News / Middle East

Terrorist Group is Fusion of a Quasi-State, Radical Islam

Militant Islamist fighters wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014.
Militant Islamist fighters wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014.

The group calling itself “The Islamic State” continues its drive to conquer and rule a piece of the Middle East. Its violent campaign to spread its extreme form of Islam challenges the governments of both Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.  A massive relief crisis is ongoing as hundreds of thousands of people flee its wave of terror and murder.

Radicals from all over the world are joining the Islamic State, driven by their shared desire to impose a radical brand of Islam in every land they conquer and create a ‘Caliphate” - an Islamic religious governing authority.

“The aim [of those supporting the Islamic State] is not power,” said Middle East analyst Tawfik Hamid of the Potomac Institute. “Their aim is to use power to achieve an ideological belief [the Caliphate]. The difference is huge – in the former case, they would sacrifice their ideology if this would help them gain power.”

But with the Islamic State, the opposite is true.

“They are not ready to make ideological concessions to reach power,” said Hamid.

The “Islamic State” was proclaimed in June. It asserted a Caliphate ruled the Syrian and Iraqi territory the militant group holds. And military operations continue to seek additional territory.

The Islamic State was formerly called ISIL – “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” – the name it took in April, 2013. That, itself, is an outgrowth of what was called al-Qaida in Iraq, or AQI, which came together in 2006. The proclaimed head of the Islamic State, whose nom de guerre is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, became the leader of AQI in May 2010, and then ISIL. 

In 2013 al-Baghdadi moved operations to take part in the rebellion against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.  He had a falling out with the Syrian Sunni radical group Jabhat al-Nusra – the Nusra Front, and the rift caused al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri to disown ISIL and al-Baghdadi.  But in June 2014, reports say al-Nusra agreed to send its fighters to join the Islamic State, giving its thrust into Iraq even greater energy.

Many intelligence estimates have pegged al-Baghdadi’s force at some 15,000. If al-Nusra, which has a similar force strength, has indeed merged there could be 30,000 fighters under the Islamic State’s black banner.

“The fighters are very heavily Iraqi/Syrian,” said Raffaello Pantucci at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “There are substantial bodies of people from across the world. The biggest community is from the Gulf [Saudi, Kuwait], but there is also a big group from North Africa [Tunisia and Libya seem very well represented]. Then from across Europe, a smaller number of North Americans, and then random clusters of Central Asians, Southeast Asians, Australians, and a few from Africa.”

The Islamic State, like al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists, use the Internet as a recruiting tool and a means of projecting terror.

“Their multimedia campaign is very slick and quite well controlled.They are active on social media, produce high quality videos with clear and easy messages,” Pantucci said. “Their videos and messages are clearly well received, as people re-tweet them and consume them with great vigor. The terror and violence they deploy in this direction is something of a trademark that obviously their followers enjoy and find appealing.”

The Islamic State posts videos to show its prowess on the battlefield. It is also uploading scenes of opponents getting shot dead and other forms of execution, including crucifixion. 

Violence is a highly valuable tool to the Islamic State because it achieves the goal of control without any compromises to the group’s ideology. Much of that violence has been facilitated by the capture of weapons abandoned by the Iraqi army in Mosul and other cities, and with weapons brought into Iraq from Syria.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Anthony Cordesman as saying “You lost approximately three divisions worth of equipment and probably at least three depots in that area [Mosul].”

Much of the equipment taken by the Islamic State when the Iraqi army fled Mosul was front-line American weaponry.  Multiple reports say the loot included U.S. Stinger surface-to-air missiles, artillery pieces, Humvees, and heavy trucks, not to mention piles of assault rifles and ammunition. Because of this, the United States recently accelerated transfers of weaponry to the Kurdistan Government’s Peshmerga military, and initiated air operations in support of Peshmerga and Iraqi army movements.

While many call for robust military operations to crush the Islamic State, there must be a political solution, said RAND analyst and author Colin Clarke.

“Make progress on stabilizing Syria” and resolve its civil war”, he said. “Iraq desperately needs new leadership that is perceived by the Iraqi population as inclusive of all minorities.”

Clarke blames outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s Shi’a “sectarianism [that] is in large part responsible for the popular support Sunnis now offer the Islamic State.”

A new Iraqi government – with a new prime minister and president – must move quickly and take decisive actions both militarily and politically to address the Islamic State.


Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jonas Nduli
August 15, 2014 7:55 PM
Let's not play down the current state of the Muslim community, today. ISIS may be the latest group to hit the headlines - but they are by no means a small, isolated entity crazies. Viewing them as such would be a serious error. They are from the mainstream Sunni doctrine and consider themselves as 'good Muslims'. Accordingly, they have tens-of-thousands of well wishers or supporters, from around the world. Somehow, over a number of decades, millions of Muslims have started supporting and actively working with - Islamist groups in central Africa, North Africa and across the Middle East. The risk presented by these people today, is huge.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs