Militants from the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) have now seized control of four towns in western Iraq, as well as every major border crossing between Syria and Iraq.
On Saturday, ISIS fighters came out of Syria to capture the last major border crossing still held by the Iraq government, and destroyed government forces in the attack. ISIS is now in control of large parts of both Syria and Iraq.
There are concerns now that the Iraqi government may be on a brink of collapse.
Previously, Mamamia reported…
Iraq is in the news again, with a civil war threatening to destabilise the region once more.
Things have changed a bit since the last time the world was talking about entering Iraq. The government is different, the insurgent groups are different, and next-door neighbours Syria are substantially less stable.
The newspapers are covering the escalating conflict in detail today but we thought we’d take you back a few steps and just re-cap how we got here in the first place.
Here are the answers to the most common questions the world has been asking in the past week.
I stopped paying attention to Iraq sometime between the West entering in 2003 and when Australia pulled the troops out… what’s been going on there since then?
The West pulled the last of their troops out in late 2011. Very soon after, there was a dispute in Iraq’s – Shiite majority – Parliament over whether the Sunni people were being discriminated against in policy. In early 2012, the Vice President – a Sunni – fled to Kurdistan (a semi-autonomous region in the north where there are lots of Sunnis) after the Shiite government accused him of a sectarian death squad.
Since then, sectarian violence has been escalating, largely from the Sunni side of things, who feel marginalised by the Shiite government.
Could we just go over the whole Sunni/Shiite thing really quickly?
Sure. Sunni and Shiite are the two major denominations of Islam. Their religious beliefs are a bit different, because they believe in different lines of succession from Mohammad.
While Sunnis are the dominant denomination on a global scale, Iraq is one of the few countries that has a Shiite majority (estimated to be around 60-65 per cent). Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim, and so were most of Iraq’s modern rulers prior to the 2003 Iraq War. Now the government is majority Shiite.
(Also, there is no difference between Shia, Shiite and Shi’ite. They all mean the same group.)
What’s happened in the past few days?
An insurgent group has seized a large section of northern Iraq. They are now heading south, with the intention of taking Baghdad.
Who exactly are these insurgents? Are they linked to al-Qaeda?
The group is called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). (We will use ISIL from now on.) They are a jihadist militant group. This means they are a group which views the Islamic concept of jihad (“struggle”) as justifying armed attacks. Jihadism is a fundamentalist position, and one that has gathered a significant extremist following. It really came to prominence during the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda.