The group that was expelled from Al Qaeda for being too extreme is now in control of the second largest city in Iraq and the entirety of the Nineveh province.
According to the Long War Journal, "The recent ISIS advances in northern and central Iraq effectively put the terror group in control of nearly a third of the country." This is in addition to the territory they already hold in Syria. Since Mosul fell, ISIS have been heading south, expanding into the provinces of Saleheddin and Kirkuk.
An estimated 1,300 militants loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL, the Islamic State in the Levant ) stormed the city and the airport, as Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts and fled, leaving behind their weapons, equipment and even their uniforms.
ISIS militants drove through the streets declaring on loudspeakers that they had "come to liberate" the city. They also broadcast their new control on social media urging citizens not to worry or evacuate.
The attack on Mosul began on the night of June 7. After four days of fighting, Mosul fell with the total rout of the Iraqi security forces. ISIS were reported to be using heavy weapons such as rocket launchers. A colonel at a local military command center told Reuters yesterday,"We have lost Mosul this morning. Army and police forces left their positions and ISIL [ISIS] terrorists are in full control. It’s a total collapse of the security forces." A Reuters reporter on the ground in Mosul said the streets are littered with the mutilated bodies of Iraqi soldiers.
One witness told the BBC that the commanders fled first, leaving the soldiers alone. Another told AFP, "The army forces threw away their weapons, changed their clothes, abandoned their vehicles and left the city."
An estimated half a million civilians followed the army and fled for the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous region in Iraq which has its own security forces.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement yesterday, "It should be clear that ISIL is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has asked parliament to declare a national state of emergence and asked the parliament to grant him extra powers to combat the threat. He also announced plans to arm ordinary citizens for the defense of Iraq in a televised broadcast.
Osama al-Nujaifi, speaker of the Iraqi parliament whose brother is (or was) the governor of Nineveh province told reporters, "All of Nineveh fell into the hands of militants." Mosul has a population of close to two million and is Iraq's major export route for oil. Reports are currently conflicting as to whether or not ISIS has successfully taken nearby Baiji, home to Iraq's largest oil refinery.
The capture of Mosul is part of a broader offensive into Iraq that ISIS is terming "Enter Through the Door." ISIS is targeting the Nineveh province and the city of Samarra in the Salamuddin province as well as parts of Anbar, all Sunni majority areas.
Until now, the group was using hit and run tactics, proving their ability to fight on multiple fronts and rapidly transport men and equipment from location to location.
Mosul is not the only city controlled by the ISIS. Earlier in the year the group took control of parts of Fallujah, where they declared an independent state after destroying the police station. Fighting has gone on for some time there, with the Iraqi army unable to retake the city. A coalition of Sunni tribesmen, whose militia groups have been fighting ISIS, have also been unable to retake Fallujah.
ISIS also controls Ramdi and other areas of the Anbar province. In Syria, the group has been in control of Raqqa (a city in the northeast) for several months. ISIS considers Raqqa to be their capital; it is the only major city they have consistently held.
In Raqqa, ISIS has enforced strict sharia law and heavily punishes violators. In early May, the group publicly displayed the crucified corpses of their enemies as a warning to their terrified subjects. They also levy the jizya, a special tax for Christians (and Jews) that must be paid in gold in exchange for "protection" under Islamic rule.
Over the last few months, ISIS has become emboldened by their string of successes and has been launching increasingly ambitious military and terrorist attacks on a variety of targets. They flooded large areas west of Baghdad by closing of the Fallujah dam, carried out bombings in Baghdad killing dozens, temporarily seized Anbar University and assassinated a prominent leader of a tribal militia that had been fighting them in the Anbar province.
They show no signs of slowing, and their firepower is now greatly increased as a result of the volume of equipment and money seized in the capture of Mosul. This includes the headquarters of the army's third regiment. They have also released 2,500 fighters from prisons in Mosul. If they are successful in taking Baiji, they will control a refinery that processes 310,000 barrels of oil per day.
As their name implies, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria does not regard the border between Syria and Iraq as legitimate. Thus, the group seeks to establish an independent state carved from Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria.
Middle East expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen tweeted a picture of ISIS bulldozing the border fence between Iraq and Syria.
The group swears loyalty only to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, their emir (a feudal title historically used under various Islamic caliphates, loosely equivalent to the Western title Prince).
The following video shows an ISIS commander pledging loyalty to the emir and vowing to conquer Rome and Jerusalem: