWII. That is when, in point of fact, that the CIA could buy anyone in the media for less than the price of a call girl. Now when was WWII? How about 70 years ago. Think the CIA has become more, or less, entrenched in our media? Do you think the CIA is Liberal or Conservative? Most of our "news" is smoke and mirrors, prurient interest stories and celebrity crap with a little bit of economics and tip of the iceberg politics thrown in like salt and pepper. Why do you think they want to kill the internet? Give us too much access to real information.
We're all freaked by what's happening in Iraq because we never should have been there in the first place and this is likely a contrived event designed to get us back in. The CIA is behind most conflict in the world, it's their job to create conflict and destabilize regions.

5:09AM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

David F Fox news doesn't cover the Christie Bridge Gate scandal, or the Walker scandal in Wisconsin. Both of these republican crooks are in big trouble in their states. Fox news will typically have one liberal, who gets bashed by five or six republicans. Fox news only covers the phony scandals that your GOP has propped up. Their is nothing fair about giving a two second sound bite, for a liberal point of view, and then being bashed by a ten minute barrage of republican lies. Fox news is a corporate owned propaganda network, that lies about everything. They still allow Dick Chaney, Wolfowitz, Condi, Rumsfeld and the rest of the neo con liars who were responsible for the disastrous Iraq war on their program, as if they are experts. Only delusional fools, who lack critical thinking skills watch Fox news, and believe their lies.

6:25PM PDT on Jun 20, 2014


3:19PM PDT on Jun 20, 2014

The U.S. has no choice but to intervene; this is not a right-left political issue though many would like it to be. Regional stakes are too large. ISIS has become a de facto state with huge seizures of money and strategic resources. They are not only hated by the Shia; moderate Sunnis like the Gulf States and even the Saudi Wahabis fear them.

The administration has done exactly the right thing so far in calling for limited intervention with leveraged diplomacy behind the scenes with Iraq and its neighbors. All the second-guessing ignores the complexity - the U.S. aim has to achieve maximum results with a minimum of force.

This crisis took long-range planning by ISIS and its allies and will only be thwarted through long-range planning by the U.S. and allies. The U.S. administration has done well in its planning and growing strategic partnership with Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran - the nuclear deal, and cooperation against Al-Qaeda and co., were very complex issues for which Secretary Clinton got far too little credit.

6:44AM PDT on Jun 20, 2014

KOch brothers sorrry for the typo

6:44AM PDT on Jun 20, 2014

LOLOLOL Fox only geys to the turh accednetally on occasion. Much of their news is contriived what IFS.
ALL “NEWS” is owned by large corporations. It doesnt exist to give you the news anymore it exists to sell you ads. No one is “in the bag” for Obama. Of course people like you think that nay new source not calling him a communist/Muslim is liberal. In fact you think anyone left of the Kock Brothers is liberal…….that would be 2/3 of the country Or MORE.

2:46PM PDT on Jun 19, 2014

Tim, the only way you would not know that 18 out of the top 20 media outlets are not grossly liberal is to always watch them only, without watching a FOX. Fox does lean right but presents both sides. Fox is flooded with stories that the state media will either not cover or will barely mention. Last Friday 13th afternoon Fox showed the administration announcing that Louis Learned and 6 co-workers had misplaced all of her emails during the time she was using the IRS to influence the presidential elections. I flipped over to CNN and MSLSD and ran thru their news cycle. They never mentioned any thing about this story even though many emails havd been directed at the white house. It was, and is big news, just one example of the daily hundreds.

5:57AM PDT on Jun 18, 2014

David F. I would like to know what media outlets you are refering to as "Liberal Media." I would also like for you to tell us which media sorces we should trust to give us truthful information.

7:45PM PDT on Jun 17, 2014

One of the problems I see is they are coming after us. ISIS is too radical for Al Kaidia. It is a moot point to argue about what happened .... we have to figure out what to do now.
One problem I see is the terrorists do not follow rules of the Geneva Convention and we try to.
Fight to win. Or bring everyone (and I mean everyone) home and take care of us.

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