Colin Powell told the UN Security Council in 2003 that a notorious terrorist named Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was the link between Saddam Hussein’s al-Qaeda regime and Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda regime. This is to show that Iraq had terrorist connections, which required preventive attacks. Although this was later denied, Powell’s erroneous testimony would be obscurely prophetic. Global attention brought to the fore a man who had previously been fired as a small hooligan and who soon became the main coordinator of terrorist networks in the Iraqi uprising between 2003 and 2006. This same man would have sown the seeds for these three years what would become the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). In this context, “al-Sham”
Zarqawi had already formed ties with Al-Qaeda when he was active in Afghanistan in the 1990s. He deplored Al-Qaeda’s obsession with the West as the main enemy and considered the rulers of the Islamic world as the “neighboring enemy” that should be treated first. He then founded a jihadist group called Tawhid wal-Jihad in Iraq, which unleashed a reign of carnage and chaos that intensified after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Despite their differences, the group formally became the Iraqi wing of Al-Qaeda. It was a marriage of convenience, as Zarqawi’s wal-jihad had access to the resources of a formidable jihadist organization, while Al-Qaeda had taken hold in Iraq, which was now a global center for terrorism.
The declared policy of Al Qaeda of Zarqawi in Iraq (AQI) was to bring together the Sunni majority in jihadist groups and hit the Shiite minority, a tactic that ISIS employs until today. This was criticized by the leaders of Al-Qaeda, who feared that indiscriminate terrorism tactics would alienate their supporters. However, Zarqawi continued his tactics until he was killed in an airstrike in 2006. In late 2006, AQI and eight other Islamist insurgency groups formed the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) without consulting Al-Qaeda. Thus, ISI’s ambitions were clear. It was no longer a jihadist group subordinate to Al-Qaeda, but an embryonic caliphate, ruled by Sharia Law (Islamic), to which all Muslims in their territory owed obedience.
Beliefs and goals
ISIS is technically a militant Salafi jihadist group, which seeks to become theocracy. Follows the Wahhabi doctrine, an Islamic fundamentalist creed of Sunni Islam. It promotes violence against Muslims who do not respect their strict interpretations of the faith. The flag of ISIS is a variant of the Black Standard, the legendary battle flag of the prophet Muhammad. This is proof of ISIS’s belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphates of primitive Islam, along with their political and religious traditions. ISIS believes that it is the only legitimate leader of jihad (holy war) and regards the Sunnis as Hamas as apostates. They consider the fight against Hamas as one of the first steps in the confrontation with Israel. Comparison with non-Muslim countries, another ISIS mission,
When the United States intensified anti-insurgency operations in the 2007 region, this coincided with the so-called “Anbar Awakening”, the organization of Sunni tribes in Anbar to fight against jihadists. This diminished the support base of the ISI, whose territorial claims and political validity were spurious to begin with. After suffering repeated losses in the following years, Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi emerged as a new leader (a so-called Islamic caliph) of the ISI in 2010. When the United States withdrew its forces from Iraq in 2011, the integration Anbar militias formal in the military has been abandoned, and such actions have removed a substantial force from the fight against the ISI.
Role in the Syrian civil war
The Syrian civil war soon followed the withdrawal of the United States from the region, and gave the Islamic State a new cause and fertile grounds for recruitment. In 2011, Baghdadi created a Syrian subsidiary called Jabhat-al-Nusra (JN) to obtain a foothold in the civil war. When JN began to show signs of independence from the ISI in 2013, it was absorbed into the current Islamic state of Iraq and al-Sham. This has allowed ISIS to become a formidable armed force, with which it has undertaken its increasingly ambitious campaigns of terror and territorial acquisitions. The alliance between ISIS and al-Qaeda has long been tense and, after being called “sinful” by ISIS, the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has broken all ties with the Islamic State.
Much of the ISIS armed conflicts in Syria have been fought against rebel groups, including JN and other terrorist and jihadist groups. There is speculation about a tacit understanding between the official regime of Syrian President Assad and ISIS, with each engaged in the fight against the anti-government forces for the acquisition and control of the land, concurrent struggles that actually allowed ISIS to conquer large quantities of territory. After conquering Raqqa in 2014, ISIS used it as a base to launch successful attacks in Syria and Iraq. Soon thereafter he captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah from the influential Iraqi army. ISIS also monitors transport corridors in most of the region,
Human rights abuses of ISIS
ISIS has acquired the ability to administer the territories they hold and its populations. Within these areas, ISIS has established or co-opted governance institutions, reaching judicial, police, education, health and infrastructure systems. ISIS imposes dhimmipacts on minorities, which officially relegates them to the status of second-class citizen together with a protection tax. Minorities, including Shiites, have suffered some of the most serious human rights violations under ISIS rule, which included massacres, rapes and forced religious conversions. Their atrocities on minorities in northern Iraq have been particularly ruthless. ISIS has also been insulted for the cruel execution of foreign journalists, aid workers and captured enemy combatants. Their 2006 newspaper openly stated that improving people’s religion was more important than improving their lives, regardless of the cost.
