ISIS success in Iraq threatens to redraw borders
It could also redesign Middle Eastern national boundaries set nearly a century ago after the fall of the Ottoman empire, and lead to a forging of new regional alliances.
As they pressed south towards Baghdad, the rest of the region, the United States and other powers woke up to the prospect that this Jihadi comeback could establish a dangerous base in the heart of the Middle East - an Afghanistan on the Mediterranean.
As well-armed forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) raised their black flags over Mosul this week, routing an Iraqi army that fled rather than fight, the future of Iraq as a unitary state hung in the balance.
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"What we are witnessing is the fragmentation of power. The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will never be able to centralize power in the same way he has," says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics.
ISIS on the road to Tikrit, just north of Baghdad (Photo: AFP)
A stunned region
The peshmerga forces of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq meanwhile seized Kirkuk, the oil-rich region bordering their self-governing territory, stepping into a security vacuum to claim a prize they have always regarded as their own.
Redrawing the borders
The million-strong Iraqi army, by contrast, trained by the United States at a cost of more than $20bn, is hobbled by low morale and corruption that impedes its supply lines.
Ambivilant to hostile
Reactions inside the region are ambivalent to hostile.
Iran weighing in
Iraq watchers say ISIS, estimated to have a few thousand fighters inside Iraq, won't be able to advance into Baghdad, a capital of 6 million where Maliki has his special forces deployed, backed by Iranian-trained militias.
"Maliki is playing with fire by trying to unleash Shi'ite militias, this is a recipe for disaster. That's exactly what ISIS wants - to trigger all-out sectarian war," Gerges said.