Namir Khaliq, News Editor
The word “ISIS” has been in the news a lot lately. It seems everyone is terrified of them, but not too many people know exactly why. It is true that ISIS poses a clear threat to the United States and the world in general, and in order to defeat them we must first have a thorough understanding of them. So here is everything you need to know about ISIS broken down into ten simple questions and answers.
What is ISIS?
ISIS stands for The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is an extremist militant group composed of mostly Sunni Arabs. They are a self-proclaimed caliphate, or a holy Muslim empire, and are led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has described himself as the religious and political leader of all Muslims across the world, though most Muslims around the world would not agree.
Where did they come from?
The extremist faction was actually founded in 1999 as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihadi in Jordan and moved to Iraq after the 2003 invasion of the country by Western forces. The group organized attacks and suicide bombings against American coalition fighters throughout the Iraq war. It restructured itself as a more politically based unit in 2010, changing its name to The Islamic State, and soon after expanded into Syria to take advantage of the destabilized climate caused by the on-going civil war. The number of attacks in Iraq increased over the following years and in 2014 they began to take control of many large Iraqi cities and strategic locations. As of now they currently control an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom.
Why has ISIS suddenly become so big?
Muslims are divided into two denominations: Sunnis and Shias. Iraq is a mostly Shia country that was ruled by the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein for over two decades. When the American coalition forces invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam’s regime, elections were held and Shia Noori al-Malaki became the new President of Iraq. He began consolidating power for himself and took drastic measures to squash any Sunni dissidents. The Sunnis of Iraq began to feel repressed by Malaki and rose up against his regime through violent protests and sectarian attacks. The repression of the Sunni population has given militant groups such as ISIS greater power and popularity as more and more Iraqis have been willing to fight for them against what they believe is an autocratic Shia government.
What do they want?
The objective of ISIS is to create a nation that is based on and whose citizens abide by extremist Islamic ideology, and they are kind of succeeding at it. The organization has been collecting taxes from citizens and businesses that reside within their borders, has established a complex governmental bureaucracy, and even releases quarterly business reports. If they are to be considered a terrorist organization, they are by far the most successful terrorist organization in all of modern history. Unlike other Jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS’ main objectives do not include attacking far off countries such as the United States. Instead they have tended to focus on perpetrating violence in areas closer to home.
Who is in ISIS?
ISIS was founded by and is mostly composed of Iraqi Sunni Muslims, but thousands of other Muslims from around the world have joined their ranks recently, among them hundreds of Westerners including approximately 250 Americans. Many others have planned or carried out attacks in the name of ISIS in a variety of countries ranging from Nigeria to France. The CIA has estimated that ISIS has over 40,000 readily available fighter, 30,000 of whom have come from outside Iraq and Syria, and over ten million people are currently living under ISIS rule.
Where is ISIS in control?
Approximately one third of Iraq and nearly half of Syria are currently under direct control of or influenced by ISIS, an astoundingly vast area that was taken in an incredibly short amount of time in a blitzkrieg-like fashion. Their area of influence is constantly expanding as their armies trek across western Syria nearly untouched and groups that have sworn allegiance to ISIS take control of concentrated areas in Libya and Afghanistan.
Why is ISIS a problem?
ISIS is a brutal and merciless regime that is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women, and children. Beheading people is obviously wrong, and posting videos of it online is even worse, but ISIS poses much bigger problems than the violence they publicly display. ISIS is in part responsible for the influx migrant crisis that has left Europe in chaos as hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans flee from their homes in search of safety. Iraq is also an area the U.S. considers strategically significant, and it is unlikely that ISIS would be sympathetic to our interests in the region. Just as Taliban controlled Afghanistan was the launching grounds for Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, ISIS could help fund, arm, and promote terrorist organizations that wish to do us harm.
What is the U.S. doing to stop them?
Due to the deeply controversial nature of the previous Iraq war, the Obama administration has been hesitant to put American boots on the ground in order to fight ISIS. Only a few hundred military officials have been sent into Iraq to play an advisory role for the local forces battling the extremist group. Instead, the U.S. has been heavily reliant on its Air Force to weaken ISIS as it carries out dozens of targeted airstrikes on a weekly basis which, according to The Pentagon, has been responsible for the deaths of over 10,000 ISIS members. The problem with airstrikes is that they target areas, not people, and ISIS is a large area with its military members and leaders mixed in with the general population making it difficult to target them. Another strategy the United States is trying is to arm moderate Shia and Sunni rebel groups who have been fighting back against ISIS.
Is ISIS Al-Qaeda?
ISIS and Al-Qaeda are not the same thing, even though they share many goals and methods. ISIS was even formerly known as Al-Qaeda of Iraq for a brief period of time immediately following the 2003 Iraq invasion. ISIS wants to make a centralized Muslim state, while Al-Qaeda’s goals are to spread their brand of extreme Islam to all corners of the globe. Al-Qaeda has praised ISIS for their work but has not pledged allegiance to or made alliances with them. Some Al-Qaeda members even consider the brutality and extremism of ISIS to be a little too much. It is true that ISIS makes Al-Qaeda look like a bunch of boy scouts, mostly because their strategy of extreme violence has made them much more successful than Al-Qaeda ever was.
Whose fault is ISIS?
It would be foolhardy to attempt to blame such a complex problem on the hands of a few, but that doesn’t mean people haven’t tried. Some have blamed the Bush administration for its unsuccessful invasion of Iraq that completely destabilized the area and got rid of the dictator that helped hold the place together. Some have blamed President Obama because of his eagerness to pull all American troops out of Iraq in such a hasty manner and his lack of action towards the Syrian civil war. Some have blamed President Noori Al-Malaki for oppressing a sizable population of Iraq and ultimately bringing out the worst in them. The reality is a combination of all this, but pointing fingers helps no one, especially not the millions that are currently suffering under the reign of ISIS and the millions more that will be if action is not taken soon. The Islamic State is a global threat, and it needs to be fought by the global community. If not, ISIS could very easily become a permanent problem.