The Rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”

Salman Rushdie

John Jihadi

The Middle Eastern conflicts continue to lurch from one calamity to the next and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stick to the depressing script by committing stark and bloody brutality that seem barely fathomable to the average Westerner.  ISIS’s developing caliphate is the spawn of the Syrian Civil War and George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet who are these men, where did they come from, how are they organised and what do they want as they relentlessly wage war on the greater Middle East? 

It all started with the Iraq War (19 March 2003 – 15 December 2011). The largely fabricated pretexts for the invasion were that Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed weapons of mass-destruction and harbored affiliates of Al-Qaeda who had recently carried out the world’s most devastating terrorist attack on American soil at the World Trade Centre, September 11th 2001.

Both assumptions concocted by the hawkish Bush administration were lies and costly lies which cost the United States over $4 trillion and left 4,487 U.S soldiers dead, 32,226 wounded and the United Kingdom death toll stood at 179. More importantly the Iraqi dead varied between 150,000 to perhaps 500,000 while thousands were detained and/or tortured. U.S credibility and ideals were blood spattered and in the dust as the result of the illegal war organised by the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Iraq’s infrastructure was de-stabilized  by the coalition forces destruction. Alongside this a shambles of a ‘democracy’ was put in place crudely by the Bush administration without competent consideration to the colonial history and the multicultural melting pot that is Iraq.

According to Charles Tripp, 350,000 strong Iraqi Armed Forces were dissolved in the wake of Iraq’s occupation many of whom angry at being conquered and defeated would come to assist the armed resistance against America. Just over a decade later the end product presents a fairly damning verdict on those responsible for leading us to war all those years ago. The end result is that ISIS threaten to establish an Islamic caliphate, unchecked jihadists roam with relative impunity and the Iraqi population continues to suffer.

Abu Masab al-Zarqawi: founder of ISI (now ISIS) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Musab_al-Zarqawi#mediaviewer/File:Abu_Musab_al-Zarqawi_(1966-2006).jpg

Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad was originally the organisation from which ISIS evolved. Created in Europe between 1999-2000 by Abu Masab al-Zarqawi the aim of al-Tawhid wal-Jihad  was primarily to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and (like ISIS intends to now) create an Islamic caliphate. Al-Zarqawi was an experienced in insurgency and terrorist activities fighting with mujaheddin in the insurgency against the Soviet Union during their invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.  He also ran Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, where he taught recruits to use chemical and biological weapons. From 2001 onward he controlled a chain of regional terrorist groups across Europe, which carried out  several terrorist attacks in the UK, France, Russia and the harrowing  train bombing in Madrid in 2004.

It was during the ground invasion of Iraq in 2003 that  Al-Zarqawi re-named  the organisation Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (which would later become  the Islamic State of Iraq)and within a year the faction had pledged itself to Al-Qaeda.

“No sooner had the calls been cut off than Allah chose to restore them, and our most generous brothers in al-Qaeda came to understand the strategy of the Tawhid wal-Jihad organization in Iraq, the land of the two rivers and of the Caliphs, and their hearts warmed to its methods and overall mission. Let it be known that al-Tawhid wal-Jihad pledges both its leaders and its soldiers to the mujahid commander, Sheikh ‘Osama bin Laden’ (in word and in deed) and to jihad for the sake of Allah…”

This was where its power began to be nurtured by conflict and bolstered by funding by Al-Qaeda, raids, and individual and foreign support from Syria and Iran. The United States invaded looking for Saddam’s ‘terrorists’ and ironically they had  in-part created their very own who were now looking to resist the occupation.

Al-Zarqawi had entered Iraq after NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan before the invasion however intelligence showed that Al-Zarqawi had no connections to the former dictator. ISI was one amongst many nationalists, Shi’a and Sunni armed resistance/terrorist movements that sprung up over large areas of Iraq such as ‘The Strugglers of Iraq’, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (ASI), ‘The Islamic Army of Iraq’, ‘The Army of Muhammad’ and more.

Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003 20130227_iraq_10yrs1_800.jpg
Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003
20130227_iraq_10yrs1_800.jpg

Al-Zarqawi’s organisation  effectively became an extension of the Al-Qaeda network From the very beginning came to be associated with  extreme violence. Like most Islamist terrorist factions AQI did not distinguish between Western civilians and soldiers. Collaborators were hunted down with ruthless efficiency nor were the Shi’a exempt from targeted terror attacks as the faction declared war on Shi’a Muslims.

AQI/ISI was like the a-typical Islamist terror cell and adopted effective guerrilla tactics to disrupt the coalition forces which made up for their (then) deficiencies in direct combat with American soldiers. Various strategies were adopted such as targeting institutions and personnel associated with the newly installed government, the use of spectacular violence such as car bombs, kidnap, executions and the targeting of minorities (for instance Shia Muslims, Christians. Coalition forces, the new Iraqi Armed Forces and police were obvious targets.

The barbarism we are watching unfold in Iraq, the terror tactics used on Iraqi Armed Forces in June 2014, Iraqi Christians and the Yazidis such as the beheading and execution of prisoners (most famously American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff) were carried out by AQI during the insurgency period 2003-2011. The most notorious during this period were the separate executions of American hostages Nicholas Berg (May 2004) and Eugene Armstrong (September 2004). Their executions was carried out by Al-Zarqawi personally.

8 December 2009 Baghdad bombings conducted by ISIS http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=1yddi&s=6

AQI managed to master the guerrilla tactics considerably. The physical trauma and psychological stress of  urban warfare took its toll on the American military in the likes of Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul and Kirkuk. We cannot underestimate how important this period was in molding ISIS into increasingly independent entity.This autonomy would have been accelerated by the death of Al-Zarqawi who was killed when a American jet dropped two 500-pound guided bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and GPS-guided GBU-38 on his safehouse  north of Baqubah, June 7th, 2006.

In 2008 Bush made the decision under the Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government that US combat troops would depart in 2011. Those who argue that it was Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq are incorrect, he was merely carrying out the policy of his predecessor and also upholding his promise to the American people that troops would return home. However the role of America in creating ISIS will return later in the narrative.

The announcement of the American retreat saw a sharp rise in suicide attacks and AQI in-particular carried out  devastating coordinated attacks on October 25th, 2009 and December 8th, 2009 (pictured above) which, combined, killed 282 civilians. The future of Iraq hardly looked promising in the face of such well-planned atrocity and cracks were already appearing in the new state which with all it newly trained armed forces and reformed government looked fragile at the core.

The U.S abandoned Iraq with a system of governance based on ethnicity and sectarianism with the Shi’a majority with Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister rule being characterized by corruption and inaccessibility for the minorities to the political scene which in turn exacerbated violence between Sunni and Shi’a factions. This was hardly aided by the fact that al-Maliki was to be regarded by many as an illegitimate puppet put in place by invading U.S forces.

Obama announcing the death of Bin Laden http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/files/2011/05/president-obama-statement-osama-bin-ladenjpg-abea24c6cc0f35c0-400×280.jpg

This is not to say though that ISIS  didn’t have its fair share of instability as between 2010 and 2011 then ally Al-Qaeda’s leadership, including its own, was decimated by United States Army Special Forces under the jurisdiction of the Obama administration. On April 18th, 2010 new leaders of AQI, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi were killed in a joint operation conducted by American and allied Iraqi forces in Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad.

This double blow was then followed by the black op which resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden on May 2nd, 2011 in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda was weakening. The cries of ‘U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!’ chorused outside the White House and across America into the spring night.

As AQI reeled with its decimated ally the Arab Spring began to gather momentum. In late 2010 revolutionary demonstrations and protests swept Northern Africa and the Middle East rendering it an inviting hot-bed for radicalism as civil wars broke out in Libya andIraq’s neighbor Syria. Syria  was to provide an avenue by-which ISI would not only re-group but consolidate its power and become a bigger challenge to local and Western politicians.

