Awhile back I wrote an article detailing the deteriorating situation in Iraq and why US military intervention was the only viable solution to the expanding problem. I am here to say that I still believe this is the only viable answer and based on the actions of our government in recent weeks they have come to believe this as well. Not only has the President authorized air strikes against ISIS positions and is discussing expanding those strikes into Syria, but now Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has confirmed that the use of American forces in Iraq and possibly Syria is an option and he has warned America to “get ready”.
As I said in my previous article this path is not likely to be popular with the majority of Americans and since this is an election year it’s not likely to be popular with Congress either. However, since the writing of my last article on the subject the situation in Iraq has grown dramatically worse, and I’m not just talking about the deplorable murder of James Foley. Recently ISIS fighters took control of the Mosul Dam, a incredibly strategically important dam in northern Iraq. Iraqi government forces along with Kurdish Peshmerga troops assisted by US airstrikes finally managed to retake the dam, but it took them three long days of fighting to do it. What’s important here is that not only did ISIS forces have the foresight to take the dam for its value but that it took three days of intense fighting to drive them out. This demonstrates both their eye for strategy and ability to see the bigger picture, as well as their tenacity and determination to win the war. This clearly shows that ISIS is no ordinary terror group bent on using violence to send a message. They have strategic goals and are working to achieve them. This is a very bad sign, but it’s not even the worst development.
ISIS is now in control of at least seven oil fields and two refineries and experts believe they are capable of producing upwards of 40,000 barrels per day which translates to roughly $2 million per day in black market sales. ISIS, a terrorist organization, is now capable of generating an income of at least $2 million per day. In addition to the $400 million they stole during the siege of Mosul a few months back this easily makes them the most well funded terror group in the history of modern terrorism. Now factor in that they have recovered millions of dollars worth of US military equipment taken from Iraqi troops (armored HMMWV’s, machine guns, assault rifles, body armor, missile launchers, etc…) and they are arguably the most well armed terror group in the history of modern terrorism as well. ISIS has effectively become a terrorist state complete with a governing body, well equipped military, and a national income.
Many are hoping that since Prime Minister al-Maliki has agreed to step down and allow a new Prime Minister to assume power things will calm down. The hope is that the new PM, Haidar al-Abadi, can form a new government that is more inclusive of the large Sunni population and hopefully convince the people to come back into the Iraqi government’s sphere of influence. The problem with this thinking is that ISIS does not care one bit who the Prime Minister is or whether or not the government is more inclusive of Sunnis. ISIS’ goal is to create their own Sunni dominated state and a change of leadership in the Iraqi Parliament is not going to change that. They do not care about the politics of Iraq, they are merely exploiting the situation to achieve their own ends. And while they may lose some popular support from Iraq’s Sunnis if the new government can demonstrate its willingness to include them, ISIS still has the man power and the money to continue the fight. The money part is what is truly important here. With the situation in Iraq being what it is many Sunnis will have no problem accepting payment to continue fighting against the government and ISIS certainly has the resources to pay fighters. Additionally ISIS still occupies the entire northern region and with it all the civilians who live there. Those who choose to side with the new government will simply find themselves forced into fighting at the barrel of an AK-47, pointed either at them or their families. The bottom line is that regardless of what happens in Parliament, ISIS is not going to give up the fight. The only viable option still remains a full-scale military action led by the US.
For those of you who didn’t see my previous article and may be wondering why any of this is our concern, allow me to explain. Aside from the fact that we helped create this mess and its our responsibility as a world power and positive force to fix what we broke, this situation does represent a significant threat in that it creates a possible opening for Iran to expand its power and influence. As ISIS continues to grow in power they threaten not only the Iraqi government but also the now autonomous Kurdish region. At the moment Iraqi and Kurdish forces are creating a buffer between ISIS and Iran. Iran is a strictly Shiite country with a very public dislike of all things Sunni and a stated desire to raise a Shiite caliphate across the Middle East. If the Kurds and/or the Iraqis should fall to ISIS and the buffer between them and Iran disappears, Iran just may decide to go on the offensive and launch their own full-scale military action against ISIS. While this may seem like a viable solution I assure you it is not. Iraq is a Shiite majority country and many of them favor joining with Iran or at least developing stronger ties with Iran. If the Iranian military launches on offensive into Iraq and they are successful they just may decide not to leave which could lead to the possible annexation of Iraq by Iran.
From there Iran could take things a step further. It’s no secret that Iran has been supporting Bashar al-Assad in his fight against Sunni rebels in Syria. Without the hindrance of a sovereign country standing between them Iran would be free to move troops and weapons across the Syrian border to help al-Assad finally win out over the rebels. From there Iran could either move to annex Syria or simply operate al-Assad as a puppet ruler. Now consider that Lebanese Hezbollah are sympathetic to Iran and could possibly allow Iranian influence or even control over Lebanon which would allow them to connect the dots of their Shiite influence essentially give them control over most all the Middle East.
With Iran controlling territory so close to Israel and having a declared goal of ensuring the destruction of Israel it’s fairly safe to assume Israel would move against Iran in a preemptive strike. Since the US is a staunch ally of Israel and Russia a staunch ally of Iran, and given the relationship between the US and Russia, it is also safe to assume both our nations would be drawn into such a conflict thereby igniting a world war. Now factor in that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan are all Sunni dominated countries who could also move against Iran and have you the makings of a truly enormous conflict.
Of course all of this is speculative and is only one possible outcome, but this is speculation based on history and the nature of Sunni/Shiite relationships. And even if none of this Iranian Middle East domination comes to pass, lets not forget that a terror group like ISIS in command of large quantities of modern military weaponry and hundreds of millions of dollars is not good for any of us. At the end of the day we as a responsible driver of world events have a duty to right this situation. Every day that we delay is another day ISIS can use to dig in and prepare. This fight is going to be tough enough as it is without giving them a head start; ISIS is not the same Iraqi Army that was so easily defeated in 2003. If we’re going to act we’d better do it sooner rather than later.