Terrorism: The Islamic State by Caroline Reckart

A map of Iraq showing cities already under ISIS control (red) and ones that ISIS has set it's sights on (blue).
A map of Iraq showing cities already under ISIS control (red) and ones that ISIS has set it’s sights on (blue).

The terrorist group that calls it self ISIS or Islamic State was set up by a Jordanian man named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the time, it was a network of Sunni Muslims called Jama’at al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad, which meant ‘The Party of Monotheism and Jihad’. While the values of this group were similar to Osama bin Ladin’s al-Qaeda, their targets were different: Zarqawi’s party attacked fellow Muslims, especially Iraq’s large Shiite population. In 2004, Zarqawi did join his forces with Bin Ladin, two years before US bombs were dropped on his home 20 miles north of Baghdad. By 2011, the group was in the hands of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who took Zarqawi’s tactics and blew them up. Baghdadi continued to open up larger and more aggressive fronts against Shiites, and renamed the group ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL). The group’s motto became ‘There is no God but God.’

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ISIS militants in propaganda media.
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Image released by ISIS media sources.

A key actor in this conflict is the Shia ethnic group. The targets of ISIL can be well-chosen or arbitrary, but there is no greater threat than to the Muslim minority of Shia. While all Muslims agree that Allah is the only God and Muhammed is his messenger, the practices of Shia and Sunni (the Muslim majority on which ISIL is founded) differ. The main reason ISIL targets the Shiite population is that Sunnis regard them as infidels. The story goes that when Muhammed died, the two factions argued over who would inherit the political and religious office. While the Sunnis won out, as time went on the religious beliefs of the two groups began to diverge. Sunnis rely heavily on the prophet Muhammed’s practices and teachings, but the Shia followed the practices of their own religious leaders. This development led the Sunni to accuse the Shia of heresy. Tensions have seemed to always exist between the two groups and now ISIL, mainly comprised of Sunnis, is using it’s growing military and political power to systematically execute members of the Shia population. This is part of the extremist group’s effort to create an Islamic caliphate from Iraq to Syria.

A map of movements in Iraq. American flags represent actions led by the coalition referenced below.
A map of movements in Iraq. American flags represent actions led by the coalition referenced below.

A key actor in the conflict is the United States government. The alarming rapid rate of growth and progress accomplished by ISIL raised some red flags in congress, as did the hacking of multiple US military social media accounts by alleged ISIS sympathizers and the extremist group’s beheading of captive American journalist James Wright Foley in August of 2014. Foley had been abducted in November of 2012 and held prisoner until his death. On September 22, 2014, US troops and five Arab nations led a nighttime raid on ISIS headquarters in Eastern Syria. The next night, on September 23, 2014, the United States launched missiles on ISIS strongholds in Syria from ships on the Arabian Gulf. These actions were made possible by the creation of a US-led coalition of roughly sixty-two countries that in some way pledged military, intelligence, or humanitarian aid to help defeat the Islamic terrorist group. The US also provided humanitarian aid to stranded Yazidis (another religious group in ISIL’s crosshairs). In one of President Obama’s speeches to the United Nations General Assembly, he expressed the purpose of this coalition as a method against “the cancer of violent extremism”. Recent reports have shown that six months in, the coalition’s results are mixed at best. While ISIL’s rapid gain of territory has all but been halted, the extremists still possess enough land to do what they please without direct consequence from the coalition as proven by how they took a Jordanian pilot hostage and burned him alive, leading to the quiet withdrawal of the U.A.E (United Arab Emirates) from providing airstrikes to the coalition. The United States remains in an active role in the coalition but right now it appears they have reached a stalemate with the terrorist group.

The twitter profile of US Central Command (CentCom) after it was hacked. US sources treated this as an act of mere cyber vandalism, stating "this is not a medium where classified or even non-classified is sent back and forth...it was a practical joke".
The twitter profile of US Central Command (CentCom) after it was hacked. US sources treated this as an act of mere cyber vandalism, stating “this is not a medium where classified or even non-classified is sent back and forth…it was a practical joke”.

There very few suggestions of peace that don’t involve destructive action. Military actions against ISIS seem to be the only proven way to effectively deal with the threat. Negotiations seem highly unlikely as they have already proven they are willing to die for what they believe in: defending their own religious beliefs and actions for the sake of their God. The evacuation of targeted religious groups and parties could be attempted to minimize civilian casualty. Weapon suppliers and the weapons themselves could be targeted and neutralized to minimize the massive scale on which the violence is occurring. Unfortunately, the extremists already have multiple strong footholds in their hard-won territory. Peace may only come when the group itself has been defeated, whether morally or militarily.

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2 thoughts on “Terrorism: The Islamic State by Caroline Reckart

  1. Very nice summary of the issue at hand! However, what do you think led to the founding of IS? How has the United States’ involvement in the Middle East exacerbated the pre-existing tensions between Sunnis and Shias?

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    • The answer to both of those questions is tied in with the prescience of the US itself. The founder of what is now ISIS was motivated to do so by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since the US is the icon of Western beliefs, his idea that anyone with different beliefs than him should be exterminated was solidified. Tensions have always existed between Sunnis and Shias, so the Shiite people were a prime target.

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