The sudden military victories of a Sunni militant group threaten to touch off a maelstrom in the Middle East
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As the brutal fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) rampaged through northern Iraq in mid-June, a spokesman for the group issued a statement taunting its shaken enemies. Ridiculing Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as an “underwear merchant,” he warned that his fighters, who follow a radical strain of Sunni Islam, would take revenge against al-Maliki’s regime, which is dominated by Shi‘ites. But this vengeance would not come through the capture of Baghdad, the spokesman vowed. It would come through the subjugation of Najaf and Karbala, cities that are home to some of the most sacred Shi‘ite shrines. The Sunni fighters of ISIS would cheerfully kill and die, if necessary, to erase their blasphemous existence.