How Isis have rampaged towards the capital: A blow by blow account of how Islamist militants outnumbered 20-to-1 by the army cut through huge swathes of Iraq
PUBLISHED: 19:36 EST, 14 June 2014 | UPDATED: 19:50 EST, 14 June 2014
Who are ISIS?
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) grew out of Al Qaeda In Iraq, a militant group that emerged in the chaos engulfing the country after the 2003 invasion.
They rebranded themselves after the Syrian uprising, attracting foreign fighters and controlling areas with extreme brutality, such as beheadings and crucifixions.
Now even Al Qaeda thinks they are too violent.
What do they want?
A calpihate – a single Islamic state spread across large chunks of Syria and Iraq, based on the harshest interpretation of Sharia law. It includes ordering women to stay at home, amputating the hands of thieves, destroying religious shrines, and outlawing music.
Where are they headed?
Iraq has been spiralling back into chaos this year after ISIS first captured Fallujah then fought for control of Samarra and organised prison breaks.
Yet, the world was caught by surprise on Tuesday when the fanatics seized Mosul, Iraq’s second city. Then they took Saddam Hussein’s birthplace of Tikrit and drove south towards the capital Baghdad.
What about the Kurds?
After being gassed by Saddam and repressed by Turkey, their semi-autonomous republic developed into a rare zone of stability in this region over the past decade, drawing significant foreign investment from oil firms.
Their well-drilled Peshmerga forces quickly grabbed the oil city of Kirkuk last week and are a vital bulwark against militants.
How Britain carved up Middle East
Many believe Iraq’s problems date back a century to when British and French officials carved up the Middle East after the First World War.
The modern-day country corresponds roughly to the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia, but the borders drawn up for the British mandate took no account of local religious and tribal divisions.
Some argue there can only be peace when these historic anomalies are rectified by carving the country into three distinct nations.