Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

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Islamic State[1][2]
الدولة الإسلامية
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: باقية وتتمدد (Arabic)
"Bāqiyah wa-Tatamaddad(transliteration)
"Remaining and Expanding"
As of 19 July 2014      Areas controlled by the Islamic State      Areas claimed by the Islamic State      Rest of Iraq and Syria
As of 19 July 2014

     Areas controlled by the Islamic State      Areas claimed by the Islamic State

     Rest of Iraq and Syria
Status Unrecognized state
Capital Ar-Raqqah[5]
35°57′N 39°1′E / 35.950°N 39.017°E / 35.950; 39.017
Official languages Arabic
Government Islamic caliphate[1]
 -  Caliph[1] Ibrahim[6][7]
 -  Independence declared 3 January 2014[8] 
 -  Caliphate declared 29 June 2014[1] 
Time zone (UTC+3)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام  (Arabic)
al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah

Participant in the Iraq War, the Global War on Terrorism, the Iraqi insurgency, and the Syrian Civil War
Flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.svg
Flag of the Islamic State
Active 2003 – present[9] (various names)[10]
Ideology Wahhabism
Salafist Jihadism
Worldwide Caliphate

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Abu Omar al-Shishani
(Field Commander)[11][12]

Abu Mohammad al-Adnani
Headquarters Ar-Raqqah
Area of
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon[14][15]
Strength 7,000-20,000[16][17][18] (up to 6,000 in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria)[19]
Part of al-Qaeda (2004[20]–2014)[21]
Originated as Jama'at al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad
al-Qaeda in Iraq
Mujahideen Shura Council
Islamic State of Iraq

Harakat Sham al-Islam
Suqour al-Ezz[22]

Logo of the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order.png Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order[23]

Syria Syrian Armed Forces
Syria Syrian Opposition[24][25][26]
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps[27]
Iraq Iraqi Armed Forces
Multi-National Force (2004–2009)
US Forces – Iraq (2010–2011)
Iraq Awakening Councils
Turkey Turkish Armed Forces (border clashes)[28][29][30][31]
Iraq Iraqi Shia militias
Iraq Allied Sunni tribes and militias

Al-Nusra Front[33]
Ansar al-Islam[34]
Iraqi Turkmen Front[35][dead link]

People's Protection Units Flag.svg People's Protection Units [36]
and wars

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), alternately translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (referring to Greater Syria; Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشامal-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām), also known by the Arabic acronym DAISH (Arabic: داعشDāʻish), now called simply the Islamic State (IS)[1][7][40] (Arabic: الدولة الإسلاميةal-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah), is an unrecognized state and active jihadist militant group in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims and aspires to bring much of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its direct political control,[2] beginning with nearby territory in the Levant region, which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Cyprus, and an area in southern Turkey that includes Hatay.[41][42]

The group, in its original form, was composed of and supported by a variety of Sunni insurgent groups, including its predecessor organizations, the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the insurgent groups Jaysh al-Fatiheen, Jund al-Sahaba, Katbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal Sunnah and Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, and a number of Iraqi tribes that profess Sunni Islam.

ISIS grew significantly as an organization owing to its participation in the Syrian Civil War and the strength of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Economic and political discrimination against Iraqi Sunnis since the fall of Saddam Hussein also helped it to gain support. At the height of the Iraq War, its forerunners enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Ninawa, Kirkuk, most of Salah ad Din, parts of Babil, Diyala and Baghdad, and claimed Baqubah as a capital city.[43][44][45][46] In the ongoing Syrian Civil War, ISIS has a large presence in the Syrian governorates of Ar-Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo.[47][48]

ISIS is known for its harsh Wahhabist interpretation of Islam,[49] and brutal violence[50] directed at Shia Muslims and Christians in particular.[51] It has at least 4,000 fighters in its ranks[52] who, in addition to attacks on government and military targets, have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians.[53] ISIS had close links with al-Qaeda until 2014, but in February of that year, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly for its "notorious intractability"[54] and wanton brutality.[55][not in citation given]

ISIS’s original aim was to establish a caliphate in the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq. Following its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, this expanded to include controlling Sunni-majority areas of Syria.[56] A caliphate was proclaimed on 29 June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—now known as Amir al-Mu'minin Caliph Ibrahim—was named as its caliph, and the group was renamed the Islamic State.[1][6][7]

