A terrorist organization once expelled from al Qaeda for excessive brutality is now a rapidly advancing army, whose forward lines carve out a territory roughly the size of Maryland. In less than a week, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has routed elements of the American-trained and -equipped Iraqi Army, seized control of Iraq’s second largest city, and advanced to within a hundred miles of the capital. The hallmarks of Mosul’s new masters, established during their bloody rise in Syria’s civil war, include summary executions, public crucifixions, and the imposition of a medieval religious code upon every facet of human life.
Like many who served there, I have long suspected that Iraq’s fate would turn out to be darker than the one we fought and hoped for. We watched Maliki’s tragic failure to make use of the political and military space we bought him, at such cost, to reach across sectarian boundaries and unify his nation. We watched as violence returned to the streets, and as Anbar returned to insurgency. We watched as extremist groups across the border in Syria latched onto the rebellion against Assad, twisting it for their own purposes and gathering strength. My fears for the Iraqi people have been dark indeed, but none were dark enough to anticipate what has befallen many of them this week.
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