Things are happening fast in Iraq (but what’s happening?)

Things are moving very quickly in Iraq. The narrative in the US media seems to be that “the terrorists are taking over Iraq!” This is not the case. What is happening in Iraq is important and concerning, but if you are alarmed that terrorists have suddenly taken over half of Iraq, you can put your mind at rest.

In this post I will briefly explain what is going on with Iraq (as of June 22, 2014.)

Regarding “ISIL” vs. “ISIS.”

In my last post I wrote about the military group called “ISIS.” From now on I will be calling them “ISIL” instead of “ISIS.” ISIL stands for “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” They are called this because ISIL is a military group that wants to take over the Sunni areas of Iraq and the Levant and turn them into a new, Islamic country. If you’re wondering what the Levant is, it isn’t a specific area, but it is this general region:



In reality, ISIL does not want the entire Levant. For now ISIL wants to conquer this general area: (in black)


What the change from “ISIS” to “ISIL?” Both President Obama and al-Jazeera calls them “ISIL.” So I’m going to go with what they’re going with. Why not call them what they call themselves? Because they call themselves, “ad-Dawlat al-Islamiyah fi il-Iraq wa-ash-Sham.” So no.


What is happening in Iraq right now?

ISIL is taking over Northern Iraq. Although they’re not exactly “taking over.” I will explain what they are actually doing later on in this post.

According to Wikipedia, this is a map of ISIL territory from yesterday: (June 21)


Today ISIL have gained even more territory. At the moment they are beginning to seal off the North-Western borders of Jordan and Syria. *Update* The Western border of Iraq is now under full ISIL control.


This looks a lot like ISIL, a terrorist group, has taken over a huge portion of Iraq. Yet you say the media is wrong in saying so. What gives?

To explain the real situation in Iraq, I would like bring three main characters to the stage. You have already met them in the last post. They are:

Nouri al-Maliki! Or "al-Maliki" for short.

Nouri al-Maliki! Or “al-Maliki” for short.

Nouri al-Maliki is the Prime Minister of Iraq. This is the highest position in the Iraqi government. He is Shia, and has given away a lot of important government positions to his Shia friends. He has created conflict between the Shia Iraqis and Sunni Iraqis, because he gives all the good stuff to the Shias and suppresses the Sunnis. Iraq is 60% Shia and 40% Sunni.



ISIL is a Sunni military group that wants to take over the Sunni areas of Syria and Iraq and turn them into a single Islamic country. ISIL was formed in the beginning of the 2003-2011 War in Iraq. In 2012-2013 they took advantage of the neighboring Syrian conflict and conquered Sunni parts of Syria. Now they are taking over Sunni parts of Iraq.

The Iraqi people!

The Iraqi people!

It is important to remember that the Iraqi people are not fighting each other. At the moment most of the fighting that is happening is between ISIL and al-Maliki’s Shia government. Since 2003, the Iraqi people have lived in a state of war. Before that they lived under the rule of Saddam Hussein. I cannot speak for the Iraq people but I think it is safe to say that they do not want war, nor do they want to live under a repressive government.


A simple analogy to the current situation in Iraq: Pirates and Kings

Under al-Maliki, the Sunni Iraqis are living under a repressive government. Al-Maliki has been their Prime Minister since 2006 and they are soooo done with him. In 2012 -2013 they had massive demonstrations against him. Al-Maliki responded to these mostly peaceful demonstrations by ignoring and then shooting the protesters.


Now ISIL has come in to the Sunni areas and began taking away al-Maliki’s control. Think of it this way: imagine if you are living on an island that is ruled by a king who isn’t from your island, and doesn’t even like your island. The king is constantly making your life worse. When the people of your island ask him to change his ways, he responds by attacking them. A few months later some pirates who are actually from your island show up, and scare the King’s men off your island. Suddenly you are free from the king! You may be wary of the surly pirates but your island isn’t being controlled by the king any more. That is the situation in Iraq right now.

