Only three years after US troops left the country, Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, has been taken over by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS – a terrorist organisation formed in Iraq in 2003 following the US invasion – is notorious for its radical tactics and ruthlessness. It is ambitious, and aspires to be viewed among Muslims as the new leader in global jihad. Currently, its operations are focused on regions along the Iraq-Syria border, as militants move freely across between the two countries rendering international boundaries meaningless. While fighting against security forces loyal to Bashar-al-Assad in Syria, ISIS entered into direct confrontation with other Sunni-terrorist groups because it was deemed ‘too extreme’. It was subsequently disowned by Al-Qaida’s central leadership, which has historically viewed ISIS with much skepticism.

The assault on Mosul was an extremely risky move, which means the rewards are high too. Its victory holds great symbolic values. The US-trained Iraqi troops deployed in Mosul easily outnumbered ISIS militants, but they fled away without putting up any fight, leaving behind all sorts of military equipment including guns, tanks and helicopters. The episode reveals the poor state of morale within the Iraqi army and raises questions over Baghdad’s ability to confront an enemy, which currently has quite a momentum behind it. And now, it has acquired a large base full of useful resources including oil, which will prove useful for its campaign in both Iraq and Syria.

Mosul’s fall raises concerns for all parties involved. The US, Iran and the autonomous Kurd government – all three will be expected and tempted to assist Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, as allowing militants to increase, or even maintain control over vast regions doesn’t work in anyone’s favour. However, direct military intervention by the US, as reportedly requested by Nouri Al-Maliki, will not come about easily, if at all. It is extremely difficult to imagine any good that can possibly come out of the current situation. Middle East will remain embroiled in a centuries old sectarian conflict, as Islamist insurgents and oppressive regimes appear determined to further destabilise the entire region.