Name and name changes

  • The group has used several different names since its formation in early 2004 as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, "The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad" (JTJ).
  • Although the group has never called itself "Al-Qaeda in Iraq", this name has frequently been used to describe it through its various incarnations.[10]
  • In January 2006, AQI merged with several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups under an umbrella organization called the "Mujahideen Shura Council". This was little more than a media exercise and an attempt to give the group a more Iraqi flavour and perhaps distance al-Qaeda from some of al-Zarqawi's tactical errors, notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman.[59] Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, after which the group's direction shifted again.
  • On 12 October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council joined four more insurgent factions and the representatives of a number of Iraqi tribes, and together they swore the traditional Arab oath of allegiance known as Ḥilf al-Muṭayyabīn ("Oath of the Scented Ones").[a][60][61] During the ceremony, the participants swore to free Iraq's Sunnis of what they described as Shia and foreign oppression, and to further the name of Allah and restore Islam to glory.[b][60]
  • On 13 October 2006, the establishment of the Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah, "Islamic State of Iraq" (ISI) was announced.[58][62] A cabinet was formed and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi became ISI's figurehead emir, the real power residing with the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri.[63] The declaration was met with hostile criticism, not only from ISI's jihadist rivals in Iraq, but from leading jihadist ideologues outside the country.[64] Al-Baghdadi and al-Masri were both killed in a US–Iraqi operation in April 2010. The next leader of the ISI was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current leader of ISIS.
  • On 9 April 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant", also known as "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham".[65][66] The name is abbreviated as ISIS or alternately ISIL. The final "S" in the acronym ISIS stems from the Arabic word Shām (or Shaam), which in the context of global jihad refers to the Levant or Greater Syria.[67][68]
  • ISIS is also known as al-Dawlah ("the State"), or al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah ("the Islamic State"). Its detractors refer to it using the Arabic acronym Dāʻish, a term that the group considers derogatory.[69][70][71] ISIS reportedly uses flogging as a punishment for people who use the acronym.[72]
  • On 14 May 2014, the United States Department of State announced its decision to use "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) as the group's primary name.[71] The debate over which acronym should be used to designate the group, ISIL or ISIS, has been discussed by several commentators.[68][69] Ishaan Tharoor from The Washington Post concluded: "In the larger battlefield of copy style controversies, the distinction between ISIS or ISIL is not so great."[69]

Ideology and beliefs

ISIS is an extremist group which follows al-Qaeda's hard-line ideology and adheres to global jihadist principles.[75][76] Like al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups, ISIS emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s first Islamist group dating back to the late-1920s in Egypt,[77] which follows an extreme anti-Western interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence and regards those who do not agree with its interpretation as infidels and apostates. Concurrently, it aims to establish a Salafist-orientated Islamist state in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Levant.[76] ISIS's ideology originates in the branch of modern Islam that aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting later “innovations” in the religion which they believe corrupt its original spirit. They condemn later caliphates and the Ottoman empire for deviating from what they call pure Islam and hence have been attempting to establish their own caliphate.[78] Some Sunni scholars, Zaid Hamid, for example, and even Salafi and jihadi muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, say that ISIS and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis, but Kharijite heretics serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda.[79][80][81][82]

From the beginning the establishment of a pure Islamic state has been one of ISIS's main goals.[83] According to journalist Sarah Birke, one of the main "significant differences" between Al-Nusra Front and ISIS is that ISIS "tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory". ISIS is "far more ruthless" in building an Islamic state, "carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately".[84] Finally, on 29 June 2014, ISIS removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name and began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, declaring its occupied territory a new caliphate.[1]

In mid-2014, the group released a video entitled "The End of Sykes–Picot" featuring an English-speaking Chilean national named Abu Safiyya. The video announced the group's intention to eliminate all modern borders between Islamic Middle Eastern countries, referring in particular to the borders set by the Sykes–Picot agreement during World War I.[85][86]

Territorial claims

On 13 October 2006, the group announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, which claimed authority over the Iraqi governorates of Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Ninawa, and parts of Babel.[62] Following the 2013 expansion of the group into Syria and the announcement of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the number of wilayah—provinces—that it claimed increased to 16. In addition to the seven Iraqi wilayah, the Syrian divisions, largely lying along existing provincial boundaries, are Al Barakah, Al Kheir, Al Raqqah, Al Badiya, Halab, Idlib, Hama, Damascus and the Coast.[87]

In Syria, ISIS's seat of power is in Ar-Raqqah Governorate. Top ISIS leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are known to have visited its provincial capital, Raqqah.[87]


After significant setbacks for the group during the latter stages of the coalition forces' presence in Iraq, by late 2012 it was thought to have renewed its strength and more than doubled the number of its members to about 2,500,[88][not in citation given] and since its formation in April 2013, ISIS has grown rapidly in strength and influence in Iraq and Syria. Analysts have underlined the deliberate inflammation of sectarian conflict between Iraqi Shias and Sunnis during the Iraq War as the root cause of ISIS's rise, with Fanar Haddad, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, blaming the occupation forces during the Iraq War for "enshrining identity politics as the key marker of Iraqi politics".[89] ISIS's violence is directed particularly against Shia Muslims and indigenous Syriac-Aramean, Assyrian and Armenian Christians.[51] In June 2014, The Economist reported that "ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe".[19] In 2013, Chechen fighter Abu Omar al-Shishani was made commander of the northern sector of ISIS in Syria.[90][91]

