The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a Sunni jihadist group that currently works toward uniting the Middle Eastern region under a single Islamic caliphate. In the past year, the group has become increasingly violent and has posed a major threat to the Middle East and surrounding countries. The Islamic State is known by several names, including ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
Founded in 2003 in response to the American invasion of Iraq, according to CNN, ISIS has been coined by Iraqi officials the “third generation” al-Qaeda; the first is known to be the terrorist organization that organized 9/11 and the second recognized as al-Qaeda after the assassination of Osama bin Laden. In 2013 ISIS began their attack on the Middle East during the Syrian Civil War.
Since their entrance to the world as a militant group, ISIS now controls parts of Iraq and Syria. On Sept. 18, 2013 the group pillaged and took control of Azaz, a Syrian town near the Turkish border. The Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, rebel groups fighting to gain freedom from the government, confronted ISIS, known at the time as ISI, on Jan. 3, 2014, winning back the territory by Jan. 6.
Land occupied by ISIS enforces Sharia law, an interpretation of the Qu’ran, the central Islamic text, that Abu Bakr began implementing in 632 CE. Some examples of Sharia rules include same-sex schooling, required niqabs for women, and mandatory fasting during Ramadan.
In 2010, the United States and Iraq assassinated the previous leader, Abu Omar al Baghdad, and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi began his reign as caliph of the organization. The “new bin Laden,” as Le Monde, a popular French newspaper, called him, was born in Samarra, Iraq in 1971 and earned his doctorate in Islamic studies and history at the Islamic University in Baghdad. During the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, he became a military leader and later joined the ISI.
In a CNN article, journalist Tim Lister assessed the current state of affairs in the Middle East to be both serious and deadly.
“For western counterterrorism agencies, the combination of fanaticism and disciplined organization is the nightmare scenario. ISIS has plenty of both,” Lister wrote.
The ISIS army now consists of 30,000 to 50,000 soldiers, according to The Huffington Post, and wields more troops than a myriad of recognized countries like Norway and Kuwait. Around 15% of recruits are women, but they are not expected to fight; they stay at home and support their husbands. However, there is a female battalion that consists of 60 members working at checkpoints, inspecting passing women and implementing ISIS Sharia law.
The terrorist group affects not only the Middle East. The group has beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers on video and has posted the beheadings on the Internet. Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff were both freelance journalists working in the Middle East until they were kidnapped and killed due to their American heritage.
The videos are an important part of ISIS spreading its influence, and its newest installment shows John Cantlie, a British journalist, attempting to dissuade his country from engaging in military action against ISIS. He admits that as a hostage he has “nothing to lose” in disagreeing with his country because his government has “abandoned” him.
According to a Wall Street Journal poll, 61% of American people believe that military action against the Islamic State is in America’s national interest.
President Barack Obama agrees with this viewpoint. On Sept. 10, he explained his plan to “degrade and defeat ISIL.”
“If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States,” Obama stated in his speech.
He asserted that the leaders of ISIS have threatened and attacked Americans and their allies.
Since early August, America has implemented over 150 successful airstrikes targeting Iraq, temporarily halting ISIS’s growth. Before additional US support would be available to Iraq, Obama required the country to establish an inclusive, more democratic and citizen-focused, government.
“This is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves,” Obama proclaimed.
According to Obama’s speech, he has separated his plan into four parts. The first is to continue targeted airstrikes to destroy weapons, kill ISIS soldiers, and protect human rights in the Middle East. While America weakens the group from above, Iraqi rebels against ISIS will attack them from the ground.
In June 2014, Obama sent service members to assess the situation and determine how America will be the most useful in supporting the Iraqi coalition. As of now, Obama plans to send several hundred service members to supply training, equipment, and intelligence. As of Sept. 30, America’s air troops have been targeting oil facilities and have successfully hit a gas plant controlled by ISIS.
American service members will also teach towns how to protect themselves if attacked through the use of a National Guard. Obama has increased American support in Syria to the Syrian opposition in order to prevent ISIS from capturing any more of their territory.
The third part is an effort to prevent ISIS attacks before they happen. Americans will work to cut off the flow of money to the group, counter its ideologies and streamline foreign soldiers in and out of the region.
The fourth part is to continue assisting displaced civilians in a humanitarian effort.
However, not everyone agrees with America’s involvement in the war. Many Americans are skeptical that the US can stay out of the crossfire with their amount of involvement, and his top aides predict that this operation will last beyond his term. According to a Huffington Post poll, even though 66% of Americans support the country’s initiative to use airstrikes, only 32% of pollers believe that these airstrikes will help the situation.
Obama began administering airstrikes Sept. 23, hitting ISIS training camps and control centers.
“If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” Obama warned.