WHAT IS ‘ISIS’ ?
**The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) used to have a different name: al Qaeda in Iraq.
**The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL / ˈ a ɪ s ə l/),is also translated as the Islamic State of
Iraq and Syria or ash-Sham referring to Greater Syria (ISIS / ˈ a ɪ s ɪ s/),) ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fīl-
ʻ Irāq wa ash-Shām) The group is also known by the Arabic acronym Da ʿ ish or DAESH. Since June
2014 it calls itself the Islamic State (IS), a name widely rejected by non-members. ISIL is a Sunni
extremist, jihadist terrorist rebel group based in Iraq and Syria, where it controls territory. It also
operates in eastern Libya, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East, North
Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
**The United Nations has held ISIL responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and
Amnesty International has reported ethnic cleansing by the group on a “historic scale”. The group
has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the European Union, the
United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Indonesia, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, the
UAE, and Egypt. Over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against ISIL.
**The group grew significantly under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and after entering
the Syrian Civil War, it established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria within the
governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo. Having expanded into Syria, the
group changed its name in April 2013 to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, when al-Baghdadi
announced its merger with the Syrian-based group al-Nusra Front. The group remained closely
linked to al-Qaeda until February 2014, when after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all
ties with ISIL, citing its failure to consult and “notorious intransigence”
** One of ISIL’s goals has been to establish a radical Sunni Islamist state in Iraq and the Levant
region, which covers Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Hatay province in
southern Turkey. Groups controlling territory in Sinai, eastern Libya, and Pakistan have been
absorbed by ISIL.
**ISIS then took advantage of the chaos caused by Syria’s ongoing civil war to expand beyond
Iraq’s borders and recruit vast numbers of Syrian rebels. In June 2014 a video emerged showing
British fighters appealing to other westerners to join the jihad in Iraq. IS has attracted recruits far
beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria.
ISIL is widely known for its violent propaganda, which includes Internet videos of beheadings—see
2014 ISIL beheading incidents.
**Originally funded by wealthy donors, the group is now thought to derive significant income from
captured oil fields in northern Iraq and Syria. IS fighters also reportedly stole £256 million in cash
and a large amount of gold bullion from Mosul’s central bank during its takeover of the city, and
reportedly smuggled £21m of antiquities from the Syria.SOLUTION
Four years later, the spirit of the Arab Spring has been lost, hijacked by Islamists like former
Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi who initially masqueraded as a pragmatic leader, but proved
to be an Islamic ideologue, and radical groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which
claims to be reversing the injustice done by the colonial powers at the end of the First World War,
while imposing its own injustices on religious minorities, women and secular Muslims amidst the
civil wars raging in Syria and Iraq. ISIS has clearly been the most flagrant in breaching the spirit of
the Arab Spring by using brutal tactics that make even Al Qaeda wince, and exploiting the civil
wars to impose a Sunni based Caliphate that further threatens Iraq, Syria and the broader region.
The question being asked in Washington, in the capitals of Europe and across the Middle East, is
what will it take to vanquish or at least seriously hobble this organization? The answer coming from
the Obama administration is that a combination of surgical airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq,
military support for the Kurds, and political reform in Baghdad is what is needed. The hope is that
the incoming Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, will be less blatantly sectarian and more
inclusive of the Sunnis than outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, it has been argued,
bears primary responsibility for driving many Sunni leaders into the arms of ISIS.
These military and political steps are in fact necessary to staunch the advance of ISIS, but they are
likely to be inadequate. While under Prime Minister designate al-Abadi some Sunni tribal leaders
have expressed a willingness to shift support away from ISIS, the window for wholesale co-optation
and reconciliation has likely closed. Despite some setbacks, such as the loss of the Mosul Dam to
Iraqi and Kurdish forces made possible by U.S. airstrikes, ISIS still continues to show momentum.
It is expanding its ranks of jihadist fighters through impressively sophisticated and successful
recruitment campaigns in Syria, Iraq, the broader Middle East, the Caucasus, Europe and even the
United States. Moreover, it is trumping the once formidable Al Qaeda in terms of attracting
resources and recruits to its cause.
Furthermore, ISIS’ main base of operations is in Syria, rendering an Iraq-only solution ineffective.
This puts Washington in a bind. While the United States has entered the fray in Iraq to help battle
ISIS, it has been unwilling so far to extend that mission to Syria, partially because of its stated
policy that the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad lacks legitimacy and must go. The
conundrum for policy makers is how can the United States actively oppose ISIS in Syria when it too
is committing forces to the fight against the Syrian government?
So given this, how can ISIS be defeated and further destabilization prevented? In addition to the
much-needed military and political measures already taking place, the most effective way to defeat
ISIS and prevent the further disintegration of Iraq is to tap into a latent Arab identity that admittedly
has been drowned out by narrower, more sectarian layers of identity in Iraq and Syria, but remains
the best hope for breaking the spell of the extremist ideas propagated by ISIS. While Nasser-style
Arab nationalism as a political movement is a relic of the 1950s and 1960s and a nonstarter today,
Arab identity as a part of the political consciousness can still be a powerful unifying force that can
combat ISIS in the future and perhaps pave a positive way forward for Iraq and even Syria.