Last week, the extremist militant Sunni group — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), along with other Sunni militias and former Baathist party members, seized control of large parts of Iraq, including Mosul, the nation's second largest city.
In many places, the Iraqi army barely put up a flight. Soldiers dropped their weapons and fled, whether because of fear, incompetence, or internal sabotage. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have become internally displaced after fleeing the fighting or the potential for potential Iraqi air strikes.
As ISIS and the other groups continued to fight their way to Baghdad, gruesome videos of brutal executions began to surface. Iraqi army units stationed near Baghdad, as well as Shiite militias, have pledged to not give up so easily.
Many say the conflict was brewing for a while, and that ISIS, along with some of the other groups, has had some semblance of control in Sunni areas for quite some time. They point to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's increasingly sectarian polices and crackdowns on Sunnis as having provoked the events of the last week, and fear this could be the start of a devastating civil war.
In the north, Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga have used the opportunity to seize disputed areas, territories that the Kurds long felt belonged to them but the government was hesitant relinquish. An informal border now exists between ISIS dominated areas and Kurdish territory. There has only been sporadic clashing, as neither group seems determined to break the strange detente.