WASHINGTON — The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued its rampage through Iraq Wednesday, taking over Tikrit, the ancestral home of the late dictator Saddam Hussein.
The development came one day after more than hundreds of insurgents stormed through Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, killing and looting as it marches toward Baghdad.
“I think when you look at the advances that ISIL has made in Iraq in the last days, it’s quite clear that it’s the most dangerous, most effective terrorist group in the whole world and that means it’s eclipsed al-Qaida,” said Richard Barrett, former director of the United Nations al-Qaida Taliban Monitoring Team.
ISIL is the direct descendant of al-Qaida in Iraq, a brutal terror group known for beheadings and killing women and children in the 2000s. It was so ruthless that al-Qaida repudiated the group.
After its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in 2006, the group faded and rebranded itself as ISIL. It struggled to survive until the Syrian civil war opened a door for the group’s revitalization.
After a protracted spat with al-Qaida’s leadership last year and boldly assassinating Abu Khaled al-Soury, the personal emissary of al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri last February, the group has steamrolled its way through cities in both Syria and Iraq.
A U.S. counterterrorism official tells WTOP, “ISIL has been active in Sunni- dominated Ninawa Province for a long time and clearly sensed that Mosul was vulnerable now after engaging in sporadic attacks earlier this year.”
The official also said, “Strategically, the group looks at Syria and Iraq as one interchangeable battlefield and its ability to shift resources and personnel across the border has measurably strengthened its position in both theaters.”
And to support its vicious activities, the group has robbed banks during its march through Iraq. Ninawah governor Atheel al-Nujaifi told Kurdish television Wednesday ISIL fighters have stolen millions from numerous banks across Mosul.
By some estimates the group took almost $430 million, making it the richest terror organization in the world.
“This is growing menace,” said Pentagon Spokesman Steve Warren, adding “ISIL is not only a threat to Iraq to the entire region.”
In addition to power, and resources, ISIL has a reputation that precedes it. During its charge through Mosul, Iraqi forces, according to eyewitnesses simply dropped their weapons and ran.
Warren says the U.S. is standing by to help the Iraqi government, “primarily through our foreign military service program, which provides more than $14 billion in equipment, training and and other services for Iraq.”
He says the Pentagon is committed to making sure that ammunition and other supplies “Iraq need for this current fight is delivered as soon as possible.”
The U.S. is also, according to Warren, providing counter-terrorism training that began this week to help Iraq deal with the current situation.