So it’s not exactly like ISIL has taken over Northern Iraq. ISIL is far too tiny to take over such a large amount of territory. They’re more like little groups of surly pirates who are fighting off the al-Maliki’s guards to take away his control from Sunni areas.

This is not to say that ISIL is a bunch of Robin Hoods, with the sole intention of liberating Iraqi Sunnis from the clutches of al-Maliki. What is happening right now is that ISIL is simply taking advantage of the lack of love the Sunnis have for al-Maliki. At the moment Sunnis are letting ISIL fly their flags over their cities because:

1) Fuck al-Maliki and

2) If the Sunnis fight ISIL they will have al-Maliki back. ISIL is Sunni and al-Maliki is Shia. The Iraqi Sunnis have been suppressed by the Shia government too long to give up the chance to have Sunnis control the Sunnis.

Things have moved very quickly in Iraq. ISIL has not had time to settle in. The Sunnis have not had time to react to their new situation. And al-Maliki has so far barely responded to his loss of power. But at the moment, this is the situation in Iraq.


What does the future hold?

ISIL is taking over so quickly that it is hard enough to grasp the present, let alone the future. But simply put, the biggest threat to the future of Iraq is civil war. The threat of civil war is nothing new to Iraq. It has been a threat since the creation of the Iraqi boarders some 70 years ago. Although this month is the closest we’ve come to civil war since Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

Is civil war really coming to Iraq? It’s hard to tell. Of course most Iraqis don’t want it, but most Syrians didn’t want civil war either. Luckily, civil war is not the inevitable conclusion to Iraq’s circumstances. On June 19, Obama decided not to bomb ISIL, averting American military involvement. This is good. Iraqi peace is too fragile to withstand foreign military intervention.

"The United States will not pursue military actions that support one sect inside of Iraq at the expense of another. There’s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States. "

“The United States will not pursue military actions that support one sect inside of Iraq at the expense of another. There’s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States. ” -Obama June 19, 2014

Though civil war in Iraq in not inevitable, both ISIL and al-Maliki may desire it. A civil war would force the Sunnis to defend themselves and join ISIL in the fight against al-Maliki. In turn, the Shias would be forced to defend themselves against ISIL and support al-Maliki’s government and Iraqi military. Both ISIL and al-Maliki are weak and desperate for support of the people they claim to represent. A civil war would force people to support them.

On the other hand, things are not that easy. ISIL and al-Maliki are weak. Even if they initiate a civil war, they may not be able to survive it. In the political chaos of a civil war, other groups will rise and may take power from ISIL and/or al-Maliki. ISIL has been popular as liberators but not as governors. al-Maliki is loosing popularity among the Shias and lately there have been some major Shia threats to his power. So even from a cynical point of view, ISIL and al-Maliki may not want civil war anymore… maybe.

But much more importantly, who the fuck else wants civil war?? The Iraqi people certainly don’t! This isn’t like the American civil war where the South wanted to leave the US and was willing to fight over it. Nor is this like Libya in 2011, when the Libyans were able to overthrow a crazy dictator and his army. Iraq is more like Syria, and an Iraqi civil war would be very much like the war that’s happening in Syrian right now. Nobody wants that.

The solution?

There are two solutions:

1) Iraq can split into two countries: Shia-Iraq, and Sunni-Iraq. It’s not that hard to imagine because Iraq has split once before. During the 2003 – 2011 war in Iraq, the Kurdish population of Iraq quietly became their own country. This country is now called Iraqi-Kurdistan. Technically, Iraqi-Kurdistan is not their own country, but they basically are. The Kurds are able govern themselves freely, make lots of money without the Iraqi government interfering, and Iraqi-Kurdistan is an island of peace despite all the conflicts around them. Also, the Kurds did not have a revolution or fight a civil war to get their country.

Erbil, the capital of Iraqi-Kurdistan

Erbil, the capital of Iraqi-Kurdistan

If al-Maliki cuts his losses and lets the Sunnis have their own government, civil war can be averted. With ISIL in control of the Sunni areas, the Sunni government of a Sunni-Iraq would not be a democracy. But please, how could civil war be the better option?

