Essay Sample on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

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George Washington University
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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also referred to as Islamic State (IS) is an Iraq and Syria organization composed of Salafi militants. Their prime goal is to establish and expand the caliphate in other non-Muslim regions (Owens, & Jones, 2016). The organization started when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi started to train extremist militants in the 2000s. During the American annexation, Zarqawis militant became a key contributor in the Iraq insurgency, initially as Jamaat al-Jihad and later as Al Qaeda in Iraq after taking an oath of loyalty Iraq. However, before being strong in 2011 by involving in Syrian Civil War, the organization had faced declines due to the United States increased presence, Iraqi forces and negativity from the Muslim community. In 2013, the organization changed its name to ISIS and took over the Syria and Iraq territory. Apart from its rapid growth, the organization is infamously known for its publicly beheading of people especially western captives and foreign fighters. ISIS has fought governments, other groups and other militants such as the Iraqi militants, the government of Syria, rebel groups of Syria, and Kurdish peshmerga. Additionally, in 2014, the US government launched an airstrike against the organization.

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Background History

The profile has three different periods of the Islamic state history and when it uses the organization various changes in name. The history will start with the reign of Zarqawi from 2002 to 2006 then the organization decline as Al Qaeda in Iraqi in a period of 2006 to 2011and then its expansion since January 2012 to present (crethiplethi, 2017).

The Reign of Zarqawi

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was born in Jordan, and he started his radical behavior at a young age. He moved to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the annexation of Soviet. While there, in the 1990s Zarqawi assumed the Salafi ideology, which led to his arrest for plotting and criticizing the Hashemite dynasty (crethiplethi, 2017). However, when in prison he would smuggle statements out of prison for publication on Salafi website, an act that made him gain followers and attracted people to him including Osama bin Laden. Despite the two having ideological differences and interests, Osama after the release of Zarqawi in 1999 sponsored his men to train in Herat in 2001. After American strike in Afghanistan in 2001, Zarqawis and his militants moved to areas of Iraq, Syria, Kurdish and Lebanon.

Zarqawis militant were assumed to be separate groups due to the way they attacked in different groups, but the US classified all of them to a renowned Zarqawi organization referred to as Jamaat al-Tawhid waal-Jihad (JTJ). The organization had a powerful base of foreign fighters and is first mission was killing of Laurence Foley a USAID officer. The organization became very active in 2003 when American invaded Iraq and was amongst the factions attempting to send way the US from the country and cause disruption for the government as part of the insurgency (crethiplethi, 2017). The group became to be known for its notoriety, and in 2004 Zarqawi made a consensus with Osama and joined forces to form the Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) despite their differences. With AQI, Zarqawi incited sectarian wars between the Sunnis and the Shiite and most leaders from both sides were not happy with his tactic that led to a war between the two groups. Therefore increasing community backlash which made him join the Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen an umbrella of extremist Salafis. However, in 2006 an American airstrike killed Zarqawi, and this led to the fall of AQI.

The Fall.

It was assumed with the death of Zarqawi the AQI will fall, and this was true. An Egyptian bomb maker, Abu Ayub al-Masri become the leader of AQI after the death of Zarqawi a move that led to a lot of controversies for the existence of a foreigner in AQI leadership and also the fighting forces among others (crethiplethi, 2017). Regardless of that Masri was able to continue with AQI operations especially incitement of the sectarian war. To solve the increased controversies, Masri formed the Islamic State of Iraqi and placed Abu Umar al-Baghdadi as its leader this demonstrated that AQI was unifying all the resistance forces against the US and other coalition forces and preparing for the take over after they have driven out the US.

In spite of changing the name and appointing an Iraqi leader, the foreign membership and leadership of AQI relentlessly estranged the locals. Therefore contributed to the uprising of the Anbar a movement that joined forces with the US and later on defeated AQI (crethiplethi, 2017). By 2008 most of the AQI were killed and others arrested. In 2010, Masri and Baghdadi were killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after the raid assumed power and tried to maintain AQI relevance after the withdrawal of the coalition forces.

The Expansion

In 2012 under the leadership of Baghdadi AQI attacks increased and he led two campaigns to free the former AQI members. With the lack of foreign security and political tensions in Iraq, this paved the way for the growth of AQI (crethiplethi, 2017). In the meantime, AQI used the current Syria civil war as a training tool and ground for it to expand and it even merged with the al-Nusra, and this led to changing the organization to Islamic State in Iraqi and Syria (ISIS). The organization grew bigger both in size and wealth and changed its name to the Islamic State (IS) and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becoming the new Caliph, and every Muslim are to be loyal to the new caliphate.

Goals and Ideology

From its History, the organization has had some goals and ideology. First, after its decline, the group aim was to collapse the Maliki government as part of Baghdadis Breaking wall 2012 campaign (Bunzel, 2015). Since after winning the 2010 election, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a Shiite, concentrated on building a government full of Shiites.

In 2013, with its increased operation in Syria, AQI under its leader Baghdadi emphasized the aim of establishing an Iraq and Syria state full of fundamentalist Sunnis (Bunzel, 2015). Subsequently, after being successful, it concentrated on the expansion and enforced sharia interpretation in the areas it conquered and controlled and in the long run proclaimed the establishing of a caliphate. In 2014, the declaration of ISIS as a Caliphate was formally established therefore making all Muslims, and several Jihadists organization declare loyalty to Baghdadi.


The first leader and pioneer of AQI was Abu Musa al-Zarqawi who was killed in 2006 in the American airstrike. He was succeeded by Abu Ayub al-Baghdadi from October 2006 to April 2010 when he was killed during a joint raid by Iraqi and US soldiers. During his reign, there were controversies on why a foreigner was leading the AQI this made Masri appoint Abu Umar al-Baghdadi whom they were killed together during the joint raid. Then Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took charge from 2010 to present and very little is known about him because he does not appear in videos (Cassman, 2017).

Geographical Location

In 2013 ISIS expanded its operations to Syria. The expansion has been a success, conquering, maintenance, and controlling cities in both Western Iraq and Northern Syria. Its powerful base in Northern Syria is Raqqa, and others include Fallujah and Mosul (Cassman, 2017). The organization has taken over all borders between Syria and Iraq the only border between Jordan and Iraq. In 2015, airstrikes from American joined forces with Kurdish forces hence making ISIS lose a territory in northern Syria. However, the organization took over Palmyra, a significant strategic and historic city in Syria and the capital of Anbar province Ramadi.


When ISIS began its mission and operations in Syria, it was supported by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, and Jordan donors. However, when the organization split from Al Qaeda, it funded itself by undertaking criminal activities such as kidnapping, smuggling, robberies, and extortion of local businesses and also conquering of territories (Swanson, 2015). It also funded itself by grabbing assets from the territories it conquered. Another source of capital are the oil refineries which brings a revenue of about one million dollars to two million dollars.

Methods of Communication

ISIS uses various strategies of communication and propaganda to attract new recruits. The strategic communication of ISIS encompasses the use of liturgical speeches and classical Arabic rhetoric, social Medias and Internet Medias, official media channels and encrypted communication. Liturgical speeches and classical Arabic rhetoric are usually presented in mosques during the Friday prayers. ISIS has embraced the new technology such as televisions, complicated online magazines usually in PDF and radio stations to spread their propaganda. Their messages are usually in multilingual so as to attract new members, especially from western countries. Moreover, a famous magazine is the Dabiq that is an important platform for the extremist Islamists. ISIS uses Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp in the facilitation of informal communication such as short commentaries, complicated pictures, videos, and exalted religious chants.

Targets and Tactics

The organization mostly concentrated on targeting the American and the coalition forces during the Iraqi war. At the same time, it targeted Shiites and Sunnis who were against them. During the withdrawal of America and coalition forces, the organization was targeting the Maliki government. Apparently, with its expansion and establishing of its state the organization is now targeting other rebel groups and individual who resist their rule. Due to the American airstrikes in the early of 2014, the organization made an alteration in its tactics. It began working in small groups, and it is reported the organization is establishing sleeper cells in towns that it plans to take control rather than attacking in big visible groups.

Another tactic the organization adopts is the kidnapping of Syrian foreigners especially aid workers and journalists and command for a ransom from their countries. Moreover, if the organization realizes it cannot get the money it uses the hostage to gain publicity an example is the recording of James Foley an American journalist beheading video that gained worldwide attention.


The organization has a total of 45 tools in its military factory from all over the countries including America. It has the battle rifles such as the Heckler and Koch, sniper rifles such as DShK, pistols such as WaltherP99, explosive such as an antitank grenade, towed artillery such as M198 Howitzer and several vehicles and armored fighting vehicles. A large part of these arms and ammunition were initially sourced by the military of Iraqi from Russia, former Soviet bloc states, and USA (, 2017). The big collection display decades of transfers of arms to Iraq irresponsibly, and the failure of installing an oversight mechanism during the US-led annexation after 2003.


Bunzel, C. (2015). Retrieved 18 March 2017, from

Cassman, D. (2017). The Islamic State | Mapping Militant Organizations. Retrieved 18 March 2017, from

How Islamic State got its weapons. (2017). Retrieved 18 March 2017, from

Owens, D., & Jones, V. (2016). Who are ISIS and what do they want?. WalesOnline. Retrieved 18 March 2017, from

Styszynski, M. (2016). ISIS Communication Strate...

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