Whether they are referred to ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), ISIS Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Daish, or simply the Islamic State. One thing is known, they will be very difficult to remove from power in the middle east. This article looks to provide some background into who they are, what they want, and what tactics may be used to remove them from power. As more information is garnered we will provide updates. So the first question we need to know is – Who Is ISIS?[section title=’Who is ISIS?’]
ISIS is an internationally recognized terrorist organization run by Sunni Muslims. They are violent, oppressive to those they conquer, have a very narrow and strict interpretation of Islam, and clam authority over all Muslims whose areas they acquire. They enjoy a particularly significant presence in Iraq, and have become prominent there since the withdrawal of U.S. and other international troops after the end of the Iraq war. They also control territory in other Middle Eastern countries.
During the height of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, most of the group that would later come to be known as ISIS was wiped out, being either captured or killed by American forces. However, they surged back onto the scene with tremendous force once the U.S. removed its troops.
ISIS is currently made up mostly of Iraqi citizens. However, it also has a strong international membership, and it is attracting people from as far away as Europe and the United States. These are people who identify with the group’s radical Islamic message and want to become part of their “jihad” to take over the Iraq and Levant regions of the Middle East to create what they consider to be a “true” Islamic state.
[/section] [section title=’What Does ISIS Want?’]
Since at least 2004, the foundation of an Islamic state in the Iraq and Levant regions has been the group’s main goal. ISIS long stated it wanted to evolve into a caliphate, which is a council of religious authorities who work under a supreme leader known as the caliph. The caliph is believed to be the direct successor of Islam’s founder, the prophet Mohammed. Its current appointed caliph, al-Baghdadi, claims to be able to trace his lineage all the way back to Mohammed. He has demanded the allegiance of all truly devout Muslims around the world.
In 2014, ISIS announced that it was, indeed, a caliphate, and claimed authority over all Muslims in the region. As the group has moved into and conquered other regions in the area, it has declared that all former states, forms of government, and laws in those areas are no longer valid, and that all people living there must conform to ISIS’s own government and laws.
While establishing authority over the Iraq and Levant areas of the Middle East is the main goal of ISIS, it also has international ambitions. The group has already announced that they would trounce U.S. troops in Syria…another area where ISIS has a large presence…and would raise the Islamic flag over the White House. ISIS has threatened to invade Turkey if Turkish officials did not open a dam that was limiting water flow to Iraq and Syria.
The group has been very strong and vocal in its international recruitment efforts, speaking to the sensibilities of people who view themselves as devout Muslims of the “true” kind. Recruits are encouraged to become a member of the jihad to get what God has promised them. Recruits, especially those from Europe, seem to have anger and resentment against other western nations and the United States. Many of them have proclaimed they are joining ISIS to invade other countries as their Middle Eastern brethren have been invaded, and to capture women and orphan children as westerners have done to women and children in the Middle East. So, ISIS has a dual agenda of revenge on the west for the Iraq war as well as establishing the authority of their caliphate across the region.
[/section] [section title=’How is ISIS Funded?’]
ISIS is one of the most uniquely and complexly funded terrorist groups in the world. It doesn’t use the regular system of banks under various alias account names that other groups do. Instead, it uses cash, access to crude oil, and various types o black market contraband to fund its activities. Members of the group do most of their monetary exchanges in southern Turkey, northeastern Syria, and northwestern Iraq, where security from those nations is lax, allowing for illicit transactions to occur away from the eyes of the various governments and their representative agents.
(Infographic: The Washington Institute)
The funds ISIS collects go to more than just financing its terrorist activities. It also goes to support the people living within the areas it controls. Right now, that equals over 8 million people. Money also goes to support military combatants in many different countries, to fund recruiting efforts, and to sponsor new recruits to get to ISIS-controlled areas. The group shows no sign of running out of money or resources.
Most of its money and resources come from it terrorist activities and local criminal activities. It doesn’t need to move a lot of money across borders, as the group has the ability to obtain what it needs wherever it goes. This makes it one of the most financially independent terrorist organizations currently in existence, and a model for others that might come after it or want to work in conjunction with it.
Because ISIS uses no banks, it makes it difficult for the United States to pursue its customary tactic of going after the banks where terrorist groups keep their money and force the banks to freeze the accounts. Most of the group’s transactions are done on a person to person basis and through smuggling routes, so tracking their money and gaining control of it is practically impossible for the U.S. or any other foreign government.
