Monday, November 30, 2015

Heretics Hall of Shame III

It has been a while since I have inducted anyone into the "Heretics Hall of Shame."  It's not for lack of (un)worthy candidates (Creflo Dollar) but a lack of the required combination of sufficient moral outrage and sufficient time.  When it comes to calling for murder in the name of Jesus, though, that definitely gets an induction.

Joshua Feuerstein is a shameless heretic. The linked video provides the proof.

Do not follow this heretic and drink in his lies.

It was about people like you that Jesus said:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

You are a terrorist, and there is nothing of Jesus in your teaching.

Ted Sessoms, Heretic

"At the risk of being an outcast or considered a narrow-minded bigot,
Well, Ted, when you say stuff like "Perhaps our leaders should study the Old Testament when God gave specific instructions to destroy these people (even their women, children and animals)" that's not really a risk.  That's a guarantee that people will think you're a narrow-minded bigot.  It's not because they are uninformed about the Old Testament, it's because you are a narrow-minded bigot.

It is not a matter of loving your neighbor. My neighbors are the people that value the same standards of life and way of life that I value.

Ted, that's a much different answer than Jesus gave to the question "Who is my neighbor?"  You remember Jesus, right?  Wore sandals, died on the cross? 

"We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make good decisions for their future in America.

No, you owe it to your children and grandchildren to get your head out of politics.  You owe it to them to quit looking for Old Testament instructions to Israel to justify your fear and bigotry.  You owe it to them to teach and model obedience to Jesus Christ.  Anything less makes you what you are, a false teacher.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The truth will set you free

Truer words were never spoken than when Jesus said "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." It is important for everyone to guard the truth. As a follower of Jesus, I believe it is crucial for his followers to go the extra mile in operating in the truth.

Facebook is wasteland of lies. Somewhere out there in that wasteland is a sinister lie machine, turning out vast quantities of false memes. Why do so many of them get posted on Facebook? Intellectual laziness, partly, but also because most people don't think they need to verify the truth of something if they already think it is true.

There is no truth here, just a wasteland of lies.

We naturally believe things that agree with our views. We look for things to confirm what we believe. Confirmation bias is at the root of how Facebook works. It is designed to show you more of what you want to read.  Just as in the final days preachers will tell people "what their itching ears want to hear" now Facebook shows us what our itching eyes want to see.

So in the wasteland of lies, how do you know whether to post that awesome-looking meme?  You could do what most people do and post it without caring about the truth, or you could verify it.

Here are two good and easy methods:

1-Google Reverse Image Search.  Instead of searching for an image, you search with an image.  Click on the photo and select "search google for this image. You can see for yourself where it came from. This might require sorting through a lot of links and re-posts.

2-Consult a fact checker. and are both widely used and reputable sites. If you don't like one, then use the other.

You could also simply pull a keyword or two out and research it.

The Apostle Paul praised the Bereans because they did not just take him at his word.  They tested his words against the scriptures to see if they were true. 

Truth matters. The truth will set you free.

Below is a graveyard of false memes drawn from the wasteland of lies, along with a simple way of disproving them.

Google his name, he has a Wiki.
Nidal Hassan is actually a natural-born US citizen born in Arlington, Virginia.  This one takes ten seconds.  He is infamous, and has a Wiki.  Google his name and read the Wiki.

Google Reverse Image Search
This one has no key words, and no famous people in it.  While it might otherwise be impossible to bust this lie, Google Reverse Image Search makes this one a snap.  Liars usually steal their photos, it turns out. In this case these photos were taken years ago in Australia.

Keywords for a fact checker
This false meme has enough key words in it for an easy search on a fact checker. A quick search on with the keywords "ISIS flag Germany" reveals that the photo is from 2012, before there was an ISIS.  Black flags are common in the Muslim world, and have different messages written on them.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Are refugees an invading army of terrorists?

"This is my country now," said Abu Abdullah. "No one can say I am Iraqi. I am an American. If I need to defend my country, even to attack Iraq, I am ready to do that."

