ISIS Movements in Iraq Point Towards Baghdad, Large-scale Conflict
Determining the “beginning” of the turmoil in Iraq is a complex task, so the best way to begin is to work backwards. Over the weekend, images began to circulate online in jihadist forums that apparently depicted groups of Iraqi men dressed in civilian clothes being summarily executed, lying face down in the dirt.
The group responsible for the recent military takeover of significant territory in Iraq claims this was a mass execution of New Iraqi Army soldiers. While the images have not been explicitly confirmed by officials, they are very likely authentic given the topography in the images and ISIS’s past actions.
Earlier in the year, when the U.S. mulled intervention in Syria a popular conservative talking point was that doing so would put us “on the same side” as Al Qaeda. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – another name for Syria – or ISIL) is actually so brazen that even Al Qaeda has distanced themselves from them.
This group was not content to follow orders, expanding their fight against the wishes of Al Qaeda leadership. They supposedly attacked a meeting that was set to negotiate a truce. Another Al Qaeda-affiliated group was caught in the attack. ISIS bows to no one.
This recent territory grab is born out of the Syrian Civil War, with ISIS taking control of parts of northeast Syria starting in January 2013. While they were fighting against the Assad regime at the onset, they also began to clash with other Assad opposition groups as well.
It wasn’t until January of 2014 that ISIS began to push into Iraq from Syria, ultimately taking Fallujah, Ramadi, and other population centers west of Baghdad. ISIS ransacked the city, capturing anything of value: money, weapons, and military equipment much of it discarded by U.S. forces or given to the Iraqi government.
On June 11, ISIS won their most significant victory yet which is what has sparked this latest round of media interest in their activities. ISIS took Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and one of its wealthiest. It is in the oil-rich northern part of the country, a gateway to Syria and Turkey. It is also on the border of Kurdish territory (which extends into parts of all three countries).
Since then the militants have been pushing southward towards Baghdad, the seat of the Iraqi government. Judging by their movements, if left unimpeded ISIS could have Baghdad surrounded by the end of the month.