Student Contribution: How to explain ISIS

DaeshThis blog was written by a CELSA student after attending an English language tutorial in the Language Lab. L.L. came in and wanted to talk about the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS or Da’esh) to practice her spoken English using a current affair as a topic. A few days before, the tutor had written a blog about the origins of the group’s name in English and Arabic. The tutor then suggested to the student to write a short piece about Da’esh as a writing exercise. Here is the result.


Origins of ISIS

The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS) is considered as a terrorist group that combines an extremist ideology with developed military capabilities.

The Al-Qaida-affiliated movement was born in 2003, during the Iraq war, and fought against the US intervention. Its Sunni leader was Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. He turned the movement into a local branch of Al-Qaeda. After his death in 2006, the jihadist movement became known as the Islamic State in Iraq.

In April 2013, ISIS wanted to merge with a jihadist group in Syria called Jahbat Al-Nusra, but this was a failure. There has been a civil war in Syria since 2011. Syrian rebels accuse jihadists of having “stolen” their revolution. ISIS gradually became stronger and started to take one Syrian town after another. The biggest was al-Raqqa province in the north of Syria.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the Shiite government continued to marginalise Sunni communities. This was an opportunity for ISIS, which capitalised on their resentment against the sectarian policies of the government. In January 2014, the group invaded parts of Ramadi and Fallouja in the western and middle parts of Iraq. Then, in June 2013, it took Mosul and other cities in the north and the west. Now the territory under ISIS’s control extends from Aleppo in north Syria to Diyala in west Iraq.

The Islamic State’s goal is to establish an Islamic “caliphate”, which they indeed did after conquering Mosul; that is to say, a state governed by Islamic Sharia law. A religious authority called the caliph heads this state. The position is now occupied by ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

ISIS has already blown up the borders between Iraq and Syria, drawn by the Sykse-Picot agreement in 1914. It was a division of the colonial cake between France and the UK.

Foreign countries’ strategies towards ISIS

Gulf countries: Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have been accused of financing ISIS. But today the group is said to be self-funded through taxes imposed on people under its rule, oil revenues and ransoms. It is very difficult to understand Saudi Arabia’s intentions. It appears that it just wants to destabilise the region. The same more or less applies to Qatar.

US: Obama’s strategy to fight ISIS does not appear to be very clear. On the one hand, he received the Peace Nobel Prize in 2009 and he committed himself to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, he has now intervened militarily in Syria through aerial bombardment. For now, he does not want to intervene on the ground because he apparently does not want to be entangled in a new war.

Turkey: Turkey, which has had a years-long conflict with its Kurdish citizens, is so far unwilling to intervene against ISIS in the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane on its boarder. In fact, Turkey has been accused by the Kurds of turning a blind eye to ISIS’s activities on its soil (transporting weapons and fighters).

Other countries: Various Islamist groups and movements in countries such as Pakistan have expressed support and even sworn allegiance to ISIS.