The Arab Spring and the alarming growth in terrorist organisations across the Middle East and Africa were to serve Jason Burke’s analysis of Islamic extremism perfectly: “Language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication….the latter may be useful to treat the symptom but does not, and will never, treat the disease.” AQI was about to place itself on the map as ISIS and become more powerful than its affiliate Al-Qaeda. There were several internal and external factors by which ISIS would rise to prominence.

Abu-bakr-al-Baghdadi.jpg
Abu-bakr-al-Baghdadi.jpg

In the wake of the deaths of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi, a Islamist radical stepped out the shadows to assume control of AQI. The man was known as Dr. Abu Dua, Ibrahim bin Awad Al-Samarra’i who would later become known as ISIS’s ruthless and charismatic leader Abu Bakir Al-Baghdadi.  It has widely been accepted by Western political leaders, the international media and journalists alike that al-Baghdadi has played a massive role in engineering the rise of ISIS into an independent terrorist organisation.

Born in 1971, Al-Samarra’i original home was situated amongst the Diyala and Samarra tribes located in central Iraq 130km north of Baghdad. ‘He is descendant from the tribes of Al-Sada Al-Asharaf Al-Badriyin’ and while little of his childhood and upbringing is known he was brought up as a devout Sunni Muslim. According to a widely cited biography released by jihadists, “he is a man from a religious family. His brothers and uncles include preachers and professors of Arabic language, rhetoric and logic.”  He married Saja al-Duleimi who has only been seen in raw footage of an exchange between Islamic militants Al-Nusra and that of ISIS before the two became enemies in February 2014.

Like the leaders of Al-Qaeda Zawahiri and Bin Laden who were both wealthy and educated individuals alongside their conservatism (which when combined with a sense of injustice can be potent in the hands of intelligent dissidents) Al-Samarra’i comes from an highly educated background which seems odd given the psychotic and violent nature of his organisation. He undertook Islamic studies and history at the university of Baghdad where alongside his dedication to his studies he became a teacher, an intellectual, and a preacher at mosques across Baghdad. He obtained a doctorate at Islamic University in Baghdad and became known to many as Dr. Ibrahim.

Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein, December 20th 1983. Rumsfeld would later lead the U.S campaign in 2003 to topple Saddam. This was after the summer of 1983 when Iran had been reporting Iraqi use of using chemical weapons for some time. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/

All these factors paint Al-Samarra’i as a deeply conservative individual who grew up during the years of savage dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, the Iraq-Iran War (1980 –1988), the Gulf War (1990-1991) and American meddling in Iraq as far back at the 1960s which only increased during his lifetime. The Gulf War destroyed critical infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, bridges and water treatment plants and Saddam Hussein’s regime was placed under sanctions by the United States which led to starvation of thousands of Iraqi civilians under Clinton’s authorization.

His deep seated hatred of Americans may have begun during this period of instability in Iraq as America propped up Saddam’s Baathist dictatorship despite their knowledge of his use of chemical weapons against the Iranians and Kurds. However what mattered to the United States was that he was a deterrent to communist influence, a check on Iranian power and secured Western oil interests, Al-Samarra’i’s hatred of the United States and Western influences would have been cemented by the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq when the Shi’a government and the Kurds under al-Maliki was to alienate the Sunnis from the halls of power.

Al-Samarra’i became thoroughly radicalized by the insurgency period and war against U.S occupation forces. In 2005, he was captured by American forces and spent the next four years a prisoner in the Bucca Camp in southern Iraq until his release in 2009 although there is some debate as to whether he was held for less than a year in 2004.

