This takes "open carry" to a whole new level: You've never seen a political rally like this, America — on Saturday thousands of heavily-armed Shiite militiamen paraded through several Iraqi cities, some dressed in explosives.
These proud suicide bombers (though, not sure if that's the most accurate title ... "suicide bomber" is only a label that can be applied posthumously) were part of a dramatic show of force aimed at Sunni militants who overran huge portions of territory in a crisis threatening to rip the country apart.
The images sum up a complex story: As the militant group named Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) runs crazy through the countryside like a pillaging horde — staging mass executions and public murders — a group of Shiite fighters are showing that they will fight this enemy with whatever means necessary.
Including suicide belts ...
... armed children ...
... and with 20,000 men. These soldiers in Baghdad, many in combat gear, marched through the Sadr City district with assault rifles, machine guns, multiple rocket launchers, field artillery and missiles.
This is the biggest crisis happening in the world right now: This show of force came after the Sunni militants captured yet another piece of territory in Iraq — two border crossings, one with Jordan and one with Syria. These victories allow ISIS to move weapons and fighters back and forth from their base of operations in Syria to Iraq, CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward reported.
The situation in Iraq is a stunning story that might be setting the stage for deeper conflict and global economic problems.
American politicians have called for a surge of U.S. forces in the region to fend off the militants. A war-wary U.S. public, though, has been against this move. Most Americans think the conflict is "rooted in centuries of internal conflict that was exacerbated by the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq," acording to a PPP poll. They agree with President Obama when he says it's a local problem that should be handled by the Iraqi government.
But without foreign intervention some whisper that an Iraqi civil war is nearing. That has the potential to ripple throughout the world. Oil prices might soon spike, as ISIS now controls critical oil fields of OPEC's second-largest producer, is destabilising markets. Economists warn that a deteriorating situation has implications for inflation in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
ISIS is so bad, even al-Qaida hates them: Their tactics are so gruesome that al-Qaida has actually criticized them as being too extreme. ISIS has earned a reputation for using brutalities in Syria, such as executions, suicide bombings and even the crucifixion of a man accused of murder. In Iraq, they've set the country into a state of fear with their merciless tactics: they beheaded soldiers, and there are were unverified reports of mass beheadings of in Mosul.
As Mic World editor Sara Yasin explains, ISIS was formed in August 2013 and has its roots in Iraq, but has become stronger during the civil war in neighboring Syria. Yasin explains the group has an ambitious vision to create an Islamic state that reaches into al-Sham, or "greater Syria." The group's leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a man who has amassed an army of fighters from around the world. According to some estimates, ISIS has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters in Syria and 6,000 in Iraq.
The group now controls an area spanning between Aleppo's eastern edge and Falluja in the west, as well as Mosul. For comparison, that area is "approximately the size of Belgium," Yale University professor Jason Lyall told Vox.
The faction's agenda includes money, armed forces, religion and even oil as they seek to create the proto state they want. They may not be content with just controlling swaths of Syria and Iraq, as this NBC correspondent noted:
Why this all matters: ISIS running rampant through the region means that America's nine-year war in Iraq was virtually a complete failure. It achieved nothing. It proves that there is no democratic Iraq, or even a stable state to maintain control. The world's uninvolvement in Syria has only allowed this situation to fester. Peace is at an all-time low, with Republican Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) even admitting "today the Middle East is less stable than in 2003."
Americans are tired of war, especially in this particular region. But the battle lines are being drawn deeply in the sand, and an entire nation is on the brink. As the two sides gather their forces, we might be nearing a definitive moment — one that will see the rest of the world casually sitting on the sidelines.
Image credits: Getty