‘We defeated Daesh (ISIS) through our unity and sacrifice for the nation’ Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared in December (Gelfand, M. J.). While ISIS was one of the largest and richest terrorist organizations in the world, their recent activity has seemed to be diminished over the past year especially.
Although ISIS appears to be not nearly as large of a threat today as it was a few years ago, there still is a percentage of members scattered throughout parts of Iraq and Syria that pertain a potential threat to many other countries, including the U.S. All powerful leaders and organizations must start from somewhere, and by understanding what factors made them successful can be important future encouragement or discouragement on whether to replicate these actions depending on the outcome of them. By analyzing the rise of ISIS, it is apparent that the group couldn’t have come to exist as powerful as it did without Al-Qaeda, extremists trying to control politics, and by group members taking advantage of others.
ISIS essentially came to be directly through the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq, that has Osama Bin Laden to thank for being one of the main founders of the group. One of the main reasons that Bin Laden decided to start the group was due to the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 (Donnelley, J). He may have wanted direct revenge on the Soviets and could have even obtained it by planning attacks on Russia, but he needed more. The Soviets who were power hungry at the time aimed to seize control of Afghanistan and its people, which Bin Laden saw as an act of aggression towards Islam. Understanding Afghanistan, the region’s land is mountainous and jagged making travel extremely difficult. Taking these physical blockades into account, the people are more nonmetropolitan- having more loyalty to a specific clan or ethnic group since the population is very spread out. Being so, Bin Laden- like many others in the region was able to take this invasion as a direct attack to his religion of Islam, which was a serious insult towards the Muslim lifestyle. If Russia hadn’t invaded, Bin Laden and other locals wouldn’t have had a threat to their religion and would have no need to make Al- Qaeda. If Afghanistan was less remote and the people had more belief in their government and less in their ethnicity, then an attack on Islam wouldn’t have been viewed and the war may have sufficed as pay back instead of creating Al-Qaeda. Regardless, neither side is to blame for their actions since they both didn’t know the true intentions of the other, and Al-Qaeda was created to avenge wrongs committed by any individual, religious group, or country on Islamic practice.
Both Al-Qaeda and ISIS are radical Jihadist groups, meaning that they focus heavily on removing threats to Islam as they see it- a large portion of which is United States culture, but also includes other religions that they see as a threat such as Judaism, Christianity, and even modern day Muslims. These groups loath the modern world and how people today treat religion differently today than a few hundred years ago, despite the constant change in belief systems and procedures in the advancement of life each new day (Zakaria, F). If Al- Qaeda didn’t dwell on the past of how religious tactics were executed back in the day and become angry at the progression of religious society today, ISIS wouldn’t have a group to base their extreme views on and possibly wouldn’t exist today. Since Islam has been around for 14 centuries, the religion itself has undergone numerous changes with periods of peace, and periods of war. Back in the day Jews would flee pogroms in Europe when the Nazis were threatening persecution to live safely under the Ottoman Caliphate, resulting in millions of Jews living in the middle east with Muslims in the 1900s (Zakaria, F). However today, Christians and Jews are escaping from Syria and Iraq while Islamic extremists seize power of the land. Despite the change in Islam over the years, it’s still the same religion. This leads to the question, what would make what was once a safe place for people of other religions not too long ago, now a threat to their lives? One of the main reasons points towards how some extremists handled their views on politics.
With Abu Musab al-Zarqawi breaking away from Al-Qaeda and starting the formation of ISIS in 2004 (Broder, J), he led a whole new group that came together and implemented similar goals as Al-Qaeda. He was essentially a dictator, compared to Hitler as an evil man with a plan to kill as many people who didn’t agree on his political and religious views as he saw it. He was so extreme that he wanted to lead ISIS to attack fellow Muslims, in hopes of starting a civil war between Shia and Sunni Islamists- which was even too extreme for Bin Laden; a factor as to why ISIS was disowned by Al-Qaeda when they were previously partnered (Broder, J). Zarqawi’s political figure was large, and a great example of it was that he had such a large influence over the Iraq war. The war took a large shift when a large majority of Hussein’s troops took side with Zarqawi to fight for ISIS, many of whom were foreign. This showed the power Zarqawi had and that many were actually on his side instead of the real government’s. This proves that ISIS is less of a terrorist group and more of a pseudo state being led by a conventional army since they hold territory, fund themselves, and partake in intricate military operations. This makes them stronger than any other terror group and gives them more of a political figure- having a form of slight independence (Cronin, A. K). If ISIS were more like Al-Qaeda in regard to being more of a soul terror operant, then they certainly wouldn’t have been able to become as powerful as they did.
