Iraq: The Latest

[Content Note: War; violence; death.]

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS—also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) has continued its campaign in Iraq, with a series of explosions over the weekend killing or injuring three dozen people in Baghdad, and ISIS taking control of the northern city of Tal Afar, which has a population of 200,000.

In addition to Tal Afar, the cities of Mosul, Tikrit, Jalawla, Saadiyah, Dhuluiyah, Ramadi, and Fallujah are now all under ISIS control.

Also yesterday, ISIS claimed that they have massacred hundreds of captive members of Iraq's security forces. [There are images of the hostages, while still alive, being held at gunpoint, at the link.] ISIS are radical Sunni extremists—so radical, in fact, they have been denounced by al-Qaeda—and their aim is the establishment of a Sunni state. Most of the Iraqi security forces are Shiite.
In an atmosphere where there were already fears that the militants' sudden advance near the capital would prompt Shiite reprisal attacks against Sunni Arab civilians, the claims by ISIS [that they had slaughtered Shiite security forces] were potentially explosive. And that is exactly the group's stated intent: to stoke a return to all-out sectarian warfare that would bolster its attempts to carve out a Sunni Islamist caliphate that crosses borders through the region.

The sectarian element of the killings may put more pressure on the Obama administration to aid Iraq militarily. In fact, the militants seemed to be counting on it. A pronouncement on Sunday by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had a clear message for the United States: "Soon we will face you, and we are waiting for this day."
Though President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are working on negotiations in the region, even opening up dialogue with Iran, which has a Shia majority, on Sunday, "the USS George H.W. Bush and two other U.S. Navy ships arrived in the Persian Gulf" and "security was strengthened" at the US Embassy in Baghdad, as some staff members were transferred out of the city and a travel warning was issued.

Though almost all US troops have left the country, there remain as many as 5,000 US contractors in Iraq, about half of them civilians.

Which is to say nothing of the responsibility we have to the people of Iraq.

President Obama says he's considering all options, although he is clearly extremely reluctant to deploy troops on the ground again in Iraq.

Meanwhile, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is being super helpful by aggressively suggesting militaristic intervention, presumably after George W. Bush left him a voicemail telling him what to say, and US Republicans are (still) using the crisis to make political hay.

The fighting in the last week has displaced 300,000 Iraqis from their homes, in a country which already has half a million refugees from the last decade of war. Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Refugees, says: "These are large-scale numbers of people suddenly displaced by events this past week. Most of them are arriving with little more than what they can carry."

The US has a responsibility to do something. I don't know what that is. I am fairly confident, however, whatever we decide to do will be the wrong thing.

I hope I'm wrong.

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