By Mick Krever, CNN
As Sunni extremists broaden their control of territory from Syria deep into Iraq, the Middle East may now be facing its greatest challenge in decades.
“This is the Talibanization of Iraq,” journalist and author Robin Wright told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday. “And there’s no question that the global Jihadi threat is greater today than it was at the height in the 1980s or even in 2001, when we saw the attacks in Washington and New York.”
The U.S. has started moving more military assets into the region as militants advance towards the Iraqi city of Baquba, just 60 kilometers from Baghdad. President Barack Obama has said that he will not send troops in on the ground.
The rise of ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has been fuelled by civil war in Syria. The group is trying to carve out a Sunni statelet that straddles the nearly none-existent border between Iraq and Syria.
“Ultimately we can't solve Iraq with also dealing with Syria,” Wright said. “That's what makes this challenge arguably greater than any one we've faced in the Middle East, you could argue, in six or seven decades.”
“The whole map of the Middle East is now up for grabs. There are fundamental questions about borders that have prevailed for a century that now may not be hold together. We find a jihadi threat that could be with us for a far longer period of time, in far greater numbers than in Afghanistan.”
So worrying is the situation that there is a real possibility that Iran and the United States, which both support the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, may join forces to try to diffuse the situation.
“There is a sense that they share a common cause right now – they both are concerned that their policies of the decade have failed.”
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to see American drone strikes providing air cover for ground involvement by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” she said, but rather an effort to “salvage the Iraqi state diplomatically.”
There are two chief concerns about latest rapid developments in Iraq, Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent for The Financial Times, told Amanpour.
“You have the immediate fear that you have this very, very radical jihadi group that is taking control of a huge slate of territory, mostly in Iraq but also in Syria.”
“And then you have a secondary fear, which is that this will start at a deeper civil war in Iraq and that the country will essentially fragment into three ethnic statelets – a Sunni statelet, a Shia statelet and a Kurdish statelet.”
“And these are two very interlinked but different types of crises. And the U.S. is going to have to have different types of policies to deal with both. And that's the real problem.”
Insofar as the chaos in Iraq is a result of the civil war in Syria, many criticize the Obama Administration for failing to robustly back Syria’s moderate early in the conflict.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a new book about her time at the State Department that she disagreed with the president on his decision not to arm the moderate opposition.
“There's a very valid debate about what the U.S. could or could not have done in 2011 when the civil war in Syria was just beginning to get going,” Dyer said.
“But we're now two and a half years later from that. The reality on the ground is very much different. The options the U.S. has even if it did want to change its approach are much more limited. And so it's not such a simple question to say the U.S. needs to change its attitude. Unfortunately, the things that it has, and its capacity to do are very limited.”