Incarceration, likely interrogation and the destruction of many parts of Iraq by coalition combat troops pushed al-Samarra’i further into the neo-Wahabbist terrorist cells in Iraq where he began to gain influence. He would likely in his 30s have been exposed to the more radical subversion of  Wahhabist extremist ideologies  espoused by Bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, and Zawahiri.  During this time he assumed the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

isis-execution

According to the BBC ‘al-Baghdadi and his group joined the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in 2006, in which he served as a member of the MSC’s sharia committee.‘ Following the renaming of the MSC as the ISI in 2006, al-Baghdadi became the supervisor of the ISI’s sharia committee and a key member of the group’s senior consultative council.

The turning point for al-Baghdadi came in April 2010 when the United States struck at the leadership of AQI/ISI and at its lowest ebb since its creation al-Baghdadi having gained significant influence in the ranks of Al-Qaeda assumed command of ISI from the deceased al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Baghdadi.

Over four remarkable years several important changes occurred within the organisation which was influenced by significant geo-political events and al-Baghdadi’s ability to react to these events All this occurred along his harrowing and quite unique strategic vision we are witnessing unfold.

The Syrian Civil War’s death toll now stands at 200,000 people http://i.imgur.com/hZYnIsT.jpg

The Syrian Civil War began in March 2011 and what had originally been a fight between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Armed Forces of Bashar Al-Assad. The civil war (still ongoing)  quickly degenerated into a complex and bloody conflict with both sides, particularly that of Assad originally committing war crimes (i.e. Houla massacre May 25, 2012) and being accused of torture. The Ghouta chemical attacks (the perpetrator of which is uncertain and most likely to have been the splintered rebel factions) have come to encapsulate the war.

Meanwhile al-Baghdadi had stabilized AQI and was responsible for several bombing and assassinations in Iraq during 2011 as United States military withdrew and AQI aimed at immediately undoing the ‘successes’ of the occupation.

The most spectacular displays of violence included the August 28, 2011 attack on the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, which killed prominent Sunni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi, an attack in Hilla, Iraq, that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others, and the August 15, 2011, a wave of AQI suicide attacks comprising  shootings, bombings, car bombs, IEDs, suicide bombings began in Mosul, Iraq, which has resulted in over 60 deaths. The resulting attacks attracted a bounty of $10 million to AQI’s powerful head figure. 

It seemed that the scalp of Bin Laden was a small victory in a disastrous decade for U.S foreign policy. Not content with sitting on his opening flourish of  success in 2011, al-Bagdadi expanded his war against almost everything and everyone.

During the U.S occupation AQI had struggled in close quarter fighting with combat troops. Syria provided the jihadists a battleground in which they could hone their fighting skills and make a name for themselves slaughtering rebels and Syrian government troops alike as well as attracting foreign fighters. This would not be so difficult as under al-Zarqawi the group was originally comprised of locals and foreign jihadists.

The Syrian war has seen the use of chemical weapons. http://www.haaretz.com/polopoly_fs/1.543139.1399972011!/image/59111700.JPG_gen/derivatives/landscape_640/59111700.JPG

The Syrian war as al-Baghdadi envisaged would make ISIS a more coherent, well-armed, experienced, uniform organisation, a powerful military force that was able to conduct two major operations under al-Baghdadi. Firstly Iraq was to be rendered inherently unstable and ISI would exploit the discontent of the Sunni minority in the face of Shi’a dominance by continuing its guerrilla war. Secondly they would become an effective military force. Syria had become a massive weapons depot  with the United States and Russia supplying each side with the necessary weapons to win the conflict.

The process by which ISIS entered into the war is important. Syria is where ISIS  began its Northern Iraq Offensive in June 2014. Many Syrians were part of the AQI/ISI during the occupation period as it was composed of many foreign fighters. Many of these Syrians of ISI crossed the border under the command of Abu Mohammed al-Joulani to establish a foothold in the war-torn country and aid the Free Syrian Army in fighting Assad’s forces at Aleppo in late 2011.

