DENVER – With the apparent conquest of Iraq’s northwestern provinces – and maybe more – by the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the country’s troubled history has opened a horrifying new chapter. In a matter of just days, ISIS’s fighters overran Anbar, Ninewa, and Salahaddin provinces – a victory that attests to the central government’s non-existent authority in Sunni-majority areas. And, given ISIS’s jihadi ideology, there is limited scope for “Sunni outreach” – the supposed panacea for all that ails Iraq’s sectarian political culture.
ISIS is not a group that is receptive to dialogue. Its leadership adheres to the view, expressed in many corners of the Arab Sunni world, that Shia Muslims are apostates and betrayers of Islam who rank among the worst of the worst (alongside Israel and the United States). This means that the US needs both a military response to ISIS and a political response that extends beyond Iraq. What is needed, above all, is a regional approach to the increasingly murderous Sunni-Shia rivalry.