A Muslim father buries his son with honor at Arlington

On a recent visit to Nashville, Tennessee, I visited newly arrived refugees from the Middle East.  I was reminded how important it is that Americans understand this situation clearly so that our nation can respond in a way that reflects our national values. There's so much false information being hyped by merchants of fear and politicians desperate for votes.

Rest in Peace, Humayun Khan, American Hero
Najib is a recent immigrant from the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan. "I'm tired, I've been working ten hours every day, six days every week," he said. "But freedom takes work. If you want the freedom you have to go out there and work for it." He is excited that his children are in school and learning English. He's hoping to bring over many of his brothers and sisters who still live in the war-torn region.

These immigrants are hoping for their children to fit into the new culture. "We want the children to learn English," said Mohammad, who arrived from Baghdad less than a month ago. "It's the language of the world. Arabic is limited." He described the situation in his area of Baghdad as being so bad that one could not safely leave the house.

This facebook meme sums up the anti-Muslim arguments.
"I am looking for work. I am ready to work, I just need help to get my social security card." Ahmad has been in the US less than two months. He is hoping to get work and establish himself so that he can bring over his family. It is normal for the young men to come first, and brings wives, sisters, and parents later.

There are many political pundits decrying the dangers of accepting these Muslim refugees. There are supposed plots to infiltrate America and Europe with terrorist cells who will impose Sharia Law on unsuspecting westerners.

This is the question before us. Are they coming to kill us and then take over? Is this a cloaked Islamic invasion?

Myth#1 They are coming here to Islamize the West.

I spend a lot of time in the homes of Syrian refugees, talking to them about their despair and hopelessness, and also their hopes and dreams.  They hate radical Islam.  They are fleeing from it. One family that I know well fled specifically to keep their children from being radicalized in school. One father described to me his desire to live in any area that is not under the rule of Islam. Instead of flooding to the Islamic State, Muslims are fleeing it by the millions, and their rejection of the Islamic State is a major embarrassment and challenge to the legitimacy of the Islamic State.

The reasons that they are fleeing to the West are not surprising.  UNHCR lists many of the major reasons, including poverty and loss of hope. My Syrian friends often express that they no longer see a future in Syria even if the war ends soon. Whole cities are laid waste.  Families are broken apart by death and division.  Many people are injured both physically and psychologically from the war.

Myth #2 The Islamic State is sending a "secret army" to infiltrate the West

Traveling to join the Islamic State is the example of Abraham
People are spreading this because they are ignorant of the beliefs and practices of the Islamic State. The Islamic State preaches "Hijrah" which is the call of all Muslims to come and live in the Islamic State. It is preached as a religious duty for men and women to move to and live in the Islamic State, just as the early Muslims all flocked to Medina to join the first Islamic State in the days of Mohammad. They devoted an entire edition of their online magazine to describing how important it is to come and live in the Islamic State.  They want the refugees more than the West wants them, but the refugees don't want to live under their oppressive rule. The Islamic State wants you to fear and reject refugees so that they will be forced to return to the domain of the Islamic State. Don't let them manipulate your fear and use you for their evil purpose.

Myth #3 The US will be overrun by chaos like Europe

Europe is not being overrun by chaos, but even if that were the case, it will not happen in the US.  When people use what is happening in Europe to predict what will happen here, they forget something very important: The Atlantic Ocean.  Europe is working to control an immigration situation that is building at their borders.  Refugees who come to the US will do so on an airplane, as part of a tightly controlled process. The Muslim population in the US is less than 1%, and taking on an additional 200,000 refugees will raise it to -still less than 1%.  Muslims are dispersed throughout the US population and have shown very little tendency to form enclaves.

These men are not imposing Judaism on anyone
Myth #4 They will establish Sharia Law

The Constitution does not allow any religious law to be imposed on people.  If Muslim immigrants want to live under Sharia court ruling, they can do what numbers of Jewish and Catholic citizens already do -voluntary arbitration.  It's not legally binding unless both parties agree for it to be so.  Are there any areas in the US where citizens are forced to live under Jewish of Catholic law? Again, most of them have no desire to live under Sharia Law anyway, and the ones who do cannot ever force it on anyone else.

