ISIS.pdf - Confronting the Islamic State Understanding the...

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A BSTRACT : The so-called Islamic State has emerged as a major force in the struggle for the future of Syria and Iraq with a worldview that is deeply at odds with that of the United States and its allies. In this struggle, US military and intelligence personnel must analyze the na- ture of this organization continuously, seeking ways to overcome its strengths and exploit its weaknesses. A discussion of such strengths and weaknesses is provided here while acknowledging constant ad- justment is necessary as the Islamic State evolves. T he organization calling itself the Islamic State (IS; also widely known by the older names of ISIL or ISIS, and the Arabic acronym Da’ish ) has emerged as a major force in the struggle for the future of Syria and Iraq. 1 IS’s rise to world attention resulted from its capture of large areas of both countries since early 2014. The organiza- tion became especially prominent following its June 2014 lightning-swift military advance over northern Iraq, where it encountered an abysmally low level of government resistance. 2 This catastrophe prompted an international re-examination of Iraq’s corrupt and sectarian government and the need to overcome the deeply polarizing legacy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi Parliament was also shaken by the military disaster, and came under international and domestic pressure to find new leadership. Parliament correspondingly removed Maliki from his position as prime minister, and appointed him to a largely ceremonial post as one of Iraq’s vice presidents. 3 The United States also intensi- fied military assistance to both the Iraqi government and Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government and began a program of ongoing tactical airstrikes to contain and help roll back the IS advance in Iraq. Additionally, 1,600 US service members were sent to Iraq to serve as military advisors, intel- ligence analysts, and other needed specialists. 4 Later, a US-led coalition bombed targets in Syria. Although IS forces did not face a serious challenge from the Iraqi military in the June offensive, the organization has fought a variety of 1 The older names of ISIL and ISIS refer to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. The Arabic word sham is translated in English as Syria and more literally as Greater Syria or the Levant. Da’ish is an Arabic acronym that sounds like the vernacular Syrian verb for to trample upon. Unsurprisingly IS members do not like to be referred to as Da’ish . 2 International Crisis Group, Iraq’s Jihadi Jack-in-the-box , Policy Briefing Number 38 (Brussels, Belgium: ICG, 2014), 3. 3 Associated Press, “Iraqi parliament approves new partial Cabinet,” Jordan Times, September 8, 2014. 4 Craig Whitlock, “Dempsey raises possibility of involving U.S. combat troops in fight against the Islamic State,” Washington Post , September 16, 2014, A-1.
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