16 things about ISIS and Iraq you need to know

16 Cards

CURATED BY Zack Beauchamp

2014-06-18 20:16:30 -0400

  1. ISIS used to be al-Qaeda in Iraq
  2. ISIS wants to establish a caliphate
  3. The conflict betweeen Iraqi Sunnis and Shias sustains ISIS
  4. Iraq’s Prime Minister is making the ISIS problem worse
  5. ISIS has a really important base in Syria
  6. ISIS funds itself through oil and an extortion racket
  7. The global oil market is concerned about ISIS' advance
  8. The conflict has been a boon to Iraq's Kurds
  9. ISIS isn’t the only anti-government rebel group
  10. ISIS has made significant territorial gains in Iraq
  11. The Iraqi army is much stronger than ISIS, but it’s also kind of a mess
  12. Iran is fighting on the Iraqi government’s side
  13. The US and Iran are talking about Iraq
  14. Obama might bomb ISIS
  15. Some Americans blame Obama for this
  16. Iraq's Sunnis will probably suffer the most
  1. Card 1 of 16

    ISIS used to be al-Qaeda in Iraq

  2. Card 2 of 16

    ISIS wants to establish a caliphate

  3. Card 3 of 16

    The conflict betweeen Iraqi Sunnis and Shias sustains ISIS

  4. Card 4 of 16

    Iraq’s Prime Minister is making the ISIS problem worse

  5. Card 5 of 16

    ISIS has a really important base in Syria

  6. Card 6 of 16

    ISIS funds itself through oil and an extortion racket

  7. Card 7 of 16

    The global oil market is concerned about ISIS' advance

  8. Card 8 of 16

    The conflict has been a boon to Iraq's Kurds

  9. Card 9 of 16

    ISIS isn’t the only anti-government rebel group

  10. Card 10 of 16

    ISIS has made significant territorial gains in Iraq

  11. Card 11 of 16

    The Iraqi army is much stronger than ISIS, but it’s also kind of a mess

    ISIS cannot challenge the Iraqi government for control over the country. On a basic level, it's simple math. A rough count of ISIS' fighting strength suggests it has a bit more than 7,000 combat troops, and it can occasionally grab reinforcements from other extremist militias. The Iraqi army has 250,000 troops, plus armed police. That Iraqi military also has tanks, airplanes, and helicopters. ISIS can't make a serious play for the control of Baghdad, let alone the south of Iraq, without a serious risk of getting crushed.

    But the Iraqi army is also a total mess, which explains why ISIS has had the success it's had despite being dramatically outnumbered.

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    STR/AFP/Getty Images

    Take ISIS' victory in Mosul. 30,000 Iraqi troops ran from 800 ISIS fighters. Those are 40:1 odds! Yet Iraqi troops ran because they simply didn't want to fight and die for this government. There had been hundreds of desertions per month for months prior to the events of June 10th. The escalation with ISIS is, of course, making it worse.

    Sectarianism also plays a role here. The Iraqi army is mixed Sunni-Shia, and "it appears that the Iraqi Army is cleaving along sectarian lines," Yale University insurgency expert Jason Lyall said. "The willingness of Sunni soldiers to fight to retake Mosul appears limited." This makes some sense out of the Mosul rout: some Sunni Muslims don't really want to fight other Sunnis in the name of a government that oppresses them.

    This suggests a natural limit to ISIS' expansion. Mosul is a mostly Sunni city, but military resistance will be much stiffer in Shia areas. ISIS needs to stick to Sunni land if it doesn't want to overreach.

  12. Card 12 of 16

    Iran is fighting on the Iraqi government’s side

  13. Card 13 of 16

    The US and Iran are talking about Iraq

  14. Card 14 of 16

    Obama might bomb ISIS

  15. Card 15 of 16

    Some Americans blame Obama for this

  16. Card 16 of 16

    Iraq's Sunnis will probably suffer the most

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