Warning: a non-expert, speculative discussion follows… although given the given the nature of prognostication, I have as good of a chance predicting the future as anyone.
The current turmoil in the middle-east, essentially a region wide war of different Muslim countries, entities and groups against each other, was, I suspect, inevitable. I think this would have been the case even if America had not invaded Iraq. While discussing that ISIS wants to build a caliphate, no one seems to be interested in the fact that the conquest of richer and weaker and non-Muslim neighbors is how the first caliphate was built. The problem now for ISIS is that if you look at the edges of the Islamic world, all of its neighbors are either dirt poor or much more powerful than an organization like ISIS.
There is pretty much nothing to loot in the Congo, and who in their right mind would invade China? Sure Europe is getting weaker and weaker, but it still wouldn’t be very easy to wreak up the place and steal millions of dollars of cash like ISIS just did in Mosul. But there is this convenient catch for barbarians like ISIS. All they need is an ‘apostate’ Muslim (the definition of which is fungible) to attack and they can claim legitimacy to their members. And, behold, there are numerous weak, fractured and unspeakably oil rich areas that ISIS can attack. Places so fractured that the army just leaves when ISIS attacks its second largest city. And conveniently, Iraq is run by ‘apostates’ and can therefore be pillaged. Iraq has oil, which is a tyrant’s dream. Every kingdom and petty tyrant in that region is fabulously wealthy based on a resource that they did not invent how to refine or use, did not mine, and do not have to exert any effort or risk to gain. They have this money because they were ruling their areas at the right moment. Now, ISIS simply wants in on the money and the power.
I will venture to predict events based on how I would write a novel from this point. I think that Europe and the US (though certainly hated and on their hit list) are back-burner hatreds. I suspect very much that ISIS has its eyes on the Saudis. I suspect that what ISIS wants is not really to conquer the Shi’a areas of Iraq, but rather to light the fuse to the Sunni-Shi’a bomb, and taking advantage of the chaos eat up Medina and Mecca. The Saudi’s main source of Islamic clout comes from controlling who gets to go to Mecca on the Hajj, and their main source of international clout is their oil. Without those, no one would care about them. If ISIS really wants a caliphate, they need Mecca. If the Shi’a in Saudi Arabia and the Shia’ in Iraq and Iran help explode the Sunni-Shi’a bomb, the Saudi’s would probably half-fall like Assad, and now Maliki, clinging to power in regions of their territory. They would be fighting Shi’a separatists and ISIS on opposite sides of their country. Now, if and when ISIS takes Mecca and Medina, while controlling some of the oil in Iraq, they will only be short a Caliph and in all other respects they could count as a Caliphate.
If I were an Intelligence official (or even someone who had/wanted the credentials of an expert on the region) I’d be looking out for which person(s) the leaders of ISIS could install as Caliph and control as a puppet. (Perhaps their current leaders (strange that in the news stories there never seems to be a named leader) could choose among themselves, but that would most likely lead to ISIS factions fighting each other.) I think what they need is someone who’s lineage would give them broader Sunni credibility. I havn’t the faintest idea of who that might be, but there must be some candidates out there. Once they have oil money, Mecca and a Caliph: that is when the Western world is in trouble.
There, that’s my fanciful prediction, now back to the salt mines of my dissertation.