Despite differences in ideology and the secular moderates worry for the theocratic/ fundamentalist nature of Al-Nusra, they fought cohesively together. In-fact Al-Nusra was identified by Syrians as more ‘moderate’ than hard-line ISIS despite being an extension of Al-Qaeda.

Al-Nusra sought to help the rebels topple dictator Assad.

On 24 January 2012, al-Joulani announced the official formation of the Al-Nusra Front after the group staged several bombings in Aleppo, al-Midan, and Damascus. This would provide the perfect bridge through which AQI/ISI members from Iraq and other countries could be assimilated quickly into  the Syrian conflict.  According to Soufan group over 12,000 Islamist fighters flocked to Syria to fight against secular Assad’s dictatorship all with a mixture of different individual and factional goals whether it be martyrdom, caliphates, power and blood lust.

During 2012 the Al-Nusra Front gained power through its incursions into Syrian territory. With borders seen on a map virtually non-existent in reality, the Islamic State of Iraq deployed itself in northern Syria in April 2013 and formerly became ISIL or as we know it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS’s objectives were ambitious and terrifying as rebels, Syrian soldiers on both sides, and civilians caught in the cross fire were to discover. Al-Baghdadi was determined to create a cleansed Islamic state and impose brutal sharia law with immediate effect on any seized towns and territories, in effect a caliphate which al-Baghdadi would  ‘rule’ over all ‘world Muslims’.  This caliphate would stretch from Iraq to as far as Israel and Lebanon and be based on neo-Wahabbist/neo-Salfist Islam which regards Shi’a, Sufi, Jews, and Christians as heretics and women as second-class citizens. It was a 18th century fascistic, twisted, and violent off-shoot of Islamic worship.

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2014/06/ISIS%20envisioned%20boundaries_0.jpg

Idealistic in practice and perhaps unrealistic it was the creation of a brilliant yet psychotic mind molded by first and foremost extremism but also extensive education in Islamic studies, Middle Eastern history and many, many sharia committee meeting in Iraq. Yet the grounds on which it can be formed would constitute ethnic cleansing and genocide as the plight of the Iraqi Christians, Kurds, Shi’a Muslims and the Yazidis illustrates.

This is where the divisions began to appear between Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and the newly proclaimed ISIS. As Sarah Birke summarises in her article on ISIS:

” ISIS and Nusra share many aims, and both are well funded and trained, there are significant differences between the two groups. Jabhat al-Nusra stresses the fight against Assad, while ISIS tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory. Nusra has pursued a strategy of slowly building support for an Islamic state, while ISIS is far more ruthless, carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately.”

ISIS were effectively regarded as ‘invaders’ whilst Al-Nusra though the creation of Syrians who had previously been of ISIS were ‘Syrian’.Thus they were deemed a domestic issue rather than a foreign faction despite its capacity for inflicting human suffering. Al-Baghdadi arrived in Syria seeking to absorb the Al-Nusra Front into ISIS the former of which had been officially blessed by Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation separated from the control of Al-Baghdadi.

The dispute over how to follow up success, objectives, and the ultra-violent way in which ISIS imposed itself on Syria throughout 2013 led to Al-Qaeda dissociating itself from ISIS in February 2014. Zawahiri stated:

“ISIS is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group . . . does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,”

This severing of ties was a combination of Zawahiri’s disdain for the growing power of al-Baghdadi and the latter’s ambition to become a covert and independent organisation. This disdain was coupled with ISIS’s  hard-line outlook on how to impose an Islamic state. Al-Qaeda was also now weaker than ISIS and al-Baghdadi calculations were likely to have been formed after Al-Qaeda’s leadership was targeted by the Obama administration.

The statement of Al-Qaeda has had little effect on the logistical capabilities of ISIS. Al-Nusra’s Mohammed al-Joulani followed suit after the killing of one of its members Abu Khaled al-Souri and went further declaring war on ISIS. An intra-jihadist civil war had erupted.