Iraqi demographics according to Wikipedia, June 22, 2014

Iraqi demographics according to Wikipedia, June 22, 2014

2) The Iraqi government could become more inclusive towards Sunnis. Given al-Maliki’s history, he will not allow for a more inclusive government. However, international and internal pressure could force him to stop his old ways. Due to the recent events in Iraq, the US government finally seems to be aware of the danger al-Maliki has put Iraq in. If the US and other governments as well as the Iraqi Shias put enough pressure on al-Maliki, he may acquiesce.

3-?) Things are moving so quickly in Iraq and it’s hard to grasp the present, let alone the future. There are plenty of other possibilities that would prevent an Iraqi civil war. For example, even if al-Maliki does not change the government, his generals may refuse to fight civil war. It is very possible that has already happened earlier this month when 30,000 Iraqi troops “fled” from only 800 ISIL fighters.

The End

And that’s the simple version of what is going on in Iraq right now! There’s a lot more to it but it is far more important to understand the basic concept rather than all the small details. If nothing else, the next time you hear about “terrorists taking over Iraq,” please remember this post. I will end with some pictures of some Iraqi cities that may be hearing of in the news.




Old section of Kirkuk



Evening in Baghdad

Evening in Baghdad

Bridges in Baghdad

Bridges in Baghdad

Construction of the massive ar-Rahman Mosque in Baghdada

Construction of the ar-Rahman Mosque in Baghdad

This thing is massive!

This thing is massive!



What is going on in Iraq? (As of June 18, 2014)

If you’ve listened to the news this past week you’ll know that something is going on in Iraq right now and it looks pretty crazy. This is a very simplified explanation of  what is happening and what it means for everyone involved.


What is happening in Iraq???

Right now a military group called ISIS is trying to take over Northern Iraq. So far they have been shockingly successful.


ISIS: Who and what is ISIS?


ISIS is a military group that wants to create an Islamic state. They are at war with anyone who opposes them. ISIS has been fighting in Iraq for about ten years and Syria for about three years. They are currently fighting the Iraqi government, the Syrian government, the Syrian rebels, Al Qaeda, and anyone else in Iraq and Syria who gets in their way.


How has ISIS suddenly gained so much territory in Iraq?

This week ISIS took over a large amount territory, including a few cities. It took them just a few days. The army of ISIS was 800 men while the Iraqi government troops were numbered at least 30,000. How could 800 militants defeat an army of 30,000? We need to go back in time for the answer.


This is the important part:

I’m going to backtrack a bit. Both Iraq and Syria are fragmented countries, and have been since their creation. This is because the countries have a bunch of completely different groups of people in them competing for power (and survival.) They are so fragmented because 70 years ago the British and French governments created Iraq and Syria by randomly drawing some borders on a map and then gave control to the two countries to foreign-born kings. It would be like if someone did this to Europe:

"And they shall be ruled by Spainish kings!"

“And they shall be ruled by Spanish kings!”

Since the two country’s artificial creation, various religious and ethnic groups within the borders have tried to become independent while dictators, kings, and outside governments have tried to keep Iraq and Syria from breaking apart. What is happening in Iraq and Syria right now is a continuation of this struggle.


Back to ISIS:

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that ISIS stands for “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” This translation is not 100% accurate because it makes ISIS sound like they want to conquer all of Iraq and Syria. They don’t. But ISIS does want to conquer large portions of it. These portions are based off religion and ethnicity. This is the territory ISIS wants to take over:


Why does ISIS want these areas?

You may have heard of the two major sects in Islam: Sunni and Shia. I don’t want to get into the differences between them right now. Just like how in Christianity there are Catholics and Protestants; in Islam there are Sunnis and Shias. Simply put, ISIS wants to turn the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria into a single Islamic country.

Yeah, but a lot of people want a lot of things, so how is it that ISIS has been so successful?

This week when ISIS conquered the northern half of Iraq, they did so with only 800 men. The 30,000 Iraq troops guarding the territory fled. So what, the Iraq troops are cowards or something? Definitely not. There’s more going on than meets the eye. But it requires a little more explanation to see what’s really going on.


