The country of Iraq appears on the brink of falling under the control of extremist Islamic militants just a few years after the United States left the country. According to a report published today by the Wall Street Journal, a group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has already taken over Iraq's second largest city, and has declared their intention to take over the capitol of Baghdad. Last night Jon Stewart explained the new insurgency in perhaps the simplest terms (Stewart also adds his customary style of humor to the story). The New York Times has created a map of the conflict with a timeline detailing ISIS' advance within the state. Updates from various news sources can be read below.
CNN describes ISIS in this article. The group is composed of extremists militants who seek to create a Sunni Muslim state in Syria and Iraq. The group has already played a large role in the Syrian civil war and in recent weeks has begun marching through Iraq. ISIS is so radical that it was recently kicked out of the al-Queda network. The group is known for their extreme violence towards civilians, and seeks to implement strict Sharia law in the areas they conquer including the separation of boys and girls and the enforcement of other religious laws such as fasting during Ramadan. Enforcement is often carried out through brutal means.
Most disconcerting to the United States, as pointed out in Stewart's segment, is the fact that ISIS is extremely anti-American.
As pointed out by the Telegraph, the country of Iraq is now furiously trying to mount a defense against ISIS. The question now is whether the response has come too late. Influential Shia clerics are now calling on their ethic group (a minority in the country compared to the Sunnis) to take up arms against ISIS. There is concern, however, that this action may start a civil war within the country similar to what has been going in Syria now for over three years now. The Syrian conflict has resulted n over 150,000 dead and millions more left homeless as refugees.
According to the Wall Street Journal, help to defend against ISIS is also flowing in from outside the country of Iraq. Iran has reportedly sent some of their elite battalions into Iraq to help defend against the ISIS insurgency.
As detailed by CNN, yesterday President Obama announced that the United States would consider all options to try and stop the momentum of ISIS within Iraq. However, White House Spokesman Jay Carney quickly stated "We are not contemplating ground troops." Instead, the United States would most likely help fight ISIS through the air, either with drone strikes and surveillance or with pilot flown aircraft, which obviously entail more of a risk to American soldiers. The U.S. could also send billions more in aid to Iraq to help the country beef up its security forces.
What does all this mean for Americans?
As outlined by The Christian Science Monitor, oil prices have already risen in response to the conflict. If ISIS gained control of Iraq they would also gain control of the country they could cut off more than 3 million barrels of crude oil that flow out of the country each day.
Beyond the immediate concerns of gas prices, the conflict also represents a humanitarian crisis. There are reports of thousands being killed and raped after ISIS takes control over various regions. Thousands of refugees have begun to flee from ISIS increasingly large reach within the country.
Finally, there is the concern over what ISIS control over Iraq would mean for national security, as a group even more extreme than al-Queda controlling such resources rich land would create an obvious concern on the terrorism front.