Members of the al Qaeda splinter group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have successfully seized the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and are now heading toward Baghdad.
According to Reuters, Iraqi troops — who have been criticized by the government for abandoning their posts in the taken cities — have left the capital vulnerable to attack:
The army of the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad has essentially fled in the face of the onslaught, abandoning buildings and weapons to the fighters who aim to create a strict Sunni Caliphate on both sides of the Iraq-Syria frontier. Security and police sources said militants now controlled parts of the small town of Udhaim, 60 miles north of Baghdad, after most of the army troops left their positions and withdrew towards the nearby town of Khalis.
One police officer in Udhaim told Reuters that "we are afraid that terrorists are seeking to cut the main highway that links Baghdad to the north."
In Tikrit, where the militants have set up military councils to lead the newly government-free towns, residents report hearing that ISIS is planning on taking control of the capital. " 'Our final destination will be Baghdad, the decisive battle will be there,' that’s what their leader of the militants group kept repeating," said one member of a tribe who lives close to Tikrit.
Iraq has accepted offers of help from Kurdish forces, a move that is sure to have complicating effects on the country's long-state unity. Iraqi Kurds have lived autonomously in a northern portion of Iraq for more than a decade, protected by the powerful pershmega fighters. The crisis-fueled alliance has allowed the Kurdish fighters to take control of the long-sought city of Kirkuk, a move that could upset the delicate balance of power in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has called upon parliament to declare a state of emergency, though it seems unlikely that the vote will go in his favor. A state of emergency would allow the government to impose curfews and censor the media, among other things, in the name of fighting the insurgents.
As the situation escalates, the U.S. is being criticized for failing to target militants in the past, despite calls for help by Iraqi leaders. Baghdad has reportedly raised the possibility of allowing the United States to conduct airstrikes against ISIS, but the Obama administration has balked at the idea of direct military involvement.