This is the other important part:

I’m going to back track again. In 2003 the US and Briton invaded Iraq. The Iraqi people were liberated from Saddam but still squashed together within the boarders of Iraq. Now that they were free from Saddam’s oppression, various groups in Iraq wanted more freedom and power. They began fighting each other for it. The US and Briton did not want to see Iraq divided so in order to keep the country together, they began fighting the Iraqi groups that were fighting each other. In turn, the Iraqi groups began fight the US/UK troops and each other. This is what the 2003-2011 Iraq War was all about.

During the war the US made this man Prime Minister (the most powerful position in the government) of Iraq:


His name is Nouri al-Maliki and he is still Prime Minister.

Remember how Islam can be divided into two groups: Sunni and Shia? Al-Maliki is Shia. This makes sense because Iraq is about 60% Shia. The problem is, what about the 40% that are Sunni? It has become a very big problem in Iraq. This is where ISIS comes in.


Where did ISIS come from?

Once Al-Maliki became Prime Minister of Iraq he started given government positions to his friends. Because Al-Maliki was Shia, he friends were Shia too. Eventually Shias began to gain more and more power in the Iraqi government, and Sunnis began loosing power.

When the Sunnis began loosing their strength in the government, Sunni groups turned to more drastic measures. Sunni areas of Iraq began forming their own militaries to fight the Iraqi government and the US/UK troops that protected it. One of the main Sunni militaries that grew during this time was ISIS. The worst fighting in the Iraq War was between the US/UK troops and ISIS.

*note: Anyone who knows their Iraqi history knows that it didn’t exactly happen like this, but come on, it basically did.

As the war in Iraq continued, Sunnis lost even more power in the Iraqi government. By the time Obama pulled out the last troops in December 2011, Al-Maliki had replaced key Sunni military and governmental positions with Shia ones. Sunni groups accused him of trying to become a Shia dictator.

In 2012 and 2013, many Iraqis (mostly Sunni) became fed up. With the threat of the US gone, Sunnis took to the streets in mostly peaceful demonstrations. They demanded better representation and an end to their repression. At first Al-Maliki ignored their demands, then he began shooting them.

ISIS moves from Iraq to Syria

Meanwhile in Syria, a similar thing was happening. In 2011-12 Syrians were also having anti-government protests, and having their protests crushed the government. By 2013 the anti-government protests in Syria led to civil war. In the chaos, ISIS fighters were able move across the Iraq/Syria border and conquer large amounts of land in Syria, including Syrian cities. ISIS fighters already had plenty of experience from fighting the Americans. As of now, they have been able to hold on to most of the Syrian territory they gained in 2013.

ISIS in Syria  ಠ╭╮ಠ

It is important to note that ISIS is not loved in the territory they conquered in Syria. Syria is a historically secular and tolerant country. When ISIS takes over a city, they are the opposite. ISIS makes strict laws based on their skewed interpretation of Islam and do things like force women to cover their heads and loose their jobs. They have harsh punishments for anyone who doesn’t follow their laws. They are basically a militarized version of an Islamic Westboro Baptist Church. Though there have been  protests against ISIS as well as open war between ISIS and both the Syrian Government and Syrian rebels, civilians living under ISIS are understandably more focused on surviving the war than stirring up trouble.


"Grandpa nooooo!"

“Grandpa nooooo!”


Putting the pieces into place:

To summarize:

  • Iraq and Syria have different groups of people all squashed together.
  • Iraq is 60% Shia and 40% Sunni.
  • For the past 10 years, the Shia groups have been gaining more and more power in the Iraqi government, while Sunni groups are getting less and less.
  • ISIS is a Sunni military group that wants to create a Sunni-only Islamic country from the Sunni parts of Iraq and Syria.