Myth #5 They will stay on welfare

Muslim Americans are middle class and main stream. They are well educated, well integrated into society, and at least as affluent as the national average.  This is especially true of immigrant Muslims.  Poor Muslims are often converts from the spread of Islam among poor, black Americans in prison populations.

Myth #6 We should send them back

This is an evil idea. Sending refugees back into a war zone is wicked.  We look back now in horror at the stories of Jewish refugees who were turned away.  We recoil at the idea that ships had to return Jews to their deaths because no one wanted them, or trusted them.  The voices of fear and bigotry caused our nation, and others, to commit an evil act.  We must not listen to those voices again.  We must rebuke them.  For the people fleeing the Islamic State, ad the butchery of the Assad regime, this is life and death.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Veterans vs. Refugees: A False Dichotomy

In the debate over whether the US should welcome Syrian refugees, a meme has emerged on Facebook pitting veterans against refugees.  The argument made is some version of "We should take care of our veterans before taking care of refugees." While that statement taken as written may be true, it presents a false dichotomy.

Do we really have to choose between them?
What is a false dichotomy?  It is when someone tries to convince you that there are only two choices, when there are actually more than two.  It is a false ethical dilemma. People who post memes like the one above may not know that they are creating a false ethical argument, and hopefully this post can help them see that.  Plus, I've replied to it so often that I am tired of typing it out every time.  Now I can just link this blog post.  So can you!

First, I am a veteran, and the son of a veteran. My wife and I are both from families with traditions of military service.  If anyone calls me anti-veteran for this post, I will call that person an idiot. Publicly. I am very pro-veteran and it annoys me to see veterans exploited as a tool of argument by people who are anti-refugee or anti-immigrant.  People who exploit veterans in that way are the ones being anti-veteran.

What are our other, and hopefully better choices?  I'm glad you asked. There are plenty, but I especially like this one:

How about we start here?

The US gives out corporate welfare to the tune of  $100 billion a year. Some estimates are much higher, depending on what is considered welfare.  These figures should outrage conservatives. How can we claim free enterprise when the government is feeding corporations?  That's not the free market.  I have many friends who are small business owners and the government is not lining up to subsidize their luxury jet, or even just their fishing boat.

I will use this conservative estimate because there might be some cases where building a road to a plant is a good idea.  In fact, just to be safe, let's cut it down to half and just eliminate 50 billion in corporate welfare.  What can we do with 50 billion?

Current expenditures on veterans=@ $27 billion
We could take just 27 billion dollars of that and double our expenditures on veterans.  That's right! If we eliminated subsidies for luxury corporate jets, we could help homeless veterans find somewhere to live. Instead of handouts to Royal Dutch Shell Corporation, we could provide better medical care for wounded or disabled veterans.  Instead of a $13 Billion subsidy for Boeing we could provide a higher pension for our retired service members.

So let's take just half of the $100 billion in corporate welfare (leaving half of the welfare for the super-rich) and spend $27 billion to double our payouts for veterans.  Double!  That thought ought to make every patriotic American stand up and salute while eating apple pie.

Why aren't we already doing this?  Why has there not been an outcry that homeless veterans should come before corporations and billionaires?

Because this meme is not at all about veterans.  It just uses veterans.  It exploits them to play on patriotism to pit them against refugees.

There's plenty of money to do whatever we need for our veterans, and to help refugees in need.  Are we will to take our corporations and billionaires off of the government dole?  If not, why do you favor giving money to rich corporations instead of helping our veterans and refugees?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Before We Send Our Sons and Daughters to Bleed and Die...

It now seems inevitable that US ground troops will enter combat in Iraq and Syria.  President Obama has asked for Congressional authorization for the limited use of ground troops in the war on ISIL.  Congress is ready to approve the measure, with the only complaints from his opponents being that the President's request was too limited in scope and would not authorize enough troops.

