The Islamic State group (otherwise known as
ISIS) has been a major fixture in the national and world news recently thanks to its growing control of territories in the Middle East. This group’s horrific tactics of public beheadings, mass executions of prisoners and civilians, and sexual enslavement of Iraqi women have turned the group into a household name. Now, several experts are comparing the group to Afghanistan’s Taliban, whom the United States helped to overthrow after 9/11.
But what is the Islamic State group? Where did it come from and what does it mean for you?
The Aims of the Islamic State Group
The Islamic State group is a Sunni Islamic extremist organization that seeks to establish an Islamic state in the Sunni majority areas of Syria and Iraq. Although Islam has many branches, Sunni Islam is one of the two largest sects, along with Shiite Islam. Sunni and Shiite sects regularly struggle for control in different parts of the world, with each believing their doctrine is the more pure form of Islam. In Iraq, a majority Shiite government took power after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime, while in Syria, the majority of citizens are Sunni, but the leadership is Shiite. (To learn more about the ongoing conflict in Syria, see this article.) The Islamic State group seeks to unite the region under Sunni rule and regards violence as an acceptable tool to achieve its ends.
Islamic State Tactics
Like several Islamic extremist factions, the Islamic State group follows an extreme anti-Western interpretation of Islam. This hatred of the West has led to citizens of the United States, Great Britain, France and Lebanon being beheaded in public execution videos. These gruesome, and well-publicized, acts have been catalysts for foreign intervention. However, most of the Islamic State group’s actions have involved the seizing of territory from both Iraq and Syria. As of October 2014, the Islamic State group is in control of nearly all of the northeastern half of Syria and the majority of Iraq’s most western provinces. The Islamic State group gains more territory by the day and have captured several cities and towns that lie in their path.
A coalition of Western military forces, including the U.S., Germany, Australia, Canada, Britain and France, in concert with the forces of Middle Eastern nations have begun intervening in Syria and Iraq. The majority of these attacks have been via airstrikes and the arming of mostly Kurdish militia groups in northern Syria and Iraq.
How Big Is the Threat?
Although the Islamic State group and al-Qaida are both Islamic extremist organizations, it’s important to note that, unlike al-Qaida, the Islamic State group is not a traditional terrorist organization. Besides the beheadings of Westerners in Islamic State territory, the Islamic State group has yet to execute any attack on a Western target or shown plans of doing so. The evidence appears to show that the Islamic State group is simply a very organized militia.
The Islamic State group most closely resembles the Taliban in Afghanistan, a similarly militant Islamic group, but the Islamic State group is significantly better organized. Especially in Iraq, where the new army has limited tactical skills, the Islamic State group has used urban guerilla warfare to win serious swaths of land. The Islamic State group’s advanced and sophisticated military leadership is interested in creating an Islamic nation in the territory they have taken, thus the name Islamic State. Their hierarchy is vast and organized, with advanced communication procedures between the forces.
The Islamic State group is showing no signs of diminishing power. In 2014, Iraqi intelligence postulated that the organization had assets totaling over $2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. The current goal of the group is to establish a caliphate, or an Islamic state led by religious authorities under a supreme leader and successor to Muhammad. The territory they have taken will never be accepted as an independent territory by the world’s nations, but it is clear that it will take significant foreign involvement to stop the spread of the group.
Security Policy Studies at Notre Dame College Online
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