Iraq’s Long Unraveling

Nicholas Slayton in The Atlantic:

IraqWhen Sunni militants seized the Iraqi city of Mosul at the start of the week, instantaneously creating half a million refugees and an existential crisis for the country, it came as a surprise. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been terrorizing Iraq for months now, but when it along with other jihadi forces and Baathists still loyal to Saddam Hussein’s regime took the nation’s second-largest city, the threat became more serious. As ISIS pledges to advance south toward Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers are in many cases abandoning their posts and stripping off their uniforms to escape. It’s a terrifying development, but it shouldn’t come as a complete shock. Iraq is disintegrating, and ISIS’s success is just a distillation of the problems the country has been struggling with for some time now.

The roots of the current violence go at least as far back as Iraq’s 2006-2007 civil war, which didn’t so much end as get put on hiatus. The spate of sectarian violence pitted the Shiite-majority government against Sunni militias and al-Qaeda in Iraq (a group from which ISIS emerged). The U.S. troop “surge” halted the bloodshed and got Sunni groups to side with the government against foreign jihadists. But it failed to produce a greater political resolution. With the departure of American forces from the country in 2011, these grave tensions reemerged.

More here.