So much has already been written on the phenomenon, but a great deal still remains in the dark. The meteoric ascendancy of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) may not be unique, considering the intrinsic weaknesses in the Iraqi defense forces, but their strides in swaths of Iraq’s mainland are certainly of some consequence. It is, however, questionable whether ISIL will be able to hold on to their gains for long. The odds against them are heavy.

As in Syria, their stay in Iraq is challenged with full national vehemence and integrity. Despite the ragtag nature of the Iraqi army, its belated but matching response to the ISIL onslaught is restoring its confidence. This is a battle of epic proportions and will decide once and for all the future of the Ummah for unforeseeable times in the future. Unwittingly or because of a bias against Iran, the Western media is portraying this as a Shia-Sunni fight. Nothing could be further from the truth. Newsweek has reported Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying that the Iraq conflict is a ‘showdown between humanity and barbarian savagery.’ He has also criticized Western media for portraying it as a war between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims. At a meeting with the families of victims of a 1981 bombing that destroyed the Tehran headquarters of the ruling Islamic Republic Party in 1981, Khamenei said, ‘The incident in Iraq is not a war between Shi’ites and Sunnis. It is a battle between supporters and opponents of terrorism.’

ISIL’s intentions are obvious. After the establishment of their so called Islamic Caliphate, as it was announced at the end of last week, they want to obliterate Shia Muslims in all lands of Islam. They want to impose their brand of a myopic, rigid, brash faith over all other Islamic denominations. Human Rights Watch has condemned the ISIL terrorists’ killings of about 1700 Iraqi soldiers under captivity. ‘Murder, when systematic or widespread and committed as part of a deliberate policy of an organized group, can be a crime against humanity,’ the HRW has stressed.

These terrorists’ unbounded cruelty and human rights violations are working against them as people have realized that the only course left for them to save themselves from these barbarians is to fight them. They copycat Hulagu Khan of Mongolia (1257) and do not keep prisoners for the sake of convenience. The only difference is that they slaughter people shouting God’s name, which according to their twisted interpretation, is all that is needed to be in line with the Islamic principles of warfare.

With the lukewarm American response to frantic requests from Maliki for aerial strikes on ISIL positions, Iran’s role and response to Iraq needs becomes vital. About 5000 Iranians have already volunteered to fight against Takfiri groups inside Iraq. However, Maliki has not yet asked for such assistance. Iran has made it known that its vital interest in Iraq is the maintenance of safety and sanctity of religious sites. Daash terrorists have already announced that they will destroy all Holy places in Karbala and Najaf as well as Imam Hassan Askari’s mausoleum in Samara as they had earlier done so in 2006.

Although Iran is keeping a low profile, it has acknowledged the first casualty of its forces in Iraq. Iran’s official IRNA news agency on Saturday reported that Colonel Shoja’at Alamdari Mourjani was killed while defending Shia Muslim holy sites in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. According to Al Jazeera, there were no reports of a plane being shot down in Iraq and the pilot probably died while fighting on the ground. However, Iraq is desperate for aerial support and appropriate firepower. Five Sukhoi Su-25 warplanes via Iran have already been delivered and they are being made battle ready. Five more are following. Once they are airborne, the combat status is likely to change quickly.

The silver lining in the gloom is the fatwa of the Grand Ayatollah al-Sayyid ‘Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, who has a tremendous following and support in Iraq and outside amongst all factions of Muslims. He has called upon all Iraqis across the board to take up arms against Takfiri terrorists to defend every inch of Iraqi territory. Last week saw a tremendous surge of volunteers enlisting themselves to go to the battle fronts. The tide is sure to turn. However, it may leave behind a bruised nation at the lowest ebb of its national pride.

The writer is an academician and a columnist currently teaching at a university in North Africa.