ISIS is also extremely wealthy, generating up to $6 million a day by some estimates. Members of the U.S. Treasury have referred to it as the best funded terrorist group it has ever confronted. With so many different activities going on that bring in cash and resources, as well as a vast array of individual people supporting it, either willingly or through force, there seems no end to the financial reach of ISIS at this time.
[/section] [section title=’Who Are the Major Supporters of ISIS?’]
While no foreign governments have given their outright support to ISIS, some nations are known to have contributed financially to their activities, such as Saudi Arabia. However, there are strong and powerful groups within a number of nations who support ISIS monetarily, through sending military aid in the form of troops and weapons, and by other means. Some wealthy individuals also support ISIS. The militant groups in various nations who have pledged their support to ISIS can be considered the foreign support bases of this organization.
Right now, powerful militant groups in the following countries are actively supporting, fighting for, and recruiting for ISIS:
Pakistan (probably the largest number of militant supporters of ISIS are here)
Egypt (particularly in the largely uncontrolled Sinai peninsula)
The Gaza Strip in Israel (a Palestinian group here fights on behalf of ISIS)
ISIS is a very well-organized group, and it does things in a methodical manner. Everything starts with its caliph, al-Baghdadi. He has a cabinet of advisers, among which are two deputy leaders (one for Iraq and one for Syria) and 24 governors (12 each in Iraq and Syria). Each of these leaders have their own councils on finance, military issues, legal issues, leadership matters, intelligence, security, assistance for foreign fighters, and the media. There is also a Shura council that oversees everything the councils do, to make sure they are acting in compliance with ISIS’s interpretation f Sharia law. Most of the people in leadership positions in ISIS are Iraqis who used to be art of Saddam Hussein’s government regime.
The capital of the ISIS caliphate government is in the Syrian town of Ar-Raqqah. The entire structure of government in that town has been transformed into a caliphate government in the short tie ISIS has been operating from there. Some members of the former Assad government were allowed to retain their civil jobs after they pledged allegiance to ISIS.
In Ar-Raqqah, ISIS runs the power station to provide electricity and water to the citizens. Welfare programs have been set up to provide for the poor. Price controls have been put into place and the wealthy have been taxed. Religious lectures are given to the populace as part of the government’s program of social services. There is a program for repairing roads. The houses of Shiite Muslims and other religious groups who fled Syria when ISIS arrived have been given to the police and military personnel.
Because of these things, ISIS has broad popular support in Ar-Raqqah. The people are living under better conditions with ISIS than they did under Assad’s government. By winning the hearts and minds of the people, ISIS has done an excellent job of conquering and controlling this town. The people they control don’t want them to leave. This is the way ISIS envisions conquering other areas in the future.
Of course, Ar-Raqqah is an exemplary example. In most other cases, ISIS has had to resort to brute strength and barbarous treatment of civilians to gain control over the regions it has conquered. It wins control through superior military force and keeps control through intimidation. Thousands of civilians in other areas have been killed by ISIS forces to show their strength and power. Many of them have been killed in cold blood. The UN has accused ISIS of war crimes and human rights violations in nearly every area it has conquered. Even children have not been spared in the violence ISIS has used to gain control and keep control of its new territories. Entire families have been killed together in some cases.
Once ISIS has control of an area, it may find (and often does) that the people of that area are not exactly happy to have them there, especially after the violence of their takeover of a region. So, to maintain control, ISIS soldiers and leaders have to use intimidation. For example, ISIS implements Sharia schools in many of the areas it conquers, where male children are compelled to attend. Many subjects are banned from being taught in these schools, such as Christianity, music, national history, art, and literature. Evolution is also banned from being taught, national anthems have been declared blasphemous, and some pictures have been removed from textbooks. While Iraqi parents who are opposed to the ISIS curriculum have been allowed to keep their male children home from school (because ISIS favors Iraq and Syria among the nations where it has areas under its control), other parents in other nations have not been given this option.
In addition to instituting new educational guidelines, ISIS also immediately institutes dress codes hen it conquers a region. Women are required to wear full veils. The way men wear their tunics and other clothing is also regulated. Even the faces of mannequins in stores must be veiled, and naked mannequins are banned. Female fighters are used to enforce dress and conduct rules for women in most areas, though men will e used if enough women fighters are not available in a particular place.
