By Bismellah Alizada
A terrorist group and a quasi-state
Who is ISIS/ISIL? Fundamental Islamists seeking political power to establish a caliphate in the Middle East? Agents of a proxy war by the United States and Israel in the region? Or simply, can the conflict be reduced to a sectarian war between Shiite and Sunnis?
To answer these questions, it is necessary to understand the formation of ISIS, how it became powerful, and what it wants to accomplish.
The United States invasion put an end to Saddam’s regime—a Sunni regime—in Iraq, responsible for atrocities against Shiites that is compared to those in Yugoslavia. In post-Saddam Iraq, Shiites rose to power led by Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s ex-Prime Minister. In 2006, Sunnis led by Abu Masub al-Zarqawi, embarked on a crusade of brutality against Shiite civilians in Iraq, reasoning that “… [t]hey were being persecuted by the Shia-dominated government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, starved of resources and excluded from a share of power.”1 After al-Zarqawi was killed by American Forces, the group was weakened. With U.S. forces withdrawn from Iraq, the group was revived and some Iraqi officials began to speak of a “third generation of al-Qaeda rebranded in 2006 as the Islamic State in Iraq”.2
In 2010, in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was killed and Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from an Iraqi university, became the new leader of Islamic State in Iraq (I.S.I.). He added another ‘S’ to that initialism in April, 2013, after actively engaging in Syrian Civil war that had broken out earlier in 2011. “In March 2013, it took over the Syrian city of Raqqa — the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control.”3
Following Raqqa’s fall, many other Iraqi provinces including Musol fell under ISIS control with oil refineries that served as a major source of income, and ammunitions left by Iraqi army in cities ISIS conquered. The group has recently changed its name to I.S. (Islamic State) which is in part, an official declaration of a quasi-state. Many volunteers have joined the terrorist group from all over the world, including Afghanistan, Iran, and Europe. “Over 3000 European citizens have joined ISIS”4, reported B.B.C. Persian. U.S. airstrikes and international coalitions have hindered the group, but there are still shocking atrocities occurring in its territory against Kurds and Shiites.
The Doctrine of Islamic Caliphate
In the height of its advances, when al-Baghdadi first declared the Islamic Caliphate, he asked all Muslims in the region and around the world to pledge their allegiance to the Caliphate. But what does that mean? What is a caliphate? A simple state like any other?
A caliphate is an Islamic State governed by a caliph who represents a fundamentalist ideology with its unique system of values, and seeks to universalize both the ideology and the caliphate. The caliphate should stretch beyond Iraq to all Muslim countries and then to non-Muslim ones. It advocates jihad, enforces sharia law, beheads opponents, separates boys and girls at schools and universities, forces women and girls to sex-jihad, destroys cities, and commits war crimes and genocide.
Like any other ideology, it delineates between friends and foes; it annexes friends to the territory of the caliphate, while declaring jihad against the foes. The foes include Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims who interpret religion and the holy Kuran differently than ISIS are treated as apostates whose killing is a religious duty and part of jihad.
Is it a major threat?
The group lacks international support. A coalition of over 30 countries has shown commitment to fight against it. Meanwhile, a coalition of ten Arab countries has joined forces against the phenomenon. It is not supported openly by the Islamic world either. The only point that remains mysterious is where its seemingly endless supply of money comes from.
To some extent, as puts Daniel Byman, professor at Georgetown University and research director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution: “[its] aura of invincibility speaks less to their talent as it does the lacking effectiveness of their opponents.”5 Most of ISIS’s funds come from capturing oil refineries and exerting taxes from local businesses. Additionally, they use their dominant online presence to collect donations from sympathetic parties.
Although establishment of an Islamic caliphate seems unlikely, atrocities by ISIS demands serious action. An insecure Middle East under control of blood-thirsty fundamentalists does not benefit any country in our world.
1 Lister, Tim. (June 12, 2014). CNN. ISIS: The first terror group to build an Islamic state? Accessed November 02, 2014, from, http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/12/world/meast/who-is-the-isis/
3 Gryboski, Michael. (August 15, 2014). Christian Post. Who Is ISIS? 4 Important Facts About the Ruthless Terror Group in Iraq. Accessed November 02, 2014, from, http://www.christianpost.com/news/who-is-isis-4-important-facts-about-the-ruthless-terror-group-in-iraq-124853/.
4 BBC Persian (09, 2014). Over 3000 European Citizens have joined ISIS. Accessed November 02, 2014, from, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/world/2014/09/140926_l31_is_europe_fighter.
5 Gryboski, Michael. Ibid.
6 Zarate, Juan. (June 28, 2014). New York Times.