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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Evil ISIS - the origins of the terrorist group

Certainly, evil ISIS, the radical and barbaric terrorist group, is now analguous with diabolic fear.  

A brief history of ISIS published in The Week November 27, 2015

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter says America is at war with evil ISIS

Where we stand today:  ISIS considers itself the "Islamic Caliphate" (a theological empire) and controls vast swathes of land in western Iraq and eastern Syria. They also have "allegiance" from different radical Islamic groups around the world (from Afghanistan to Nigeria) who "govern" self-proclaimed provinces.

Within the areas they control, they established a reign of terror second to none. They have institutionalized slavery and rape (particularly of adherents to the Yazidi religion who they view as devil worshippers) and have carried out genocide and ethnic cleansing of Christians, Alawites, and other Shiites and Yazidis in the territories they control.

By the time the United State withdrew from the long, bloody encounter with Iraq in 2010, it thought it had declawed (rendered irrelevnt) a once fearsome enemy: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which had many names and incarnations, but at the time was neither fearsome nor a state.

Beaten back by the American troop surge and Sunni tribal fighters, evil ISIS was considered such a diminished threat that the bounty the United State put on one of its leaders had dropped from $5 million to $100,000. The group's new chief was just 18 years old, a nearsighted cleric, not even a fighter, with little of the muscle of his predecessors, Abu Musab al Zarqawi - the godfather of Iraq's insurgency, killed by the American military four years earlier after a relentless hunt.

"Where is the Islamic State of Iraq you are talking about?", the Yemeni wife of one leader demanded, according to Iraqi police testimony. "We're living in the desert!"

Yet now, five years later, evil ISIS is on a very different trajectory. It wiped clean a 100 year old colonial border in the Middle East, controlling millions of people in Iraq and Syria. It overcame its former partner and eventual rival, al Qaida, fist in battle, then as the world's pre-eminent jihadist group in reach and recruitment.

It traces its origins both to the terrorist training grounds of Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan and to America's invasion of Iraq in 2013, and it achieved its resurgence through two single minded means- control of terriroty and, by design, unspeakable cruelty. Its emblems are the black flag and the severed head.

Since last spring the group, also known as the Islamic State or ISIL, has expanded beyond its local struggle to international terrorism. Tragically, in recent weeks, it showed spectacular barbarism, first claiming responsibility for downing a Rusian passenge plane when 224 people perished, then by sending squads of killers who ended the lives of 43 people in Beirut and another 129 in Paris.

They have inspired "lone-wolf" terror attacks by sympathizers in places as far away as Ottawa Canada and Sydney Australia.

A bit of nomenclature:
ISIS is also referred to as IS, ISIL, or Daesh. All of these acronyms describe the group.

As the world scrambles to respond, the questions pile up like the dead.  Who are these evil doers?  What do they want?  Were signals missed that could have stopped ISIS before it became so deadly.

ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was the name of the group when it captured Mosul in 2014 and became the terrorist juggernaut it is today. They named themselves that to assert their dominance in Syria.

ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (aka Greater Syria) is the name that Obama uses to describe the group (pretty much only Obama uses it). Superficially speaking, it is just a translation thing.

IS: Islamic State is the name the group gave itself after a "rebranding" effort when they wanted to show off their global strategy (they wouldn't be limited to Syria and Iraq anymore).

Daesh: You may have heard French President Francois Hollande refer to the group by this name. This is essentially the Arabic acronym of the group. People assume that using this word somehow weakens them… it doesn't, because unfortunately in this case it is one of those "sticks and stones" things.

As the Syrian President evil Assad led the Syrian civil war, ISIS became the first rebel group to capture major cities (Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor). In fact, the summer of 2014, the group had its breakout moment. In a lightning offensive, it captured Mosul in Iraq and drove south until it was on the borders of Baghdad. A few weeks later it rebranded itself as a Caliphate and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance (bay'ah). At this point, groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Ansar Beit Al Maqdis in Egypt's Sinai began pledging allegiance and flew the black flag of ISIS. They also established presences in half a dozen other countries.

ISIS grew in notoriety through an aggressive social media and viral video strategy that had it engage with sympathizers and glorify violence. It beheaded many of its victims, including U.S. journalist James Foley. It often filmed executions through drowning, burning alive, and shooting. When it captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, it institutionalized slavery and rape of the Yazidi minority. In short, it installed a reign of barbaric terror.

How did ISIS grow to become so powerful?

There are a number of forces that can explain the strength of ISIS.
Feelings of disenfranchisement: Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria felt alienated by Shiite- and Alawite-led governments. ISIS played on these feelings, pushing forward a sense of victimhood and giving these communities a means to feel in control through violence. They also advanced a twisted interpretation of Islam that found ripe fodder among disenfranchised youth in the area.
Unlikely bedfellows: ISIS partnered with the lieutenants of Saddam Hussein's secular regime (who used to hate jihadis) to perfect their tools of repression along the same lines that Saddam used.
Syrian chaos: There is little doubt that as U.S. allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar ,and Turkey) ploughed money and arms into the Syrian civil war, much of it ended up in the hands of ISIS (and other jihadi groups).

Iraqi chaos: After the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the atrophied Iraqi army was over-equipped and underprepared (and very corrupt) to deal with ISIS. Much of the weaponry ended up in ISIS's hands.

Racketeering and extortion: Before ISIS formally controlled Mosul, it would run a racketeering business (similar to that used by the U.S. mafia) under the nose of the Iraqi government. Businesses and individuals had to pay them a "protection fee" to stay safe.
Taxation and exploitation: Properties belonging to religious minorities or regime sympathizers were promptly appropriated (e.g. churches, gold, hard currency), and once ISIS controlled territory and people it began taxing them like any state would.
Selling oil: It is the Middle East, so oil is always involved. While technically shut out from the international markets, ISIS could and did still find markets for its oil (usually in neighboring Turkey whose government was sympathetic to many of the Syrian jihadis).

So what now?

There are about a dozen countries (some of which hate each other) fighting ISIS. All of them (except for Iran, Syria, and Iraq) are basically doing it by bombing them from the sky. The U.S. has committed a few hundred "advisors" to the fight (and they are most certainly not wearing boots).

Despite a yearlong campaign against ISIS, the group still controls a lot of territory (even capturing new ground like Palmyra in Syria) and has demonstrated that it can strike in the heart of the Western world.

Post-Paris, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on November 13th 2015,  there seems to be growing momentum for ground troop involvement to fight against ISIS. 

Although the Obama administration has remained reluctant, insisting that its strategy is the successful one and that ISIS is weaker now than before, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad feels emboldened with Russia and Iran by his side. Assad knows that it is less likely for the West to oust him, if the alternative will be ISIS.

As the Syrian civil war closes its fifth year, ISIS seems stronger than ever and the refugee exodus does not look like it will end

As Western governments try to grapple with the threat of ISIS terror reaching the Western world, they feel the pressure to lock out these refugees (who are also fleeing ISIS). 

Yes, reports The Week, plenty of hints were evident about how the ISIS become so pervasively cruel, evil and diabolical.

A 2012, report by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency said the growing chaos in Syria's civil war was giving Islamic militants there and in Iraq the space to spread and flourish. The group, it said, could "declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq an dSyria."

"There was a strong belief that brutal insurgencies fail," said William McCants of Brookings Institution and a leading expert on ISIS, explaining the seeming indifference of American officials to the group's rise. "The concept was that if you just leave ISIS alone, it will destroy itself and so, you didn't need to do much."

Nevertheless, as it had always promised, evil ISIS was brutal, frightening fellow groups and the wider world with practices like sexual slavery, immolations, crucifixions and beheadings. Those included killings of the journaist Jaes Foley and others in well produced videos that spread through social media ending woften with a shot of a bloody severed head.

Now, US Defense Secertary Ashton Carter said America is, indeed, "at war" against ISIS.  In other words, the American invasion of Iraq in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" led by President George W. Bush '43, in 20013 was a failure and the consequences of the disasterous invasion are growing.  

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