22 Oct 2014

Photo of pro and anti-Proposition 8 protesters rally in front of San Francisco City Hall as California Supreme Court determines definition of marriageHaving trouble making sense of terrorists fighting in Middle East? It seems that this group of radicalised men, mostly young, may be referred to as ISIS, ISIL or IS. Basically they are claiming to be an Islamic State. Australia has now committed and deployed defence force planes and training personnel to a joint task force in Middle East. Read on. (SNS)

In June, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) took control of swathes of western Iraq – including, most strikingly, Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

ISIS now controls, or can operate with impunity in, a large stretch of territory spanning western Iraq and eastern Syria. It is easy to see why analysts have concluded that this hardline group, formed in 2010, has displaced Al-Qaeda as the most powerful jihadist group in the world.

In recent weeks, ISIS seized more land in central and northern Iraq, taking over Iraq’s largest university, at Ramadi, and sending fighters into the central city of Samarra. While its swift gains can partly be attributed to the weakness of the Iraqi army – with soldiers putting down their arms and fleeing their posts in the face of ISIS advances – it is also a highly organised military force. Its tactics of surprise attacks that inflict maximum casualties and spread fear has, thus far, proved highly effective.

The group soon declared a new caliphate. The re-establishment of this political-religious entity is the stated objective for many extremist jihadi groups.

What does all this mean for the region, and the world? No other states have recognised the ‘caliphate’ – and religious scholars agree that ISIS does not have the theological authority to declare one. If ISIS’s hype was to be believed, in declaring himself the new caliph, their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, would now be the leader of all Muslims worldwide. He obviously isn’t.

But, of course, this does not mean that the importance of this hardline proto-state should be underestimated. The carving out of this territory is a significant redrawing of the political geography of the Middle East, and a major cause of anxiety to neighbouring countries. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are all concerned that they could be targeted by battle-hardened extremists. Since the group specialises in using foreign volunteers, this is also a concern for the rest of the world. The hope seems to be that ISIS and its Islamic State will fall as quickly as it rose; but as the group makes further territorial gains, this seems optimistic, to say the least.

Source: New Humanist (London), Autumn 2014

Reprinted with permission