ISIS recruitment and propaganda
The appeal of ISIS has grown far beyond Iraq and Syria. Baghdadi calls itself Caliph Ibrahim, and his titles include “Commander of the Faithful”, claiming the highest political and religious status in the early years of Islam. Insurgents fighting the unpopular Assad in Syria draw inspiration from the carefully structured propaganda of ISIS, which also attracts young Muslims from all over the world. ISIS has become an expert in the use of social media to send intelligently designed messages to increase its messianic credentials. His monthly magazine, dābiq, is a no- holds-barred tool with which to emphasize the supposedly significant historical roots of ISIS in the Islamic world.
Baghdadi, not content with recruiting individuals, recently invited other jihadist groups to disband and fight under its banner, a call to which many insurgent groups have responded positively. In 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and the shooting down of a Russian plane in Egypt. These statements were designed to give the impression that ISIS is now shifting its focus from the “nearby enemy” and broadening its operational horizons by targeting Western interests. ISIS also claimed to have carried out the Paris attacks, which led France directly into the Syrian conflict.
The Obama administration ordered air strikes against ISIS targets in September 2014 with the support of many European and Arab states. US air strikes have also supported Kurdish operations and Iraqi ground troops who have made profound incursions into former ISIS territories. The Peshmerga moved the Islamic state from the strategic areas around Mount Sinjar in December of 2014. In January of 2015, there was a field battle of four months between the Kurds and the ISIS for the city of Kobane, on the border between Syria and Turkey. Although Kobane has passed into the hands of the Kurds, ISIS has maintained a close presence. In June 2015, the Iraqi security forces, allied with the Shiite and Iran-backed militias,
Conflicting priorities in the fight against ISIS
Turkey shares a 500-mile border with Syria, through which many foreign fighters have entered and left in support of ISIS from all over the world. Turkey has kept its open borders because it seeks the overthrow of Assad. However, when the Islamic state arrived at the border, Turkey was forced to seal it and, in July of 2015, joined the US-led coalition of 60 against ISIS. However, many coalition members have given little more than spiritual support. After US forces withdrew from Iraq, Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki ruled out Sunni rivals from the best places for Shiites. This disillusioned many Sunnis, who tended to gravitate towards the Islamic State.
Regional geopolitics was the main obstacle to concerted campaigns against the Islamic State. The YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia, which has proved a very effective fighting force against ISIS, is seen by Turkey, the United States and EU countries as a terrorist organization itself. The Sunni Arab states are more concerned about a Saudi-led conflict against the rebels in Yemen, while many other coalition partners are leveraging the fight against the Islamist state to promote their interests.
Russia began bombing vital ISIS facilities in Syria in late 2015, but Putin mainly targeted Syrian rebels, effectively helping Assad conquer the territory. A faction of the Shiite militia engaged in the fight against ISIS is loyal to the Iranian nationalist religious, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose army had fought the forces led by the United States in the early stages of the war. The Arab countries of the Persian Gulf are also more interested in containing Iran than in fighting ISIS. In his August 2015 issue, the Economist summarizing the situation almost poetically, saying that “The caliphate survives because its defeat is no one’s priority”.
The new war on terror
With the main Al-Qaida threat in Afghanistan now dead, President Obama has increasingly focused on reducing the US military footprint abroad. In a 2013 speech at the National Defense University in Washington DC, Obama said: “In addition to Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless” global war on terrorism, but rather as a series of persistent and targeted efforts for dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America “. In hindsight 20-20, he is now heard and openly expressed, at least in certain American circles, that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the American detachment from Iraqi affairs may have been too rapid.
With the rise of ISIS and its various affiliates, the “global war on terror” continues to rage in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and beyond. Within two years, America had to return to the Levant. In fact, the Obama administration soon moved from simple support by air strikes to sending hundreds of additional military advisers to Iraq. Soon, 4,000 American troops returned to land in Iraq and Syria. ISIS’s growing international influence is also forcing Obama to organize air strikes in Libya, and to consider deploying troops there as well as engaging more reinforcements in the Sunni Gulf states. Yemen’s security forces succeeded in reconquering the territory from Al-Qaeda affiliates with the US aid support. America is also active in Somalia, where it is helping a group of nations to reject the al-Shabab terrorist group. In Mali, the United States is helping French-led forces repel al-Qaeda affiliates in the Maghreb. The new war on terror is an indirect way to dismantle ISIS through the defeat of its regional affiliates, while retaining it in its current strongholds in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Levant.
Current position of ISIS
In addition to jihadist groups in the Persian Gulf region, a number of militant organizations from Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria and elsewhere have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. ISIS is armed with state-of-the-art weapons and armaments, many of which have been seized from Iraqi national military bases taken in their first successes against them. ISIS has also acquired vast resources based on oil resources in the territory of the caliphate, and therefore it can safely be assumed that the Islamic State will not be canceled without a hard struggle.
Since 2015, in Iraq, there have been concerted efforts by military and Shiite militias, the latter driven by Iranian interests and resources, which could eventually slow the expansion of ISIS. As the evolution of ISIS and the nature of jihadist organizations have shown, they can actually break suddenly, and even unexpectedly. Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led intervention against ISIS, is killing around 1,000 Islamic State militants every month, although ISIS appears to recruit more or less the same number of new jihadists, effectively maintaining the group’s terrorist force around the fighters 30,000 and 40,000. Air attacks on ISIS bases in Iraq and Syria severely limited the militant movement, and with Russia entering the fray, the terrorist infrastructure of the caliphate is seriously undermined. Where the struggle with ISIS will take us in the days, months and years to come, and if we ever see the victory in the global war on terror, only time can tell.