June 13, 2014 | Quote

How ISIS Realigns The Middle East

The self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has, seemingly overnight, emerged as a major player in the Middle East. On Wednesday, fresh from their stunning capture of the major Iraqi city of Mosul, ISIS forces went on to take Tikrit, a city of 200,000 and the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The radical Sunni Muslim group now controls a vast area of northwest Iraq and eastern Syria, and has rendered the border between the two countries practically obsolete.

ISIS also has acquired the ability to sell oil — produced at wells in both Syria and Iraq — on the international market through middlemen. A group that once ran afoul of Osama bin Laden for being too radical is now, according to Douglas Olivant and Brian Fishman, “more akin in organization and power to the Taliban of the late 1990s than al Qaeda.”

This development has unsettled countries throughout the Middle East. For Iran, the most powerful Shi'a Muslim state, the emergence of ISIS threatens the viability of the government in Baghdad, where Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'a, has served as prime minister since 2006.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has long provided military support to Assad in Syria through proxy forces like the Lebanese Hezbollah, and is a close ally of al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa party government in Baghdad. But Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, thinks Tehran is likely to have an understated role in repelling ISIS.

“We’re not going to see an Iranian ground invasion, we won’t see any explicitly Iranian military hardware used, and we won’t see Iranian planes and artillery,” he said.

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