Last year, it was Syria. This time it’s Iraq.
If you have not been living under a rock lately, you would know that something terrible is happening in Iraq. As a result, the United States, being a global superpower, is weighing options over how to tackle the situation.
What's happening in the Middle East right now is really important, but it can become a little confusing with the news being updated nearly every hour of the day.
Therefore, here are some answers to some of the most basic questions you might have on the issue. Below is a simplification of all the complex information available on the violence in Iraq.
1. Is there a civil war brewing in Iraq?
In fact, Iraq has been in a state of “unofficial” civil war ever since the last U.S. troops left the Middle Eastern country in December 2011. The number of deaths has been constantly increasing due to the ongoing insurgency the 2003 invasion wrought.
It’s more important now than ever because a powerful militant group just seized huge stores of American-supplied arms, ammunition and vehicles, forcing nearly 500,000 people out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-most populous city.
2. Who are the militants?
The militants wreaking havoc in Iraq belong to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), alternatively translated as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). It was formed in the early years of the Iraq War as a splinter group of the infamous terrorist organization al-Qaeda.
However, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIS in February 2014.
3. Is It ISIS or ISIL?
Both are correct.
The group has renamed itself several times since its inception in 2004.
For instance, in 2006, it was known as Dawlat al-'Iraq al-Islamiyya, which can be translated to "Islamic State of Iraq" (ISI).
After expanding into Syria, it adopted the name "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), also known as "Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham" (ISIS). Sham means Levant or Greater Syria.
READ MORE: Who Are The Syrian Rebels?
4. What do they want?
They want money, military dominance, stricter Islamic laws and oil.
The ISIS is an extremely wealthy terror force. In fact, it became the richest militant organization after looting 500 billion Iraqi dinars – an amount equal to $429 million (£256m) – from Mosul's central bank.
However, this group doesn’t only rely on foreign funding, extortion and looting of money. Latest reports suggest that ISIS militants are also closing in on the key oil facilities of the countries they want to control.
Most recently, ISIS attacked Baiji – Iraq’s biggest oil refinery which can process around 300,000 barrels per day and supplies oil products to most of the country's provinces. It is also a major provider of power to Baghdad.
5. How can all this impact Syria?
ISIS may be appearing more frequently in news nowadays, but it has been there for quite some time now.
It was fighting the Syrian government alongside other groups such as Jabhat al Nusra and later went against non-Islamist rebel fighters belonging to Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Since it was fighting Assad’s forces, a stronger ISIS means a weaker Syrian regime and more chaos in store for the already war-ravaged country.
In January, ISIS claimed control over the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, erasing borders with Syria and subsequently becoming a much stronger force in the region.
6. Who is their leader?
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, commander of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is shown in a U.S. State Department wanted poster handout image.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the leader of radical ISIS fighters. He is also being called the next Osama bin Laden aka public enemy No.1.
In October 2011, the US State Department listed al-Baghdadi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to his capture or death.
7. What’s the Iraqi government doing?
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki is one of the major reasons ISIS attacked Mosul.
Apparently, the nine-year Shia dominance over Iraq, established after the removal of Saddam Hussein, angered other Islamic sects and ethnic groups such as Sunnis and Kurds.
This weakness in Maliki’s government greatly favored ISIS – which is reportedly a predominantly Sunni organization.
Moreover, the Iraqi security forces are not as strong as the militant fighters, despite funding and training from the U.S. government.
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8. Why is Iran concerned?
Iran has offered to help the Shiite community in Iraq against the ISIS militants.
“We will fight against terrorism, factionalism and violence,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last Thursday, clarifying that Iran is ready to help – if asked.
Also, it’s being speculated that Iran – a long-term ally of Bashar al-Assad – wants to protect the Syrian regime.
9. What’s Obama going to do about it?
Given America’s checkered history with Iraq, the Obama administration – it seems – has decided to tread more carefully this time. However, the U.S. won't rule out any action.
“I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter," Obama told reporters last week. “Iraq’s going to need more help. It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community.”