There’s little doubt that the security situation in Iraq is fast-moving; if you’re reading this even a few hours from now, the terrain will likely have shifted again. Amid the rhetoric about who to blame and what the United States should do next, it’s easy to lose sight of the broader picture—as well as the history that got us to this point. Here are some of the best resources I’ve found to acquaint readers with some of the deeper issues at play:
First off, refer to our newly relaunched CFR Backgrounders. These are long-form, fact-based reports intended to catch you up to speed on a wide range of salient global challenges and debates. I’d recommend particularly analysis and context of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
Next, understand the complex motivations of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Dexter Filkins at the New Yorker wrote a superb profile of Maliki in April and has been contributing further reporting through the escalating crisis. See also his assessment of the factors behind ISIS’ gains and study of the porous “border” between Iraq and Syria.
Trace the role of Iran—in both Syria and Iraq. See Filkins’ study of Qassem Suleimani, shadowy head of Iran’s Quds Force, which best helps contextualize the web-like relationship between Iran, Syria, and Iraq.
Turn to how this impacts the broader Middle East. David Ignatius has an insightful new column that looks beyond the minute-to-minute chaos to suggest the Middle East’s growing instability may ultimately require a new, multilateral security architecture. The voices at this table must include the sitting members of the UN Security Council. They must also include Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Finally, ask what the United States can do now. My answer, published on Friday: the short-term corrective measures are few. If you’re interested in further options and implications for U.S. military action, I also discussed this in greater depth on NPR’s Joy Cardin Show and PBS NewsHour.
And a bonus…James Fallows, writing in 2002, who predicted almost everything to come. Fallows’ piece, the target of ample skepticism at the time, is remarkable to read twelve years later.