The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (Syria) is the largest and most gratuitously and viciously violent armed terrorist organization in the world and headed by a man who is enthusiastic for murder, death and destruction. His name is Abdullah Ibrahim, and his nickname is Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi. Interestingly, Ibrahim was previously detained at Bucca Camp American prison in Iraq and holds a PhD in Islamic history from the Islamic University in Baghdad.
This man, who called himself Caliph of Muslims, leads today an advisory council of military and political experts, and another council which consists of dozens of Emirs who are responsible for Sunni areas, in addition to hundreds of senior officials who run and lead ministries of the so-called the Islamic Caliphate State. Leaders of this organization consist of senior Iraqi officers with high military discipline and tough intelligence training where their methods of governance depend on the sword, shedding blood and killing anything in the way. It may not pass for enlightened leadership, but so far it has been an effective approach to grabbing control of vast regions and exercising iron-fisted control.
The secret of the success of this organization in a very short time – conquering or occupying huge areas of Iraq and Syria have surprised governments, politicians, military experts, press and media regionally and internationally. While their access to and use of high-tech weapons have aided their efforts, the truth is that kind of weapons they use – whether it be missiles, tanks, cannons, and other light weapons – are not the most important or decisive factor in their success in the battlefield. But there are number of other more important and decisive factors leading to the success of this organization. At the top of this list is the declaration of “the Islamic Cilapha State” where all the Islamic terrorist organizations were given only two choices – either support ISIS entirely and totally and declare submission to ISIS, or oppose ISIS and die in the confrontation. This is what happened with Al-Nusra Front when it refused to submit to ISIS and to join under the logo of ISIS.
That is how ISIS could gain the support of those who supported the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and other groups in a very fast time in eastern Middle East and in Arab Moroccan countries, in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and other countries. Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi depends mainly on the Sunni Sect in Iraq and Syria and the biggest Sunni Tribes in those two countries, while Al-Qaeda organization and other Islamic organizations depended on the foreign Jihadis in various countries. Information indicates that 60% of ISIS military force consists of Iraqis and from the former Iraqi army which has been dissolved or cancelled by the American Governor Paul Bremer who governed Iraq after the fall of the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein until Iraqi elections were held. The rest of ISIS’s forces (40% of the total) consists of Syrian Sunni and foreign volunteers. Today, it is estimated that ISIS currently has 40,000 fighters in its forces, in addition to tens of thousands of extremist supporters.
Another important factor in the success of this dark organization is — the readiness of its fighters to die for their “cause.” This can be seen clearly when ISIS faces Syrian and Iraqi armed forces, Egyptian soldiers in Sinai Peninsula and also in Libya. There is a strategic and military fundamentalist brain behind this determination – they fight to the death. Their forces have a high degree of discipline, which should be obvious given that they are committed to achieve their goals at any cost. They have a “whatever it takes” approach. Most of their local adversaries are not equally committed.
ISIS’s leadership not only encourages and demands massive destruction – the more destructive, the better – and mass murders – the more vicious and horrific, the better. The result is a fighting force with heartless determination, cold-blooded brutality, and savage stubbornness. But they are also a well-trained and well-armed group that uses savage methods to horrify people by beheading and burning its victims alive then broadcasting the horror the media and social networks. In a world that tunes into the next “biggest” or “baddest” trend, ISIS is always willing to sink to a new low and grab international attention while terrifying those they seek to subjugate next.
The Islamic State Organization has taken advantage of modern technology with a high skill level. They mix highly produced videos with carefully chosen verses from the holy Koran as a reliable reference to encourage and brainwash its fighters and followers on Jihad to fight in the name of Allah. ISIS also broadcasts the statements of ISIS leadership in various media, press and social networks to grow and encourage their followers to fight the “Outlaws Shiites,” “atheist Kurds,” “atheist Izidians,” and “Christian infidels.” In a speech for Abu baker Al-Baghdadi on 14th of May, he says that the attacks by his supporters on Shiites and their allies in Iraq will make “the crusaders” bleed” and will hold the pillars of the Cilapha and will defeat Syrian Allawis and Shiite Houthis in Yemen. He also said that ISIS is carrying out a war against infidel countries on behalf of all Muslims and it is the war of Muslims. This is how they brain wash the youth continuously and systemically.
