With the news that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – more commonly known as ISIS – control Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah, the Syrian Civil War has finally crossed the border and merged with the brewing Iraqi civil war. [Related: Al-Qaida Establishes Islamic Caliphate Across Syria, Northern Iraq]
The Syrian civil war began in 2011 when civil uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad began. The war has been long and bloody, including alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. It’s taken the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians and irreparably divided the nation.
It’s been characterized by a plethora of forces fighting against the Assad regime and each other, with no clear “good guy” in sight. When it became apparent Assad was using chemical weapons, the Obama administration announced a potential air strike as Assad had crossed the “red line.” It was only called off when Secretary of State John Kerry made an offhand remark that if Assad gave up his chemical weapons, the U.S. would not intervene. Even Iran President Hassan Rouhaini said the country would not tolerate the violence.
Assad immediately agreed. The forces have continued fighting and ISIS has made strides in the north.
Meanwhile, Iraq continued to see war even while American forces were stationed there. The conflicts only increased when troops left — the same year the Syrian Civil War started.
Wednesday night, the U.S. plainly stated they are not sending troops or military support to Iraq. Though Thursday, the president said all options were on the table.
ISIS is no group to simply shrug off, either. ISIS was initially aligned with al-Qaida, but split earlier this year. The group also set rules for the occupied territories, including no drinking or smoking, attend prayer five times a day, and repent or die.
They’re also well-funded. After taking over Mosul earlier this week, the group robbed the central bank for more than $425 million, making them the world’s richest terrorist group. Al-Qaida masterminded 9/11 with funds around $30 million, and the Taliban was working with anywhere between $70 million and $400 million at one point.
Now, a group too extreme for al-Qaida with a stockpile of American weapons and vast amounts of money controls a huge amount of territory, including as far west as Raqqah, Syria and as far east as Jalula, Iraq. That’s a staggering 360 miles. More than ten years after the start of the Iraq War, Saddam Hussein loyalists and anti-American terrorists control more land than both Israel and Lebanon. And they don’t seem to show signs of stopping anytime soon.
President George W. Bush flew in on a carrier saying “Mission Accomplished” and Vice President Joe Biden once called Iraq one of Obama’s “great achievements.”
“I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration,” Biden said in an interview with Larry King. “You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”