What Is Happening in Iraq? Your 3 Biggest Questions, Answered

Everyone's talking about the Western Asian country again —but what exactly is going on in Iraq? Even though the United States' war with Iraq ended several years ago, Iraq still has its own problems: On June 10, bombs exploded in Northern Iraq, and one day later a group of terrorists stormed the second largest city, Mosul. The terrorists, who are Sunni Muslim — a different sect of Islam than Iraq's Prime Minister — are targeting other religious and ethnic groups. On June 12, the Sunni extremists captured the Turkish embassy in Northern Iraq and seized 28 Turkish truck drivers. The insurgents also targeted Kurdish offices and communities, and many Kurds, an ethnic minority in Iraq, have been fighting back with relative success.

The Kurds in Iraq have wanted to establish an independent state for a long time. In the process of defending themselves from the Sunni insurgents, they may try to secure the area for themselves. Meanwhile, the Sunni terror group, who call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has captured more areas of Northern Iraq, and is steadily surrounding Baghdad.

ISIS currently controls two villages just North of Baghdad, and has its sights set on the capital city. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki has called for help from many in the international community, and is involved in direct talks with the U.S. government. As with many of the conflicts that have erupted in this region, multiple governments, ethnic groups, and religious factions are all vying for power — making the situation confusing.

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Luckily, we're here to answer all your questions about the conflict brewing in Iraq.

Who are the extremists, anyway?

ISIS is a Sunni Muslim terrorist group based in the area around Iraq and Syria. Their mission is pretty clearly spelled out in their name — they hope to establish a state, or caliphate, comprised of the neighboring Sunni groups in the region.

ISIS has spent the past several years fighting in Syria, where they've been targeted by Turkish forces (hence the reason for the assault on the Turkish embassy). In Iraq, ISIS is fighting to overthrow the current political regime of President al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim, and they're joined by numerous Sunni minority groups. ISIS are violent extremists; even al Qaeda has distance itself from them, because of their violent tactics.

During the past week, ISIS has been raising awareness for their cause via Twitter. They Tweeted that they'd killed over 1,700 Shi'ites and have Tweeted several graphic photos of their victims.

What's America's role in all this?

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U.S. troops left Iraq a little over two years ago, but we've continued to be involved in Iraqi politics. The U.S. helped al-Maliki gain power after the fall of Sadam Hussein in 2006, thus shifting the power dynamic in Iraq from Sunni rule to Shi'ite rule. Despite al-Maliki's requests for U.S. support from al-Maliki, the U.S. has remained hesitant to promise assistance.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. would discuss intervening in Iraq alongside Iran. So far, Iran has sent hundreds of troops to aid the Iraqi army. When asked if the U.S. would take military action with Iran, Kerry said that he was "open to discussions" and that he wouldn't "rule out anything that would be constructive."

After nearly eight years of U.S. troops in Iraq during the Iraq war, many Americans are reluctant to become involved Iraq again. On June 13, The New York Times editorial advised against sending troops in, and blamed the conflict primarily on al-Maliki.

What are the Iraqi factions?

Iraq has a history of sectarian violence, and the recent attacks have only exacerbated these tensions. Shia Muslims are a minority in the Middle East, and are most focused in Iran, Lebanon, and Southern Iraq. In Iraq, a Sunni minority ruled over the Shi'ite majority for many years, until the fall of Sadam Hussein in 2006.

This Sunni rule led to conflicts between Iraq and neighboring Iran, a predominantly Shi'ite country. Iran has been quick to defend Iraq military in this most recent conflict against ISIS, because they hope to prevent a reemergence of Sunni control. Northern Iraq is home to a large Kurdish population, who, despite being Sunni, were the subject of discrimination and violence under Hussein's rule.

Today, they are fighting to recover territory from ISIS, but may be hoping to secure an independent state for themselves in the process. With so many groups vying for power, it is likely that the sectarian violence will only grow in the coming days.