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Shiites strike back in Iraq against Al Qaeda splinter group

Iraqi soliders chant slogans against Sunni insurgents
Iraqi soliders chant slogans against Sunni insurgents

Shiite militiamen prevented Sunni insurgents from advancing towards Baghdad on Saturday after they took a stand in Muqdadiyah, a town just northeast of Iraq’s capital. The rallying of the Shia, according to The Washington Post, was ignited by a “call to arms from their most revered cleric.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), shocked the world when it ran roughshod through Iraq in recent days, a jihadist blitzkrieg that forced Iraqi regulars to drop weapons and flee.

The ISIS seized large swaths of territory including Mosul, the country’s second most populous city. But Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite paramilitary group controlled by Iran, blunted the extremists’ offensive after three hours of fighting in clashes that occurred within 60 km of Baghdad.

In a surreal turn of events Reuters reported on Friday that Iranian leaders have sent overtures to Washington indicating that Iran was willing to partner with Western forces against the ISIS. Iran is a staunch ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and sees a Sunni seizure of power as a threat to regional stability.

An unnamed Iranian official was quoted as saying, "We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East.”

The Obama administration finds itself in a no-win predicament, its two options being to either partner with Iran or allow Sunni radicals to overrun Baghdad. To add even more complexity to the situation, the ISIS is also trying to unseat the Assad regime in Syria, an outcome the U.S. and its allies have been trying to bring to fruition.

In addition, American Gulf allies like Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have funded the ISIS for years in order to gain an upper hand in the Sunni-Shia regional proxy war.

Meanwhile, critics on the right blame Obama for withdrawing U.S. troops in 2011 which they claim provided space for a radical resurgence.

But security analyst Peter Bergen puts the onus on the Bush regime, arguing that Al Qaeda did not have a presence in the country until after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.

Although purported links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were part of the war’s rationale, Bergen points out that a defense intelligence investigation in 2006 found zero evidence of such a partnership.

Obama's security advisers are reviewing all options, which could include the use of air power and drone strikes, though the president ruled out boots on the ground.

Oil prices shot to 9-month highs on Friday due to fears the insurgency could disrupt exports. Iraq is the second-largest OPEC producer and if rebels took over refineries other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia would have to fill the gap.

According to the International Energy Agency, OPEC would need to produce 1 million barrels per day more on average in the second half of 2014 to “balance the global market.”

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