Before our nation sends our sons and daughters to bleed and die in Iraq and Syria, we owe it to them to closely examine what our leaders are sending them to do.  Jesus said that we should "count the cost" before making such important decisions.  So let us examine the progress of this ongoing conflict involving ISIL (AKA ISIS, Islamic State), and what an expanded US role might look like. Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we consider the cost?

First, we should ask, who is funding ISIL?  The nasty truth is that our US allies among the Sunni nations are funding ISIL. In addition to black market oil sales in Turkey, ISIL is also funded by the sale of illegal antiquities through Turkish black markets. Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't our allies stop funding ISIL?

Second, we should ask, where will this war be fought?  ISIL controls territory in Iraq and Syria.  The US will begin the war by clearing ISIL out of Iraq.  Then, when ISIL attacks continue across the border, we will have to invade Syria to stop them.  But then there are also ISIL in Yemen, where forces have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. ISIL is active now in Libya, where they are fighting the Egyptian government after beheading 21 Egyptian Christians. As Bahrain enters the war against ISIL, they face a Shia uprising at home because of extreme sectarianism. Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we know where the war will be fought?

Third, for whom will we be fighting?  When the US enters the war in Iraq, they will be fighting alongside the Shia government against the Sunni elements of ISIL.  When the US invades Syria, we will be supporting Sunni rebel allies who are also fighting the Shia (Alawite) Syrian government. In a rare moment of candor, Vice President Joe Biden said what people close to the situation in Syria have known all along.  There are no moderate Muslim allied armies to back. The myth that we can go in and help the "good guys" to win is a false one.  There is no side in this fight worthy of our support.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't there be something worth bleeding and dying for?

Fourth, who is training and equipping our enemies?  We are.  The US is training and equipping the very people that our soldiers will be fighting when they reach Syria and Iraq.  We armed ISIL through weapons given to the Iraqi Army. Lots of weapons.  Heavy Weapons. We armed ISIL through weapons given to militias. We continue to arm and train ISIL fighters by arming and training "moderates" who then defect to ISIL and use their US training and weapons for the cause of the Islamic State.  Now the US will partner with Turkey, one of the greatest supporters of the Islamic State, to train "moderate" rebels.  Thousands of rebels will get US training and equipment, which they will take back to Syria and use against our sons and daughters when they come to bleed and die.
When our troops go into Syria, they will sooner or later fight troops of the Assad regime, and we are also arming and equipping them as well.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we stop arming and training the people who will kill them?

Fifth, why is this our war?  I do not want my son, nor any American, to bleed and die in a Sunni-Shia religious war.  This is a religious war, the two sides are aligned against one another in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon -Sunni Muslim vs. Shia Muslim.  What is the place of the US in such a religious regional war? What is our compelling national interest?  Oil?  Gas prices in the US are hovering around $2 per gallon at the time of this writing.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we have a good reason to send them to bleed and die?

Is it too late to stop this insanity?  I pray not.  If we don't send our children to die in a Muslim religious war, then what is the proper response?  Let them fight their civil war; it is theirs to fight.  Let the Sunni nations deal with the consequences of their support for radicalism.  Let them consider the cost of blood.  We can help -food, blankets, medicines, humanitarian aid -no radical faction will be attacking us with the bandages we supplied in five years, nor will they blow up our airplanes with bread a decade from now.  There is a wise approach if we are brave enough to take it.  Email the White House.  Send them the link to this blog post.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we consider a better path?

US position in the Sunni-Shia War

As the US enters the ongoing Sunni-Shia war, it does so with the full understanding that our forces will be fighting on both sides of that war. In their rush to declare that this is not a war on Islam, our leaders seem to fail to understand that it is very much a religious war. This is why it will probably be a long war, and there seems to be no resolution which does not eventually require US troops on the ground in Syria.

To better understand the background of the discussion, read this earlier blog post.

The two sides of the Sunni-Shia war do have one thing in common, they both want to get rid of ISIL. The Shia have fought them since the beginning, and now that the Sunni rulers see them as a political threat, they are stepping up also to fight them. Tepidly, of course.