By 2014, ISIS was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than a terrorist organization. As major Iraqi cities fell to al-Baghdadi's cohorts in June, Jessica Lewis, an expert on ISIS at the Institute for the Study of War, described ISIS as "not a terrorism problem anymore", but rather "an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain. They have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, and they have an aspirational goal to govern. I don't know whether they want to control Baghdad, or if they want to destroy the functions of the Iraqi state, but either way the outcome will be disastrous for Iraq." Lewis, who was a US Army intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, has called ISIS "an advanced military leadership". She said, "They have incredible command and control and they have a sophisticated reporting mechanism from the field that can relay tactics and directives up and down the line. They are well-financed, and they have big sources of manpower, not just the foreign fighters, but also prisoner escapees."[92] ISIS's annual reports reveal a metrics-driven military command, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which is "a strong indication of a unified, coherent leadership structure that commands from the top down".[93] Middle East Forum's Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said, "They are highly skilled in urban guerrilla warfare while the new Iraqi Army simply lacks tactical competence."[92] Seasoned observers point to systemic corruption within the Iraq Army, it being little more than a system of patronage, and have attributed to this its spectacular collapse as ISIS and its allies took over large swaths of Iraq in June 2014.[94]

During the Iraq War, the US Armed Forces had never faced an organized militant force as effective. Douglas Ollivant, a former Army Cavalry officer who later handled Iraq for the White House National Security Council, said, "They were great terrorists. They made great car bombs. But they were lousy line infantry, and if you got them in a firefight, they'd die. They have now repaired that deficiency." Like other analysts, Ollivant credits the civil war in Syria for their striking improvement in battlefield ability since the Iraq War: "You fight Hizballah for a couple of years, and you either die or you get a lot better. And these guys just got a lot better."[92] Another major weapon in ISIS's tactical armoury is control of rivers, dams, and water installations.[95]

ISIS runs a soft-power program, which includes social services, religious lectures and da'wah—proselytizing—to local populations. It also performs civil tasks such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.[96] Other armed opposition groups have turned against ISIS because the group considers itself a state with its own courts, not "a faction among factions", not allowing other opposition groups to take benefits from smuggling weapons and drugs between Syria and Turkey or to take penalties from border-crossers.

The group is also known for its effective use of propaganda.[97] In November 2006, shortly after the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq, the group established the al-Furqan Institute for Media Production, which produced CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products.[98] ISIS's main media outlet is the I'tisaam Media Foundation,[99] which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF).[100] In 2014, ISIS established the Al Hayat Media Center, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English, German, Russian and French.[101][102] In 2014 it also launched the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants.[103]

ISIS's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies".[104][105] It regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its message by organizing hashtag campaigns, encouraging Tweets on popular hashtags, and utilizing software applications that enable ISIS propaganda to be distributed to its supporters' accounts.[106] Another comment is that "ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups. ... They have a very coordinated social media presence."[107]


A study of 200 documents—personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters—captured from Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq was carried out by the RAND Corporation in 2014. It found that from 2005 until 2010, outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group’s operating budgets, with the rest being raised within Iraq. In the time-period studied, cells were required to send up to 20% of the income generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets and other activities to the next level of the group's leadership. Higher-ranking commanders would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks. The records show that the Islamic State of Iraq was dependent on members from Mosul for cash, which the leadership used to provide additional funds to struggling militants in Diyala, Salahuddin and Baghdad.[108]

In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence extracted information from an ISIS operative which revealed that the organization had assets worth US$2 billion,[109] making it the richest jihadist group in the world.[110] About three quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014, including perhaps US$429 million looted from Mosul's central bank, as well as additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul.[111][112] However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIS was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank,[113] and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.[114]

ISIS has routinely practised extortion, by demanding money from truck drivers and threatening to blow up businesses, for example. Robbing banks and gold shops has been another source of income.[115] The group is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in Gulf states,[116] and both Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding ISIS,[117][118][119][120] although there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case.[120][121][122][123]

The group is also believed to be receiving considerable funds from its operations in Eastern Syria, where it has commandeered oil fields and engages in smuggling out raw materials and archaeological artifacts.[124][125] ISIS also generates revenue from producing crude oil and selling electric power in northern Syria. Some of this electricity is reportedly sold back to the Syrian government.[126]

Since 2012, ISIS has produced annual reports giving numerical information on its operations, somewhat in the style of corporate reports, seemingly in a bid to encourage potential donors.[104]


ISIS has captured and employed surface-to-air Stinger missiles,[127] M198 howitzers,[128] DShK guns mounted on trucks, anti-aircraft guns,[129][130] self-propelled guns and at least one Scud missile.[131]

