Daesh. ISIS. ISIL.
Cruelty. Murder. Radical Terrorism. Dark Side of Islam. Destroying History.
Since the 2003 US occupation of Iraq, the Middle East has undergone a roiling period of conflict, rising sectarianism and chaotic regime change. It is in the shadows of this crumbling regional landscape that ISIL first began to metastasize, nourished by the increasing frailty of Arab states in revolt or at war.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq merged with other groups in 2006 and adopted the name the Islamic State in Iraq while still maintaining tenuous ties to al-Qaeda leadership. According to the Wilson Center, on October 15, 2006, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who took over the group after Zarqawi's death, announced the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as its leader.
By 2010, divides between Sunni and Shia Muslims were extensive, but left unaddressed by an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Maliki who, at that point, had named himself his own interior and defense minister.
After consolidating territorial gains, ISIL began setting up its bureaucratic porto-state with the help of foreign technocrats who traveled to join the group. According to a study by Carnegie Middle East Center, by attracting foreign recruits, not just to become fighters, but also residents, ISIL would have achieved two goals; increase its population and realize its goal of establishing a lasting state.
The brutal violence ISIL waged on the local populations it controlled has been well-
documented, as the group set about extracting profits from the resources and tax base of its "wilayat", or provinces. The image shows the 26-year-old Jordanian pilot who was burned alive by ISIS as it was shown by a live video stream. This was one of the most egregious acts of execution done by ISIL--prompting new international condemnation and an increase in air strikes by Jordan and the US. The first mission to destroy the ISIL location where the Jordanian pilot was executed was, in fact, led by the king of Jordan himself, showing that his leadership and support for his people goes well beyond the diplomatic and administrative affairs of state.
The Beginning of the End
By 2014, ISIL had taken Mosul from a defeated Iraqi army, as well as Raqqa and oil-rich Deir Az Zor in Syria. The group used tools and bulldozers to begin systematically dismantling the Syria-Iraq border, turning its caliphate aspirations into reality.
In 2016, the Iraqi parliament angered Sunni politicians when it approved a law to legalise the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an anti-ISIL force composed of various militia fighters. The PMF now operates alongside the Iraqi military forces - an outrageous affront, according to Sunni Iraqis, who accuse the PMF of committing human rights atrocities against civilians.
The fight against ISIL has created a splintering array of groups who hold different interests and benefit from diverse foreign backers. After ISIL, Iraq's weakened state will be charged with the task of creating a harmonious and inclusive political future among this fragmentation.
Furthermore, foreign powers fighting ISIL have brought with them a separate set of difficulties which, in the coming years, will have an immense effect on the political futures of Iraq and Syria. The spaghetti tangle of different alliances between invested foreign powers has only worsened the situation.
In Syria, plans to route ISIL out of Raqqa have created diplomatic trouble for the US, which is ready to throw in financial and strategic resources to support the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG): A Syrian Kurdish faction fighting ISIL. Yet the YPG's close links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), declared a "terrorist" group in Turkey, has angered the Turkish government which nevertheless remains the US's NATO ally--albeit an uneasy alliance.
Competing agendas have congealed political systems into stalemates, creating an expansive crisis that could rear its head in Syria's peace process and in Iraq's upcoming parliamentarian elections.
Amid this disorder, the future strategy of ISIL is unclear. Having lost territory in the Middle East, could ISIL swing its attention to the West and focus its energies on carrying out attacks there?
"It looks likely that attacks on the West that are claimed and in some cases instigated or supported by ISIL will continue, notwithstanding its losses in Iraq and Syria," said Atwood.
"That said, the ISIL brand was closely linked to its territorial expansion and self-proclaimed caliphate. With those gone, it will have to redefine success and rebrand," according to he added.
The US remains in Iraq with military advisors--some estimate as many as 50K military and contractor personnel. The most worrisome piece of the downfall of Daesh? The idea that the group has splintered into smaller, more mobile, less traceable cells that could inflict attacks on various targets in the West at will and at varying severity.
In Iraq and Syria, ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is all but obliterated. However, nature abhors a vacuum--so one must wonder from which quarter the next wave of Islamic extremists will attack freedom...
See more at "The rise and fall of ISIL explained" at Al-Jazeera Online.