The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has caught the world’s attention by the pace and brutality of its takeover of many Iraqi towns, especially Mosul and Tikrit over the last week.
But the Sunni terrorist organisation has been around for more than a decade. Earlier known as the al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), it sided with Osama bin Laden and was noticed for its beheadings to rampant bombings all over Iraq. The AQI was instrumental in fanning the Iraqi civil war.
In 2006, because of its extreme violence, a section among Sunnis joined the US forces in defeating AQI. Thereafter, it became the ISIS and focused on Syria until it turned to Iraq.
The aim of the ISIS is to spread a Sunni Islamic state — and a radical one — throughout the Levant (from the southern tip of Turkey to Egypt and from Israel to Iraq).
It has been active in opposing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and has captured many parts of Syria where it administers its radical form of governance. From the latter part of last year the group was protesting in many towns in Iraq against the ways of the Nouri al-Maliki government.
News that ISIS fighters are being welcomed in many Iraqi towns rings similar to the jubilation that was seen in many parts of Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. However, it will face resistance from a demoralised Iraqi security force and Iran, which is helping the Maliki government protect vital areas close to its border. The Kurds are also attacking the Sunni militants.
The group has used social media and the Internet to spread its message of fear. It released The Clanging of the Swords, a propaganda video series in which soldiers are killed and tanks are destroyed.
For India the concern has been manifold. Other than the upward spiral of oil prices, the Narendra Modi government’s immediate concern is the safety of Indians in Iraq, around 40 of whom have been kidnapped.
The fringe of the fringe
The Sunni terror outfit has been around for more than 10 years
The ISIS surge can be seen as a move by the group to come out as the prominent terrorist organisation in the region, replacing al-Qaeda.
The ISIS did not have to create a following but has used to its advantage the Sunni-Shia divide in Iraq and other countries.
The ISIS have now access to the weapons the US had given the Iraqi forces, which the latter abandoned while fleeing Mosul and other places.
Three years after it pulled out its troops from the country, President Barack Obama ordered more than 300 troops to protect US interests in Iraq.