The headlines out of the Middle East leave the reader with the unmistakable impression that Islamic State militants are on the advance.
A combined assault on a variety of positions in Lebanon by ISIS fighters resulted in the fall of a series of border posts and a small city to the Sunni militant group. The fighting in Lebanon worsened on Monday. “It’s another front for ISIS and another sign containment of the Syria crisis has failed, a Middle East analyst told The New York Times.
Reports indicate that ISIS has also expanded the front in Iraq’s north and has begun to successfully engage Kurdish defense forces. Conflicting dispatches indicated on Monday that the fundamentalist army may have taken control of Iraq’s largest dam, a strategic asset which Islamic State propagandists have indicated they intend to use as leverage over the Iraqi government.
Several months after an American citizen who had joined Islamic State militants executed a suicide attack on a Syrian military outpost, a new video has surfaced which reportedly features yet another American professing his loyalty to the group. He is just one of “dozens” of Americans fighting with Islamic fundamentalist militants in the Middle East, a threat which has United States security officials nervous.
Inside Iraq, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards are engaged in the fight alongside Iraqi defense forces with the aim of pushing back ISIS fighters. Tehran is picking up the slack left by exceedingly cautious Western governments.
And the Iraqi government’s hold on Baghdad grows more tenuous by the day. As fears of an all-out assault on the Iraqi capital have begun to dissipate, ISIS’s new strategy appears to center on executing insurgent attacks inside and around the city – areas which they are able to access via a complex network of Saddam Hussein-era tunnels.
“For several weeks, the Sunni insurgents have been moving fighters, weapons and supplies from strongholds in western Iraq through secret desert tunnels to the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Baghdad,” Newsweek reported on Monday.
Capturing Baghdad would be difficult: the capital is home to thousands of elite forces as well as a vast number of Shi’ite militia fighters. But seizing towns on the southern perimeter would let the Islamic State step up suicide and car bomb attacks in the capital and perhaps restart the urban warfare of 2006-07 when Sunni and Shi’ite militia battled street by street.
Via Elizabeth Scalia, the global economic community is bracing itself for the fall of Baghdad. The economist and consultant Andrew McKillop, writing for Oil Voice, began to examine a nightmare oil shock scenario which would rival the 1973-74 OPEC embargo that would be brought about “when ISIS takes Baghdad.”
ISIS now has two powerful bargaining chips in Iraq. Its frankly apocalyptic general theory of forcing its Grand Caliphate into being would be served by the total destruction of Baghdad if the city and el-Maliki’s government do not submit. In no way avoiding the Apocalypse but welcoming it, the effects on Iraq’s oil production and oil exports can be imagined. Comparable insurgency, civil riot and rebellion and destruction of government is under way in both Syria and Libya. The extreme fundamentalist Sunni ISIS movement makes no secret of ‘the prize’ being the overthrow of albeit-Sunni ruling families, called ‘impious and heretical’ in the GCC countries.
America’s foreign policy establishment appears perplexed by the world’s lethargy in addressing the grave threat posed by ISIS.
Kind of crazy how little the world has done about ISIS.
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) August 3, 2014
ISIS looks to be the strongest, most well funded terrorist organization in history. With, for now at least, little stopping them.
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) August 5, 2014
The will in the West to address the crisis in the Middle East simply does not exist, and the press has moved on from covering the ISIS threat. Only a massive oil shock — or worse — would refocus the West’s attention, and by then it would be far too late to do much of anything about it.