Teach-In — The Islamic State and the Implosion of Syria and Iraq: Whither the Middle East?
Thursday, October 2
4:00 – 5:15 PM
Sponsored by: Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security (ACDIS), Center for Global Studies, and Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.
Panelists will include:
- Jamsheed Choksy, Indiana University
- Carol Choksy, Indiana University
- Paul Diehl, University of Illinois
- Dr. Zaher Sahloul, Syrian American Medical Society
- Edward Kolodziej, University of Illinois
In preparation for this event, this blog post will summarize some important information about the terrorist group known as the Islamic State.
Origins of ISIS
The terrorist group known as ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) traces its origins from the early 2000s, when Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant, founded the Sunni Muslim extremist group Tawhid wa al-Jihad (Unity and Jihad). This group later became a splinter group of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and became well-known for its ruthlessness. After Al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006, a new leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, took control of the terrorist group and changed its name to ISI (Islamic State in Iraq). At this point ISI was still affiliated with al-Qaeda. During the period of U.S. troop surges in Iraq in 2006-2007, ISIS was considerably weakened but not completely wiped out. In 2010 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control of the group.
The anti-government uprising in Syria during 2011-2013 presented itself as an opportunity for ISI to expand, and the group moved into Syria by taking over the Syrian group al-Nusra, renaming itself ISIS. Al-Qaeda leadership opposed this expansion, which led to ISIS’s break from al-Qaeda in 2013. As U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2013, ISIS increased its violent endeavors in the country. In January of 2014, ISIS fighters overtook the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. In June the group made further advances in Iraq, capturing the second-largest city of Iraq, Mosul, as well as Tikrit. At this point ISIS declared itself “the Caliphate.” During the summer of 2014, ISIS shocked the world with graphic videos of mass executions of captured soldiers. ISIS has continued to use social media outlets as mediums for displaying their brutality, releasing execution videos of two American journalists and one British humanitarian worker in August and September.
Crisis of the Yazidi People
In the late summer of 2014, ISIS fighters began targeting Iraqi Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious community in Northern Iraq, in efforts to rid the country of non-Islamic peoples. In early August, ISIS advanced on the town of Sinjar which held tens of thousands of Yazidi people, some of which had already fled from other towns. The Yazidis, along with some Shiite Muslims, were forced to flee the city into the neighboring mountains. As many as 40,000 people became stranded in the mountains, besieged by ISIS forces and faced with extremely high temperatures and dehydration in the rough mountain terrain. At this point President Obama authorized airstrikes against ISIS to help these stranded people flee to safety in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The airstrikes as well as aid from Syrian Kurdish fighters have allowed for the escape of 20,000 to 30,000 people from the mountains surrounding Sinjar. While a majority of those stranded have escaped, thousands more remain in peril and face imprisonment, slavery, or death at the hands of ISIS forces. On September 24, the BBC reported that more than 3,000 Yazidi women and children have been captured and are being trafficked for sex. Iraqi Yazidi politician, Vian Dakheel, stated, “We’re a minority here and there’s no strong lobby to support us.” She explained that support from foreign governments was essential to rescuing the thousands of individuals still in the hands of the extremist group.
What the Islamic State Wants
The goal of the Islamic State is to establish a caliphate, which according to Islamic Law is a religious state ruled by a single leader who holds absolute political and religious rule. The current leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claims to be this leader, or “caliph,” declaring himself, “leader of Muslims everywhere.” But ISIS subscribes to a brutal extremist version of Sunni Islam, and the group is intolerant of any religious groups which contradict its beliefs. ISIS seized the profitable oil fields of central Iraq in 2014, and subsequently has an estimated $2 billion in assets, which makes it currently the world’s wealthiest militant group. ISIS’s sizeable assets, as well as the seizure of weapons and supplies from Iraqi and Syrian forces, make the group extremely well-armed as well.
In August of 2014, President Obama sent a small number of American troops into Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in fighting ISIS. The U.S. has also undertaken an airstrike campaign against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. Part of the U.S. campaign against ISIS includes a humanitarian effort to assist the ethnic and religious communities in Iraq and Syria that are in threat of persecution. The U.S. is joined by France, Saudia Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan in airstrike operations against ISIS. The United Kingdom has also been involved, primarily in Northern Iraq, in humanitarian efforts. Germany and Italy have also committed to providing humanitarian support to the region. Albania, Croatia, and the Czech Republic have assisted by supplying weapons to Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq. In a speech on September 24th before the United Nations, President Obama called for the world to assist in the military efforts against ISIS. Meanwhile, the UN has declared the crisis in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency,” calling upon the nations of the world to assist with the growing humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria.
Learn more about ISIS by attending the Teach-In, and with the sources below:
News Resources from Around the World
Hindustan Times – The Rise of ISIS terror – a timeline
CNN – ISIS Fast Facts
BBC News – Iraq crisis: Desperate plight of refugees near Dohuk
The Independent – Where does Isis get its money from? US steps up the battle to find out
BBC News – Islamic State crisis: Yazidi anger at Iraq’s forgotten people
Al Jazeera – ISIL’s war just went global – Group calls for attacks on US and allies wherever they are – a declaration of war and a defining moment of this conflict
Institute for the Study of War – Timely updates on the situation in Iraq and Syria.
Vox – Things about Isis you need to know
Tracking Terrorism – Islamic State of Iraq and ash Sham / Islamic State (Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS or ISIL, IS)
Scholarly Articles (Available through UIUC Online Journals and Databases)
Cragin, R. Kim. (2014). A RECENT HISTORY OF AL-QA’IDA. The Historical
Journal, 57, pp 803-824.
Hogger, Henry. (2014). SYRIA: HOPE OR DESPAIR? Asian Affairs,
Phillips, Andrew. (2014). The Islamic State’s challenge to international order.
Australian Journal of International Affairs, 68:5, 495-498.
Books at UIUC Libraries
Celso, Anthony. (2014). Al-Qaeda’s Post-9/11 Devolution: The Failed Jihadist Struggle Against the Near and Far Enemy. London : Bloomsbury Publishing.
Feldman, Noah. (2010). The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State. Princeton : Princeton University Press.
Gottlieb, Stuart. (Eds.) (2014). Debating terrorism and counterterrorism: conflicting perspectives on causes, contexts, and responses. Los Angeles : Sage.
Lappin, Yaakov. (2011). Virtual caliphate: exposing the Islamist state on the internet. Dulles, Va. : Potomac Books.