Scanning ISIS: What has been going on in the past year and a half?

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In light of recent events, GIMUN’s blog has decided to publish a special series on the theme of terrorism. This first article will be followed by different perspectives on this subject over the next few weeks, presented to you by various journalists.

Iraqi_T-55_tank_at_Camp_Taji
Source: Creative Commons

A review of Dr Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou’s talk “After Mosul: what is ISIS up to?” at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, by Cristina Valdes Arguelles.

Unfortunately, over the past couple of months, the world’s eyes have increasingly been focused on ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham) In view of recent events, it would be reasonable to wonder who is behind, who is part and parcel of all this.

If we examine the organization, different flows of potential constituents may be distinguished: first of all, ISIS could be seen as a successor of Al-Qaeda, who built upon its heritage. Secondly, there are several traces of the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein. Finally, we can consider the criminals who joined its ranks as a result of the “Breaking the Walls” campaign (2012) in which AQI militants broke into several prisons to free prisoners.

In this article, however, the main subject will not be to understand the phenomenon of ISIS itself, but to analyse the sequence of events that lead ISIS to be where it is now.

On June 2014, Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, was taken over by ISIS, which constitutes a key point regarding the development of the movement. Stepping back and looking over past events since then, three targeted tactics have evolved exponentially: “gaining ground”, “developing resilience” and “expanding borders”.

First of all, we can observe the large public relations’ campaign that ISIS has executed so as to leave a footprint of the victory in the nowadays society, part of the “gaining ground” strategy. The movement has become known by the public and by the policy makers; it is all over the place; the world population has continuously been inundated with information. The movement, its ideology that is a form of radical jihadism and, ultimately, its aim, have broken globally. As a consequence of the worldwide diffusion and the theological rationalization, new allegiances have emerged; more precisely, there are 31 organizations all over the globe who have pledged allegiance to the unrecognised Islamic State.

Secondly, ISIS would focus on “developing resilience” and for this aim different actions have taken place. On the one hand, resilience is motivated by leveraging weapons. In fact, ISIS counts a great number of weapons — most of them American-made weapons provided, ironically, to the Iraqi army by the USA — and a strong military force. On the other hand, it is motivated by State-building, which would mean, among other things, an administration of the territory and a domestic management of the region. This has been implemented by collecting taxes, refurbishing roads, posting police, setting public advertising, upgrading media points and even producing textbooks. Also, the financial basis has been solidified to the extent that it makes up to 3 million USD a day, from donations, collecting the revenue of the territories it controls, looting, collecting taxes, selling oil and, what is more scandalous, kidnapping, taking hostages and human trafficking. However, can all this be called a State? Taking into account the criteria of statehood, ISIS would comply with the requirements of a population, a territory and a government. Nevertheless, it lacks the international recognition, which is crucial and, notwithstanding the above-mentioned facts, unless the situation stays untouched during a long period of time — which hopefully will not happen — it will not be recognized as a State, but as a terrorist project.

Thirdly and most recently, ISIS has been engaged in expanding its borders using several strategies: welcoming foreign fighters, meaning 5 to 6 thousand militants, including women, from around 80 different countries from Chile to China, to defend its ideology and cause; creating “provinces” that add up to 39 in areas of Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen; inspiring copycats that would act on its behalf; taking control of various cities and, what is burning in everybody’s sorrow, regional and international attacks. ISIS is likely to have been involved in more than 50 serious attacks that were directly linked to it or inspired by its ideology, since the taking over of Mosul. The indescribable barbarity of the attacks culminated lastly on November 13th in Paris, and in Beirut the day before, in every sense as dreadful.

Now, what is next? The bloody dream of the Islamic State of creating a new caliphate and its strikes against the West must be shut down. All the threatened countries must protect their citizens. To do this, the world needs solidary cooperation among all the nations as well as, so far lacking, coordination concerning strategies and objectives to defeat a common enemy in this war against terrorism. Nevertheless, taking into account the heartbreaking evidence, from June 2014 to November 2015, the Islamic State not only managed to fully replace Al-Qaeda but also to move forward, remained strategically proactive, did not experiment any significant losses, managed to spread its ideology way beyond its horizon and survived a great number of military attacks. Let us keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

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