One specialty of ISIS is taking advantage of the weak, forcefully shaping the minds of unexpecting civilians and starting a brainwashing to make people fight for them, when most of them don’t even know the full cause they fight for. Beginning in Iraq and Syria, Sunni communities felt alienated by the Shiite Muslims. ISIS knew this, and since they fight for the extreme side of Sunnis, they used these feelings of alienation to their advantage by giving them a way to control others- but especially Shiites through violence (SyndiGate Media). On top of this, ISIS corrupted the youth in the area by delivering a twisted interpretation of extreme Islam that gained some popularity. One of their most powerful tactics in recruiting others was using social media. No other terrorist group has done this. By using platforms such as Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube, the group was able to advertise their cause and lure young people who felt alienated in their society to come and join the cause (Tetlow, A). Not only did they advertise for recruitment this way, but they also showed how serious they were with explicit videos on YouTube of beheadings, assault, and other tactics of murder to prove to the world that they mean business. It was estimated that through social media recruitment, around 850 British people had left the country in August 2016 to join ISIS (Tetlow, A). With over 30,000 troops at their peak population (Cronin A.K), ready to jump at any command for ISIS- this number of followers made ISIS one of the largest and most threatening organizations in the world, unlike most other terror groups. If ISIS didn’t put in as much effort to recruit others for their organization, there is no way they could be as powerful as they were. ISIS built a strong military force that posed a large threat to anyone standing in their way- making the component of recruiting others vital in the rise of ISIS.
ISIS didn’t only take advantage of people in the area or weapons, they also sneakily found a way of exploiting resources in order to make a name for themselves. With properties that belonged to other religious groups and regime supporters in the areas that ISIS controlled, they were quickly used to their advantage. They would tax places such as churches and clubs, along with currency and other resources like gold just as any state would, making them a powerful pseudo state (Gelfand, M. J). This was a useful tactic for them in order to fund themselves, but they also made even more money by selling oil to other countries. Since the Middle East is rich in oil, ISIS found markets for its oil even though they were supposedly shut out from international marketing. Not only did ISIS find corrupt ways of making money, they also took advantage of their enemy’s by taking weaponry. With the chaos in Syria during the war, the United States and allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar pumped in large amounts of weapons and money into the country (Zakaria, F). Much of this was assumed to be taken into the hands of ISIS sooner or later and helped to arm their vast number of soldiers. Similarly, during the Iraq war there was chaos as well. The Iraqi army wasn’t only absurdly corrupt, but also very over equipped and unprepared to fight ISIS- leading to a vast amount of weaponry in their hands. With the large number of arms and money, there is no doubt that this was a vital factor in order for their successful uprising.
Through breaking down the main components of how ISIS rose to be such a powerful group, it’s obvious that they couldn’t have come to be so powerful without Al-Qaeda, extremists trying to control politics, and by members taking advantage of others. Al-Qaeda was a core organization that existed before ISIS and influenced the creation of the group itself, being one of the most important factors. With Islamic extremists making drastic moves to attempt the controlling of politics, ISIS may have still existed as a group, but without the profound ways of how it dealt with trying to make an Islamic Caliphate. Having the group dominate innocent others and their resources- ISIS wouldn’t have had enough money, people, or weapons to make the terror organization more than just a group, but as a powerful pseudo state. Many factors come together to make ISIS what it was, and what it is still today; all playing an essential role in the foundation of this famous creation. Although ISIS has declined in numbers over the past couple years, the group isn’t entirely dead, and a possibility of an upbringing could lie in the future. ‘We defeated Daesh (ISIS) through our unity and sacrifice for the nation’ Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared in December (Gelfand, M. J.).