The major problem with our current strategy is that we want to fight this war against ISIL more than the surrounding Sunni Muslim countries want to fight it. Right now the US is leading the air strikes with token Sunni assistance. Air strikes alone cannot defeat ISIL, because they will quickly learn how to dig bunkers. Someone on the ground will have to go in and flush out the rats.

As you can see on the above map, the network of ratholes will be very extensive.

In Iraq the US is counting on Kurdish and Shiite forces, who can control the ground in their own ethnic areas, but will meet stiff resistance in the Sunni areas now controlled by ISIL. This will in fact be a recruiting boon for ISIL, who can shout to the Muslim world that the Sunnis are being oppressed by the Zionist-loving Americans and their Shiite lackeys. In order to push ISIL out of Iraq, Sunni troops are needed on the ground.

 Turkey could easily provide them, but has not, nor have the other Sunni nations pledged ground troops.  Why?  They have a love/hate relationship with ISIL and are not determined to be rid of them.  The same Sunni states that we need to defeat ISIL have had some hand in funding them.

Another problem is mission creep on bombing ISIL in Syria. On the opening day, the US began bombing non-ISIL targets. Sure they were bad guys, but not the ones we were supposed to bomb. There are lots and lots of bad guys in Syria and lots and lots of reasons to bomb them. The Assad regime is wicked and brutal, Hezbollah is fighting alongside them, and Al-Qaeida is still in Syria.

We supposedly have the needed Sunni troops on the ground in Syria (FSA) but we will have to train and equip them first. They are already talking about how this US help will allow them to overthrow the Assad regime. How long will it take until the US is bombing all sides in that part of the war?  The need to destroy ISIL will morph into the need to topple the Assad regime so that we can finish off ISIL once and for all.  This is how US troops will be sucked into Syria.

President Obama has called the US-led bombings a “coalition of the willing” composed of European allies and a few Sunni states.  "Willing" is not enough. ISIL is determined.  The US should not enter this war until the Sunnis form a “coalition of the determined” and commit ground troops. Otherwise, it will be Americans on the ground. Again.  This time in Syria as well.

Where might ISIL strike next?

ISIL has already occupied a lot of the "friendly territory" available to it, which was the source of early rapid expansion. Lebanon is not a place where many will welcome them, as they have already discovered.  Hezbollah would prevent any serious ISIL incursion.  There is another area where they'd be welcomed by many, and that is Jordan. 

The fall of Jordan, if such happened, would be worse that the loss of Iraq. It would almost force Israel to take action, since there would now be a border with the Islamic State. It would also open up a new road for expansion into the Hijaz, which might well be one of the stronger areas of support for ISIL (among the people, not the rulers).

Jordan is fairly stable and well defended, so this is not a likely outcome, but it is a possibility. I don't think anyone foresaw how quickly the Iraqis would crumble.

Sunni-Shia War Primer

The first and most important thing to understand about the ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq is that it is not two wars in two nations. It is one war between two religious groups. From Tehran to Beirut there is an ongoing war between the Sunni and Shia Muslims -a war which dates back to the very founding of Islam. It is not a fight that will be solved by western military intervention.

The current conflict arose when peaceful demonstrations against the Assad regime in Syria were met with brutal suppression by government forces. As the bloodshed of the mostly Sunni protestors grew unbearable, Sunni troops, units, and leaders of the Syrian Army defected and formed the Free Syrian Army. Early success led them to capture a number of Army and Air Force bases which supplied them with weaponry to fight effectively against the government forces.

Who is ISIL?

ISIL stands for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The actual acronym name of the group in Arabic is DA'SH. You will see it rendered inaccurately in western media as ISIS Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The “SH” sound actually represents “Sham” -a reference to Greater Syria, which extends from southern Turkey to the Sinai. Their territorial ambitions are much larger than the inaccurate western name implies. The map below designates the areas covered by “Iraq and Sham”. This is the area that they envision as the nucleus for the re-establishment of the caliphate.

