The Is­lamic

ISIS has rapidly ex­panded its con­trol over Iraq and Syria by seiz­ing towns and cities near ma­jor sup­ply routes, crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and bor­der cross­ings


State — Self-styled Caliphate

ISIS has rapidly ex­panded its con­trol over Iraq and Syria by seiz­ing towns and cities near ma­jor sup­ply routes, crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and bor­der cross­ings

Lt Gen­eral V.K. Kapoor (Retd)

THE IS­LAMIC STATE STARTED as an Al Qaeda splin­ter group. It was pre­vi­ously called the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL) or the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It has de­clared it­self as a caliphate and claims re­li­gious author­ity over all Mus­lims across the world. It is an un­recog­nised state and in its self-pro­claimed sta­tus it as­pires to bring most of the Mus­lim-in­hab­ited re­gions of the world un­der its po­lit­i­cal con­trol be­gin­ning with ter­ri­tory in the Le­vant re­gion which in­cludes Jor­dan, Is­rael, Pales­tine, Le­banon, Cyprus and part of south­ern Turkey. It has been des­ig­nated as a for­eign ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion by the United States, the United King­dom, Australia, Canada, In­done­sia and Saudi Ara­bia. The United Na­tions and Amnesty In­ter­na­tional have ac­cused the group of grave hu­man rights abuses.

As a re­sult of al­leged eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal dis­crim­i­na­tion against Iraqi Sun­nis, ISIS has sig­nif­i­cantly gained sup­port, in Iraq, un­der the lead­er­ship of Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, now re­port­edly killed in a US air attack in Iraq. Af­ter en­ter­ing the Syr­ian civil war, it has es­tab­lished a large pres­ence in Syria. The US Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency (CIA) has es­ti­mated in Septem­ber 2014 that in both coun­tries it has be­tween 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. ISIS had close links to Al Qaeda un­til Fe­bru­ary 2014 when, af­ter an eight-month power strug­gle, Al Qaeda cut all ties with the group, re­port­edly for its bru­tal­ity.

The IS cur­rently con­trols hun­dreds of square kilo­me­tres of ter­ri­tory and it ig­nores in­ter­na­tional bor­ders. It has a pres­ence from Syria’s Mediter­ranean coast to south of Bagh­dad. It rules by Sharia law. Its fighters are mostly Sad­dam Hus­sein’s mil­i­tary (for­mer Iraqi sol­diers ) which was dis­banded and were un­able to serve un­der the new Iraq Gov­ern­ment.

The aim of ISIS is to cre­ate an Is­lamic state across Sunni ar­eas of Iraq and in Syria. Its long-term ob­jec­tive is the estab­lish­ment of a world­wide Caliphate, re­flected in fre­quent me­dia re­ports by means of images of the world united un­der a ISIS ban­ner.


ISIS has rapidly ex­panded its con­trol over Iraq and Syria by seiz­ing towns and cities near ma­jor sup­ply routes, crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and bor­der cross­ings.

Over the sum­mer of 2014, the group has pen­e­trated deeper into Syria, re­gain­ing some ter­ri­tory it had lost to other rebel groups and cap­tur­ing sev­eral gov­ern­ment mil­i­tary bases. It is still try­ing to con­sol­i­date its con­trol along the bor­der be­tween Iraq and Syria. They have ex­pe­ri­enced some set­backs in Iraq, where Amer­i­can airstrikes helped Iraqi and Kur­dish forces re­claim the Mo­sul Dam and the Turk­men city of Amerli.

Money Sup­ply to the Is­lamic State

Mil­lions of dol­lars in oil rev­enue have made ISIS one of the wealth­i­est ter­ror groups in his­tory. Ex­perts es­ti­mate the value of the out­put from the dozen or so oil­fields and re­finer­ies un­der its con­trol in Iraq and Syria at $1 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion a day. The Is­lamic State is re­port­edly sell­ing oil-stored or pro­duced in ar­eas un­der its con­trol at a steep dis­count to mar­ket prices. Truck loads are be­ing smug­gled through the bor­der with Turkey.

The group con­trols many of Syria’s eastern oil­fields. In July 2014, ISIS fighters took con­trol of the coun­try’s largest oil­field, Omar, which was pro­duc­ing about 30,000 bar­rels a day when it was fully func­tion­ing. Re­cently it was pro­duc­ing about a third of that or less.

On Au­gust 21, 2014, the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported that the French For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius said the ex­trem­ist group ISIS, al­ready a for­mi­da­ble mil­i­tary force, has en­hanced its power by amass­ing huge piles of cash, thanks in part to in­di­vid­ual donors from the Mid­dle East. Fabius said that be­yond mil­i­tary sup­port, West­ern and Mid­dle East coun­tries must agree on mea­sures to dry up the Is­lamic State’s fi­nances be­cause the Is­lamic State’s vast cash re­sources have al­lowed it to re­mu­ner­ate for­eign fighters who have joined its cause and to se­cure weapons, ammunition and food sup­plies to func­tion like a full-fledged army.

ISIS Ar­ma­ments

ISIS ar­ma­ments are pre­dom­i­nantly a mix of vet­eran Soviet tanks; large, ad­vanced US-made sys­tems; and black mar­ket arms. Tanks ac­quired from the Syr­i­ans in­cluded T-72, a rel­a­tively mod­ern Soviet de­sign, and the T-55, a post-World War II model. They have also cap­tured Chi­nese copies of Soviet field and anti-air­craft guns from the Iraqi and Syr­ian armies. Both coun­tries are known to have bought di­rectly from China over a decade ago. Ac­cord­ing to Brown Moses, a UK based blog, that has emerged dur­ing the Syr­ian civil war as the fore­most author­ity on the weapons used in that con­flict, ISIS has now ob­tained rocket launch- ers, grenade launch­ers and Amer­i­can-made M60 ma­chine guns from Croa­tia through Saudi Ara­bia.