When ISIS captured Mosul Airport in June 2014, it seized a number of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and cargo planes that were stationed there.[132][133] However, according to Peter Beaumont of The Guardian, it seemed unlikely that ISIS would be able to deploy them.[134]

ISIS captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said that the materials had been kept at the university and "can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction". Nuclear experts regarded the threat as insignificant. International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said that the seized materials were "low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk".[135][136]


As Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad


Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (abrreviated JTJ or shortened to Tawhid and Jihad, Tawhid wal-Jihad, sometimes Tawhid al-Jihad, Al Tawhid or Tawhid) was started in about 2000 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and a combination of foreigners and local Islamist sympathizers. Al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian Salafi who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight in the Soviet-Afghan War, but he arrived after the departure of the Soviet troops and soon returned to his homeland. He eventually returned to Afghanistan, running an Islamic militant training camp near Herat.

Al-Zarqawi started the network with the intention of overthrowing the Kingdom of Jordan, which he considered to be un-Islamic according to the four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. For this purpose he developed a large number of contacts and affiliates in several countries. Although it has not been verified, his network may have been involved in the late 1999 plot to bomb the Millennium celebrations in the United States and Jordan. However, al-Zarqawi's operatives were responsible for the assassination of US diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan in 2002.[137]

Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi moved westward into Iraq, where he reportedly received medical treatment in Baghdad for an injured leg. It is believed that he developed extensive ties in Iraq with Ansar al-Islam ("Partisans of Islam"), a Kurdish Islamic militant group based in the extreme northeast of the country. Ansar allegedly had ties to Iraqi Intelligence; Saddam Hussein's motivation would have been to use Ansar as a surrogate force to repress secular Kurds fighting for the independence of Kurdistan.[138] In January 2003, Ansar's founder Mullah Krekar denied any connection with Saddam's government.[139]

The consensus of intelligence officials has since been that there were no links whatsoever between al-Zarqawi and Saddam, and that Saddam viewed Ansar al-Islam "as a threat to the regime" and his intelligence officials were spying on the group. The 2006 Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq concluded: "Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward al-Zarqawi."[140][not in citation given]

Following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, JTJ developed into an expanding militant network for the purpose of resisting the coalition occupation forces and their Iraqi allies. It included some of the remnants of Ansar al-Islam and a growing number of foreign fighters. Many foreign fighters arriving in Iraq were initially not associated with the group, but once they were in the country they became dependent on al-Zarqawi's local contacts.[141] In May 2004, JTJ joined forces with Salafiah al-Mujahidiah, an obscure Islamist militant group.[142]

Goals and tactics

The stated goals of JTJ were: (i) to force a withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq; (ii) to topple the Iraqi interim government; (iii) to assassinate collaborators with the occupation regime; (iv) to remove the Shia population and defeat its militias because of its death-squad activities; and (v) to establish subsequently a pure Islamic state.[83]

JTJ differed considerably from the other early Iraqi insurgent groups in its tactics. Rather than using only conventional weapons and guerrilla tactics in ambushes against the US and coalition forces, it relied heavily on suicide bombings, often using car bombs. It targeted a wide variety of groups, especially the Iraqi Security Forces and those facilitating the occupation. Groups of workers who have been targeted by JTJ include Iraqi interim officials, Iraqi Shia and Kurdish political and religious figures, the country's Shia Muslim civilians, foreign civilian contractors, and United Nations and humanitarian workers.[141] Al-Zarqawi's militants are also known to have used a wide variety of other tactics, including targeted kidnappings, the planting of improvised explosive devices, and mortar attacks. Beginning in late June 2004, JTJ implemented urban guerrilla-style attacks using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. They also gained worldwide notoriety for beheading Iraqi and foreign hostages and distributing video recordings of these acts on the Internet.


The UN headquarters building in Baghdad after the Canal Hotel bombing, on 22 August 2003

JTJ claimed credit for a number of attacks that targeted Iraqi forces and infrastructure, such as the October 2004 ambush and killing of 49 armed Iraqi National Guard recruits, and for a series of attacks on humanitarian aid agencies such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.[143] It conducted numerous attacks against US military personnel throughout 2004, and audacious suicide attacks inside the high-security Green Zone perimeter in Baghdad.[144] Al-Zarqawi's men reputedly succeeded in assassinating several leading Iraqi politicians of the early post-Saddam era, and their bomb attack on the United Nations mission's headquarters in Iraq led the UN country team to relocate to Jordan and continue their work remotely.

