Shortcuts / 18 November 2019

Islamic State

This Squiz Shortcut is a look at how Islamic State came to be, the power it had at its peak, and the push to defeat it.

What are the origins of this terror group?
The Islamic State traces its roots to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Qaeda, of course is the terrorist group that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. The Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaeda pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, but was defeated by American troops and local militias.

Many of those involved with the defeated al-Qaeda then rebranded themselves as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). And in early 2014 after branching into Syria (creating ISIS), it split with al-Qaeda (in part because Islamic State was too brutal even for al-Qaeda). 

What it it’s ideology?
Its aim is to establish a hard-line Sunni Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. It believes in the restoration of a state under a strict adherence to an early version of Islam, that all Muslims are required to pledge allegiance to it, and that those who do not follow along should be purged, often with bloody sectarian killings. 

And for the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims – this is a good link

Who is its leader?
Until the end of October, it was leader was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was killed in a US military raid on 27 October. 

Believed to be born in the early 70s, he was the son of an Iraqi farmer in a family known for its piety. Reports say Baghdadi was rejected by the army due to his nearsightedness. Instead, he studied the Quran at university in Baghdad and received a PhD in 2007 while supporting two wives and six children. 

He became politically active during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, and was detained by the US for 10 months in 2004. That led him to joining Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). Baghdadi took over the leadership of ISI in 2010 following the death of its founder and he mapped out the group’s push to seize territory and declare its own state. By 2013, he’d announced the group’s expansion into Syria to form Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

Now that he is dead, US intelligence is said to be tracking six Islamic State individuals in the line of succession to Baghdadi. One official said “It’s as though Baghdadi were the CEO and the six were his “executive VPs.”

How successful was Islamic State?
For a time, very successful. Significant gains were made from 2014 until it was significantly restricted in March 2019.

At its peak, the Islamic State controlled an area in Iraq and Syria the size of Great Britain. It boasted a massive military arsenal and financial base that it used to threaten the West. It was also particularly brutal to those under its control. 

When did things really take off?
In June 2014, when ISIS captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. That’s where Baghdadi delivered a sermon declaring himself caliph (aka the ruler of a new Islamic state). He was rarely seen publicly after that but was able to muster tens-of-thousands of followers in the region and around the world. 

What was life like under Islamic State rule?
Grim. Thousands of Iraqis and Syrians were killed. Women accused of adultery were stoned to death, thieves had their hands hacked off, and men who defied IS fighters were beheaded. Militants also enslaved women and children in some parts of the territory they commanded.

And is it active outside this region?
It is, mainly due to its sophisticated use of propaganda and social media which has driven its recruitment network. That network has seen followers commit more than 140 terror attacks in 29 countries other than Iraq and Syria that have killed 2,043 people as of the start of 2018. The most referenced attacks include the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California in December 2015 that killed 14 people. And there have been a series of attacks in France, including the attacks on a soccer match and the Bataclan concert hall on 13 November 2015 resulting in the deaths of 130 people and injuries to more than 350 others. It was the worst violence in France since World War II.

There are also affiliate terror groups in places such as Libya, and the US continues attacks against Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

What brought an end to its occupation in Syria and Iraq?
The might of some international military action and a lot of fighting by locals. In late 2014, Coalition airstrikes involving support from 79 countries including the US, UK, France, Germany, and Australia commenced against IS. And in early 2015, the first American ground troops arrived growing to a total of about 2,000 in Syria and more than double that in Iraq. 

Solid gains were made over time by US-backed Syrian and Iraqi fighters until the US President Donald Trump announced in March this year that Islamic State had been defeated and it would soon be time to bring American troops home. 

So with Baghdadi’s death and Islamic State’s defeat in Iraq and Syria, is that it?
Officials and experts have cautioned that IS remains a dangerous insurgent force, even after Baghdadi’s death. Experts say that history teaches us that groups evolve after their leaders die. And it could reconfigure to fill vacuums like the one emerging in Syria with America recently pulling its troops out. They also say IS has an incentive to show it’s still a potent force.

So on it goes?
Former chief of the Australian Army Peter Leahy said “Islamic State is not just al-Baghdadi… Just because we have got rid of the leader doesn’t mean the theology or philosophy goes away, just as we took the territory away from them didn’t mean the group collapsed.”

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