Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or Daesh, is a Wahhabi jihadist militant group comprised mainly of Iraqi and Syrian extremists. As of November 2015, ISIS occupies an area with over 10 million inhabitants in Syria and Iraq and controls several smaller territories in Afghanistan, Libya, and Nigeria (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). The group that has claimed responsibility over a series of outrageous attacks in Paris and Beirut earlier this month also conducts terrorist attacks in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. The current paper will cover the key political, ideological, and functional aspects of ISIS and highlight the major milestones in the group’s development since its foundation.
The history of ISIS originates from war in Iraq of 2003–2011. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), ISIS’ direct predecessor, was the dominant force in a Sunni rebellion against the government and western forces in the country. AQI, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqadwi, carried out some of the most brutal attacks in the conflict (Blanchard, 2007). In 2006, the organization absorbed several smaller terrorist groups and adopted the name of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The change symbolized the organization’s intention to gain control over Iraq and signified its goal to achieve global dominance in the Muslim community. A serious impediment for the implementation of the group’s plan was, however, an uprising of the Sunni population in western Iraq in 2007 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). The insurgence was triggered primarily by the ISI terrorists’ violent behavior towards the civilians. ISI was also heavily shaken by the deaths of several of its senior authorities during bombings organized by the Iraqi military and the US army. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who spent five years in prison in southern Iraq, overtook the governance functions in 2010.
The strikingly factional policies of Iraqi authorities, particularly the oppression of Sunnis orchestrated by the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, provided favorable atmosphere for extremism. The escalating Sunni conflict, aggravated by the gradual removal of western militants, allowed ISI to recover from a slowdown in 2011. Once again, terrorist attacks conducted by Sunni bombers became common.
ISIS during Civil War in Syria
The civil war in Syria, which started as a mutiny against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in the beginning of 2011, granted ISI with wider opportunities, as its fighters could freely transit the borders with Syria. By the end of 2012, most of the rebel groups that had been the driving force of the rebellion lost their positions as a result of exhaustion and resource depletion; Islamic forces now played a more significant role. Islamic coalition included the Nusrah Front, a broadly ramified organization coordinated from the al-Qaeda headquarters, the Islamic Front, a union of local Islamist radical groups, and mercenaries loyal to al-Baghdadi. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi declared his vision aimed at consolidating his forces in Syria and Iraq with the help of the Nusrah Front. The formation would adopt the name Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, however, the merger was not approved by the Nusrah Front (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). The division made the two groups compete against each other, particularly for new recruits, which finally culminated in an armed conflict.
ISIL (ISIS) managed to establish a territory of total authority in the eastern provinces of Syria that the Syrian government failed to control. In the newly conquered area with a center in Al-Raggah, a strict interpretation of the Islamic law was proclaimed. The group’s propaganda, heavily based on glorification of its military achievements and cruel treatment of the violators of Islamic law, was aimed at attracting the radicalized elements from abroad. ISIS also acquired access to important oil refineries in eastern Syria that granted them a means of generating income by trading oil on the black market (Encyclopedia Britannica).
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In June 2014, ISIS recorded an audio message in which they proclaimed a caliphate on the controlled territories and inaugurated al-Baghdadi their caliph. The group’s aspirations concerning the global leadership of the Islamic communities were rejected by most Muslim groups.
Islamic State undertook some governmental functions within the alleged borders of the new country, such as running basic services and imposing taxes. Policies in health care and education were shaped in amenably to Koran. The group continued to practice the most brutal methods against the civilians to ensure compliance among the population; public beheadings and executions became routine as a reminder for those who approved of disobedience. Rape and slavery were also common.
By the end of 2014, clusters of militants claiming to be affiliated with or directly guided by ISIS had developed into a number of war zones in Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa. The existing rebellion groups such as the Afghanistani Taliban or Nigerian Boko Haram also claimed to be linked to ISIS.
International Terrorist Activities
Apart from Syria and Iraq, ISIS extensions were well-developed in North Africa. In Libya, destabilized by conflicts after dethroning Muammar Qaddafi, ISIS was responsible for a number of fatal attacks in 2011. In 2014, a video demonstrating massive executions of Christian captives from Ethiopia and Egypt was released. In March 2015, a group of gunned men rushed into the Bardo National Museum in the capital of Tunis, killing 21 visitors (Kirkpatrick, 2015).
In November 2015, ISIS carried out its two deadliest terrorist attacks outside Syria or Iraq. On the 13th of November, several well-coordinated groups of Islamists armed with guns and bombs conducted a series assaults in the northern part of Paris, killing 129 people and injuring hundreds more (Ugur, 2015). A day earlier, over 40 people were killed by suicide bombers attack in Beirut. ISIL claimed responsibility for both attacks, and promised there will be many more.