The group took either direct responsibility or the blame for many of the early Iraqi insurgent attacks, including the series of high-profile bombings in August 2003, which killed 17 people at the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad,[141] 23 people, including the chief of the United Nations mission to Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, at the UN headquarters in Baghdad,[141] and at least 86 people, including Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, in the Imam Ali Mosque bombing in Najaf.[145] Included here is the November truck bombing, which killed 27 people, mostly Italian paramilitary policemen, at the Italian base in Nasiriyah.[141]

The attacks connected with the group in 2004 include the series of bombings in Baghdad and Karbala which killed 178 people during the holy Day of Ashura in March;[146] the failed plot in April to explode chemical bombs in Amman, Jordan, which was said to have been financed by al-Zarqawi's network;[147] a series of suicide boat bombings of the oil pumping stations in the Persian Gulf in April, for which al-Zarqawi took responsibility in a statement published by the Muntada al-Ansar Islamist website; the May car bomb assassination of Iraqi Governing Council president Ezzedine Salim at the entrance to the Green Zone in Baghdad;[148] the June suicide car bombing in Baghdad which killed 35 civilians;[149] and the September car bomb which killed 47 police recruits and civilians on Haifa Street in Baghdad.[150]

A screenshot from the 2004 hostage video where Nick Berg was beheaded by JTJ fighters.

Foreign civilian hostages abducted by the group in 2004 include: Americans Nick Berg, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley; Turks Durmus Kumdereli, Aytullah Gezmen and Murat Yuce; South Korean Kim Sun-il; Bulgarians Georgi Lazov and Ivaylo Kepov; and Briton Kenneth Bigley. Most of them were beheaded using knives. Al-Zarqawi personally beheaded Berg and Armstrong, but Yuce was shot dead by al-Masri and Gezmen was released after "repenting".

As Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn

Goals and umbrella organizations

In a letter to Ayman al-Zawahiri in July 2005, al-Zarqawi outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War, which included expelling US forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority—a caliphate—spreading the conflict to Iraq's secular neighbors, and engaging in the Arab–Israeli conflict.[151] The affiliated groups were linked to regional attacks outside Iraq which were consistent with their stated plan, one example being the 2005 Sharm al-Sheikh bombings in Egypt, which killed 88 people, many of them foreign tourists.

In January 2006, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—the name by which Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn was more commonly known—created an umbrella organization called the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), in an attempt to unify Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Its efforts to recruit Iraqi Sunni nationalists and secular groups were undermined by the violent tactics it used against civilians and its extreme Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.[152] Because of these impediments, the attempt was largely unsuccessful.[153]

AQI attributed its attacks to the MSC until mid-October 2006, when Abu Ayyub al-Masri declared the formation of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). This was another front which included the Shura Council factions. AQI then began attributing its attacks to the ISI.[154] According to a study compiled by US intelligence agencies, the ISI had plans to seize power and turn the country into a Sunni Islamic state.[155]

As Islamic State of Iraq

Strength and activity

US Marines in Ramadi, May 2006. The Islamic State of Iraq had declared the city to be its capital.

In 2006, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research estimated that Al-Qaeda in Iraq's core membership was "more than 1,000".[156] These figures do not include the other six[157] AQI-led Salafi groups in the Islamic State of Iraq. In 2007 estimates of the group's strength ranged from just 850 to several thousand full-time fighters.[156][158] The group was said to be suffering high manpower losses, including those from its many "martyrdom" operations, but for a long time this appeared to have little effect on its strength and capabilities, implying a constant flow of volunteers from Iraq and abroad. However, Al-Qaeda in Iraq more than doubled in strength, from 1,000 to 2,500 fighters, after the US withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011.[159]

In 2007 some observers and scholars suggested that the threat posed by AQI was being exaggerated and that a "heavy focus on al-Qaeda obscures a much more complicated situation on the ground".[160][161] According to the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate and the Defense Intelligence Agency reports, AQI accounted for 15% percent of attacks in Iraq. However, the Congressional Research Service noted in its September 2007 report that attacks from al-Qaeda were less than 2% of the violence in Iraq. It criticized the Bush administration's statistics, noting that its false reporting of insurgency attacks as AQI attacks had increased since the surge operations began in 2007.[156][162] In March 2007, the US-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty analyzed AQI attacks for that month and concluded that the group had taken credit for 43 out of 439 attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias, and 17 out of 357 attacks on US troops.[156]

According to the 2006 US Government report, this group was most clearly associated with foreign jihadist cells operating in Iraq and had specifically targeted international forces and Iraqi citizens; most of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)'s operatives were not Iraqi, but were coming through a series of safe houses, the largest of which was on the Iraq-Syrian border. AQI's operations were predominately Iraq-based, but the United States Department of State alleged that the group maintained an extensive logistical network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Europe.[151] In a June 2008 CNN special report, Al-Qaeda in Iraq was called "a well-oiled ... organization ... almost as pedantically bureaucratic as was Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party", collecting new execution videos long after they stopped publicising them, and having a network of spies even in the US military bases. According to the report, Iraqis—many of them former members of Hussein's secret services—were now effectively running Al-Qaeda in Iraq, with "foreign fighters' roles" seeming to be "mostly relegated to the cannon fodder of suicide attacks", although the organization's top leadership was still dominated by non-Iraqis.[163]

Rise and decline of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)

U.S. Navy Seabees in Fallujah, November 2004.