Women are encouraged to stay home and to only go out when it is unavoidable. Stealing is punishable by amputation again, just as it was in ancient times. While most Muslim countries ban the sale of alcohol (as well as its use), ISIS controlled areas also ban the use and sale of cigarettes and hookahs. In following its strict interpretation of Islam, ISIS also bans photographs of people being displayed in shop windows, and forbids playing music in cars, parties, stores, and anywhere in public.
Christian churches and non-Sunni mosques are destroyed or converted to other uses. Vice police are sent out to make sure people are complying with the strict rules, and to dole out punishments when they find the rules being broken.
Perhaps the most intimidating and effective use of force in keeping control of their conquered areas that ISIS uses is executions. Thousands of them have been carried out in ISIS controlled areas since the official declaration of the caliphate in 2014. Both men and women have been executed for being found guilty of such anti-ISIS (and thus, to ISIS members, anti-Islam) acts as adultery, watching pornography, possessing illegal contraband, renouncing Islam, murder, homosexuality, blasphemy, and rape. Some of these supposed crimes have a broad range for interpretation under ISIS law. Executions are often public, which contributes to the intimidation factor that allows ISIS to maintain control of an area. Methods of execution are also especially brutal in order to maintain control, and include such things as stoning, beheading, crucifying, throwing people from tall structures, and other similarly horrific things.
[/section] [section title=’What is the UN’s Strategy Regarding ISIS?’]
The UN is only the sum of its member nations, and as such, does not have an official strategy regarding ISIS. this is because its member nations who have voting privileges cannot agree on what to do about ISIS. Russia and China are adamant that noting be done. Without their votes, the hands of the UN are virtually tied regarding creating any ISIS policy or strategy.
Other member nations like the US, the UK, and France have conducted air strikes independently and cooperatively on ISIS targets, but they have done this as sovereign nations, not as part of the UN. Russia, meanwhile, won’t vote on any action involving anything to do with Syria, though it has indicated it might lend its military support to fighting ISIS in other countries. China has a strict policy of staying neutral to the ISIS issue.
If the five voting nations on the UN’s security council each volunteered a few thousand troops to fight ISIS on the ground, it might be effective in getting rid of it, liberating ISIS controlled areas, and removing the international threat ISIS poses. Until then, Russia and China seem content to continue to veto any action by the UN, and to allow the US, UK, and France to do all the work.
This could possibly be to draw the attention of those countries away from atrocities in other areas being committed by Russia and China, it could be economically motivated, or for any number of other reasons. Russia and China’s votes are needed for the UN to do anything about ISIS, they aren’t giving their votes, and they are not explaining why. Until then, the other three voting countries are on their own in combating this international terrorist group.
[/section] [section title=’What is the USA’s Strategy Regarding ISIS?’]
The US has so far followed a policy of avoiding sending any ground troops to fight ISIS. However, the US has conducted hundreds of air strikes on strategic ISIS targets. This is the policy the US seems to be committed to following for the time being. While a lot of talk about what to do about ISIS continues to go on in the US government, and President Obama has addressed it to both Congress and the public, he is understandably reluctant to get into another Middle Eastern ground war after getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
He does understand the threat ISIS poses to the international community, and foreign fighters who want to fight ISIS on their own turf are welcomed to the United States for training. However, for the time being, a policy of training other fighters, letting the people of the Middle East handle ISIS themselves, and conducting the occasional air strike on an ISIS target is the US policy of choice. Something drastic will have to change with ISIS before the US changes its policy.
[/section] [section title=’Why Some American’s Think Obama is to Blame for ISIS (and Others Think Bush is to Blame)’]
Some Americans blame our own government for the ISIS problem, though the real issue is far more complex than anything the US did or did not do. There are two vocal factions in the US regarding who is to blame for ISIS, whatever the reality of the situation may be. One group blames President Obama. They blame him for pulling troops out of Iraq too soon (before the nation was fully stabilized), for a lack of attention to the ISIS problem when it began, and a lack of action other than air strikes when ISIS began its brutal program of taking over large regions in the Middle East.
Other people blame the ISIS problem on former President George W. Bush. They blame him for courting international hostility in the Middle East by starting the Iraq war in the first place, for not putting enough resources into going after Osama Bin Laden, and for being too imperial with his foreign policy (which alienated and angered a lot of the US’s allies and damaged much international goodwill, which Obaa has had to work on building back up).
[/section] [section title=’What Other Muslim Nations are Doing to Combat ISIS’]
Just because ISIS is a Middle Eastern group made up of Muslims does not mean all Muslims or Muslim nations support it or what it is doing. In fact, ISIS has gotten some very harsh criticism from other Muslim nations. Muslim theologians are among the most vocal and outspoken of its critics.
In addition to denouncing the group as an extremist and militant one that hurts people of all religions and nationalities..Muslims included…some Muslim nations are taking decisive military action against ISIS. Iran was the first, and continues to do so. Joined by its ally, the militant Hezbollah group, Iran sent fighters and drones to fight ISIS in Iraq in the summer of 2014.
Iran continues operating a large scale air strike campaign against ISIS in Iraq, and has since been joined in this air strike campaign by Jordan. Iran seems to have a vested interest in stopping ISIS in Iraq, because a strong ISIS there could eventually set its ambitions on neighboring Iran and send militant troops over the border. That is a problem Iran does not want to deal with, as it runs a pretty tightly organized and regimented country.
Iran does not want the chaos ISIS would cause if it came there. To Iran, containing ISIS in its nearest occupied neighbor, Iraq, is the most logical course of action it can take, and it is making it known that it rejects the presence of ISIS as well as the ISIS philosophy by taking action against the group in Iraq.
Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey have been supplied with weapons by the United States with the blessing of the U.S.-supported Iraqi government. These troops have been moving into Iraq and Syria to fight against ISIS side by side with local Kurds. They have had some success in expelling ISIS-supporting Sunni Muslims and replacing them with Shiite governments in areas where Sunni ISIS members once ruled.
Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have joined in the air strike campaign with the United States in Syria. The United States is also in the process of allocating money to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS within their borders. Egypt is conducting an air strike campaign against ISIS in Libya, and recently started a ground campaign there where they captured 55 ISIS soldiers.
In Iraq, non-combat troops from the United States have been conducting training sessions with the Iraqi army to prepare them to fight ISIS on their own, within their own borders. While no battles have taken place with the Iraqi army yet, they are preparing to launch assaults on several important ISIS-controlled areas once they feel they are adequately trained and equipped to do so and have a chance of winning.
[/section] [section title=’The Best Chance for Defeating ISIS’]
That ISIS needs to be defeated is clear. How it will be defeated is less clear. Military action on the part of the United States, its allies, and other Muslim countries is just part of the equation.Many nations will need to participate in bringing ISIS to its knees, and both political and security policies will need to be implemented by all participating nations against it.
ISIS should be contained, much as the western world adopted a policy of containment against communism during the Cold War and Vietnam. Once ISIS is contained, it can be degraded. This can only be done with multi-national support from around the world.
Once ISIS is contained and degraded, the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria can be addressed and alleviated, and their territorial sovereignty restored. This will allow millions of Syrian refugees to return home, and will alleviate the burden their presence is putting on the neighboring countries who have taken them in.
Defeating ISIS will take time. Patience must be required. A concentrated and determined effort to defeat them must also be committed to by many nations around the world. This may mean nations that do not normally work together must band together for a time to defeat a common enemy.
While the participation of the United States is crucial to any effort to defeat ISIS, all of the power and hope of doing so much not be placed here. The US cannot defeat ISIS on its own. This is a lesson that was learned the hard way during the Iraq war. Coalitions must be formed with other nations, and those actions must combine their resources with those of the United States to achieve results. Local efforts in areas near and where ISIS controls things will be equally as important in defeating ISIS as the participation of the United States in this effort.
The important thing to remember is that ISIS can be defeated. While it is a powerful group, it is just one group, and it has more detractors than adherents. Most of the people living under its control do not want ISIS to be there (Ar-Raqqah excluded). Given the right support from the right people and groups, those who are under the control of ISIS can play instrumental roles in freeing themselves and re-establishing domestic rule. It will just take the support of the international community to help them do it.
ISIS’s pockets may be deep, but they have accrued much enmity among even fellow Muslims. They are ripe for defeating. Even if the UN does nothing and Russia and China continue to practice neutrality, other countries can step in and get the job done, with the US as their leader and partner. The time to defeat ISIS is now, and the international climate is favorable to doing it. The project should be made an international priority and begin as soon as it can be arranged.