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Security Analyst: ISIS Deliberately Stokes Sunni-Shia 'Inferno'

By Sean Piccoli   |   Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 08:29 PM

The Sunni radicals carving a new "Islamic state" out of seized Middle Eastern territory are a smart, adaptive group that doesn't repeat mistakes and is not done testing its strength or expanding its reach, a threat-assessment expert told Newsmax TV on Wednesday.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has "learned lessons from past mistakes when they were previously al-Qaida in Iraq, and then the Islamic State of Iraq, then ISIS, and now the Islamic State," Thomas Sanderson, co-director and senior fellow on the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.

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"They made big mistakes when they governed western Iraq several years ago," said Sanderson. "They've learned a lot from their activities in occupying parts of Syria. They knew which strings and which chains to pull among Shiites and Persians and others in the region, and they will continue to do this."

In one provocation, a new ISIS video purports to show a Sunni militant taking a sledgehammer to the burial tomb of a revered Shia prophet in the captured city of Mosul, the Daily Mail reported.

The vandalism, if confirmed, makes good on an ISIS promise to loot and defile sacred Shia religious sites that exist within the boundaries of the new, Sunni-only Islamic State.

"Iraq is home to some of the holiest places in Shia Islam — just as Saudi Arabia is to Sunni Islam — and what we're seeing from a group like ISIS is this destruction of religious figures associated with [Shiites]," said Sanderson. "This is to be expected from this group, and it certainly will incite and inflame what is already an inferno between Sunnis and Shias."

The risk for ISIS as it tries to will a country into being is that the chaos also may consume the group. Too many taunts and too much territorial ambition could spark a backlash, including military strikes by other Middle Eastern countries, including the region's dominant Shia power, Iran, Sanderson said.

"They do need to be careful that they do not overstep and draw the Iranians in in a comprehensive way," said Sanderson, "because that could spell the end for them."

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