By Aswath Komath

Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been in the news lately because of their presence in Iraq and how they have basically thrown out the Iraqi government presence and have very clear intentions to take over the country and run a proper Islamic State in it.

Origins of the ISIL

ISIL was a group created after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. When the Americans took over control of the Iraqi government, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) a body created by the Americans in order to conduct the day to day administrative duties of the new Iraqi state, disbanded the Iraqi Army. This decision is known to be one of the biggest mistakes conducted by the American government in Iraq and defines its rule in Iraq.

The mainly Sunni army now disbanded, leaving several well-experienced and well-trained officers unemployed and angry. With the CPA slow to reconstitute the Iraqi army, several of these officers joined many militant groups to oppose the American presence in Iraq. ISIL is one such group that has been created out of such circumstances. They were created to carry out rebellion. ISIL, like many other groups had the support and backing of the Al-Qaeda.

The ISIL came to the spotlight during the Syrian Civil War. ISIL made their inroads into the Syrian situation relatively early. The Al Qaeda had called on various jihadi groups to go participate in things like the Syrian civil war to get rid of people like Bashar Al Assad. While the Al Qaeda professes the need to remove tyrants and implement the will of the people, the truth is that Al Qaeda want to see the likes of Bashar Al Assad gone because dictators like them had increasingly started providing the West with intelligence about such groups and have been cooperating with them to counter extremist Islamist organizations all around the world, especially ones which are prone to terrorism and violence.

ISIL participated in these battles and emerged as one of the strong powers to be reckoned with on the Syrian scene just like the Jabhat Al Nusra, which is clearly a franchisee organization of the Al Qaeda. ISIL began occupying villages and towns in Syria after driving out Assad’s forces and tried to implement their own style of governance there.

With the Assad regime making serious advances on countering the rebels, the ISIL moved on to Iraq. Thereby, bringing about the crisis we have today

ISIL’s basic ideology

The ISIL’s basic ideology is to create a purely Islamic state where the only piece of legislation would be Shariah law in its purest form. The ISIL consists of Sunni Muslims and have made it quite clear that any territory they hold will be a Sunni territory. This is clearly demonstrated by the various pictures and videos they post on the Internet where they very clearly profess their hate for the Shia community, likening them to infidels and apostates.

In a lot of ways, the ISIL resembles the Taliban. ISIL and the Al-Qaeda connection

ISIL began with the blessing of the Al-Qaeda, though they were not linked in any way. Al Qaeda already had its affiliate in Iraq which until 2004 was headed by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. ISIL was an independent group by itself but enjoyed the support of the Al Qaeda, who was trying to bring all such groups under one umbrella organization.

Disagreements between the ISIL and the Al Qaeda started springing up during the Syrian civil war. The Al Qaeda has been clear about using violence in a legitimate manner in order to implement organizational goals. However, the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of violence has created discord between the Al Qaeda and the ISIL. Also, ISIL has been attacking the Jabhat Al Nusra, which is a direct affiliate of the Al Qaeda in Syria.

A few weeks before the ISIL occupation of Iraqi territory, there was chatter in cyberspace about an impending split between the ISIL and the Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda has denounced the ISIL as brutal and violent and detrimental to Jihad.

If the Al Qaeda has to declare a group as violent and brutal, then the level at which ISIL operates is beyond measure.

How dangerous is the ISIL?
ISIL is an extremely dangerous organization for the following reasons.

1. They are well funded. They have several sources of income including extortions, kidnapping and the secret sale of oil to the Assad government, which ironically enough, happens to be the real enemy ISIL is fighting. They also enjoy discreet financial support from the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia.

2. They are well trained and well experienced. They started off by consisting of former Iraqi officers. Iraq was known to have one of the best militaries in the Middle East who were well trained and well experienced already fighting Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. They are newly bolstered and experienced in Syria and Iraq which they are bringing to Iraq now. A force of 8000 ISIL fighters evicted 30,000 Iraqi soldiers from Iraqi territory.

3. They are brutal. They kill anybody associated with the government, civilian and military. They have killed thousands of people who were employed with the Iraqi government in the most brutal ways possible. They have been on several rampages and have conducted killings which in an ethical sense, should constitute genocide. They rely on this brutality in order to implement their rule on people.

4. They are sectarian. They are determined to wipe out any other Muslim sect which is not Sunni Islam. They have very clearly projected their hate for the Shias and other groups. They have killed several thousand of them and if they are not stopped, they will continue killing more, which is a problem as the group advances further south into Iraq, which is mainly Shiite.

Of course, there is a lot more to be said about ISIL than has been mentioned here. ISIL needs to be understood in the framework of what constitutes terrorism. With the kind of tactics employed by the ISIL, they have defied conventional wisdom about terrorism and the need to understand ISIL has never been greater than the time right now when we see a supposedly stable government retreating in the face of this new threat. ISIL’s victories have much wider consequences. ISIL victories are only going to bolster other groups and give them a moral boost. With the victories they are scoring over the government of Iraq, they become a force to reckon with.

This adds to the brand value of the group, bringing in fresh recruits, more funding and more resources which will finally set off a tinderbox we call the Middle East today.


Ashwath is a graduate in Political Science from Fergusson College, Pune. He is an aspiring diplomat and hopes to join the Indian Foreign Service someday. He enjoys writing about foreign policy, international security and international affairs. When he is not writing or reading, he enjoys playing pool with his friends, watching foreign cinema and listening to instrumental music.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind