What you need to know about ISIS

What is the history behind the background and the formation of ISIS?

ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, sometimes known as ISIL. The group originated from Jama’at al Tawhid wal-Jiah in 1999 and was renamed Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad Fi Bilad al-Rafidayn but more commonly known as Al Qaeda in 2004. The group participated in the Iraqi insurgency, which followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, where the combined forces of U.S, U.K, Australian, and Polish troops invaded Iraq and deposed the Ba’athist government of Saddam Hussein.

ISIS was formed by the joining of many rebel jihadist groups, such as the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq, which is an umbrella organisation of 6 different Sunni Islam insurgent groups. In 2006, the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was proclaimed. When Al-Zarqawi was killed by his American Troops in 2006, and his two predecessors were killed shortly after, the leadership of Al-Qaeda was passed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Al-Qaeda and ISIS used to be part of the same group until February 2014, because ISIS wouldn’t listen to Al-Qaeda’s orders, including orders to cut back on violence against civilians. Al-Qaeda follow the Salafi movement, which is considered synonymous with Wahhabism, but Salafis consider Wahhabi a derogatory term. The Salafi movement is a literalist and strict approach to Islam, and Salafi Jihadists espouse offensive jihad against those they deem enemies of Islam.

In August 2011, ISI (still a part of Al Qaeda) sent delegates into Syria after the Syrian civil war which began in March 2011. The group in Syria was called the al-Nusra front. In April 2013, Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, announced a merger was the al-Nusra front. However both the leader of Al-Qaeda and the leader of the al-Nusra front rejected the merger, and after an 8 month power struggle, the Al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra front cut ties with ISIS.

The main goal for ISIS is to create a worldwide Caliphate, and its Caliph is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A worldwide Caliphate is the concept of a one government rule that follows the strict Salafi Sunni Muslim belief. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has a US $10 million dollar bounty for info on him for his capture/death, while the leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri has a US $25 million dollar bounty for his capture/death. ISIS controls more than half of Syria’s oil, and potentially could be making 3 million dollars a day from that. ISIS also controls around 33% of Syria and 33% of Iraq. ISIS also has a strong influence over the world, due to its effective use of online outlets and social media. Their magazine, Dabiq, is used all over the world as a requirement tool that assesses the Islamic State’s strategies, methods, and overall goals. ISIS has managed to recruit thousands of people from all over the world, including New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. ISIS has also been known for uploading video footage of public beheadings and even showing prisoners being burned to death in cages. Their violent and extremist actions have shocked the world.


What has been done to demobilize ISIS and stop their reign of terror and abuses of human rights?

Due to ISIS’s claims to expand its territory into many other countries, a large number of nations, militias, and groups are waging war with ISIS. The most prominent coalition that formed up against ISIS is the Counter-ISIL Coalition, which is U.S based and created. Their aim is to: “Work together under a common, multi-faceted, and long-term strategy to degrade and defeat ISIS. There is a reported 59 nations who have joined this coalition, and have taken many different types of actions against ISIS. These actions include; Supporting military operations; including capacity building and training, preventing the rise of foreign terrorist fighters, cutting off ISIS’s funding and economic access, addressing human rights abuses and crises, and lastly, exposing ISIS’s true nature and intent.

The key question however is: What is the best strategy to undertake when dealing with a force that is so extreme, so violent, and so powerful (in regards to its size)?

The U.S president is hoping that limited air strikes, U.S support for local proxies, the peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces, the Sunni Tribes, and the Free Syrian Army, will ultimately destroy ISIS. Unfortunately however, U.S actions have not fully stopped ISIS from expanding into Syria from Iraq. One source, says that a reasonable goal for the United States and its allies would not be to degrade ISIS (too vague and insufficient), or to destroy it (to ambitious), but to defeat and demobilize it. By defeating/neutralising ISIS, it would end ISIS’s ability to control territory, and reducing it, it worst, to a small and relatively insignificant terrorist group. This is what happened to Al-Qaeda in 2007 and 2008.

To defeat ISIS, the President on the United States needs to dispatch more aircrafts, get more military advisors and special operation forces, and loosen the restrictions. There needs to be a better job at mobilizing support from the Sunni’s in Iraq and Syria.

Here are points of action that are being undertaken/should be undertaken to defeat ISIS:

  1. Bring in the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command).
  2. Bring Turkey into the fight.
  3. Mobilize Sunni Tribes.
  4. Prepare for nation building.
  5. Isolate ISIS politically and physically, to deprive them of its capacity to make war.

Bruce Newsome, a lecturer in International Relations, believes that “Airstrikes won’t defeat ISIS. A Western ground invasion would, but the West is far short of that commitment, to its increasing peril.” He believes that ISIS must be defeated as a state, before things like terrorism; insurgency, civil war etc. can be contained.