The group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in a letter in October 2004.[164][165][166] That same month, the group, now popularly referred to as "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" (AQI), kidnapped and murdered Japanese citizen Shosei Koda. In November, al-Zarqawi's network was the main target of the US Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, but its leadership managed to escape the American siege and subsequent storming of the city. In December, in two of its many sectarian attacks, AQI bombed a Shiite funeral procession in Najaf and the main bus station in nearby Karbala, killing at least 60 people in those two holy cities of Shia Islam. The group also reportedly took responsibility for the 30 September 2004 Baghdad bombing which killed 41 people, mostly children.[148]

In 2005, AQI largely focused on executing high-profile and coordinated suicide attacks, claiming responsibility for numerous attacks which were primarily aimed at Iraqi administrators. The group launched attacks on voters during the Iraqi legislative election in January, a combined suicide and conventional attack on the Abu Ghraib prison in April, and coordinated suicide attacks outside the Sheraton Ishtar and Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in October.[151] In July, AQI claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Ihab Al-Sherif, Egypt's envoy to Iraq.[167][168] Also in July, a three-day series of suicide attacks, including the Musayyib marketplace bombing, left at least 150 people dead.[169] Al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a single-day series of more than a dozen bombings in Baghdad in September, including a bomb attack on 14 September which killed about 160 people, most of whom were unemployed Shiite workers.[170] They claimed responsibility for a series of mosque bombings in the same month in the city of Khanaqin, which killed at least 74 people.[171]

The attacks blamed on or claimed by AQI continued to increase in 2006 (see also the list of major resistance attacks in Iraq).[154] In one of the incidents, two US soldiers—Thomas Lowell Tucker and Kristian Menchaca—were captured, tortured and beheaded by the ISI. In another, four Russian embassy officials were abducted and subsequently executed. Iraq's al-Qaeda and its umbrella groups were blamed for multiple attacks targeting the country's Shia population, some of which AQI claimed responsibility for. The US claimed without verification that the group was at least one of the forces behind the wave of chlorine bombings in Iraq, which affected hundreds of people, albeit with few fatalities, after a series of crude chemical warfare attacks between late 2006 and mid-2007.[172] During 2006, several key members of AQI were killed or captured by American and allied forces. This included al-Zarqawi himself, killed on 7 June 2006, his spiritual adviser Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, and the alleged "number two" deputy leader, Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi. The group's leadership was then assumed by a man called Abu Hamza al-Muhajir,[173] who in reality was the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.[174]

The Islamic State of Iraq captured and subsequently executed three U.S. soldiers in May 2007

The high-profile attacks linked to the group continued through early 2007, as AQI claimed responsibility for attacks such as the March assassination attempt on Sunni Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Salam al-Zaubai, the April Iraqi Parliament bombing, and the May capture and subsequent execution of three American soldiers. Also in May, ISI leader al-Baghdadi was declared to have been killed in Baghdad, but his death was later denied by the insurgents; later, al-Baghdadi was even declared by the US to be non-existent. There were conflicting reports regarding the fate of al-Masri. From March to August, coalition forces fought the Battle of Baqubah as part of the largely successful attempts to wrest the Diyala Governorate from AQI-aligned forces. Through 2007, the majority of suicide bombings targeting civilians in Iraq were routinely identified by military and government sources as being the responsibility of al-Qaeda and its associated groups, even when there was no claim of responsibility, as was the case in the 2007 Yazidi communities bombings, which killed some 800 people in the deadliest terrorist attack in Iraq to date.

By late 2007, violent and indiscriminate attacks directed by rogue AQI elements against Iraqi civilians had severely damaged their image and caused loss of support among the population, thus isolating the group. In a major blow to AQI, many former Sunni militants who had previously fought alongside the group started to work with the American forces (see also below). The US troops surge supplied the military with more manpower for operations targeting the group, resulting in dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed.[175] Al-Qaeda seemed to have lost its foothold in Iraq and appeared to be severely crippled.[176] Accordingly, the bounty issued for al-Masri was eventually cut from $5 million to $100,000 in April 2008.[177]

As of 2008, a series of US and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out the AQI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens, such as the Diyala and Al Anbar governorates and the embattled capital of Baghdad, to the area of the northern city of Mosul, the latest of the Iraq War's major battlegrounds.[177] The struggle for control of Ninawa Governorate—the Ninawa campaign—was launched in January 2008 by US and Iraqi forces as part of the large-scale Operation Phantom Phoenix, which was aimed at combating al-Qaeda activity in and around Mosul, and finishing off the network's remnants in central Iraq that had escaped Operation Phantom Thunder in 2007. In Baghdad a pet market was bombed in February 2008 and a shopping centre was bombed in March 2008, killing at least 98 and 68 people respectively; AQI were the suspected perpetrators.