The arrival of ISIS effectively created what was originally a war between various rebel factions glued crudely together against Assad into a two front war where the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra would be caught between Assad’s forces and those of ISIS.

Iraqi Special Forces face an uphill challenge to keep Iraq together.

ISIS gained the necessary experience required to take on the Iraqi Armed Forces trained by the U.S military. They successfully combined their guerrilla tactics honed in the insurgency in the Iraq war with that of  ‘surprise attack, inflict maximum casualties and spread fear before withdrawing without suffering heavy losses…’ while using ‘militarily untrained foreign volunteers as suicide bombers either moving on foot wearing suicide vests, or driving vehicles packed with explosives.’ The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated with conviction ISIS’s strength:

“ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria – 100% and anyone who tells you anything else is lying.”

I do not need to go into detail on the trail of horror and grotesque brutality they left in their wake (mass executions, beheading, rape, mass murder, crucifixion and more) but what is happening in Iraq was inflicted on Syrian men, women and children and soldiers.

The campaign in northern Syria was relatively successful with key battles and successes won in Aleppo, the city of Raqqa and very recently ISIS were able to  launch several incursions into Lebanese territory, 41% of the population of whom are Christians while 27% of the Muslims are Shia. Turkey’s most devastating terrorist attack was carried out by ISIS in May 2013, a month after they entered Syria whilst Fallujah was seized in Iraq by the faction. Now ISIS and Kurdish soldiers are fighting tooth and nail for the border town of Kobane in Northern Syria.

http://static6.businessinsider.com/image/51c056d469beddc122000015/one-photo-that-says-it-all-about-obamas-chilly-meeting-with-vladimir-putin.jpg

As Al-Qaeda, ISIS and various Islamist factions starting turning against each other the Obama administration in their battle to topple Assad began  supplying weapons to hard-line jihadist and Islamic extremists in Syria. The inability of the Russian Federation  and the United States to come to a conclusion as to how to solve the conflict fueled the problems in Syria. Supply was done  via their allies such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (various Gulf monarchies who have supported hard-line extremists for some time) and according to the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, the C.I.A.  According to Juan Cole of Truthdig neither Saudi Arabia or Qatar have thus far have openly criticized ISIS for their crimes.

On October 20, 2010, U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Specific individuals are a key source of funding according to leaked U.S diplomatic cables in 2009  according to Hilary Clinton:

“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority…Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” 

This comment by Alex Spillius may state that it sponsors Al-Qaeda, yet we must remember that ISIS used to be ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’ so at some stage they will have received logistical support from the Saudi, Syrian and Qatari governments.

http://muslimvillage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/In-Syrian-civil-war-emergence-of-Islamic-State-of-Iraq-and-Syria-boosts-rival-Jabhat-al-Nusra.jpg
Members of the Al-Nusra Front http://muslimvillage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/In-Syrian-civil-war-emergence-of-Islamic-State-of-Iraq-and-Syria-boosts-rival-Jabhat-al-Nusra.jpg

Both ISIS and Al-Nusra ideologies’ are combination of neo-Wahhabist, Salafist and Sunni, so whilst the Iraq invasion may have destroyed the fundamental military, police and security structures  the Obama administration has hardly curbed the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Technically many of us are inadvertently funding terrorism not just assisting refugees in the Syrian war. This is a product of of deliberate and poor long term and short-term U.S/Western strategy in regards to the Middle East, seen most obviously in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front  flourished and grew more powerful than than their affiliates Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda thanks to financial and logistical support from the West’s Middle Eastern allies, and the weaponery seized from Assad’s Syrian Army. The violence of both ISIS and Al-Nusra as seen by pictures and Youtube videos (warning contains very graphic content) posted by both organisations are violent.

The Arab Spring had ushered in an online propaganda war between power and people. Twitter in-particular has been utilized to tremendous effect to not only rapidly post tweets in quick 140 word bursts but to trend to gain international attention when specific breaking news or events are occurring.

