Middle East

Jun 17, 2014

The deadly cast of characters in Iraq’s lethal ISIS game

What is Turkey's end game? What with the European Union do? Crikey's writer-at-large introduces the motivations behind the stakeholders in the current crisis in Iraq.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


The great game is full of tension, ancient rivalries and potentially lethal exchanges. It matters more than anyone can say … but enough about the World Cup, let’s take a look at the ever-flourishing crisis in the “Middle East” — an expression one suspects is about to be retired for ever.

When last we tuned in, ISIS, the virulently anti-Shia, Sunni Islamist group, had taken over the city of Mosul, thus putting it squarely in the middle of Iraq and essentially abolishing the Syria-Iraq border. To the north, ISIS militants are close to the essentially autonomous unit of Iraqi Kurdistan, threatening Erbil, the capital. To the east, they are advancing on Baghdad.

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21 thoughts on “The deadly cast of characters in Iraq’s lethal ISIS game

  1. DiddyWrote

    A lot will depend on how the Sunni population in Mosul and the other occupied areas respond to ISIS.

    With only 10,000 men (allegedly) ISIS have made huge gains in territory but this now leaves them dangerously over extended. They would be hoping to recruit extra manpower from the Sunni population they have “liberated” but this may not necessarily occur. For many Iraqi Sunni’s, during the American occupation, they discovered that the fundamentalist fighters were a mixed blessing and often a curse.

    Without extra manpower and airstrikes by the US, the ISIS occupation could collapse as suddenly as it occurred.

    It should be noted that the US could easily shoot itself in the foot by engaging in indiscriminate bombing and missile attacks, killing civilians and thereby encouraging local support for ISIS.

    It is also worth pointing out, that this is yet another almighty failure by Western Intelligence Agencies. Who have shown yet again, that whilst capable of sucking up industrial quantities of data about its own citizens, seem incapable of finding out anything about our supposedly deadliest enemies.

  2. John Hamer

    what a truly ridiculous comment to make about Tony Abbott and Australia. Rundle’s bias shows no bounds. Crikey’s credibility is much diminished by drivel like this outpouring of vitriol by Rundle.

  3. AR

    Comprehensive as always, but I’m puzzled by “But how much would or could Assad commit to the fight against ISIS in Syria?“.
    Perhaps as much as he’s been doing for several years now and more if he could.
    Why did/doesn’t the US lean on Saudi & Qatar, the long term funders & providores of the insurgency, to cease & desist?

  4. extra

    Guy- I don’t know where you got the idea that in the acronym ISIS, the latter ‘s’ means’al Shaab’ which means Syria, but it doesn’t. It means ‘al sham’, not a nation state, but a region usually characterised as ‘Greater Syria’, or what we usually characterise as the Levant, ie east of the Mediterranean, west of the Euphrates etc. That’s why ISIS sometimes gets called ISIL. Al Sham is an older arabic/islamic term that, as you would expect, is loaded with symbolism- hence its use by the group.

    It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the USA and Iran to start cooperating against ISIS. And how long before this extended to cooperation with Syria to strike at ISIS headquarters in Raqqah.

  5. mikeb

    Just think – but for a few dodgy votes in Florida this might have all been avoided.

  6. David Hand

    I’m with bikeb. The fact that a few hundred insurgents armed with little more than AK47s and the odd rocket propelled grenade can take over half a country including its second biggest city is the ultimate conclusion of the fiasco that has been the US involvement in Iraq. Though some, including me, were happy to see the demise of Saddam, the utter incompetence of the whole 10 year campaign and the billions of dollars and lives has resulted in a country that has no ability to maintain its territory integrity.

    It doesn’t deserve to survive in its present form.

  7. David Hand

    The Tony Abbott insult is so predictably infantile. It shows that lefties, including the supposedly intelligent ones, are no longer commenting on Australian politics objectively but taking part in a country wide lefty group wank.

  8. SusieQ

    All Abbott and colleagues have said so far is that we will follow America. Is it possible that for once, we will think for ourselves and stay out of this? Apart from anything else, if we have a ‘budget emergency’ can we afford it?

  9. Andybob

    Gulf Wars I and II occurred in the context of US dependence on imported oil; making freedom of navigation through the Straits of Hormuz a vital US interest.

    That has changed. The US is now nearly energy sufficient and keeping the Straits of Hormuz free for oil tankers is merely desirable, not necessary.

    This means Obama can play a spoiling game, launching airstrikes, or even selective assassination by drones, to avoid unacceptable outcomes such as a Russian puppet government. History has shown the US to be largely indifferent to whether Sunni or Shia control Iraq. They have even tolerated an Iranian puppet in the form of Malicki.

  10. fractious

    Thanks Guy. It’s useful for an ignoramus like me to have some kind of potted summary to work with, though I’m aware yours will be no more nor less biased than anyone else’s. One reason for my continuing ignorance of ME affairs is the number of, and complexity of relationships between, parties involved, not to mention the history and what appear to be long-standing grievances and rivalries – just getting my head around the Sunni v Shiite conflict is difficult enough. The more I read the less clear things become – so many versions of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” in play, and that’s without the added FUBAR that is intervention by “the West”, Russia and so on.

    The one factor you don’t mention that many others do is the Saudis – from what I can gather they have a fair amount of skin in the game, and there are many who suggest Saudi money is bankrolling civil war in Syria.

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