Baghdad appears relatively safe – at least for now – from the onslaught of the murderous Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Iraqi government troops battled to fend off the insurgents’ attack in neighboring Baqubah to the north, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Mass killings have also been emerging “from the confused, zigzagging battlefields around the country” as the security forces of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki attempt to make amends for their losses a week ago, according to The Post.
Some experts say that despite the dire threat from the well-financed, al Qaeda-inspired ISIS, Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government will be able to defend the capital city for the foreseeable future.
Moreover, President Obama has announced he had ordered as many as 275 members of the U.S. armed forces into Iraq to protect the American Embassy in Baghdad and is considering other military action to help prop up the Iraqi forces.
Kenneth M. Pollack, a Middle Eastern military expert at the Brookings Institution, suggests that despite their early successes, the Sunni militants are likely to encounter “a far more determined and numerous foe” than they have seen up until now. “The most likely outcome is that fighting will be a vicious stalemate at or north of Baghdad, basically along Iraq’s ethno-sectarian divide.”
As Steve LeVine writes in Quartz, power sometimes changes hands amid chaos and rebellion – not in armed conflict, but in a “negotiated” conquest. “That is,” LeVine says, “the folks inside the capital city sense the momentum shifting against them, perceive either gain or survival by changing sides, and hand the place over through defection or assassination.”
Pollack of Brookings suggests that Anbar Province, the large region west of Baghdad with a substantial concentration of Sunni militants, might prove a pivotal conquest for ISIS that could lead to an invasion of Baghdad.
If brutal force doesn’t work, however, the cash-laden ISIS might try outright bribery to buy off or weaken Shia resolve. Money, after all, has been at the heart of the success of many insurgent armies, according to LeVine. It was a major factor, for example, in the Taliban’s original capture of Kabul in 1996: The Taliban simply “bought off key commanders on the other side,” he wrote.
ISIS may be the wealthiest terrorist group on the globe right now, with plentiful resources to buy off Shiite military forces and allies and purchase state-of-the art weaponry. ISIS may have as much as $1.3 billion in cash and assets at its disposal, according to a report in The Guardian. That includes $875 million it accumulated in Syria before its advance into Iraq, in part by seizing oil reserves.
More notably, ISIS last week “may have made off with some $420 million worth of Iraqi dinars when it captured Mosul” last week and raided the major bank there, says LeVine.
“That may not sound like a lot when you’re buying what amounts to the keys to an entire country, but it could be sufficient – the Taliban needed only a few million dollars, including $3 million from Osama bin Laden, to bribe the final group of commanders standing between Jalalabad and Kabul,” according to LeVine.
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