The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) genuinely stunning capture of Mosul, and advances across Iraq, look like a real turning point in regional politics. Even if the territorial gains by ISIS are reversed, its offensive has already rapidly reframed analytical debates over the nature and fortunes of al-Qaeda and the jihadist movement, the ability to contain spillover from Syria, possible areas of U.S.-Iranian cooperation and the viability of President Obama’s light-footprint Middle East strategy.
The most wide-ranging verdicts are clearly premature. It’s too soon to declare the rapid end to the state of Iraq and the Sykes-Picot borders, with ISIS carving out a Sunni Islamic state and leaving Kurdistan to the Kurds and the Shiite areas to Iran’s mercies (for those interested, political scientists F. Gregory Gause III and Ariel Ahram already had that debate on The Monkey Cage). Past experience suggests that ISIS could rapidly alienate its current allies and the populations welcoming it, as happened in Iraq in the mid-2000s, despite its efforts to avoid past mistakes.