(NOTE: Part 02 of the Battle for Jerusalem was meant to be posted today. But events in Iraq necessitate a temporary detour).
In recent days the headlines have announced, even screamed at us:
Mosul has Fallen
Tikrit, Hometown of Saddam Hussein, Has Fallen
Militant troops are heading towards Baghdad.
A new word has been added to our vocabulary, just like al Qaeda and jihad were added over a decade ago: ISIS.
What is the meaning of ISIS and its current victories? What affect, if any, does it have on us today?
First, the events that have transpired in recent days did not just happen. The spread of ISIS has been going on for a while. It is only because of the fall of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, a city of 2 million with 500,000 fleeing as refugees, and then the threatened advance on Baghdad, did the world sit up and take notice.
Who is ISIS? It is a militant Sunni Muslim group formed only 2-3 years ago as an off-shoot and successor of al Qaeda in Iraq. It stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Their leader is Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a man in his early forties with a bounty of $10 million on his head. His goal is simple: Every religion in the world has its own state except Islam. The time has come for an ‘Islamic State.’
ISIS’s interpretation of an Islamic state is no doubt very strict: no alcohol, no cigarettes, no western clothes, with women fully covered with only slits in the eyes to see the outside world. Their vision may only be for an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, but chances are they have even greater ambitions: a caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia. The capital? It could be Baghdad, which once served as imperial capital of the Abbasid Empire (750-1258 AD) or even Jerusalem itself.
ISIS is notorious for its extreme brutality: decapitations, amputations, impromptu and mass executions. Their reputation is bad enough that even al Qaeda had disowned them early in 2014. Their fighters don’t just come from Syria and Iraq - they also hail from Morocco, Chechnya, and possibly even Australia!
Today’s spectacular conquests have been all the more remarkable that ISIS’s troops probably number less than 10,000. They are well-armed, well-trained, and well-financed (Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and funding them to spite the Shia governments in Baghdad and Tehran). ISIS has already taken territory in the northern and eastern parts of Syria and, ignoring the boundaries drawn by the colonial powers, have spread eastward into Iraq. Part of their success is that they have gone into mostly Sunni territory, capturing Sunni areas like Ramadi, Fallujah, and now Mosul and Tikrit, and receiving tacit and/or overt support by the Sunni population.
The Bigger Picture
Though Sunnis are 85% of the worldwide Islamic population, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are only 20% (Saddam was one of them). They feel marginalised by the Shiite government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nur al Maliki in Baghdad and have either sided with or stayed quiet as ISIS has swept through.
Why hasn’t the Iraqi army, western-trained and funded, fought back? In some instances, they have but in others, like in Mosul, they fled. By all accounts, western forces did a good job in training the Iraqi military. But failure to integrate Sunnis into both civil and military life, plus the lack of loyalty and morale among troops (something the West cannot impart on its own), explain the attitude of defeat.
What’s next? ISIS’s road to Baghdad will be strewn with potholes. It is one thing to take territory next to their gains in Syria that are Sunni dominated. It is another thing to take heavily fortified, Shia dominated Baghdad and the Shiite South. For all their successes, ISIS is still small in number and do not possess even the rudimentary elements of a normal, long-term permanent army. In addition, their bold, quick, extreme actions are building up to fulfill Newton’s law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reactions.
The mass executions by ISIS, could with their menacing rhetoric towards the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, are causing the Shiite majority to brew into a furious counter-response. When you are a minority taunting the majority and crossing their red lines, this is a recipe for disaster. Also, the government of Iraq has some powerful friends, like the United States and Iran. Both have a vested interest in keeping the national government intact and have become unwitting allies, despite their massive differences.
How Should We Respond?
Do the unfolding events in Iraq affect us? The short answer: ‘Yes.’ First, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, the threat of exporting terrorism 9-11 style is ever-present. The world cannot stand idly by while terrorists plan to destroy us and our way of life; the technology available to them means they can cause massive damage and death.
Second, Iraq has 10% of the world’s oil and is strategically located in the ‘middle’ of the Middle East. Instability there can easily spread elsewhere, igniting a bush fire militarily and economically that will be hard to contain. It could, if left unattended, spark a regional or even third world war.
Third, the long-suffering Christian population in Syria and Iraq need our prayers and compassionate assistance. For too long, western governments, media, and even churches have been silent about this situation. Such silence must come to a speedy end. According to Matthew 25, if we don’t show mercy to the least of the brethren, we will earn the righteous rebuke ... or worse ... of the Lord. To the merciful, God will show Himself merciful.
What are the implications for the wider world? Isolationist voices are calling for non-involvement, and key nations like the US, Britain and Australia, once militarily involved in Iraq, are promising their citizens ‘no boots on the ground.’
Can we afford to be isolationist and let the people of Iraq fight it out with ISIS? The answer is ‘No.’ We don’t need to send troops in order to help. Air power can soften ISIS troops and fortifications for the ground offensive; assistance by planners and advisers to counter their strategies; and counter-terrorism (attacking high value ISIS targets) will slow their advance and even assist in an Iraqi counter-invasion. Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance should be practiced on both the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the border, since failure to confront ISIS in Iraq, but not in Syria, means that they will live to fight another day.
The stakes in Iraq and the Middle East couldn't be higher. Let’s watch, pray, and be part of the solution.
Turkey & Israel
7-22 November 2014
Dr. Kameel Majdali, Director of Teach All Nations in Melbourne (www.tan.org.au), author of Melbourne to Jerusalem, radio host on the Vision Radio Network, and board member of Jews for Jesus Australia, is offering his 22nd holy land tour, entitled The Book of Acts Tour through Turkey & Is- rael. Dates: November 7-22, 2014 for 16 Spirit-filled nights. Travel in the footsteps of Paul the Apostle from Antioch westward to Ephesus (halfway across Turkey), then onto Israel and key places like Caesarea, Mount Carmel, Jaffa, Lydda, Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem. Optional 4 day, 3 night Cappadocia Adventure at the start of the tour. Price for the main tour starts at USD 2,595 (inclusive land) plus airfare to the Middle East. For further information, contact Leanne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 03 9802 5040 or write PO Box 493, Mount Waverley VIC 3149. or Francois Lockwood of Escape Travel 03 8619 6255 or 1300 791 342 email@example.com