The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) now controls a full third of Iraq, and is at Baghdad’s doorstep. The terrorist group — now a small army — captured Ramadi and Fallujah to the west of the capital, and Mosul and Tikrit in the north. They’ve surrounded Samarra, and are fighting for Karbala and Najaf to the southwest of Baghdad, and Kirkuk in Iraqi Kuridstan. Much of Iraq’s north and its entire west are conquered, and Baghdad, the seat of power, is next.
ISIL forces in Iraq number in the thousands, but the Iraqi military has nearly 300,000 active-duty troops and hundreds of thousands more in reserve. It’s amazing — and frightening — that such a small outfit could defeat an army 100 times larger.
To get a picture of what’s happening, think about this:
ISIL captured Mosul — the country’s second-largest city — and its whole province on Tuesday. By Thursday afternoon, they also controlled Tikrit. Locals said the militants “took over Tikrit in only a few minutes.”
More than 30,000 Iraqi troops fled Mosul and neighboring cities — along with half a million civilians — in the face of about 800 militants. The army deserted the city and, with it, millions of dollars in weapons, vehicles, bank notes, and military equipment, which are now in the hands of ISIL.
Ramadi and Fallujah were taken months ago and have not been recaptured by Iraqi forces. Samarra is said to be surrounded.
Iraq’s army abandoned Kirkuk, the Kurdish stronghold in the north, leaving the Kurdish army to defend their lands. Iraqi commanders left weapons and supplies for the Kurdish forces, saying they were better equipped to deal with the threat than the national army.
Karbala and Baghdad are next in line, and though they will not be overrun as easily, no one thought Mosul could fall as quickly as it did, and with so little effort to defend it.
Based on national resistance thus far — or lack thereof — ISIL has no reason to stop advancing. If they take the capital, the national clock will rewind to an extremist, pre-2003 era — a Kurdish state in the north, Sunni in the west, Shia in the southeast, but this time with no strongman to hold it together — if it hasn’t already.
Think about the gravity of these two facts:
1. ISIL pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, but this year al-Qaeda actually cut ties with ISIL, denouncing it as too radical. Too radical for al-Qaeda!
2. Iraq just asked the United States to fight the ISIL with drones and airstrikes. That’s right; 2.5 years after our last soldiers left, Iraq is requesting the American military fight there again.