Expert opinion: The Iraq crisis

Dr Natasha Underhill, an expert in terrorism in the Middle East at Nottingham Trent University, on the jihadist group ISIS and the crisis in Iraq.

Dr Natasha Underhill, an expert in terrorism in the Middle East at Nottingham Trent University, shares her views on the jihadist group ISIS and the crisis in Iraq.

ISIS – Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – initially came to international attention during the war in Syria and has made significant gains since then.

It has been their ferocity and lust for power in Iraq over the last week, however, that has astonished and shocked many.

In the case of Syria, ISIS slowly gained momentum, fighting for dominance with Jabhat al-Nusra. While the group vied for power there, there was little thought of the possibility of expansion into Iraq. The unprecedented instability caused by the Syrian civil war gave the group a new lease of life and with the taking of Mosul it became clear that their target had now shifted.

This current branch of ISIS fighters in Iraq are of exactly the same inclination as those in Syria. One of the most dangerous aspects of ISIS is the fact that any gains made are particularly troubling because it is by far the most popular group for foreign fighters to join. Citizens from numerous backgrounds, including Europeans and Americans, that have chosen to fight in Syria usually end up fighting alongside ISIS.

Syria aside, ISIS's new dominance in the north of Iraq could be the catalyst for the complete destabilisation of the region. One of the main aims of ISIS in Iraq continues to be promoting anti-Shia sectarianism, which they are finding little resistance to.

Iran's role in the current conflict is also going to impact highly both in the region as well as in the US. Iran has invested considerably in ensuring Iraq remains a strategic partner for the Islamic Republic and that it contains a strong Shiite-led state. There is a lot at stake for Iran in Iraq's current situation, including the safety and survival of Karbala and Najaf.

In terms of the US perspective, Iran's involvement raises the possibility of a united US-Iranian front against ISIS. This puts the US in a precarious position as it opposes Syria's al-Assad’s regime which is supported by Iran, yet both countries now support Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Dr Natasha Underhill
Division of Politics and International Relations
School of Social Sciences
Nottingham Trent University

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Expert opinion: The Iraq crisis

Published on 18 June 2014
  • Category: Research; School of Social Sciences

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