The U.S. Took Years to Establish Control Over Iraq. It’s Taking ISIS Six Months.

An extremist group has been marching toward Baghdad, relatively unopposed.

Kurdish Iraqi Peshmerga forces deploy on the outskirts of Kirkuk, on the main road between Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq.
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
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Kaveh Waddell
June 12, 2014, 8:12 a.m.

It took the U.S. years to es­tab­lish con­trol over Ir­aq. Now, an ex­trem­ist group that is too vi­ol­ent even for al-Qaida has taken over some of the coun­try’s most im­port­ant cit­ies with­in a span of days.

The Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia, a Sunni mil­it­ant group, has taken con­trol of some of the largest cit­ies in Ir­aq this week, ar­riv­ing with­in strik­ing dis­tance of the cap­it­al city of Bagh­dad. And they’ve only been on the of­fens­ive path for the last six months.

On Thursday, the ex­trem­ist group took Tikrit, Sad­dam Hus­sein’s ho­met­own, loc­ated just over a two hours’ drive north of Bagh­dad. Fight­ing was re­por­ted in Samarra, a city just 80 miles north of Bagh­dad, and in Abu Ghraib, loc­ated just out­side the cap­it­al.

Thursday’s vic­tory for IS­IS comes just a day after the group took Mo­sul, the second largest city in Ir­aq. Fal­lu­jah and Ra­madi, the two largest cit­ies in the em­battled An­bar province, have been largely un­der IS­IS con­trol since Janu­ary.

Just how quickly has this all happened? Com­pare it to how long it took the United States to gain con­trol over these cit­ies in the mid-aughts.

Tues­day saw IS­IS over­run Mo­sul in one night as se­cur­ity forces fled the city. The co­ali­tion cam­paign to take the city in 2004 took over a week and failed to sta­bil­ize the city.

Fal­lu­jah fell to IS­IS in five days. It took co­ali­tion forces nine months to re­gain con­trol of the city in 2004 after the March am­bush that killed four Black­wa­ter con­tract­ors.

The co­ali­tion cam­paign to re­take Ra­madi in 2006 las­ted five months and ended in an in­con­clus­ive vic­tory; IS­IS took large parts of it in the span of a week earli­er this year, al­though its hold over the city has been tenu­ous.

Now, Bagh­dad is well with­in the grasp of IS­IS. “We are us­ing the word ‘en­circle,’ ” Jes­sica Lewis, an ex­pert on IS­IS at the In­sti­tute for the Study of War, told Time. “They have shad­ow gov­ern­ments in and around Bagh­dad, and they have an as­pir­a­tion­al goal to gov­ern.”

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