BAGHDAD - There are three main border crossings between Syria and Iraq.
Al Qaeda-inspired militants wreaking havoc across Iraq took control of Tal Afar last week. On Saturday, al Qaim fell. On Sunday, al-Walid, the last major border station under Iraqi control, was overrun by gunmen.
The seizures will allow the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, to move heavy weapons and large numbers of fighters quickly and easily from Syria into Iraq.
Yet, at a briefing Sunday in Baghdad, an Iraqi armed forces spokesman said this was not a defeat for his army but a tactical retreat, "aimed to better redeploy the army in these regions to ensure better control."
The government also tried to show that is taking the fight to ISIS by releasing a video, which it claimed shows military aircraft bombing suspected ISIS targets in Mosul.
At this stage the Iraqi army is simply not in a position to try to take that territory back. Really, its primary goal now appears to be to defend Baghdad and Samarra because it's home to a sacred Shiite shrine.
The government is hoping that it can woo away some of the other Sunni militant groups that are fighting with ISIS in Mosul and other parts of the country, but that's an extremely complex and time-consuming process that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may not be able to pull off.
Time really is of the essence here for two reasons: The longer they hold territory, the harder it is to push them out; and with every victory for ISIS fighters and funding are flooding in, the momentum is really building for them.