Terrorism: The Rise of ISIS

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ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is a militant Sunni movement that has been very busy lately (Mankarious). They have been conquering more and more territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya. ISIS has even declared itself a state and governing entity, though this has not been recognized by any authorities, and the United Nations (U.N.), pursuant to a mandated human rights inquiry, described ISIS as “committing genocide against Yazidis that amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes” ("UN Human Rights Panel“). The group started in 2004, when the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of the then Jama’at al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad, reincarnated the group as the Al Qaeda faction in Iraq (Mankarious; Laub). In 2006, Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike. The local, and recently formed Al Qaeda in Iraq sect, reformulated again into ISIS, becoming an Al Qaeda splinter group. Prior to the split, ISIS was in alliance with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, offering radical anti-Western sentiments with the goal of creating an Islamic state. But in 2014, Al Qaeda disowned the ISIS faction due to its use of more terroristic terrorism than its predecessor (Lister). 

One of ISIS’strategies is upon conquering an area, they immediately install a quasi-government structure to control the area (Thompson and Shubert). In fact, some experts suggest that the Islamic State popup governments include a legislative component, a cabinet, a financial division and a gubernatorial system, which emulates the structure used in the Western countries that they disdain. However, a council replaces the missing democratic process that is the cornerstone of Western governance. The council determines who will be the victim of the next beheading (Thompson and Shubert).

ISIS made its inroads quickly (Mankarious). It vanquished any power exhibited along the Iraq-Syria border, on either side. In 2014, the Al Qaeda splinter declared that it was a caliphate, a regional area with an Islamic steward, also known as a caliph (Laub). The caliph is considered the theological authority, or spiritual leader, over the world’s Muslim community. Yet, over 120 scholars of the Muslim community from around the world, have stepped forward to unequivocally reject and blast ISIS’ ideology (Markoe). In an open letter, the scholars refute statements made by ISIS line by line. The purpose of the letter is to “offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, ‘point-by-point,’ to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated” (Markoe).

Yet ISIS continued its process of state building (Tawfeeq and Carter). In 2014 thousands of warriors were recruited to participate in their battlefield operations. As well, terrorists and insurgents have performed isolated attacks from America to Southern Asia. But in 2016, the organization’s thrust in Iraq and Syria have diminished (Michaels). U. S. supported coalitions have backed local forces, toppling Islamic State warrior strongholds and territorial controls. Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria, each major cities, are still in ISIS’ hands. But the U. S. coalition has a genius idea – simultaneous military engagement on the two strongholds in Iraq and Syria. By conducting simultaneous armed intervention, the terrorist have to split their forces and choose which battle to throw the most power at. It also reduces their ability to maintain control. Ground offensives are expected to be implemented, as well (Michaels). So far, the Islamic State has been wrested of approximately forty percent of their holdings in Iraq, compared to their highest successes from the year before. In Syria, the coalition has secured almost twenty percent of the territory, the progress has been more gradual in nature. The U. S. backed opposition forces have been scoring successes lately, giving all more hope regarding the final outcome (Michaels).

Hopefully Some Clarity

Keeping Up with the Klutter is not easy. Here is a legend:

Iraq: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of the then Jama’at al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad, reincarnated the group as the Al Qaeda faction in Iraq. Killed in airstrike. Succeeded by Abu Ayyub al-Masri ("Abu Musab al-Zarqawi")

Iraq: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi current leader of Iraqi ISIS and caliph (Childress)

Iraq: Prime Minister Maliki, reneged on original promise to share power with the minority populations (Boghani)

Iraq: “Almost all of the Islamic State’s most influential figures are Iraqi; many of them were once Saddam loyalists and several had been detained by the U.S. military in Camp Bucca in Iraq” (Childress)

Syria: “Islamic State news agency reports its spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was killed surveying operations in Aleppo” Syria (Burke)

Islamic State foreign policy: ISIS “has already taken up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims” (Wood)

How ISIS Has Advanced its Base

In Iraq. ISIS has taken advantage of Sunni feelings of oppression and subjugation in Iraq and Syria (Boot). The Sunni minority was displaced in the national political tapestry, by the Shia majority and the U. S. occupation. In 2010, when the U. S. forces withdrew from Iraq, the Shias gained and the Sunnis lost. Prime Minister Maliki reneged on his original promise of integration of the various sects. Maliki also made certain that he had no rivals, so he purged the ranks, and this, along with corruption and desertions led to the collapse of the Iraqi military, and ISIS then secured Mosul (Boghani).

In Syria. Another civil war was brewing (Rodgers, Gritten, Offer and Asare). In 2011, there was a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad which created a conflict between the Alawis minority ruling class and the Sunni majority. This conflict provided ISIS with the crumbling infrastructure that it needed to take over. There was a call for Sunnis from the region to join the jihad. The militant extremists came to dominate the area. Soon ISIS overtook Raqqa, often recognized as the organizations’ de facto capital. ISIS was quick to establish formal institutions like economic, judicial and law enforcement, coopting others, like education and health to give the people a semblance of services, serving to reinforce their control over the people (Rodgers, Gritten, Offer and Asare).

What is ISIS’ Relationship to Al Qaeda?

Since becoming an Al Qaeda splinter group, ISIS has become an Al Qaeda rival ("ISIS Fast Facts"). The dichotomy is based both on ideology and on strategy. Where bin Laden and Al Qaeda were angry at the Westerners and their allies, and wanted to cause them harm for their foreign policy perspectives that where formed against them, ISIS is most interested in nation building and creating a caliphate for the entire Muslim worldwide community to embrace, although facing off with its Western enemies also serves a function ("ISIS Fast Facts"). Zawahiri did not like ISIS because the organization attacked innocent people, especially Shias. Zawahiri felt that this extremist behavior would alienate the Sunnis from joining their ranks. In fact Zawahiri was correct. More trouble started brewing when Zawahiri, who took over Al Qaeda after bin Laden’s death, ordered the Syrian Al Qaeda faction, Jabhat al-Nusra, not to associate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's Iraqi ISIS, which Baghdadi immediately rebuked in a public statement. Syrian Nusra, which severed ties with Al Qaeda in 2016, has mostly Syrian membership and has aligned with the rebel forces, whereas ISIS is mostly made up of foreign combatants (Heller).

