I'm sure everyone's seen news reports today about the crisis in Iraq. A few examples:
Islamist militants attack Tikrit after 500,000 are forced to flee Mosul
Iraq at risk of civil war as al-Qaeda-led uprising
None of this is surprising. The only thing I'm surprised about is that it's taken this long to happen.
We're seeing the inevitable next step in the spiral of regional violence that's been brewing since the US invaded Iraq in 2003. The post-invasion anti-insurgent war from 2003-2011 is at the heart of what we're seeing today. The US drove the largely Sunni Muslim Al Qaeda terrorist movement and its sympathizers into hiding in Iraq, with the significant help of the Shi'ite Muslims and the Kurds. However, Al Qaeda didn't go away. Some of its members remained on the ground in Iraq, rebuilding their network of sympathizers and supporters. Many others went to Syria, where they formed the heart of the civil war that erupted there in 2011. Just as they did in Iraq, they attracted hundreds, possibly thousands of foreign militants to join them in their self-proclaimed jihad against President Assad. Also like Iraq, the central government eventually began to gain the upper hand against them, driving them either into hiding as an underground movement, or out of the country altogether. Syria received significant assistance from Iran and Hezbollah in the process.
Just as Al Qaeda left Iraq to regroup and fight in Syria, so it's now leaving Syria - taking with it its foreign jihadist recruits. It has splintered into sectarian groups, some of whom have returned to Iraq, where they're now taking revenge on those who drove them out in the first place. In Al Qaeda's relative absence Iraq deteriorated into a passionately sectarian state, with Sunni Muslims largely shut out of the positions of power they held under Saddam Hussein. The formerly oppressed Shi'ite Muslims now hold the reins in most of Iraq, with the Kurds firmly holding their own sectarian enclave in the northern part of the country. Al Qaeda has now mounted a counter-offensive against the Shi'ites, and this has seen spectacular initial success. However, I expect it to meet stiffer and stiffer resistance the closer the fighting gets to Baghdad. This is partly because Shi'ites are still being mobilized into their old militia units to fight back, and partly because Iranian assistance has yet to reach Iraq in large numbers or quantities of supplies. That will happen soon, and when it does, I expect early Al Qaeda gains to be halted, then reversed.
A major question is how Syria and Turkey will react to the crisis in Iraq. Turkey and the Kurdish enclave in the north have formed significant economic ties, and used them to undermine Kurdish militant terrorists in Turkey, who've found themselves cut off from the secure bases and lines of supply they expected to forge with their Iraqi counterparts. On the other hand, Syria dare not allow a secure Al Qaeda base to be established outside its borders where it can directly threaten the country. I wouldn't be surprised to see Syrian forces join Iranian militia in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda there together. What Israel will think about this, seeing potential enemies Syria and Iran allying themselves to each other in a potential third enemy state, Iraq . . . now that's a very interesting question indeed. Furthermore, Israel hasn't forgotten Iran's nuclear ambitions, which appear to have been tacitly accepted by the Obama administration (despite the latter's weasel words of denial). If Israel launches a strike at Iranian nuclear installations, while a major terrorist conflict is raging in Iraq involving that nation's forces and Syria's, will all parties then forget their differences in order to turn on Israel?
It's going to be a long, hot summer over there . . .