Recent events:

  • Peaceful protests by Sunnis (and many others) in Syria were crushed by the Syrian government in 2011-12. This led to fighting between military groups by 2012-13.
  • In the chaos of the Syrian civil war, ISIS, a Sunni military group that already has a lot of experience from fighting Americans, moved into Syria and conquered a lot of Syrian territory. It proclaimed the territory a separate Islamic country.
  • Peaceful protests by Sunnis (and others) in Iraq were crushed by the Iraqi government in 2012-13.
  • Support of ISIS in Iraq began to grow again in 2013-14.

The events that immediately led to the ISIS take-over this week:

  • In January 2014 ISIS re-took Falluja, a Sunni city in Iraq that ISIS had originally lost to the Americans in 2004. A side note: The worst fighting of the 2003-2011 Iraq War was between the Americans and ISIS in Falluja. After re-taking Falluja  in 2014 ISIS proclaimed it part of their Islamic State. The Iraqi government tried and failed to take it back.
  • On June 5th 2014, 800 ISIS troops began fighting the Iraqi military in the Sunni north of Iraq. By June 9th they had taken some major Sunni cities. At the time of writing this (June 17, 2014) ISIS continues to take Sunni territory in Iraq, and remains an hour drive away from Baghdad.

For the last time, how could ISIS suddenly conquer half of Iraq??

ISIS propaganda tweet.

ISIS propaganda tweet.

Now that we have some context, let’s look at how 800 ISIS troops could overtake 30,000 Iraqi government troops.

The simple answer is incompetence. In his attempt to become a dictator, Al-Malilki has replaced experienced generals with weaker, more subservient generals. In addition to this, Iraqi troops may not want to fight and die for a government that has become so corrupt and weak. Many many many Iraqis (both Sunni and Shia) are not happy with Al-Malilki and his government that is dominated by Shias. How would you like to be living under a government that George W. Bush selected for you? After 11 years of war? Without any hope of it changing?

The Iraqi people want a better life and Al-Malilki’s greed is preventing a stronger government. ISIS may bring a stricter government to the territories it conquers but at least they are competent, and most importantly, they are taking power away from Al-Maliki. In short, ISIS is Sunni and is bringing Sunni power back to the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria.

Basically, I see three things going on here:

1. Al-Maliki’s attempt to become a dictator has significantly crippled the Iraqi army and government.

2. ISIS has gained significant support from Sunnis in Iraq, and significant experience from fighting the Americans and in Syria.

3. Not enough Iraqis care about Al-Maliki’s government to try to save it from ISIS.

This does not mean that Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are glad to see ISIS. Last week when the 800 ISIS troops thundered through the Sunni areas of Iraq, 500,000 people fled their homes. With them 30,000 Iraqi government troops fled as well. This shows that ISIS certainly can’t win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, but with Iraq’s current government so hated, ISIS can shoo away an army that is unwilling to fight.


That’s what’s happening in Iraq right now. Read further if you want to know the future…


What does this mean for the future?

***If things in Iraq run their current course*** two things are guaranteed to happen:

1. Al-Maliki will to hold onto his crown until it is pried off him. How will he do this? If things run their current course in Iraq, things will get ugly. If Al-Maliki gets desperate, he will use all means necessary to start an ethnic war between the Sunnis and Shias. In other words: he is going to use genocide and civil war to gain power. A civil war will guarantee him the dictatorial power he’s always wanted because if the Shias and Sunnis are fighting each other, it will force the Shias to his side.

In other words if a civil war begins between the Sunni and Shia, the Shia will be forced to go to Al-Maliki for protection and stop complaining about their lack of democracy. Iraq is 60% Shia. That’s a lot of people to bring to his side.

2. ISIS wants the same exact thing to happen. Ethnic conflict between Sunni and Shia will force the Sunnis to ISIS for protection. And after all, Iraq is 40% Sunni. That’s a lot of people to bring to their side.

Of course, it’s not that simple, but you get the idea.

So let’s end this mess and just eliminate ISIS! We have to stop genocide before it begins! Al-Maliki may be bad, but at least he is the real government, and once we prevent ISIS from taking over, we can try harder to fix things in Iraq.

This is the kind of thing that people are telling Obama right now. “Just eliminate ISIS and we can begin to fix things in Iraq! Just eliminate ISIS before it’s too late!