US soldiers and Sunni Arab tribesmen scan for enemy activity in a farm field in southern Arab Jibor, January 2008

AQI has long raised money, running into tens of millions of dollars, from kidnappings for ransom, car theft—sometimes killing drivers in the process—hijacking fuel trucks and other activities.[177] According to an April 2007 statement by their Islamic Army in Iraq rivals, AQI was demanding jizya tax and killing members of wealthy families when it was not paid.[178] According to both US and Iraqi sources, in May 2008 AQI was stepping up its fundraising campaigns as its strictly militant capabilities were on the wane, with especially lucrative activity said to be oil operations centered on the industrial city of Bayji. According to US military intelligence sources, in 2008 the group resembled a "Mafia-esque criminal gang".[177]

Resisting established sectarian violence

Attacks against militiamen often targeted the Iraqi Shia majority in an attempt to incite sectarian violence.[179] Al-Zarqawi purportedly declared an all-out war on Shiites[170] while claiming responsibility for the Shiite mosque bombings.[171] The same month, a letter allegedly written by al-Zawahiri—later rejected as a "fake" by the AQI—appeared to question the insurgents' tactic of indiscriminately attacking Shiites in Iraq.[180] In a video that appeared in December 2007, al-Zawahiri defended the AQI, but distanced himself from the crimes against civilians committed by "hypocrites and traitors" that he said existed among its ranks.[181]

US and Iraqi officials accused the AQI of trying to slide Iraq into a full-scale civil war between Iraq's majority Shiite and minority Sunni Arabs via an orchestrated campaign of militiamen massacres and a number of provocative attacks against high-profile religious targets.[182] With attacks purportedly mounted by the AQI such as the Imam Ali Mosque bombing in 2003, the Day of Ashura bombings and Karbala and Najaf bombings in 2004, the first al-Askari Mosque bombing in Samarra in 2006, the deadly single-day series of bombings in November 2006 in which at least 215 people were killed in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City, and the second al-Askari bombing in 2007, the AQI provoked Shiite militias to unleash a wave of retaliatory attacks. The result was a plague of death squad-style killings and a spiral into further sectarian violence, which escalated in 2006 and brought Iraq to the brink of violent anarchy in 2007.[153] In 2008, sectarian bombings blamed on al-Qaeda killed at least 42 people at the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala in March and at least 51 people at a bus stop in Baghdad in June.

Operations outside Iraq and other activities

On 3 December 2004, AQI attempted to blow up an Iraqi–Jordanian border crossing, but failed to do so. In 2006, a Jordanian court sentenced to death al-Zarqawi in absentia and two of his associates for their involvement in the plot.[183] AQI increased its presence outside Iraq by claiming credit for three attacks in 2005. In the most deadly of these attacks, suicide bombs killed 60 people in Amman, Jordan on 9 November 2005.[184] They claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks that narrowly missed the USS Kearsarge and USS Ashland in Jordan, which also targeted the city of Eilat in Israel, and for the firing of several rockets into Israel from Lebanon in December 2005.[151]

The Lebanese-Palestinian militant group Fatah al-Islam, which was defeated by Lebanese government forces during the 2007 Lebanon conflict, was linked to AQI and led by al-Zarqawi's former companion who had fought alongside him in Iraq.[185] The group may have been linked to the little-known group called "Tawhid and Jihad in Syria",[186] and may have influenced the Palestinian resistance group in Gaza called "Tawhid and Jihad Brigades", better known as the Army of Islam.[187]

American officials believe that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has conducted bomb attacks against Syrian government forces.[188][189][190]

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that Al-Qaeda in Iraq members went to Syria, where the militants had previously received support and weapons.[191] Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-inspired group, has claimed responsibility for attacks inside Syria.[191]

Conflicts with other groups

The first reports of a split and even armed clashes between Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni groups date back to 2005.[192][193] In the summer of 2006, local Sunni tribes and insurgent groups, including the prominent Islamist-nationalist group Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), began to speak of their dissatisfaction with al-Qaeda and its tactics,[194] openly criticizing the foreign fighters for their deliberate targeting of Iraqi civilians. In September 2006, 30 Anbar tribes formed their own local alliance called the Anbar Salvation Council (ASC), which was directed specifically at countering al-Qaeda-allied terrorist forces in the province,[195][196] and they openly sided with the government and the US troops.[197]

