Iraq is in serious strife at the moment, but you might not have caught up yet with the most worrying developments.
US companies have evacuated in the breakdown of security, and as extremists advance on Baghdad, residents are fleeing cities. US President Barack Obama said Iraq was going to need “more help from the United States and from the international community”.
A militant group known to Western media interchangeably as ISIS or ISIL has swept across the Syrian border and seems to be conquering city after city in the unstable nation.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria / the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) is a collection of various Islamic groups sharing a common religious dogma.
At the simplest level, the conflict boils down to an age-old rift between two broad interpretations of Islam – Sunni and Shiite. The governments in Iraq and Syria are Shiite, whereas the invading rebels are Sunni.
As explained by ABC Radio, the final ‘S’ in ISIS refers to the Arab word al-Sham, which is a region spanning much of what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. It seems the group’s ultimate aim is to unite the Middle East under a harsh Islamic regime.
Get up to date with The New Daily’s coverage of the Iraq conflict.
• Australians told to get out of Iraq
• Foreign Minister ‘doesn’t envisage’ sending troops to Iraq
• Obama to send carrier to Gulf
• US weighs up options
• Iran considers assisting US in Iraq
• Obama: no more troops to Iraq
• Offensive closes in on Baghdad
ISIS now controls vast swathes of Syria, and is rapidly taking over key Iraqi cities as it marches on the capital and seat of the Shiite government in Baghdad.
A wave of popular uprisings across the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring, began in December 2010, and has slowly morphed into more insidious and violent movements, culminating in full-scale civil war in Syria and the invasion of Iraq by insurgents.
The political and social stability of Iraq is under serious threat, despite the billions of dollars and thousands of lives spent trying to ‘save’ it from Saddam Hussein during the war launched by the West.
ISIS may be considered too radical even for some its fellow Islamic terror groups.
As reported by the BBC, Al-Qaeda has renounced any ties to ISIS. Statements from the terror group suggest that the extreme methods of ISIS, including the “shedding of protected blood” are not to Al-Qaeda’s liking, the BBC reports.
ISIS has been blamed for crucifying citizens in Syria, live-tweeting amputations, and beheading its enemies.
Mosul falls, the march continues
On Tuesday, Mosul and much of the surrounding province fell to the heavily armed rebels.
ISIS now controls territory that stretches from the eastern edge of Aleppo, Syria, to Falluja in western Iraq and now the northern city of Mosul.
An estimated 500,000 Iraqis have already fled Mosul in the aftermath of the attack, according to a statement from the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
The next target of ISIS is the capital of Baghdad, according to an audio statement translated by a US monitoring group and reported by the ABC.
A vanishing army
As ISIS was approaching Mosul, the Iraqi military reportedly abandoned their posts instead of fighting back.
Army uniforms could be seen scattered along the roads leading out of the city, as soldiers attempted to escape reprisals.
Many of these soldiers were armed and trained by the US until it officially withdrew in 2011.
“When the battle got tough in the city of Mosul, the troops dropped their weapons and abandoned their posts, making it an easy prey for the terrorists,” Osama Nujaifi, the speaker of Iraq’s parliament, is reported to have told a news conference in Time. “Everything is fallen. It’s a crisis. Having these terrorist groups control a city in the heart of Iraq threatens not only Iraq but the entire region.”
After storming Mosul, ISIS took groups of foreign citizens hostage.
According to a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 49 hostages were taken from the Turkish consulate and another 31 employees detained at a power plant in Mosul.
Negotiations to free them are ongoing.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is trying to persuade the Iraqi Parliament to authorise him to declare a state of emergency.
Al Jazeera reported on Thursday that not enough MPs turned up for the vote, many fearing that it would give the Prime Minster too much power.
Only 128 out of 325 MPs showed up for the session, far short of the required quorum, SBS reports.
The bank job
ISIS looted 500 billion Iraqi dinars – the equivalent of approximately $475 billion Australian dollars – from Mosul’s Central Bank when it took the city, as well as a large quantity of gold bullion.
This haul makes it the richest terrorist group in the world, the International Business Times reports. ISIS is now as wealthy as small nations such as Tonga, Kiribati and the Falkland Islands.
As a sign of the power wielded by ISIS, the Syrian government is being forced to buy electricity back from the rebels, Vox reports.