With the recent entrance of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State – also known as ISIS or ISIL – officials and analysts have begun to trace the terrorist organization back to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. President Barack Obama recently stated in an interview with Vice News, “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. […] Which is an example of unintended consequences,” (qtd. in “Unintended Consequences…”).
A former al-Qaeda militant and senior Islamic State member, Abu Ahmed, stated, “If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now,” (qtd. in Chulov). Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi analyst, says the Iraqi government believes 17 of the 25 principal IS leaders were detained in U.S. prisons between 2004 and 2011, even its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Born Ibrahim ibn Awwad al-Badri al-Samarrai in Samarra, Iraq, Baghdadi was originally detained in Fallujah by American forces and housed at the U.S. prison in Bucca. Even though he had help to found a Sunni insurgency group and had earned a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from the Islamic University in Baghdad before his detention, neither the detainees nor the jailors would have guessed Baghdadi would soon be considered the most dangerous terrorist leader in the world. His fellow inmates viewed him as distant and reserved, while the jailors at Bucca saw the calming influence his presence had on the other inmates. The jailors even sought out his help in resolving conflicts. As a fellow inmate, Abu Ahmed saw firsthand the future emir’s demeanor.
That was part of his act […] I got a feeling from him that he was hiding something inside, a darkness that he did not want to show other people. He was the opposite of the other princes who were far easier to deal with. He was remote, far from us all. (qtd. in Chulov)
After his release, Baghdadi became known as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2010, one of the organizations that would soon make up the Islamic State, rising through the ranks of IS and becoming its leader. Baghdadi is now known as a brilliant commander with a high aptitude for battlefield tactics, which, according to analysts, makes IS more appealing than al-Qaeda to young jihadists.
The Islamic State is now believed to number in the thousands, including many foreign nationals, with IS boasting to have combatants from all over the Arab world – France, the UK, Germany, as well as the U.S. – with their goal believed to be to establish an emirate in the region. So far, IS has had a significant amount of success and has gained a reputation for its barbaric methods in occupied territories. IS took the Syrian city of Raqqa in March 2013, the first provisional capital to fall under insurgent control, and capitalized on the theological division between the Shia Iraqi government and the Sunni minority, taking the Iraqi city of Fallujah in January 2014. In June 2014, IS gained control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, with U.S. officials believing that it had the potential to destabilize the entire region, saying that taking Mosul may have made IS the most cash-rich militant group in the world. Before this, the Islamic State was primarily funded by donations from wealthy supporters in the Middle East, namely Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, in support of their fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The group is also believed to be profiting off of the oil fields in Syria under its control. It’s even purported to be selling the oil back to Syria itself. Before taking control over Mosul, the Islamic State was believed to have held about $900 million in cash and assets. Now, it is suspected that this number is around $2 billion (“Profile: Islamic State…”).
Chulov, Martin. “ISIS: The Inside Story.” The Guardian. 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
“Profile: Islamic State Group.” BBC News. 2 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
“‘Unintended Consequences’: Obama Traces Origin of ISIS to Bush-era Iraq Invasion.” – RT USA. 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.