ISIS has man­aged to in­fil­trate Iraqi bases in Mo­sul, gain­ing ac­cess to so­phis­ti­cated US weaponry. They have ap­par­ently taken enough US weapons from the Iraqi mil­i­tary in Mo­sul. Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous me­dia re­ports, ISIS can’t re­ally use many of the mod­ern US weapons that fell into its pos­ses­sions, and knows it and has there­fore de­stroyed much of the heavy equip­ment it cap­tured in Iraq: M1 tanks, M113 ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers, MRAP heavy ar­moured trucks, and other mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar pieces of equip­ment which they knew they couldn’t use. Many of the ad­vanced pieces of US equip­ment have been de­stroyed so that the Iraqi Army can­not use them in the fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports.

US War Ef­forts against IS

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has vowed that the United States will not fight an­other ground war in Iraq, seek­ing to re­as­sure Amer­i­cans about the level of US in­volve­ment af­ter Gen­eral Martin Dempsey, Chair­man of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff,, sug­gested com­bat troops could be de­ployed against ISIS forces. Pres­i­dent Obama, who has spent much of his pres­i­dency dis­tanc­ing him­self from the Iraq War, stressed dur­ing a speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa that air strikes would be the cen­tral US con­tri­bu­tion to the fight against ISIS, along with co­or­di­nat­ing a coali­tion that he said now in­cludes more than 40 coun­tries.

Com­man­der Bill Ur­ban, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said: “As of De­cem­ber 11, 2014, the to­tal cost of op­er­a­tions re­lated to ISIL since ki­netic op­er­a­tions started on Au­gust 8, 2014, is $1.02 bil­lion and the av­er­age daily cost is $8.1 mil­lion.” The Pen­tagon’s lat­est statis­tics show that as of De­cem­ber 19, 2014, the US and its coali­tion part­ners had flown 1,371 airstrikes in both coun­tries – 799 in Iraq and 572 in Syria. More than 1,600 Amer­i­can ad­vis­ers have been dis- patched to help Iraqi forces but Obama does not want them to get in­volved in ground com­bat to avoid a re­peat of the Iraq War be­gun by his pre­de­ces­sor, Ge­orge W. Bush.

In­ter­na­tional Coali­tion formed against ISIS

The United States-led coali­tion to fight the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group con­tin­ues to grow, with nu­mer­ous na­tions pro­vid­ing vary­ing lev­els of back­ing in the form of mil­i­tary equip­ment, aid and po­lit­i­cal sup­port. In his speech to the United Na­tions on Septem­ber 24, 2014, Pres­i­dent Obama said, “Al­ready, over 40 na­tions have of­fered to join this coali­tion.” But on Septem­ber 23, 2014, Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said more than 50 na­tions have agreed to join the coali­tion. And in a doc­u­ment re­leased by the State Depart­ment, 62 na­tions (in­clud­ing the Euro­pean Union and the Arab League) are listed as pro­vid­ing sup­port to the US-led coali­tion. The strong­est al­lies in the coali­tion are those pro­vid­ing air sup­port to the United States, while oth­ers are of­fer­ing de­liv­ery ser­vices and some are pro­vid­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. The ex­trem­ist group is be­lieved to have re­cruits from 51 coun­tries.

A Frac­tious Coali­tion

Strate­gic an­a­lysts are not at all con­fi­dent of the coali­tion formed by the US for war against the ISIS. The ba­sic doubts arise from the true in­ten­tion of all coali­tion part­ners. The dif­fi­cul­ties faced by coali­tion part­ners dic­tate the du­plic­ity of their ac­tions. Iraq has a new gov­ern­ment of Haider al-Abadi, who has pledged to fight ISIS and to be more in­clu­sive than the pre­vi­ous regime. But it ur­gently needs to im­prove mil­i­tary per­for­mance and to win the sup­port of alien­ated Sun­nis. Syria, for ef­fec­tive ac­tion against ISIS strongholds, will need to be backed up by more ef­fec­tive Syr­ian rebel ca­pa­bil­i­ties on the ground – cre­at­ing a tricky sit­u­a­tion for the US, UK and other west­ern back­ers. Turkey, NATO’s only Mus­lim mem­ber, is pre­pared to sup­port only hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tions. Jor­dan is ner­vous about di­rect in­volve­ment in US-led ef­fort. It wor­ries about do­mes­tic back­lash from Sunni ex­trem­ists. Le­banon fears and at­tacks from Syria-based ex­trem­ists and con­se­quent de-sta­bil­i­sa­tion. It is al­ready host­ing mil­lions of Syr­ian refugees. Hezbol­lah ac­tively sup­ports Syr­ian forces and blames the US for not be­ing se­ri­ous about fight­ing ISIS and be­ing too close to the Gulf coun­tries. Saudi Ara­bia is clearly in­tim­i­dated by ISIS and stung by in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism that it has cre­ated the mon­ster. It has agreed to US re­quest to train Syr­ian rebels and is re­port­edly pre­pared to use air power against ISIS. It is wor­ried about strength­en­ing As­sad and Iran. UAE is wary of the threat from Is­lamists rang­ing from the Mus­lim Brotherhood to Al Qaeda and ISIS and is happy to blur the huge dif­fer­ences be­tween them. It is be­lieved to have of­fered to use its air force to attack ISIS. Qatar is the wealth­i­est emi­rate that has backed the Mus­lim Brotherhood across the Arab world, es­pe­cially in Egypt, and used Al Jazeera TV as a cheer­leader for the changes of the Arab Spring. Like the Saudis, it has


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