WHO ARE THEY?
An Al Qaeda offshoot considered more brutal than its parent organization and primarily a Sunni militant group, ISIS is estimated to have close to 31,500 fighters, according to a Sept. 11 Associated Press report.
It exploited the Syrian conflict, the state of unrest in the region and the United States’ reluctance to get involved in the conflict to rear its head as it captured large swathes of land in Syria and then Iraq in the past few months, Peinhardt said.
They announced themselves a caliphate and proclaimed its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the “Caliph,” according to a June 29 Reuters report.
“The Iraqi government that just stepped down did not put all of the groups in Iraq’s interests to heart,” Peinhardt said. “They disproportionately advantaged the Shiite group in Iraq and did not really pay much attention to the Kurds or the Sunnis. To some extent, ISIS has gone ahead and filled the void that the central government (had created).”
HOW & WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS?
Their goal seems to be religious in part, as far as establishing a unified caliphate, Peinhardt said. They managed to recruit members of the previous Ba’ath regime under Hussein that hadworked for the military who have proven to be very valuable in the expansion of ISIS, he said.
They are also recruiting citizens of western countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.
For the longest time, the world did nothing. The western countries were war weary after two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Peinhardt said. The Obama administration’s reluctance to jump into a conflict unilaterally was another reason why the United States ignored the Syrian conflict, he said, even after last year when Syria’s ruling Assad regime used chemical weapons to attack its opponents.
While the west refused to get involved and Assad was fighting the moderates, ISIS took control over parts of Syria, and it was only when ISIS released footage of a member beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff that U.S. public opinion swayed in favor of intervention, Peinhardt said.
“I don’t necessarily understand why it took the executions to get our attention,” he said. “I personally think the chemical weapons attacks (would have been enough).”
ARE NATIONS REACTING?
The United States announced it would conduct airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, even as they train Iraqi forces to recapture their territory, said President Obama in a statement on ISIS Sept. 10.
The United States also tried to gather support through a coalition with allies including the United Kingdom, France, Canada and several powerful Sunni Arab nations like Saudi Arabia. The British parliament recently approved air strikes against ISIS only in Iraq.
HOW IS IT FUNDED?
For the longest time, Iraqi Kurdistan has traded oil through underground tunnels on the black market. When embargoes were imposed on Hussein’s government, he, too, smuggled oil in a similar fashion, Peinhardt said.
Now, with Kurdistan under their control, ISIS is doing the same, pulling in close to $1 million a day in oil revenues according to a Business Insider report. ISIS controls major oil fields in Syria and some big fields in northern Iraq.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT US?
ISIS is a threat primarily to the middle-eastern region, but also to the western world, Peinhardt said, because they are inspiring attacks in other countries like Belgium where one follower already conducted an attack.
The government under Nouri al-Maliki has already stepped down to pave the path for a better, more-inclusive government.
While the United States was trying to lean toward the moderates in the Syrian conflict, its intervention in the three-way conflict might be beneficial for Assad who can now reclaim Syria, he said.