It is also a useful place to privately or publicly interact with followers and other users and the younger generation have often found ways to use the system even if it blocked by intelligence and government networks as seen by the Turkish riots of this year.

This was to become useful to ISIS in promoting their brand, notoriety, power, objectives, ideology, terror tactics (pictures of mass executions, crucifixions and beheading) and successes through Youtube and Twitter accounts or admirers of the organisation reach and influence. Their current hashtag campaigns are achieving considerable international attention as are the lone wolves who seek to support and promote their cause. Even then ISIS don’t have to do it themselves. We are doing it by #ISIS to spread the terrible stories and as they gain traction they grow richer and more powerful as they attract investment.

They even have (bizarrely) merchandise now selling t-shirts and making cakes and promoting their cause via smartphone! For all its utter barbarity there is a very modern and sophisticated way in which ISIS conducts itself. The deployment  of tactics a-typical of protesters in the early stages of the Arab Spring, with the objective to spread terror, despair, and their barbaric ideology have been particularly effective. Their annual report is as impressive as it is chilling.

Interestingly ISIS’s social media propaganda campaign trends the most in Saudi Arabia’s region in the Middle East under the hash tag #itwillremain and #ISIS at 35.1% whilst Qatar and Iraq stands at 7.5%, the U.S.A at 9.1%. This is an attempt to recruit more foreign fighters and wealthy donors of which there are plenty in Saudi Arabia and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, the latter of which was no secret as far back as 2008 according to Wikileaks.

“U.S. officials have described Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation since 9/11 as significant; however, some observers have raised questions about possible support for Al Qaeda by some Qatari citizens, including members of Qatar’s large ruling family.”

Naturally the U.S.A may desire to support the moderates fighting Assad yet an ocean of oil lies beneath the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter and producer. America’s hunger to consume cheap oil may influence political and moral decisions. Destabilizing Iraq’s oil supplies through civil war and disintegration will increase demand for Saudi Arabian oil exports.This is a recurring theme in past Middle Eastern history; blood oil and petro-politics.

By June 2014 Al-Baghdadi and ISIS now stood ready to take the fight to the Iraqi government installed by the U.S government now deeply unpopular with the Sunni minority.  As al-Baghdadi predicted the Iraqi Sunnis would be more than willing to turn to the jihadists and foreign fighters when their political future was non-existent under Nouri al-Maliki. An ample amount of U.S hardware lay in sight to seize and rub further salt in the wounds of America’s new Vietnam.

Independent, the wealthiest terror cell in the world, battle-hardened, uniformed, at-least 15,000 strong and most importantly unified and determined. ISIS’s rise to the full public awareness was nearly complete and as I have analysed with a considerable amount of depth it was through a variety of factors that they came into being.

ISIS’s victory, America’s failure. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/images/article_images/middle-east/iraqi-military-armour-helmet-equipment-left-during-retreat-from-mosul-isis.jpg

While Obama seeks to contain the Islamic state by airstrikes (a tactic that did not prevent Khmer Rouge from seizing power in Cambodia in 1975) it cannot avoid the several depressing conclusions: this is the legacy of the Iraq War, this is the legacy of unchecked colonialism, this is the product of America’s Middle Eastern politics, and without doubt this is the bloodiest chapter in the Middle East’s bleak mid-winter. For all the strategic genius and charisma of al-Baghdadi his extremist faction have opened up one of the darker chapters in the history of the Middle East. The Arab Spring if not dying now lies murdered in its cradle. The Middle East’s  future for now is ISIS; jet black, a battle ground for authoritarian regimes and Islamic militants.

Matthew Williams

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3 thoughts on “The Rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

  1. Brian August 14, 2014 / 2:09 pm

    Matt, another grata and insightful article!

  2. Elizabeth Williams August 15, 2014 / 9:07 am

    Great, not grata. Well done again Matt.

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