Iraq is going up in flames and there appears to be no question of the West putting boots back on the ground in contrast to 2003 when the United States and Britain invaded to topple Saddam Hussein and set in train a decade of chaos that has now exploded again.
Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric has urged his followers to take up arms against a full-blown Sunni militant insurgency to topple Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The chances of ISIL militants taking heavily armed Baghdad are slim but that doesn’t mean conflict will not continue and, with Iraqi Kurdish forces seizing control the oil hub of Kirkuk just outside their autonomous enclave in the north, the prospect of the country splitting along sectarian lines is real.
Over the weekend, ISIL’s advance on Baghdad slowed but spread northwest, with Sunni militants seizing Tal Afar, a town close to the Syrian border.
President Barack Obama said he was reviewing military options, short of sending combat troops. Unusually, the United States may have common cause with Iran in shoring up Maliki’s administration. Iranian president Rouhani said Tehran could cooperate with Washington to restore security and a senior U.S. official said the Obama administration was mulling possible discussions with Iran over the mounting crisis in Iraq.
Whether that reads across to Syria, where ISIL is also active, and negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear negotiations is too early to say.