A Shiite militia seized control of an Iraqi town Saturday, blunting the advance toward Baghdad of radical Sunni fighters in a sign that the widespread mobilization of paramilitary forces may be starting to have an impact…

In the town of Muqdadiyah in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, residents said that the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia had made the difference and that fighters with that Iranian-backed paramilitary movement were in control…

The Sunni and Shiite groups are now facing each other on the northern outskirts of the town, he said, marking a new front line in what is fast becoming a Sunni-Shiite war.

Both sides in the conflict claimed Saturday to have inflicted large numbers of casualties.

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With just a few thousand fighters, the group’s lightning sweep into Mosul and farther south appeared to catch many Iraqi and American officials by surprise. But the gains were actually the realization of a yearslong strategy of state-building that the group itself promoted publicly…

Though the group got its start battling the Americans in Iraq, its success after the occupation ended was largely missed — or played down — by American officials. In the middle of 2012, as the group strengthened and United Nations data showed civilian casualties in Iraq on the rise, Antony J. Blinken, the national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., wrote that violence in Iraq was “at historic lows.”…

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who argued in favor of arming Syrian rebels, said last week at an event in New York hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, “this is not just a Syrian problem anymore. I never thought it was just a Syrian problem. I thought it was a regional problem. I could not have predicted, however, the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create an Islamic state.”…

The group’s rise is directly connected to the American legacy in Iraq. The American prisons were fertile recruiting grounds for jihadist leaders, and virtual universities, where leaders would indoctrinate their recruits with hard-line ideologies.

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Iraqi-Americans staged a protest asking the United States to return to Iraq and keep their government from collapsing

Those gathered warned that if American’s don’t return, Iraq will fall to a group even worse than Al-Qaeda.

“This group is bloody, this group is tremendously violent, and this will signal an era that is not good, it will signal the dark days in Iraq,” said Ishak.

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Sen. Rand Paul on Saturday signaled openness to air strikes in Iraq even as he stressed his reluctance to entangle Americans too deeply in an Iraqi fight…

“I think we aided the Iraqi government for a long time, I’m not opposed to continuing to help them with arms,” said Paul, a libertarian-leaning lawmaker.

“I would not rule out air strikes. But I would say, after 10 years, it is appalling to me that they are stripping their uniforms off and running. And it concerns me that we would have to do their fighting for them because they won’t fight for their own country, their own cities.”

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Iraq War veterans in Michigan and across the country are watching with dismay, bitterness and even sadness as the same insurgency they fought against took control of two major cities — Mosul and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit — last week…

“We spent a lot of time and effort to secure that region of the world and to have it kind of just fall apart,” said Christopher Kolomjec, an attorney from Grosse Pointe Farms, who was a Marine major during heavy fighting in Fallujah in 2006 and 2007.

“You can’t help but be extremely disappointed and frustrated that the sacrifice we made might be in vain. For every veteran who has been to Iraq, it is a constant battle to not become bitter.”…

“The one thing we can’t do is nothing,” he said. “You can’t just turn your back on them.”

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Most of Obama’s detractors engage in what I call “woulda/coulda/shoulda” criticism. That is to say, if the President had only invested more time and effort in negotiating a status of forces agreement with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, left a residual presence there, enforced his chemical weapons red line in Syria and backed the moderate opposition there, we wouldn’t be seeing the ISIS jihadi rampage playing out in both countries.

But given the limited amount of intervention this administration, Congress, and the public would support, even under the best of circumstances, the U.S. could not have stopped the dynamic that is occurring…

As for Iraq, the al-Maliki government’s insistence on maintaining Shia dominance and privilege, and repressing Sunnis, created the perfect ferment for ISIS’s spread. No amount of U.S. military power summoned by any administration could have compensated for this kind of bad sectarian governance. That and the weak institutions of the Iraqi state have allowed ISIS to thrive.

No matter how much progress the U.S. made in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, the dysfunction that now shapes Iraq’s future was driven by factors set into motion by the very act of the invasion, Iraq’s nature and its location. And those same factors limit now what the U.S. can do; they should make Washington wary of getting sucked back in.

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Iraq is very probably going to divide into three. This is not a good thing, but the window of opportunity for avoiding it may have closed. Yes, to Obama’s shame, he lifted scarcely a finger to keep it from closing. But that is irrelevant to discerning the policy-choices before us. Neither the Sunnis nor the Shia seem able to trust the other to hold the government, a trans-sectarian nationalist civil society identity simply has not emerged in strength (neither has a trans-sectarian party), and most Kurds are merely waiting for the best chance to leave (which I think has to be now). That is, the real question is not whether partition happens, but how. Does it as India’s did, with sectarian violence that kills nearly a million? Does it leave one the Sunni portion governed by ISIL, which will enslave its population, gobble up most of Syria, and carry war into Jordan, Lebanon, Manhattan, etc.? Or does it happen more on our terms, with the most reasonable Sunni militias and strongmen relying upon us for support? With, perhaps, a government admitted by all three sides to be one intended to transition them to partition? If ISIL has to fight against Sunni groups, against the Kurds, against the Shia, and against our help, it has no chance. But if by dumb policy we make the choice for the Sunnis (and the Kurds) to be one of living with ISIL or living under Maliki-ism, its prospects grow immensely…

So a bloody war of partition, which some will call a civil war, is quite possible. If that happens, U.S. policy should be to do what it can to keep the leadership of the Sunni side out of Islamist hands, to encourage the continuance of certain parliamentary democracy and at-least-rhetorical independence from Iran by the Shia side, and everything it can short of NATO-admission to guarantee the security of the Kurds, our natural allies and friends. Behind the scenes, we can hold out the carrot of aid to both sides, and threaten to withhold it or switch if they start slaughtering Christians or other minority groups.

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Obama’s recent miscues are of little relevance to today’s mess. Yes, he was wrong not to arm moderate Syrian rebels earlier in their struggle against the Assad regime. It was worth a try, as he now realizes. And it’s true that the ISIS filled a power vacuum created by the war inside Syria. But Syrian moderates are fighting Assad, not the ISIS. And even if moderates had taken power from Assad with American help—a huge if—they would hardly have been able to discourage the ISIS from crossing the border into Iraq. Were they to somehow have such influence over the ISIS, it would by definition mean that many of these so-called “moderates” are actually like-minded Sunni extremists, just as Obama has feared.

It’s not even clear the situation would be much different if U.S. forces hadn’t left Iraq, under terms negotiated by President Bush, in 2011. There was only so much multi-billion dollar chewing gum and baling wire that could be applied to a country that fundamentally doesn’t want to be a country. Contrary to neocon analysis, our refusal to be drawn in again doesn’t auger a post-Iraq era where we won’t ever use force around the world—a new Vietnam Syndrome in which a generation of liberal Democrats sour on all assertions of American military power.

The U.S. is simply getting more prudent about intervention. In their studies of 19th century imperialism, the British historians Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher found that when the “client state” (South Vietnam or Iraq in our time) threatens to collapse, the major power feels forced to intervene. This allows the weaker power to call the tune in the relationship. After all we’ve been through in Iraq, Obama is rightly insistent that we reverse that dynamic. He wants the Maliki government in Baghdad to get its act together on genuine power-sharing before commencing U.S. military action. It’s the only leverage we have…

The president thought his legacy would include withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. By the time this plays out, he’s more likely to be remembered for inserting U.S. diplomats into Iraq, where they’ll revise Gertrude Bell and draw a new map of the region. It’s hard to imagine now, but that may come to represent the strong presidential leadership we all still crave.

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Barack Obama had a legacy earlier than any other American president. He was the first black president before he was even inaugurated. Very shortly after that, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. From the start, he was supposed to go down in history as “the Peace President”. This has all turned into a tremendous disadvantage…

Mr Obama is not a pacifist. He sees the utility of force in individual tricky situations. It would not be at all surprising if he uses a bit of it soon, in drone or aerial form, in Iraq. What he does not see is its strategic value. He does not grasp, apparently, that the Pax Americana, under whose protection we have lived since 1945, has existed because it has always been backed by the credible threat of force. Weakness is provocative to bad actors, and some of the world’s worst have now been provoked. This seems to have come as an almost complete surprise to the Obama White House. The Peace President is starting to leave a legacy of war

All my life, many people, by no means all of them on the Left, have complained about the extent of American power. They have seen it as bungling, bullying, crude, even oppressive. Sometimes, particularly in regard to the Middle East, they have been right. Europhiles have sought to counter American power by building up the EU’s strength. Nationalists have sought to expel it and be “ourselves alone”. But they have said these things and made these gestures in the knowledge that US power has been real. Will they be pleased if what they thought they wished for is actually happening? It feels as if the world is in for a more dangerous time than any since the Carter/Brezhnev era of the late Seventies – or worse, because more unpredictable.

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[T]he revolution was never going to be straightforward. This is the true lesson of Iraq. But it is also the lesson from the whole of the so-called Arab Spring. The fact is that as a result of the way these societies have developed and because Islamism of various descriptions became the focal point of opposition to oppression, the removal of the dictatorship is only the beginning not the end of the challenge. Once the regime changes, then out come pouring all the tensions – tribal, ethnic and of course above all religious; and the rebuilding of the country, with functioning institutions and systems of Government, becomes incredibly hard. The extremism de-stabilises the country, hinders the attempts at development, the sectarian divisions become even more acute and the result is the mess we see all over the region. And beyond it. Look at Pakistan or Afghanistan and the same elements are present…

However more than that, in this struggle will be decided many things: the fate of individual countries, the future of the Middle East, and the direction of the relationship between politics and the religion of Islam. This last point will affect us in a large number of ways. It will affect the radicalism within our own societies which now have significant Muslim populations. And it will affect how Islam develops across the world. If the extremism is defeated in the Middle East it will eventually be defeated the world over, because this region is its spiritual home and from this region has been spread the extremist message.

There is no sensible policy for the West based on indifference. This is, in part, our struggle, whether we like it or not.

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