BEIRUT, Lebanon – Apprehension here has risen significantly since the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, or ISIS, has blitzkrieged its way from eastern Syria into west and central Iraq.
In a matter of days, ISIS, or the Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq or DAASH as it’s also known here, has swept through Iraq’s predominantly Sunni provinces of Anbar, Daiyala, Karbala and Salah Ad Din heading toward Baghdad just inside Shia-dominated territory.
In virtually one fell swoop, it has taken over military bases with millions of dollars in weapons and aircraft, emptied out banks in Mosul to the tune of half a billion dollars and taken over oil fields, both of which will add to their coffers to finance their new caliphate.
In addition, more than 10,000 Iraqi troops surrendered to ISIS, throwing away their U.S. supplied uniforms, turning over their U.S. supplied weapons – all without firing a shot.
Sources say that most of the Iraqi military who gave up without a fight were Sunni and probably have turned their allegiance away from the Shiite-controlled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the Sunni ISIS group.
The sheer speed at which ISIS was able to operate has caused the Shiite residents of Lebanon to become increasingly apprehensive that the same thing could happen here.
As it is, Sunnis here tend to back the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra when it launches car-bomb attacks in south Beirut, the stronghold of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
There are reports that when car bombs of suicide bombers are detonated in south Beirut, the Sunnis in their areas of control throughout the country cheer.
There are reports that the success of ISIS, first in eastern Syria and now into western and central Iraq, in creating an Islamic caliphate under strict Shariah law has galvanized not only the tens of thousands of unemployed Sunni young men but is beginning to prompt al-Nusra fighters to join ISIS.
Al-Nusra and elements of ISIS are in Lebanon now, embedded in Sunni areas and in most of the Palestinian camps throughout the country. At the moment, there are more pockets of al-Nusra fighters in Lebanon than ISIS.
ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had sought to bring al-Nusra in Syria under his control but al-Qaida central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri repudiated the brutality of ISIS and publicly declared that it no longer was its representative in Syria.
That didn’t seem to faze al-Baghdadi who, right after that, began his sweep into eastern Syria and just within a few days took over virtually all of eastern and central Iraq.
A few months earlier, his forces had successfully taken back the Iraqi city of Fallujah after U.S. Marines in 2004 kicked out ISIS’ predecessor, the Iraq State of Iraq, or ISQ.
ISIS’ success in Iraq also can be attributed to the various other Islamic fighters from other groups who are swearing allegiance to it.
While they’ve temporarily united to fight a common foe, the Shiites, that quickly could end at some point causing fights within ISIS similar to the fighting that has been occurring until now between al-Nusra and ISIS in Syria.
But that prospect is further down the road, depending on how al-Baghdadi shares power within his own group to placate the other Sunni jihadist groups.
For now, however, they appear to be coordinating their efforts in alliances that have made their victories come frequently and taking in a considerable amount of territory.
Shiites in Lebanon fear something similar happening that could get them embroiled in another sectarian Sunni-Shiite conflict that led to the 1975-1990 civil war and could well-happen in Iraq in just a matter of days as ISIS sweeps toward Baghdad inside a Shiite-controlled area.
There, the moderate Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a call-to-arms to young Shiite men to fight the Sunni fighters who are advancing toward Baghdad.
“He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honor will be a martyr,” al-Sistani said.
Here in Lebanon, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah is poised to take similar action should any al-Nusra or ISIS-initiated fighting break out.
“Hezbollah knows where the groups are throughout Lebanon and are prepared to take action,” one Shiite source associated with Hezbollah told WND.
The source said that just as Iran is prepared to send in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps into Iraq to confront the Sunni fighters, Tehran is prepared to provide Hezbollah with any assistance, much as it has done over the years.
The fear, however, is that any al-Nusra or ISIS initiative will quickly get recruits from young people in the Sunni pockets throughout the country, including those in the Palestinian camps where unemployment tops more than 90 percent.
If this were to happen, combined with ISIS’ advances in Iraq, the entire Middle East region will soon find itself embroiled in what could become a major Sunni-Shia conflict that may ultimately determine who wields the most influence in the Middle East – Shiite Iran or Sunni Saudi Arabia
The Saudi kingdom not only has provided financial backing to ISIS but is pushing other Sunni fighting groups to join ISIS in a major Sunni push to take back Iraq.
If that were to happen, it indeed would result in a bloodbath that could foster continued Sunni-Shiite hatred for generations if not centuries to come.
F. Michael Maloof, senior staff writer for WND/ G2Bulletin, is a former security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected]