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In the light of recent terror attacks in Europe and all around the world, international security has now become a leading issue. The previous decade has witnessed the growth of a new non-state actor which now poses a very big threat to our world. I am indeed talking about the Islamic State. It is really curious how the political situation in the early 2000’s supported the growth of the Islamic State as we know it today.
I feel that in order to understand this organization, it is evident that we first understand its origin and story of its uprising.
A year after the US-led invasion of Iraq, AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) was formed by late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who is known to be a Jordanian. Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to Osama Bin Laden. Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) was started as an umbrella organization by AQI in 2006. However, at that time it was easily curbed down by the US troop surge. It was in 2010 that Baghdadi became the leader of ISI. 2013 can be marked as an important year in the history of the IS as Baghdadi was able to reestablish the organization by 2013. It was in 2013 that it joined forces against President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, setting up the Al-Nusra Front. Also, in April 2013, Baghdadi announced the merger of his forces in Iraq and Syria and the creation of "Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria" (ISIS) also called “Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria”.
After the US-led war left Iraq in turmoil, the accomplished Sunni army was abandoned. This led to a situation where a large number of battle trained Sunni Muslims were left unemployed and scared to death in Iraq which had a Shia majority. Hence, Iraq was like a merry-land for extremist. Zarqawi saw a welcoming audience in Iraq and established his group there. Zarqawi’s group grew in prominence and attracted Al-Qaeda’s attentions. It was in 2004 that Zarqawi pledged to Osama Bin Laden and his group was renamed Al-Qaeda in Iraq. AQI used a tactic that it uses even today, back in 2004; it not only fought Americans but also fellow Shia citizens. They bombed Shia mosques. They expected that it would actually lead to a Shia uprising which in turn would lead the Sunni community to join AQI. It is exactly what happened. However in 2006, they went crashing down when all this became too extreme for Al-Qaeda as well and natives discarded their brutality. By 2009 all of AQI’s fighters were either dead or in prison.
This time also saw the emergence of a new leader, Baghdadi. ISIS was able to rise from AQI in no small part because of Iraq's catastrophic internal politics. According to Fred Hof, who for part of 2012 served as the Obama administration's special adviser for the transition in Syria, "Iraq was the essential incubator”. Under Baghdadi’s leadership, AQI began allying with former officers from Saddam Hussein's army and recruited disaffected Sunnis. Iraq's own government, unintentionally, gave them exactly the opening they needed to regain strength.
Around the same time, Syria saw an outburst against the Assad regime. In August 2011, Baghdadi sent a top deputy, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, to Syria to set up a new branch of the AQI in the country. Joulani succeeded, establishing Jabhat al-Nusra in January 2012. This was followed by a series of incidents that are mostly ignored or are not known to all. AQI undertook a spectacular series of attacks on Iraqi prisons resulting in a huge number of strong recruits for AQI.
However in 2013, Baghdadi asserted unilateral control over all the Al-Qaida operations in Iraq and Syria. This is how, dramatically, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was formed. Al- Qaida and ISIS eventually split. However fighters that were loyal to Baghdadi remained true to his cause. In August 2014, ISIS decided to invade Iraqi Kurdistan, quickly advancing to within several miles of the capital, Erbil. It also launched a genocidal campaign against a minority group known as the Yazidi, who are ethnically Kurdish.
This brought the Peshmerga into the war, which have since dealt ISIS a series of stinging defeats. It also drew the United States into the war: President Obama's bombing campaign against ISIS initially began as a limited intervention to protect American personnel in Erbil and stem the slaughter of the Yazidis.
This has largely been the story of the ISIS.
Coming back to the present scenario, just after the Paris attacks and the others in Europe, a new turn of events has taken place. The US-led bombing operations in Syria as it is have caused enough turmoil in the unstable region; it is now that the world is expecting the NATO Article V to come into effect. The NATO self-defense charter that says if one member state is under attack all other member nations would defend it.
Learning from the past, the question is that if such steps are taken against the ISIS in Syria, what are the chances that it will not create any circumstances that would give way to a new threat to our world? Is it the time to take drastic steps without completely realizing, understanding and analyzing the consequences?
Food for thought.