|Not the actual ISIS problem|
The latest news from Iraq is very bad. A militia group called ISIS, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, is now in control of two major Iraqi cities in the north -- Tikrit (Saddam Hussein's hometown) and Mosul (Iraq's second largest city). These urban centers, incidentally, are located very near major Iraqi oil infrastructure, though not the major oil fields in the south.
The group vows that Baghdad is their next target.
ISIS is the successor group to al Qaeda of Iraq and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who:
took over the leadership of Islamic State of Iraq after its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a targeted strike by a US Air Force F16 jet north of Baghdad in June 2006. Zarqawi had earned a reputation as the most brutal of al-Qaeda's emirs, promoting a strategy of mass suicide bombings and highly publicised beheadings, videoed and posted online, and Baghdadi seems to have taken up the methodology with enthusiasm.
How brutal is ISIS? Well, for starters, the group claims to have executed 1700 Shia soldiers in Iraq. Photographic and video evidence of their executions are readily found on the web.
Incidentally, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
, of course, accounted for the current situation back in April 2003:
"It's untidy, and freedom's untidy," he said, jabbing his hand in the air. "Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."
Meanwhile, the American embassy in Baghdad remains open, with 1000s of Americans in Baghdad or consulates in Basra and Irbil. Only a few hundred U.S. military personnel remain in Iraq, though there are an unknown number of civilian contractors protecting State Department employees. Reportedly, Americans who have been involved in ongoing training missions are leaving an airbase near Balad. And Senator Lindsey Graham is calling for the U.S. to shutter its enormous Baghdad embassy before it suffers "another Benghazi."
International relations colleagues Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch are discussing a number of policy options for the United States. None are particularly good. The U.S. certainly does not want to send ground troops in great numbers. Air strikes could begin tomorrow, literally, but the Air Force wants basing rights that Iraq previously refused to grant and many experts are concerned about the lack of viable targets.
Drezner called his piece "Thinking the unthinkable in Iraq" as it outlines the possibility of the U.S. working with Iran to stop ISIS. Iran is motivated, nearby, and potentially willing to act. For an idea of the problem with this picture, imagine this headline: "Iranian forces save U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." As Drezner notes, many U.S. allies and their DC supporters consider Iran a much bigger threat than ISIS.
What would happen if ISIS captured Baghdad? Some journalists are already comparing the situation to Saigon 1975 and predicting that this fall's elections could be framed around the question, "Who lost Iraq?"
That's the wrong question, of course. I've argued for more than 10 years that the U.S. should never have attacked Iraq in the first place.
Visit this blog's homepage.
For 140 character IR and foreign policy talk, follow me on twitter.
Or for basketball, baseball, movies or other stuff, follow this personal twitter account.