There are two problems with this:

1. We’ve tried to eliminate ISIS before. The 2003-2011 Iraq War was all about the US, UK, and Iraqi government trying to eliminate ISIS. In 2004 we almost completely leveled the city of Falluja in an attempt to get rid of them. It didn’t work. ISIS has already proved that they are not a problem war can fix. ISIS is created by war.

2. Many Iraqis will see an American attack on ISIS as the beginning of the civil war between Sunni and Shia. By trying to prevent genocide we will more likely start it. This is because the battle lines are already drawn. Even if we mean to only attack ISIS, it would be seen as an attack the Iraqi Sunnis. Many Iraqis felt that the Iraqi War in 2003-2011 was about the US, UK, and Iraqi government waging war against the Sunnis. An attack on ISIS today would not be perceived any differently. Anyways, they wouldn’t be wrong. Most of the people we killed in the Iraqi war were Sunnis. Bush preferred calling them “Bad Guys,” but they were Iraqi Sunnis all the same.

Most importantly, it is likely that once we fire upon ISIS, it will be seen as a Shia attack. There is no real difference between the US attacking ISIS, and the US fighting for the Shia government. An attack on ISIS will result in retaliation attacks against Shia. In turn, the Shia will retaliate, and the ethnic war Al-Malkiki and ISIS are seeking will have begun.

But we have to prevent genocide! How do we prevent genocide if we don’t bomb the culprits?

Well, we don’t have to bomb people to prevent genocide. In fact, I can’t think of a time when bombs have done much to prevent genocide. So what can we do? We can do really really really boring things. Un-newsworthy things. We talk with ISIS and Al-Malilki. Not these bullshit “peace talks” crap. We can talk peace and mean it. We can pry the crown off Al-Malilki. We put him on his throne – we can take him off! Put someone in his place who is willing to work with the Sunnis. If Sunnis see a government trying to include them, it would make ISIS look like the tyrants, rather than the Iraqi government.

I know a lot of young’ns are reading this last paragraph and thinking, “That paragraph is not cynical enough, therefore it is not realistic.” Well fuck you young people! You’re wrong! The US used to resolve conflicts all the time. I already know what you’re thinking, and yes, we didn’t solve every conflict you cynical bastards, but we did a lot of trying and sometimes we succeeded. And then Bush came on the scene and ruined it for everyone. (by bombing everyone.)

The End.

I’m obviously getting a little tired so I’m going to end it here. But I’d like to end this how I like to end a lot of my talks/presentations/blog posts, and put in a bunch of pictures of the normal people living under the crazy governments that I focus too much on. It is the people that are important. It’s the peoples and cultures that I love. They are the reason why I have no problem spending my time writing blog posts like this.

Also, if you want to do tell Obama and Congress not to bomb Iraq, call his office and call it now! (They close at 2:00pm PST, 5:00pm EST and the line is very busy today.)

The number is (202) 456-1111. All you have to say is “Hello my name is _____ and I’m calling to tell the president not to bomb Iraq. Thank you.” *click*

Here are some pictures of Iraqi people to look at while you ask Obama not to bomb them:


Iraqi Kurds having a wedding.

Iraqi Kurds having a wedding.

People chillin at the Spiral Minaret of the Great Mosque.

People chillin at the Spiral Minaret of the Great Mosque.


A different angle of the same place.

A different angle of the same place.

This picture was titled, "Avoid Sugary Food." Whatever, just enjoy life.

This picture was titled, “Avoid Sugary Food.” Whatever, I think these people are more focused on enjoying each other’s company rather than avoiding anything.


Aww grandma! So cute!

Aww grandma! So cute!


Dancing to dabka music. (I'm assuming.)

Dancing to dabka music.

A totally cool pic.

A totally cool pic.


Chillin on the swings.

Chillin on the swings.


A "Marsh Arab." I should do a blog post on them! They have a super interesting way of life.

A “Marsh Arab.” I should do a blog post on them! They have a super interesting way of life.



“I’m taking a photo! Do something cool!”