- - Monday, June 16, 2014

The stunning and unexpected recent victories in Iraq of Muslim extremists aligned to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a very worrisome and disturbing development. In a region that is not foreign to conflict, this one is a particularly frightening turn of events.

Indeed, after capturing Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in the oil-rich northern part of the country, the Islamists’ next major victory came a day later with the fall of Tikrit in the center of the country and only 131 miles from the capital, Baghdad, and by Friday, the Islamists had reportedly taken over Samara, only 82 miles from Baghdad.

To the average Westerner, Tikrit and Samara hold no special meaning, but for Iraqis, these two cities carry much symbolism. Tikrit was Saddam Hussein’s hometown and Samara is the hometown of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL.

The fall of Tikrit and Samara sends a message to the Iraqi people that one era is over and a new one is beginning.

This should also send a clear message to the rest of the world that the time for dialogue with such groups is past and that it is time for concrete and unwavering commitment toward affirmative engagement coming from all countries concerned by the recent developments. Who should be concerned? Just about everyone. Even Iran is worried — and rightfully so.

A militarily successful Islamist force straddling parts of Iraq and Syria poses a real threat to the security and stability of those countries’ immediate neighbors — Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and, of course, Israel. It also carries ramifications for a number of other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. Once Iraq falls completely into the hands of the Islamists, they are not about to stop. Their next target will likely be Saudi Arabia.

Left unchecked, the Islamists could eventually pose a threat to the stability and well-being of the countries of Central Asia with large Muslim populations, such as some of the former Soviet republics. A little further down the road, there are very clear red flags waving over Europe and the Americas. Though some analysts in the United States do not think al-Baghdadi is a threat to the United States, at least not for the moment, it may be worth recalling that some analysts also failed to learn of the Sept. 11, 2001 plans against the United States and failed to predict the downfall of communism in Russia.

Regardless of what the analysts think, it is time for the international community to come together and wake up from the illusion that such groups can be reasoned with. They cannot.

In Abu Dhabi, the government is buying vast amounts of weaponry, but has no soldiers to defend the country in case of attack.

The fighters of ISIL are not a revolutionary group fighting to liberate a particular people in a given country with predefined borders. Rather, the Islamists see the world as their battleground.

If al-Baghdadi is allowed to win this battle owing to the so-called civilized nations failure to act, the repercussions down the road cost are going to be far greater than anything we have seen so far.

What is badly needed now is a clear and precise policy on how to address this threat to the stability of the world today. Bashar Assad, the president of what remains of Syria after a four-year civil war that has claimed close to 170,000 lives and forced several million others into exile, has offered to send troops to Iraq to help put down the ISIL forces. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme Shiite religious leader in Iraq, called on his compatriots to take up arms against the Islamists.

This is the moment for the United States to take the appropriate steps to address a real danger to the civilized world.

At the moment, American leadership seems to be on vacation, or as House Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters Thursday, President Obama is “taking a nap” as terrorists capture Iraqi cities and move toward the capital of Baghdad.

Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend News Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan.