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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

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ISIS, a self-proclaimed Islamic state, is a wealthy terrorist group that defies the reputation of the Fertile Crescent. What was once the “cradle of civilization,” is now a hotspot of ISIS terrorist activity. ISIS has begun to make headlines in the news for the continued violence that they continue to spread throughout the Middle East. Through the combination of: barbarism, military skill, strong religious beliefs, and the twisted use of social media, ISIS has become one of the most notorious terrorist groups in the world, and the actions of this group of outlaws have prompted reactions from various world leaders. If ISIS is not combatted, they could become powerful enough to wreak havoc amongst the entirety of the Middle East. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, more commonly known as ISIS, is an Islamic jihadist group that has recently gained notoriety. ISIS was formed from former members of the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, who claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. They started in 2004, and became known by the name ‘ISIS’ in 2013. They have only been gaining recognition recently because of the fact that they are winning. They are led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The majority of ISIS members are Sunni Muslims, who are the largest branch of Muslim and have been involved in sectarian violence against Shi’a Muslims, who have a different ideology and have previously held power in Iraq and Syria. They were one of many rebel groups who took and are still taking part in uprisings against the government. ISIS used the confusion created from the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars to their advantage and managed to gain control as a result of all of the chaos. ISIL is a theocracy, proto-state and a Salafi or Wahhabi group. It follows an extremist interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards Muslims who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates. According to Hayder al Khoei, ISIL’s philosophy is represented by the symbolism in the Black Standard variant of the legendary battle flag of Prophet Muhammad that it has adopted: the flag shows the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, “There is no God but Allah”. Since at least 2004, a significant goal of the group has been the foundation of a Sunni Islamic state. Specifically, ISIL has sought to establish itself as a caliphate, an Islamic state led by a group of religious authorities under a supreme leader—the caliph—who is believed to be the successor to Prophet Muhammad.

In June 2014, ISIL published a document in which it claimed to have traced the lineage of its leader al-Baghdadi back to Muhammad, and upon proclaiming a new caliphate on 29 June, the group appointed al-Baghdadi as its caliph. As caliph, he demands the allegiance of all devout Muslims worldwide, according to Islamic jurisprudence. ISIL has detailed its goals in its Dabiq magazine, saying it will continue to seize land and take over the entire Earth until its: Blessed flag…covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth, filling the world with the truth and justice of Islam and putting an end to the falsehood and tyranny of jahiliyyah [state of ignorance], even if American and its coalition despise such. According to German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer, who spent ten days embedded with ISIL in Mosul, the view that he kept hearing was that ISIL wants to “conquer the world” and all who do not believe in the group’s interpretation of the Koran will be killed. Todenhöfer was struck by the ISIL fighters’ belief that “all religions who agree with democracy have to die”, and by their “incredible enthusiasm”—including enthusiasm for killing “hundreds of millions” of people. According to Jason Burke, a journalist writing on Jihadi Salafism, ISIL’s goal is to “terrorize, mobilize, and polarize”. Their efforts to terrorize are intended to intimidate civilian populations and force governments of the target enemy “to make rash decisions that they otherwise would not choose”.

Mobilize its supporters by motivating them with, for example, spectacular deadly attacks on enemy soil such as the November 2015 Paris attacks. Polarize by driving Muslim populations—particularly in the West—away from their governments, thus increasing the appeal of the ISIS caliphate among them. “Eliminate neutral parties through either absorption or elimination”. The group is headed and run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, with a cabinet of advisers. There are two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani (KIA) for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari for Syria, and 12 local governors in Iraq and Syria. A third man, Abu Ala al-Afri, is also believed to hold a prominent position within the group, having been rumored to be the deputy leader of ISIL. All three are believed to be ethnic Turkmen. The former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was also said to have had senior Turkmen within his inner circle. While al-Baghdadi has told followers to “advise me when I err” in sermons, according to observers “any threat, opposition, or even contradiction is instantly eradicated”.

Beneath the leaders are councils on finance, leadership, military matters, legal matters—including decisions on executions—foreign fighters’ assistance, security, intelligence and media. In addition, a shura council has the task of ensuring that all decisions made by the governors and councils comply with the group’s interpretation of sharia. According to a 2015 study by the Financial Action Task Force, ISIL’s five primary sources of revenue are as followed (listed in order of significance): proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets), kidnapping for ransom, donations from Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, often disguised as meant for “humanitarian charity”, material support provided by foreign fighters and fundraising through modern communication networks.

In 2014, the RAND Corporation analyzed ISIL’s funding sources from documents captured between 2005 and 2010. It found that outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group’s operating budgets, and that cells inside Iraq were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group’s leadership, which would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks.

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