The United States is one of the biggest military forces in the world, and is globally expected to take action. One big debate however, surrounding the United States action, is whether they should scale back their campaign, or they should sustain their military campaign to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

The main reason for why the U.S should sustain their military campaign against ISIS is the growing threat that ISIS is posing, to Iraq, Syria, and globally, including the U.S. ISIS also constitutes a new level of horror. Al-Qaeda distancing themselves from them is one key piece of evidence to attest to that. Public beheadings and executions, of both Iraqi and Syrians citizens as well as Western civilians, alongside burnings and crucifixions take their actions to a whole new level. ISIS has even been compared to the Nazis; their deeds are so evil it is one of the few comparable forces. Secondly, ISIS’s main goal is to build a worldwide caliphate, which differs from a majority of Jihadist terrorist groups. This means that ISIS is a much bigger threat than other terrorist groups. The Islamic State is committed to killing large numbers of people who go against their views and ideologies. Thirdly, the United States invasion of Iraq resulted in 4,000 troop deaths on their side, and a total 1.3 trillion dollars spent. The Iraqi democracy and its troops disintegrate due to ISIS, leading many to feel that to play a passive strategy against ISIS was not worth the money and troops spent beforehand.

Another reason why the U.S.A should continue a large-scale military campaign is the basic “Store Policy” rule. You broke it, you buy it. No one can deny that the U.S inadvertently supplied weapons to ISIS and also by invading Iraq, ended up causing ISIS to become such a dominant force. The United States should feel some responsibly towards ISIS. The last reason is that ISIS is a global force, which nobody can ignore for long. Everyone is threatened, and appeasement is not the option. Through the use of the internet and propaganda, ISIS has recruited thousands, roughly half from Western Countries. Their power is growing, and needs to be stopped at all costs.

The other side of the argument is that the United States should scale back their military action. Some believe that by attacking ISIS, we are inflating it, and adding fuel to the fire. The West is not the main target of ISIS, and what is the immediate threat to the U.S that makes direct action so necessary? Does it make the U.S more secure to wage war against an enemy that had goaded them into the war?

Secondly, going into the war gives ISIS too much power over U.S foreign policy: when ISIS released the video of American James Foley being executed, immediately Joe Biden, John Kerry, and many others called all-out action against ISIS, in an incensed report. However, if you think deeply about it, whatever ISIS does, they still have control over the actions we take against them. Another large point to consider is: Do we really want endless wars? Usually wars just cause more wars, they do not solve them.

What groups and ideologies are involved surrounding ISIS, and what are the conflicts that have arisen?

ISIS is an Islamic jihadist group, whose main goal is to create a worldwide caliphate, which will have military, religious, and political authority globally. They are a part of the Sunni Islam religion, and are a Salafi group. Salafists are fundamentalists who believe in the return to the original ways of Islam. ISIS promotes religious violence and has an extreme interpretation of Islam and regards those who do not agree/support them as apostates.

ISIS condemns those who follow secular law, for example the Saudi Government. Even though the religion of Saudi Arabia is Sunni Islam, because they are not as literal or extreme as ISIS, they are considered apostates of ISIS. Another group that ISIS targets is the Sunni Islam Hamas, due to the fact that they are not as extreme in their measures compared to ISIS, putting them at odds with the jihadist group. Many Salafists criticize ISIS’s brand of Sunni, while the Salafists support groups like Al-Qaeda. Saudi Government official Saleh Al-Fawzan claims that ISIS is a creation of “Zionists, crusaders, and Safavids.”

One group that has been targeted by ISIS is the Yazidis. They are one of the world’s smallest and oldest monotheistic religious minorities. Their religion is considered pre-Islamic, and draws roots from Christianity. Yazidis worship one God, and honour seven angels, and unlike Muslims and Christians, reject the ideas of sin, the devil, and even hell. Throughout history, Yazidis have been targeted for their beliefs. In 2007, more the 700 Yazidis were killed in their village due to suicide bombers. Recently, 40,000 Yazidis were trapped on a mountain due to ISIS, with the choices either to descend down the mountain and be slaughtered, or wait to die from hunger and thirst.

Christians have been targeted in Iraq for years, with half of them fleeing in 2003, and Al-Qaeda brutally targeting the religious minority. The number of Christians in Iraq has gone down drastically in the past years, due to either fleeing Christians, or people denouncing their faith in fear. When ISIS took over Mosul, a large city in Iraq, they forced the Christian civilians to either convert to Islam, or pay the fine of “death by the sword.” A smaller group of people being targeted by ISIS are the Turkmen. A Turkic speaking, traditionally nomadic people, a small minority of them can be found in the Middle East. The city of Tal Afar, where the population is mostly made up of Turkmen, faced a suicide bombing from ISIS that killed over 150 people in 2007. The city’s population has dwindled from 200,000 to 80,000 in the past few years, no doubt because of the growing fear against ISIS. However one group of people who are targeted much more than the Turkmens, Yazidis, and Christians are Shiites. ISIS claimed on Twitter, that they had killed over 1,700 Shiites, in June alone. Shiites, as well as Alawites, have been labelled as infidels by ISIS.

Many groups, organisations and people have been working to stop ISIS, and minimize the effects of the jihadist groups destruction.


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