ISIL: The new face of militancy

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 16, 2014
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Dawlat al-Islamiyya fil-Iraq wa'sh-Sham or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Syria), alternatively written as ISIL and ISIS, has emerged as one of the most dangerous militant groups fighting in Iraq and Syria for the creation of an Islamic state.

Details about the evolution of ISIL are sketchy but information available shows that it is a splinter group of al-Qaeda, and was set up in April 2013 in Iraq by the militants who had fought against U.S. forces in Iraq and also in Syria against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Though the exact number of its fighters is not known, it is well organized. There are reports that jihadists from France, Britain, Germany and United States as well as fighters from Chechnya are part of it, in addition to hundreds of local Arabs. It follows wahabi-salafi extremist ideology and fights not only the security forces but also attacks the majority Shiites in Iraq.

ISIL is headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was born in 1971, and started his career in militancy in 2003 by joining fighters active against the U.S. forces. It was the year when the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction which were never found. Baghdadi was one of hundreds of Iraqi youth whose lives have been changed for eve due to invasion of their country.

Pro-Sunni sentiments were one of the reasons for fighting in Syria. The groups started sneaking into Syria by exploiting the geographical proximity of the areas they controlled and taking advantage of unrest that started in 2011. In Syria, it maintained a separate identity and refused to become part of any another group. Efforts were made for a united front between the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra front, but these efforts failed despite a direct message sent by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. There were also fights between ISIL and other Islamic groups in Syria, but it did not affect the operational capacity of the ISIL and it captured the Syrian city of ar-Raqqa, which was the first town to fall into the hands of the rebels. ISIL is also active in Aleppo and other adjacent areas.

In Iraq, the group has vast experience of fighting and a sympathetic Sunni audience as well, as the minority Sunni Muslim lost a lot of prestige and influence after the fall of Saddam Hussein. ISIL offers both political and religious power to this group.

ISIL intensified its campaign in Iraq at the start of the year when it strengthened control of Fallujah city in al-Anbar province in January. It brought it to the shadow of the capital Baghdad. The Iraqi force could not take any action as the country was busy with its elections. The militants wreaked havoc at the polls and targeted several places, killing scores of people. After the election, as the politicians were still occupied with the formation of the government and dividing the spoils of the elections, the ISIL struck at Mosul, the second most populous city, and according to reports occupied it. The security forces fled, leaving the way open for further expansion, and the militants also took over Tikrit, the hometown of former strongman Saddam Hussein.

The group has set its eyes on Baghdad, setting off alarm bells around the world. The UN has condemned the activities of the ISIL and U.S. President Barack Obama has said that his government was looking at all options.

The situation is extremely serious. Any foreign intervention will provide material for propaganda to the extremists and further radicalize the Muslim youth and the Arab lands. Standing on the sidelines and allowing a key country to fall into the hands of a militant outfit will set a dangerous precedent for many other such groups fighting in different Muslim countries. It would be a bad example for the Taliban who are waiting in the wings for the withdrawal of the Western forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

ISIL is setting new trends in fighting and different techniques are necessary to confront an organization like this.

The writer is a Pakistani analyst and journalist

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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