By now, most of you have heard of ISIS. Most people are cognizant of the fact that it is a militant Muslim group fighting in the Middle East, but few people have a detailed knowledge of who they are, what their objectives are, and how dangerous they are. In this blog I will attempt to illuminate the situation. No politics; just facts. You can make up your own mind.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”), aka the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”), is not an official state but an extremely militant Jihadist group. It was founded in 2003 as a reaction to the US invasion of Iraq. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Saudi Arabia, among others. Its goal is to establish a caliphate with all Muslims under its control politically, economically and spiritually. The caliphate would be ruled by a caliph, which is a political and religious leader who is revered as a successor to Muhammad. The term “Levant” refers to a geographic region that includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and southern Turkey.
Until recently, ISIS was one of various Sunni insurgent groups, including, among others, al-Qaeda with which we are all familiar. Like many other Jihadist groups, it originated in the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s. However, it began to gain in influence and power following its success in the recent Syrian civil war and Iraq’s persecution of Sunnis following the death of Saddam Hussein. It should be noted that Shias constitute a majority in Iraq, but approximately 90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis. ISIS’s rise to prominence has also been aided by its strong leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
ISIS is known for its harsh interpretation of the Islamic religion and Sharia law. It brooks no deviations or modifications of its hard-line beliefs. It routinely brutalizes, i.e. murders, rapes, anyone, Christians, Jews, even other Muslims, who do not share its beliefs as it considers them all to be infidels or apostates. It imposes Sharia law on all who live within its domain. It is so extreme that even other Jidadi groups, such as al-Qaeda, consider it to be too radical. According to journalist Sarah Birke, Middle East correspondent for “The Economist,” who has covered the civil war in Syria extensively, it is far more ruthless than other Jihadi groups imposing Sharia law, such as maltreatment of women and beheadings of “infidels,” on all persons under its control immediately. For example, within two months of taking control of the Syrian city of Raqqa ISIS had established Sharia law, conducted several beheadings, enforced various bans on women, such as requiring them to wear full veils, banned the use of naked store mannequins, segregated boys and girls in school, kidnapped some of the city’s political leaders, kicked out foreign journalists and placed severe restrictions on news reporting. Additionally, those Christians who were not killed outright were given the choice of converting to Islam, paying a “religious levy” called a jizya, or death. All this in just two months!
ISIS is not merely a disorganized terror group. Far from it. What makes it so dangerous and effective is that it an organized, well-trained army with strong military acumen and fighting skills. Its members are very committed as well as violent, brutal and devoted to their principles. That is why it has been so successful in Syria and Iraq. Currently, ISIS is estimated to have over 7,000 soldiers in its army, although estimates vary, and the army is growing every day. Douglas Ollivant, a former US Army officer who served in the Middle East and is currently acting as a consultant on Iraq for the NSC, attributes their superior fighting skills to their experience in the Syrian Civil War and Iraq War. He considers them to be a formidable foe, much better than other terror groups or the Iraqi Army.
ISIS is also skilled in the use of propaganda, especially social media, such as twitter. Additionally, it is well-financed. Revenue sources include ransoms from kidnappings, funds from bank robberies, revenues from captured oil fields and other raw materials, the sale of plundered artifacts, and mandatory contributions from local cells to its headquarters. Outside contributions from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and private donors account for a very small portion of their revenues, maybe 5-10%. It even distributes annual reports to prospective donors much like a publicly held corporation. Yes, they are very well organized militarily, politically and economically.
ISIS has captured a great deal of weaponry, much of it US manufactured, which we had given to Iraq, including Blackhawk helicopters, missiles, and even fissionable nuclear materials. Chances are they will be returning these at some point, although in a less than pleasant manner.
In June ISIS ceased referring to itself as “Iraq and the Levant” and commenced referring to itself as an “Islamic State.” It declared all of its conquered territory to be a “caliphate” and Mr. al-Baghdadi as its caliph. This clearly signaled ISIS’s broadening its ambitions from just Iraq to all of the countries I mentioned earlier and, if unchecked, perhaps more beyond that.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
Yes, by all accounts, ISIS is a formidable foe militarily, economically and politically. It has widespread support, particularly in Muslim countries. I submit that many, if not most, of its supporters and sympathizers are unaware of the extent of its violence and intolerance. Others are supporting them, or at the very least not speaking out against them, out of fear of retribution. However, there is no doubt of its intentions – destroy all non-believers, especially Israel and the US. Its leadership has made that abundantly clear by both word and deed.
The question is what will the US do about it. Polls show that a majority of Americans want to stay out of any further foreign entanglements in the Middle East or elsewhere. Others feel that we need to take strong action now before ISIS gets stronger, conquers more territory, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and southern Turkey and, perhaps, threatens Israel. Still others advocate limited involvement, such as bombings or drone attacks. Until very recently, we did basically nothing. Now, we have instituted “humanitarian ” bombings. That is a good start.
At the outset of this blog I said I would not make this political, so I will not express any opinions. All Americans can decide for themselves. The only thing I will advocate is don’t ignore the situation; stay informed. More to come.