The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has been engaging in battles in multiple countries in the Middle East. The Islamist group now appears to be in control of the second-largest city in Iraq. According to reports, the Sunni militants crossed the border from Syria and seized control of the northern city of Mosul. Iraqi officials said that armed gunmen were heading on the main road to Baghdad and had already taken over parts of Salahuddin Province.
According to reports, the Iraqi Army dissolved under the onslaught of the militant assault. A number of soldiers dropped their weapons and changed from their uniforms to civilian clothes to blend in with the fleeing masses. The militants took over military bases, police stations, banks and provincial headquarters. They also freed thousands of prisoners before raising the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over public buildings. One soldier who fled the city said, “They took control of everything, and they are everywhere.”
The speed and successfulness of the mission stunned government officials. Thousands of civilians have fled their homes, with many heading east toward the autonomous region of Kurdistan. There, a fiercely loyal army, the pesh merga, maintains security. The rapidly widening insurgency is threatening to push the region into an outright war.
Iraq has been steadily unraveling since the withdrawal of American forces at the end of 2011. The Obama administration is already dealing with sharp criticism for its swap of five Taliban officers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and questions about the death of five Americans by friendly fire in Afghanistan. It must now add the rising insurgency in Iraq to its list of foreign policy woes.
Critics have long warned that an insurgent revival would occur with the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Among them was the former ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford, who called for arming the more moderate groups fighting in the Syrian conflict. The role of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the attacks has validated his worst fears for the region.