current affairs

A group too extreme for al-Qaeda: what’s ISIS?

Almost ten years since control of Iraq was handed back by coalition forces to the interim government and George Bush’s promises of a “Democratic revolution” the country is again i

Almost ten years since control of Iraq was handed back by coalition forces to the interim government and George Bush’s promises of a “Democratic revolution” the country is again in turmoil.

Islamist forces lead by Isis have advanced rapidly over the last few months, now controlling the cities of Mosul, Tikrit and Falluja. In doing so they have reequipped themselves with modern armoured vehicles including T-55 tanks and perhaps more worryingly several armed helicopters and transport aircraft.

At the time of writing only sixty kilometres from Baghdad and having consolidated their grip of the north of the country the jihadists now pose a real threat to the Iraqi Government.

Who are Isis?

Isis or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant is a network of Sunni extremists founded in Jordan by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2000 as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. They rose to prominence after its operatives assassinated American Diplomat Laurence Foley in 2002.

Following the coalition invasion of Iraq the group focused its attention on resisting the invasion and adopted the name Islamic State of Iraq. Their stated aims were to force the British and American forces to withdraw and instituting a Sunni Islamic state.

Through its extensive network of contacts and overseas funding the group soon became one of the largest groups in Iraq, becoming a leading member of al-Qaeda in Iraq. At its peak during the Iraq war it had over a thousand fighters directly under its command and almost twice that number were members of allied groups.

The group was also notable for being one of the few Islamist groups to recruit foreign Jihadists who made up a considerable percentage of their manpower. British Muslims make up a large contingent with General al-Basheer, Chief of Staff of the Free Syrian Army stating that the majority of ISIS fighters were British. This has prompted fears that when they return to Britain they may be a danger to national security.

“Too extreme for Al-Qaeda”

What sets ISIS aside from other groups however is their violent nature, their actions have been characterised by brutal execution and torture. The group is notorious for beheadings and crucifixions in Syria and the group claimed only a few days ago to have killed 1700 Iraqi Shiites serving in the Iraqi armed forces.

Ayman al-Zawahi, current leader of al-Qaeda recently released a statement emphasising that they were not responsible for ISIS’s actions and did not wish to be associated with them. [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.”

They are perhaps the most violent Islamist group in the world, well known among both allies and enemies for both their brutal treatment of captives and the experience of their fighters. ISIS have published videos of captured soldiers being beheaded or even crucified.

Their reputation has certainly worked to their advantage in Iraq where their success has been attributed to Iraqi soldiers chosing to flee rather than confront the much smaller force and thus allowed them to enter cities virtually unopposed.

So what now?

What will happen in the coming weeks and months in Iraq is unclear, with ISIS consolidating their advances and rearming the situation does look bleak. The Iraqi army does outnumber ISIS by a considerable margin and is much better equipped so it is possible that it may be able to retake lost ground. But with ISIS only miles from Baghdad it seems unlikely that the Iraqi army will risk redeploying its forces from protecting the capital.

Western intervention is possible but unlikely. Britain has ruled out putting boots on the ground and America is unlikely to do so either, the political will just isn’t there. The most they could conceivably offer would be to provide air support, but that alone is unlikely to be effective against the highly mobile Islamists.

Iran surprisingly is Iraq’s next closest ally, it’s Revolutionary Ruard is already providing assistance to the Iraqi military but complex relations with America mean that further assistance is far from certain.

In summary it seems that politics rather than military action will define Iraq’s future. As ISIS pushes further into the heart of Iraq our politicians are indecisive, the west could push ISIS out of Iraq at the blink of an eye and save thousands of lives. Yet it seems that our politicians won’t stick their necks out to save them, lest they lose the next election.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.

Photograph Uploaded to Twitter By ISIS