Ideology and Goals
Since 2004, the major goal of ISIS has been formulated as the formation of a Sunni Islamic state. ISIS has a vision to govern a caliphate, an Islamic country run by a group of religious authorities under the guidance of the caliph, the alleged successor of the Prophet Mohammad. In June 2014, ISIS released a paper that documented al-Baghdadi’s blood ties to the Prophet. ISIS claimed to have investigated its leader’s lineage on its own. As a newly appointed caliph, al-Baghdadi urged all Muslims across the world to unite under the Islamic principles.
According to Todenhofer, a German journalist who spent ten days alongside ISIS’s fighters, the organization pursues ambition of dominating the world, and those who do not want to comply with the group’s understanding of Koran will be killed. The journalist was shocked and horrified by the terrorists’ readiness to exterminate half of the world (Withnall, 2014).
ISIS is a Wahhabi group that follows a radical interpretation of Islam, accepts and encourages religious violence, and treats Muslims who do not adhere to their philosophy as heretics. According to al Khoei, ISIS’s standpoint is portrayed through the Black Standard version of Prophet Mohammad’s victorious battle flag that is used as its symbol. The words “There is no God but Allah” are believed to represent the group’s intention to revitalize the caliphate system of the early Islam, with the respective organizational structure and methods of ruling applied (Prusher, 2014).
ISIS’s ambition is to bring the “Golden Age of Islam” to present days, disposing any corrections that have been made in its primary version. ISIS’s members believe that innovations spoil the original spirit. They convict the Ottoman Empire and later caliphates of deviating from what they consider authentic Islam and strive for the revival of the initial Wahhabi system of caliphate governance. Jihadists place the adherents of secular law on the same grounds as apostates, and present-day Saudi Arabian government falls into this category.
As of today, ISIS has far outgrown the status of a terrorist organization; with the population of over 10 million residing within its controlled lands, the group incorporates many features of an autonomous country. The research demonstrates how the organization has developed from a purely militant power into a system that is able to support the functioning of some basic services, such as food and gas supply, to its growing number of citizens (Thompson & Shubert, 2015).
From the inside, the Islamic State’s system of governance resembles some of the Western democracies whose values are condemned by it. The key difference is that there is no democracy in Islamic State, and it is the caliph who tops the government and decides who deserves to be executed, raped, or enslaved.
The executive branch of ISIS, “Al Imara”, includes al-Baghdadi’s two deputies, the Cabinet of Advisers, and al-Baghdadi himself (Thompson & Shubert, 2015). Supposedly, ISIS has divided its ruling apparatus into the Iraqi and Syrian branches in order to simplify supervision over the territories. The deputies receive instructions from the caliph and his Cabinet of Advisers and issues orders to the governors of the different provinces. The governors then oversee regional councils as they exercise control over their respective areas.
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Reuters reports that 70% of the Daesh fighters in Syria are Syrian while 90% of terrorists in Iraq are Iraqi. In total, ISIS forces in these two countries account for nearly 40,000 fighters and 60,000 supporters (Nakhoul, 2015). Al-Baghdadi’s political success mostly relies on his solid military power that is believed to have been formed from the remains of Saddam Hussein’s army. Apart from that, radical philosophy is professed by ISIS attracts extremists from other parts of the world, which means that over 25,000 of fighters from 100 states have joined the organization so far (Burke, 2015).
ISIS receives support from the other Islamist terrorist organizations, including Boko Haram, Abu Sayyaaf, Caucasus Emirate, and Ansar al-Sharia. Many of the organizations on the list were previously related to al-Qaeda. The weakening of al-Qaeda and the rise of Islamic State indicate a switch in the global “holy war” leadership.
ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, or Daesh is a terrorist organization that originated in Iraq as a functional sub-division of al-Qaeda. As of today, ISIS controls areas in the North-West of Iraq and East of Syria. The group’s major aim is to establish the global Islamic dominance, a state in which Koran in its most radical interpretation would dictate the legal and social norms. To breed horror in the hearts of their enemies, whom ISIS consider half of the world if not more, the jihadists regularly organize bombings and gunned attacks in crowded places. In most cases, their intention is to kill as many people as possible. Executions, public slaughter of hostages and civilians, and beheadings are the common practices of Daesh radicals. The number of the ISIS supporters in Syria and Iraq is estimated to be around 100,000 people.