ISIS has taken advantage of several factors — (i) the lack of awareness for the youth in the region, (ii) the public’s resentment toward some of the dictatorship regimes who control the nation’s resources and means of production and limit opportunity, (iii) the high unemployment rate in Arab and Islamic countries, and (iv) a general sense of hopelessness for so many. That coupled with threats of torture and horrific death are powerful motivators. Propaganda is a powerful tool and ISIS are powerful propagandists as well as murderous monsters.
ISIS has achieved a quick success via its control of the economic resources in the cities that they control. They have amassed a fortune by selling oil in black market, collecting or extracting high taxes from the public, trading hostages for cash with the “Izidians, Christians and Kurds,” selling antiquities and other resources taken from the battlefield. Their wealth is estimated at more than 10 billion dollars. They use these resources to finance their military operations, political and intelligence activities.
There is little doubt that when they believe the time is right, they will announce that they will undertake “the liberation of Palestine.” This will unite many extremists and give them many opportunities for more hate-filled propaganda to grow their ranks.
ISIS has been shrewd in taking advantage of various political disputes in Iraq and Syria as two countries. Iraq, for example, has a variety of ethnic groups, religions and religious sects. ISIS has played these divides to their advantage. The current Iraqi government headed by Mr. Obadi is a coalition government. But as a result of sectarian disputes and other political problems, the Iraqi government has had a lack of a united strategy to face and defeat ISIS. Likewise, ISIS has taken the advantage of the recent explosions in Saudi Arabia via expanding disputes between the Sunnite majority and Shiite minority. They have effectively poured gasoline on the proverbial fire. That is also what has happened in Lebanon, Yemen and other countries. As time passes, ISIS is gaining new footholds in various countries of the world by using religion, sectarian disputes, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and undermining of religious minorities.
It is also important to mention that within the past 70 years, none of the Islamic streams could achieve their goal in the Islamic world, but ISIS has achieved its accomplishments in a comparatively short time – they now control 1/3 of Iraqi and Syrian territories and they have defeated various opponent Islamic organizations. They have given a simple choice to every Jihadi and Salafi organization — either submission and support, or to be killed. There is also another important factor — the retreat or erosion of Al-Qaeda’s power and influence. This provided an opening and encouraged the appetite of the leadership of ISIS to expand the battlefield and increase threats to governments who stood against them. ISIS now claims that it is is fighting to liberate the Arab and Islamic worlds by sword. They also consider most of the Arab rulers as oppressors and as being anti-Islamic.
ISIS has become a regional political and military force that threatens both peace and the progress of democratic principles in the Middle East. The success of this organization led to the formation of the international coalition against it which now includes more than 52 nation states. The international coalition still faces a severe shortage of a clear strategy to face ISIS on the ground. Air strikes of the coalition led by United States have caused a damage against ISIS, but to date, the international coalition has not achieved its goals or stopped ISIS’s progress. The Caliph of the Islamic State Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi, like his previous successor Osama Ben Laden, is a severe danger to the nations of the region and to world peace.
Governments in the Arab and Islamic world must know very well that the international military aid cannot completely defeat ISIS or the next terrorist organization that will spring up if ISIS begins to falter. While an effective and robust military response to ISIS is required, there must also be real political reforms dedicated to democratic principles and values. These reforms must also work to reduce poverty and hopelessness and provide greater opportunity. This will make the call of ISIS or any future organization less appealing.
In the United States, its founding fathers built a society based on individual liberty and equality of opportunity. They built a society which values individual and human rights and allows the poor to become well-off and even wealthy through hard work and entrepreneurialism. As a result, it is unlikely that ISIS would have a broad appeal in the United States. While a few malcontents may heed their call, ISIS provides very little of interest to a people who enjoy freedom and opportunity and have values consistent with a pluralistic society. Thus, in the long run, if the region hopes to end the influence of Salafi and Jihadi organizations, the region must work to develop a different political culture. Those political and economic reforms would but an end to the influence of these destructive and barbaric Salafi and Jihadi organizations.
Even if ISIS were eliminated completely tomorrow, given the current political, cultural and economic realities in much of the Middle East, dozens of new organizations would emerge. But with meaningful and real political, cultural and economic reform, the murderous cults would die on the vine. Is there a need for a new “Marshall Plan” of sorts for Arab and Islamic nations? Perhaps so. But there can be no doubt that the Arab and Islamic world must take stock of how it has empowered these extremists and murders.