The Islamic State organization is continuing to make gains on both the Syrian and Iraqi fronts. The advance and consolidation of the jihadi entity which today stretches from Mosul in Iraq to the outskirts of Aleppo city in Syria is a development of profound importance for the future of the Middle East.
Global media attention has been focused elsewhere in recent weeks, of course. The Gaza war — which has changed precisely nothing — has been hitting the headlines. The real Middle East action, however, is taking place far from Gaza. The Islamic State is on the march.
After its capture of the city of Mosul from the Iraqi government’s forces, IS began to integrate the weapons systems it had captured back into the Syrian battlefield.
An early attempt to destroy the Kurdish Kobani enclave stalled. But the organization enjoyed better fortune against the regime, as it sought to expel Assad’s forces from its positions in the Euphrates valley.
The base of the Syrian Arab Army’s Division 17 fell. IS celebrated in the fashion for which it has become known by massacring 200 members of the garrison who failed to escape in time. A number of their severed heads later appeared on spikes in the city of Raqqa, capital of the Syrian part of the IS domain.
Since then, IS has turned its attentions back to Iraq. In recent days it has captured the towns of Zumar and Sinjar from the Peshmerga forces of the Iraqi Kurds. Around 200,000 people fled after the taking of Sinjar. Most were members of the Yezidi minority, an ancient non-Muslim group whom IS have designated “devil worshippers.”
The capture of Sinjar brings IS to within 10 kilometers of the Mosul hydro-electric dam, the largest in Iraq.
The prospect of IS control of Iraq’s major dams is a chilling one. The Mosul dam holds back tons of Tigris River water which, if allowed to flow downstream, would cause mass flooding in Baghdad (though IS would need to think carefully before doing this, since populated areas under its control are also situated downstream). The coming days will see if the dam falls to the jihadis.