The Islamic State: All You Need to Know

Who are ISIS?

Known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and now simply as the Islamic State (IS), IS is a radical Islamist caliphate (a single, theocratic government declared to be a ‘worldwide caliphate’ by the leader of the organisation, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) that controls a large swathe of land ranging from Aleppo (Eastern Syria)  to Diyala (Northern Iraq).

A map that illustrates ISIS territory (grey area). Image courtesy of Wikimedia

What is their mission?

The Islamic State employs a doctrine of total war without limits or constraints. They believe that there is no such thing as arbitration or settling disputes, and do not pay mind to using theology to justify their actions. In fact, IS stresses violence over anything else as a solution to dealing with society outside of their caliphate; in short, the Islamic State is a killing machine powered by blood and iron rather than anything else. As a result of this, mainstream Muslim groups have condemned IS and refuse to acknowledge their claims; the only reason why social decay has not stopped IS and they manage to keep on growing despite their hollow ideological stance is because so far they have promised a Muslim utopia to their disillusioned men and have delivered it by winning.

IS is a powerful, wealthy terrorist organisation. How did it get started and where does all their money come from?

The Islamic State owes its origins mostly to its parent organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and under the leadership of the self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, it has achieved an alarmingly sophisticated network. Funding originated mostly from wealthy private donors in the Middle East that were keen to oust Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Now, IS funds itself and its terrorist activities mainly through the following sources of income:

  • Oil fields in Syria and Iraq – it is estimated that IS makes between €743,780 and €1,446,500 a day via the smuggling of crude oil and refined products to Turkey and Iran and selling to the Syrian government.
  • Kidnapping – according to the US Treasury, IS has made over $20 million from ransoms alone.
  • Extortion – IS makes several million dollars a month through the extortion of the 8,000,000+ populace under its full / partial control.
  • Taxation – religious minorities have been forced to pay a special tax, convert to Islam or leave.
  • Bank-robbing, looting, selling antiquities and theft / control of livestock and crops.
  • Human trafficking – it is common practice within IS to sell abducted girls / women as sex slaves.

How many deaths is the Islamic State responsible for?

Syria – as surprising as this maybe, the Islamic State’s kill count in Syria is dwarfed by the atrocities committed in the Syrian Civil War which has left more than 200,000 dead. However, lower fatalities do not equate to a lesser degree of brutality, as IS militants are estimated to have executed over 1500+ Syrians between June and November of 2014 alone (according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights).

Iraq – A UN Report stated that 24,000+ Iraqi citizens were injured or killed by direct military action by the Islamic State in the first 8 months of 2014.

It is important to note that the numbers are likely to be much larger for several reasons, mainly because i) in a civil war, practically every vying faction is guilty of innocent bloodshed, ii) the number of casualties is often biased and iii) the number of civilians who have died from secondary effects of violence (lack of access to food, water, medicine and basic necessities) cannot be estimated in an environment as turbulent as this one.

How does IS operate so efficiently and how has it expanded so fast? And, more importantly, can they be stopped?

Upon taking control of a town, IS secure the main vital establishments (sites where resources such as water, flour and oil are kept), centralise distribution of said establishments and then they proceed to make the locals dependent on them for survival. IS is therefore self-financing and cannot be isolated and cut off from the world because it digs its roots far too deep in the regions it controls. The Islamic State’s aptitude for psychological warfare has been unmatched by other terrorist organisations operating in the area, and their brutality and savagery are their most widely-used tools in this aspect. However, as has been previously pointed out in this article, the Islamic State has no true ideology and no true belief system, and beliefs crumble unless fed by constant, rewarding success. In fact, their lightning-fast advancement has been stalled by constant bombing raids and their military capabilities and human resources have been diminished significantly. Whether the Islamic State can be truly eradicated, however, remains to be seen.

Advertisements