Kurdish Peshmerga fighters along a frontline position protect the main highway between Kurdish occupied Kirkuk and the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government in Irbil. (Michell Prothero/MCT)

ISIS – the new terrorist group?

As newspapers, television programs, and governments from around the world discuss ISIS and plans for involvement, it's important to understand who ISIS is, their goals, and the various news pieces surrounding this long story.

September 21, 2014

A month and a half ago, extremist group ISIS became known to the general public as the newest terrorist group. Their beheadings of US and British journalists and citizens, along with brutal treatment towards Iraqi and Syrian citizens forced governments worldwide to make a choice about how they would respond.


Islamic State territory
Map of ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria. MCT 2014

ISIS started off as an al Qaeda splinter group, also known as “Islamic State in Iraq”, “the Levant”, and “Islamic State”, as well as most commonly in recent weeks, “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”, or “ISIS”. The group is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and their main goal is to create an Islamic state resembling an Islamic Caliphate, a Islamic State led by a religious and political leader, across Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria. The group was mainly started by former Iraqi soldiers who could no longer serve under the new Iraq government after Saddam Hussein’s military was disbanded, and these soldiers became ISIS fighters.

ISIS is known for killing dozens at a time in public executions, crucifixions, and other acts. In August and September the group posted videos of the beheadings of various journalists from the United States and Britain.

Recent Acts from Summer 2014

June – ISIS takes control of Mosul and Tikrit Iraq, as well as Al-Qaim, a town on the border of Syria, and three other Iraqi towns.

June 28th – Iraqi Kurdistan restricts the border crossings for refugees fleeing the fighting.

June 29th – ISIS announces the creation of an Islamic state that would erase all state borders, and therefore make al-Baghdadi the authority over the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims. ISIS also announces name change to the Islamic State.

June 30th – Pentagon announces the United States sending additional 300 troops to Iraq to add security to the US Embassy and the Baghdad airport, as well as supporting Iraqi security forces.

July – ISIS takes all the cities between Deir Ezzor and the Iraqi border fall to ISIS (says Omar Abu Leila, spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army). ISIS takes control of major Syrian oil field, al-Omar, and ISIS militants blow up Jonah’s tomb, a holy site in Mosul.

August 8th – Two US F/A-18 jet fighters bomb artillery of Sunni Islamic extremists in Iraq.

August 19th – ISIS militants decapitate US journalist James Foley, who has been missing in Syria since 2012, in a video posted to Youtube. Also threaten life of another captured US journalists who is believed to be Steven Sotloff.

September 2 – ISIS releases another video, this time of US journalist Steven Sotloff being beheaded. The executioner appears to be the same one as the one involved in James Foley’s execution.

September 13 – ISIS beheads British aid worker David Haines on video. ISIS directs a statement at the British Prime Minister David Cameron threatening increasing destruction if Britain continues “evil alliance with America”, and threatens life of Alan Henning, a British citizen held captive.

World Response

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain announced on September 14th, 2014 that the country would support the Iraqi government and would continue to aid the Kurdish regional government. Cameron pledged that the British government would do “whatever it takes” to rid the world of ISIS and keep Britain safe. Britain is one of the few nations in addition to the United States who hold a no-concessions policy when dealing with kidnappings by terrorist groups, and this policy has been questioned as of late with the beheading of British aid worker, David Cawthorne Haines and the threatened beheading of Alan Henning, another British citizen held by ISIS. Britain has joined more than 20 countries in a pledge to fight ISIS in Iraq using any means necessary.

Italy announced earlier this week it would not take part in the air strikes against ISIS that the United States is leading, but they would send arms and aid to Iraq to fight ISIS.

France is urging a global response to the ISIS threat and on Monday announced that France began reconnaissance flights over ISIS territory, as agreed upon by the Iraqi and Emirati authorities.

The U.S and ISIS

Obama at CENTCOM
President Barack Obama addresses military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. The president was briefed by commanders at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) regarding the terrorist threat posed by ISIS. (Grant Jefferies/Bradenton Herald/MCT)

The United States is heading airstrikes on ISIS held territory, and as of September 15th has carried out 162 air strikes across Iraq. The full proposal includes American airstrikes in Syria as well, and the deployment of 475 more military advisers to Iraq, bringing the total to 1,600. It announced on Wednesday that they would not be returning combat troops to Iraq, despite suggestions from the military that it is an option to consider.

President Barack Obama said that there isn’t and will not be a mission for the troops in Iraq, and it’s more effective to help to secure Iraq’s future rather than sending in troops. Nearly 70 percent of Americans say they lack confidence that the US will achieve the goals for fighting ISIS that President Obama outlined in his address, reports NBC News.

Life on the ground

Each day, thousands of men, women, and children move across the ISIS territory border with Iraqi Kurdistan, seeking refuge among the Kurds. Most of the traffic is one way – directly into Iraqi Kurdistan, but some of the traffic is into ISIS held areas to visit family members, and some of the traffic into the Kurdish state is to collect supplies or, for example, to visit a doctor. Some cross the border due to lack of supplies, as the Kurdish embargo on cross-border trade has made it difficult for Iraqi civilians to receive basic items like wheat, fuel, and power. Reasons of crossing the border differ, but travelers at the border have confirmed that life under the extremist group has become significantly more difficult.

Some travelers also fear that Iraq could bring in the Shiite militia, a widely feared group among the Sunni population. The main fear among the Iraqi people in ISIS held territory is for the future though, and whether they will be safe in the coming weeks. This seems to be the main motivation for the move to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Future of ISIS

There is little known about the future of ISIS, or what will happen to the group as countries from around the world respond. Currently it seems that their focus may be on the United States after a new propaganda video released on Friday claims direct US/ISIS confrontation is near.

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