This group is a splinter of Al-Qaeida, originally being Al-Qaeida in Iraq. They fell under the influence of an Iraqi terrorist, Abu Bakr AlBaghdadi (real name Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarri), who was a protege of Osama bin Laden. After the death of bin Laden, he has refused to recognize the authority of the new Al-Qaeida leadership and has taken his own initiative in Iraq and Syria. The ISIL fighters are from all over the Muslim world. Many of them have engaged in the jihadi wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. ISIL was initially welcomed by Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime. Much of the original training was done in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and (ironically) Iran. They have fought in so many theatres with such a wide range of equipment that they are familiar with almost anything they find on the battlefield.

After ISIL entered Syria, there was an initial power struggle between Jabhat Al Nusra and ISIL. Jabhat Al Nusra was the original AlQaeida group in Syria. ISIL tried to exert authority over them and bring them into ISIL but the leadership refused and AlQaeida ruled that they should fight alongside one another in cooperation. ISIL refused this ruling and began taking control of areas of Syria and independently governing them. They have captured an oil producing region of Syria, and the revenues from black market sales fund their continuing operations.

ISIL government has imposed a very harsh Sharia law upon the populations. Women are warned to stay at home. Hands will be chopped off from thieves. Any unIslamic business is forbidden. Extreme punishments including execution by sword are visited on any who oppose the ISIL government. Now large segments of Syria and Iraq are under these harsh laws.

The ISIL are so savage, and the populations under their control have cried out so loudly, that the other rebel factions have turned on them to expel them from Syria. You have to be ruthlessly savage to be kicked out of AlQaeida for being too extreme. Currently ISIL and the Assad regime do not fight one another. Both of them fight the rebels, who are caught between the government and even more extreme Islamists.

What is the Shia-Sunni war?

The Sunni Shia war dates back to the power struggle between the fourth caliph (leader of “all” Muslims), Ali (cousin of Mohammad), and the followers of a powerful Syrian leader named Muawiyah. Ali was ultimately assassinated by one of his former followers who belonged to the Kharijites, a group who broke away because Ali was not strong enough in asserting his authority as Caliph. Muawiyah became the fifth Caliph and the followers of Ali (thereafter called the Shia) refused to recognize him. The war ended in a bloody battle (Karbala) where Ali's son was killed and the Caliphate passed firmly into the hands of those called Sunni. This battle is remembered each year in their highest holiday of mourning by the Shia, who have not forgotten the killing of their leaders even after 1400 years.

This is key -the current Sunni-Shia war is being fought in these regions of Syria and Iraq just as it was 1400 years ago. The Caliphate passed back and forth from Sunni to Shia hands over the centuries, but the struggle to control Islam has not lessened. In modern times, Shia live mostly in Iraq and Iran, with smaller groups scattered in places like southern Lebanon and Syria (The Alawites).

Who are the parties other than ISIL?

Iran (Shia) is the largest factor in the current war. When the (Sunni) rebellion in Syria began to threaten the Assad regime (Alawite Shia) Iran stepped in to support the Assad regime. In addition to sending their own militants (Shia) to fight in Syria, the Iranians also hired unemployed Iraqis (Shia) as fighters to defend the Syrian government. More importantly, Iran mobilized the Hezbollah (Shia) forces in Lebanon to move into Syria and fight on the side of the government.

As the rebels were overwhelmed by the Shia groups, surrounding Sunni countries sent fighters to help the rebels. AlQaeida in Iraq (Sunni) sent Islamist fighters to start the Jabhat AlNusra, with some funding from Qatar. Saudi and Kuwaiti (all Sunni) money funded the Free Syrian Army. The US (supporting both Sunni and Shia) has committed itself to fund and support the Free Syrian Army.

The Syrian Kurds have taken control of the northeastern region of Syria. They have avoided any clashes with government forces, claiming instead to be subject to the regime. Jabhat AlNusra had frequent clashes with the Kurds in the second year. Currently the Kurds are avoiding the conflict.

Update: The Kurds entered the conflict i the summer of 2014 after being attacked by ISIL and losing territory to them.  With US air support the Kurds have made significant advances against ISIL.

Who is fighting whom? (Shia vs. Sunni)

In both Syria and Iraq the fight is a religious one. In Syria the (Shia Alawite) Assad regime has the weakened Syrian Army, and a powerful Air Force that is in the hands of Alawite officers and crews. They are joined by Iranian, Iraqi, and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, all of whom are Shia.

The rebels are fragmented groups. The Free Syrian Army is Sunni, and relatively moderate, though there are strong Islamist tendencies. There is a collection of smaller Sunni militias allied with the FSA. Jabhat AlNusra is a group of Salafist Sunni fighters from around the Muslim world that was sent to Syria by AlQaeida. These groups form a liberation front together. When ISIL first entered Syria, they were allied with this group.

The FSA/rebel groups are now fighting ISIL, whom they consider too extreme. ISIL is not currently fighting the Assad regime. The Kurds are currently not fighting any group. The Assad regime and Shia allies are fighting the FSA/rebel groups.

What about Iraq?

The same ISIL group that sent Jabhat Nusra and ISIL into Syria are leading the fight against the Iraqi government. They number only a few thousand, but like the Pied Piper, they are collecting other anti-government groups on their march toward Baghdad. These groups are not loyal to ISIL, but will fight beside them against the government.

The Kurds have used this opportunity to move in to protect Kirkuk, which they consider their historic Capital. They will not leave Kirkuk without a fight, so the government may engage them at some point. The Kurdish Peshmerga may be the best soldiers in Iraq at this point.

The Shia Iraqi government has called home Shia troops from Syria. They are mobilizing Shia militias to protect Baghdad. Iran is sending troops to defend the Shia holy sites in Iraq.

Can ISIL take Baghdad?

That is possible, but not probable. We have not seen the Iraqi Army fight yet, so there is no sure answer. The Shia are very strong in that region. So far, ISIL has been in “friendly territory.” There is also the likelihood that the Iraqi Air Force would be supplemented by air strikes from the US carrier group moving into the region. A siege of Baghdad is likely at this point, with some Sunni neighborhoods going to the rebels and the government holding important areas. Beirut was divided by sectarian violence for over a decade (and really still is today), and fighting in Damascus, though not heavy, has followed the same pattern.

What does this mean for the US?

If the US intervenes in Iraq, it will mean the commitment of Air and Special (ground) forces to strengthen the Iraqi government. We will be allies of Iran in this fight. We will be aiding a government that is allied with Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. We will be on the Shia side of the fight.

In Syria, the US is already committed to supporting the other side of this same fight. We will be supporting the FSA against the government, Iranian, Lebanese, and Iraqi Shia foes. We will be on the Sunni side of the fight.

Imagine if you will, an Iraqi Shia militia that has enjoyed US support, training, and air support. They cross the border into Syria and now engage a Sunni FSA unit that has enjoyed US support, weapons, and training. We are now on both sides of the same fight.

This is a Sunni-Shia religious war. This war is over 1400 years old, and is being fought by the same sides and in the same region that it was 1400 years ago. The party of Caliph Ali (Shia) is opposing the caliphate of the Sunni on the same battlefields where they fought so long ago.

What about Lebanon?

For now Lebanon is safe. The government has taken precautionary steps of rounding up and arresting suspected ISIL sympathizers. We are fairly distant from the current events. The ISIL is the group who set off the series of car bombs in Lebanon earlier this year, so there is a possibility of renewed violence. If Baghdad should fall, which is unlikely, then the situation becomes much more grave.

Update:  A small ISIL force moved into the Arsal region of Lebanon in the summer of 2014 in a surprise incursion but was repelled by the Lebanese Army.  They are currently surrounded and living in caves in the border region, where they still hold perhaps 2 dozen soldiers and policeman captured in their surprise attack.

A final map of the intertwined and complex relationships involved:

An update of the situation can be found in this blog entry.