How is ISIS Financed?

Financing for ISIS has been generated by black market sales of crude oil sold to middlemen and truckers using Iraqi and Syrian wells (al-Khatteeb). ISIS is able to make $1-3 million per day since traders are attracted to the below market pricing. In addition to crude oil, ISIS taxes the areas that it controls through extortion. Non-Muslims have an even higher tax rate. Mafia-like protection swindles provide ISIS with yet another revenue source. Another source of revenue is the payment of ransoms by European news agencies and other entities. The United States has a strict no negotiation with the enemy policy. News agencies can pay ransoms as high as $20 million (Bergen). U. S. coalition forces have targeted Syrian oil and gas operations. In 2015, Special Ops forces killed an IS official in charge of the petroleum. In addition, air strikes hit oil facilities and trucks owned by middlemen. As a result, ISIS’ finances were strained so they had to cut wages and social services, negatively impacting morale. 

Beyond Syria and Iraq?

The essence of the ideology behind ISIS is essentially that of a worldwide Muslim community under the leadership of one dominant caliphate, so the question does ISIS intend to go beyond Syria and Iraq is moot – of course it intends to go beyond (Wood). If they could convert the United States, they would set their sights on that as well. The Islamic State is not limiting itself to the borders of Syria and Iraq. There are insurgent factions that have pledged their allegiance to ISIS in Iraq, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria and the Philippines. In fact, in 2015, ISIS commandeered portions of Libya which in 2016, essentially takes the form of a “U” along the Mediterranean coastline between the major cities of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya (Masi).

The fighting in Iraq and Syria have drawn the loyalties and participation of foreigners ("American and International Militants"). Thousands have traveled to troubled areas to aid in the crisis. Western government agencies and Middle Eastern governments are concerned that when these extremist return to their native countries, they will continue to recruit and carry out attacks from within. In June 2016, U.S. Special Envoy Brett McGurk stated, while giving congressional testimony, that foreign participants from Western and Middle Eastern countries, composed as much as 18-22,000 fighters (McGurk). Aside from actual travel to warring areas, intelligence communities in the West are concerned about ISIS’ call to its followers to stage attacks in the United States and Europe (Laub). FBI Director James Comey, when commenting after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016, said, "We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack, but we are also called up to figure out which pieces of hay might someday become needles" (Burke). Some pundits say that ISIS is banking on these random attacks to create an extended armed conflict in fulfillment of an apocalyptic prophesy (Laub). The suicide bomb attacks in Paris were carried out by extremists who gained access to Europe through Greece. Adroitly, they disguised themselves among traveling refugees. This fact has provided the impetus for the anti-migration retaliatory reaction in Europe. Turkey is not in an advantageous location or position either. Syria and Turkey are party to a mutual border spanning 500 miles. Foreign combatants seeking ingress to Syria have been able to enter and leave through the porous Turkish border. A U. S. campaign is afoot with the goal of capturing the border area acquired by the Islamic State. Not only has its borders been traversed, but there has been trouble brewing within the country, as well, after an Islamic State bomb attack in Ankara killed over one hundred innocent people. The bombing was described as “the deadliest terrorist attack in Turkey's history” (Arkin and Windrem).

So What’s Next?

U. S. led coalition forces combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria have evoked some changes since 2014. A change in game plan and stratagem has resulted in stripping ISIS of many of its strongholds, obliterating its leadership, and getting rid of many of its membership (Blanchard and Humud). Despite losing ground, terrorist attacks have killed many innocents around the world, and are amplifying the need to cripple the organization.

Works Cited

"Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." New World Encyclopedia. n. d. Web. 5 September 2016. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Abu_Musab_al-Zarqawi>.

al-Khatteeb, Luay. "How Iraq's black market in oil funds ISIS." CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 22 August 2014. Web. 4 September 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/18/business/al-khatteeb-isis-oil-iraq/>.

"American and International Militants Drawn to Syria." ADL Anti Defamation League. 22 November 2013.  Web. 4 September 2016. <http://www.adl.org/combating-hate/international-extremism-terrorism/c/syria-foreign-fighters.html>.

Arkin, William M. and Windrem, Robert. "Why ISIS Attacks Turkey." NBC News. NBC Universal. 29 June 2016. Web. 4 September 2016. <http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/istanbul-ataturk-airport-attack/why-isis-attacks-turkey-n601081>.

Bergen, Peter. "Should Western nations just pay ISIS ransom?" CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 22 August 2014. Web. 4 September 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/22/opinion/bergen-schneider-isis-ransom/>.

Blanchard, Christopher M. and Humud, Carla E. "The Islamic State and U.S. Policy." Congressional Research Service. 27 June 2016. Web. 4 September 2016. <https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43612.pdf>.

Boghani,  Priyanka. "In Their Own Words: Sunnis on Their Treatment in Maliki’s Iraq." PBS. PBSOnline. 28 October 2014. Web. 4 September 2016. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/in-their-own-words-sunnis-on-their-treatment-in-malikis-iraq/>.

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Thompson, Nick and Shubert, Atika. "The anatomy of ISIS: How the 'Islamic State' is run, from oil to beheadings." CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 14 January 2015. Web. 4 September 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/18/world/meast/isis-syria-iraq-hierarchy/>.

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