Obama continues to gradually raise America's investment in protecting the tottering Maliki government in Iraq. A total of 800 US troops, mostly Special Forces, have gone to help retrain the Iraqi Army to face this new threat. According to Russia Today, widely seen as a Kremlin mouthpiece, Russia delivered five combat planes to Iraq to help in that nation's defense.
This comes as ISIS announced the formation of a caliphate. In Islamic tradition, a caliph is a religious leader with somewhat less spiritual authority than a Roman Catholic Pope. The closest Western approximation might be the Anglican title for the British monarch "Defender of the Faith." Holy Roman Emperors also had similar combinations of temporal and spiritual authority.
According to Time, even Sunnis (whom the caliphate supposedly represents) have fears about the radicalism of the new movement. Unease about new rules for worship and civil interactions could dampen enthusiasm for ISIS outside of areas it controls.
Control of Baghdad is key. As the inheritor of civilized traditions reaching back 5,000 years, it would give legitimacy to the aspirations of ISIS terrorists. This has spurred action from both the United States and Russia on the side of Iraq.
Russia has specific worries. Around 20 million of its 142 million people worship in the Muslim faith. Most of these live in the southern regions of the country. The effect of a rising radical Muslim state must worry Moscow. Similarly, Red China's Xingjiang Province has a high concentration of Muslims who have rebelled against Beijing.
Shi'ite Muslims have religious reasons to oppose the ISIS caliph. Traditionally, they believe that it is blasphemous to name a caliph outside of the lineage of Mohammed. Iran and much of Iraq worships in the Shi'ite tradition. They likely would strongly resist rule by a Sunni caliph they found not only invalid, but a blasphemy against their faith.
The backing of Russia and the United States should boost the morale of the Iraqi government, so long as ISIS momentum can be dented. Allegedly, ISIS plans to seize Africa north of the equator, Iran, India, and the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia. Its designs include the conquest of three NATO states and parts of Russia, as well as Europe up to the borders of Germany and Poland.
Currently they control northeastern Syria and most of Iraq north of Baghdad outside of Kurdish territories.
Significant ISIS gains would likely bring together a number of states usually not on friendly terms. Already, Iran has approached the United States to discuss a coordinated response, although working with the mullahs has its own danger. Should Baghdad fall, likely many states would set aside differences in an international effort similar to the Boxer Rebellion expedition in 1898.