Monday, June 16th, 2014

ISIS is a sectarian Sunni militia, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd) says, that’s all:

A big one, as militias go, with something like 10,000 fighters. Most of them are Iraqi, a few are Syrian, and a few hundred are those famous “European jihadis” who draw press attention out of all relation to their negligible combat value. The real strength of ISIS comes from its Chechen fighters, up to a thousand of them. A thousand Chechens is a serious force, and a terrifying one if they’re bearing down on your neighborhood. Chechens are the scariest fighters, pound-for-pound, in the world.

But we’re still talking about a conventional military force smaller than a division. That’s a real but very limited amount of combat power. What this means is that, no matter how many scare headlines you read, ISIS will never take Baghdad, let alone Shia cities to the south like Karbala. It won’t be able to dent the Kurds’ territory to the north, either. All it can do — all it has been doing, by moving into Sunni cities like Mosul and Tikrit — is to complete the partition of Iraq begun by our dear ex-president Bush in 2003. By crushing Saddam’s Sunni-led Iraq, the Americans made partition inevitable. In fact, Iraq has been partitioned ever since the invasion; it’s just been partitioned badly, into two parts instead of the natural three: the Kurdish north, and the remainder occupied by a weak sectarian Shia force going by the name of “The Iraqi Army.” The center of the country, the so-called “Sunni Triangle,” had no share in this partition and was under the inept, weak rule of the Shia army.

By occupying the Sunni cities, ISIS has simply made a more rational partition, adding a third part, putting the Sunni Triangle back under Sunni rule. The Shia troops who fled as soon as they heard that the ISIS was on the way seem to have anticipated that the Sunni would claim their own territory someday. That’s why they fled without giving even a pretense of battle.

So, Iraq is now partitioned on more natural, sensible lines, thanks to ISIS. It’s going to be a messy transition, as Iraqi transitions tend to be, with mass executions of collaborators like those already happening in Mosul and Tikrit.

But in the long run, ISIS has simply swept into a power vacuum, like it’s done from the start.

I was hoping for more of an ancient Egypt-themed COBRA.


  1. James James says:

    “I was hoping for more of an ancient Egypt-themed COBRA.”

    Don’t forget ISIS.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    Syria is undergoing the same reorganization along much the same lines. Lebanon is ripe for a similar reorganization. It remains to be seen whether the respective Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions merge with their cousins.

    The Ukraine is also undergoing partition. Kiev will likely remain the capital of the Western Ukraine. The capital of Novorossiya remains to be determined. It is possible that the Odessa region will join Novorossiya.

    The wishes of the US and EU are irrelevant to all this, and their attempt to freeze history will fail.

  3. Toddy Cat says:

    Yes, as George Kennan pointed out sixty years ago, borders represent power realities and shifting ethnicities and demographics; they cannot and should not be set in stone. No one appreciated the post-WWII order more than I did, but the borders of 1945 cannot be set in stone, nor can the victory parade of 1945 be preserved in amber, no matter how much the Cathedral may want it.

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