By the beginning of 2007, Sunni tribes and nationalist insurgents had begun battling with their former allies in AQI in order to retake control of their communities.[198] In early 2007, forces allied to Al-Qaeda in Iraq committed a series of attacks on Sunnis critical of the group, including the February 2007 attack in which scores of people were killed when a truck bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in Fallujah.[199] Al-Qaeda supposedly played a role in the assassination of the leader of the Anbar-based insurgent group 1920 Revolution Brigade, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement.[200] In April 2007, the IAI spokesman accused the ISI of killing at least 30 members of the IAI, as well as members of the Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna and Mujahideen Army insurgent groups, and called on Osama bin Laden to intervene personally to rein in Al-Qaeda in Iraq.[178][201] The following month, the government announced that AQI leader al-Masri had been killed by ASC fighters.[174][182] Four days later, AQI released an audio tape in which a man claiming to be al-Masri warned Sunnis not to take part in the political process; he also said that reports of internal fighting between Sunni militia groups were "lies and fabrications".[202] Later in May, the US forces announced the release of dozens of Iraqis who were tortured by AQI as a part of the group's intimidation campaign.[203]

By June 2007, the growing hostility between foreign-influenced jihadists and Sunni nationalists had led to open gun battles between the groups in Baghdad.[204][205] The Islamic Army soon reached a ceasefire agreement with AQI, but refused to sign on to the ISI.[206] There were reports that Hamas of Iraq insurgents were involved in assisting US troops in their Diyala Governorate operations against Al-Qaeda in August 2007. In September 2007, AQI claimed responsibility for the assassination of three people including the prominent Sunni sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, leader of the Anbar "Awakening council". That same month, a suicide attack on a mosque in the city of Baqubah killed 28 people, including members of Hamas of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigade, during a meeting at the mosque between tribal and guerilla leaders and the police.[207] Meanwhile, the US military began arming moderate insurgent factions when they promised to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of the Americans.[208]

By December 2007, the strength of the "Awakening" movement irregulars—also called "Concerned Local Citizens" and "Sons of Iraq"—was estimated at 65,000–80,000 fighters.[209] Many of them were former insurgents, including alienated former AQI supporters, and they were now being armed and paid by the Americans specifically to combat al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq. As of July 2007, this highly controversial strategy proved to be effective in helping to secure the Sunni districts of Baghdad and the other hotspots of central Iraq, and to root out the al-Qaeda-aligned militants.

By 2008, the ISI was describing itself as being in a state of "extraordinary crisis",[210] which was attributable to a number of factors,[211] notably the Anbar Awakening, but a few years later the group was greatly re-energised by the Syrian Civil War.

Transformation and attempted resurgency

In early 2009, US forces began pulling out of cities across the country, turning over the task of maintaining security to the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police Service and their paramilitary allies. Experts and many Iraqis worried that in the absence of US soldiers, AQI might resurface and attempt mass-casualty attacks to destabilize the country.[212] There was indeed a spike in the number of suicide attacks,[213] and through mid- and late 2009, AQI rebounded in strength and appeared to be launching a concerted effort to cripple the Iraqi government.[214] During August and October 2009, AQI asserted responsibility for four bombings targeting five government buildings in Baghdad, including attacks that killed 101 at the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance in August and 155 at the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in September; these were the deadliest attacks directed at the new government in more than six years of war. These attacks represent a shift from the group's previous efforts to incite sectarian violence, although a series of suicide attacks in April targeted mostly Iranian Shia pilgrims, killing 76, and in June, a mosque bombing in Taza killed at least 73 Shiites from the Turkmen ethnic minority.

According to the commander of the US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, AQI "has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens". Odierno's comments reinforced accusations by the government of Nouri al-Maliki that al-Qaeda and ex-Ba'athists were working together to undermine improved security and sabotage the planned Iraqi parliamentary elections in 2010.[215] On 18 April 2010, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi were both killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid near Tikrit.[216] As of June 2010, 80% of the group's 42 leaders, including recruiters and financiers, had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large, according to Odierno. He said they were cut off from their leaders in Pakistan, and improved intelligence allowed for the successful mission in April that led to the killing of the two AQI top commanders; in addition, the number of attacks and casualty figures in the first five months of 2010 were the lowest yet since 2003.[217][218][219] In May 2011, the Islamic State's "emir of Baghdad" Huthaifa al-Batawi, captured during the crackdown after the 2010 Baghdad church attack in which 68 people died, was killed during an attempted prison break after having killed an Iraqi general and several others.[220][221]

The group is currently led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on 4 October 2011 by the US State Department with an announced reward of $10 million for information leading to his capture or death.[222] In August 2012, two Iraqi refugees who have resided in Kentucky were accused of assisting AQI by sending funds and weapons; one has pleaded guilty.[223]

As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Declaration and dispute with Al-Nusra Front

In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that Al-Nusra Front—also known as Jabhat al-Nusra—had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq.[224] Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham".[225] The leader of Al-Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in Al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it.[226] In June 2013, Al Jazeera reported that it had obtained a letter written by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, addressed to both leaders, in which he ruled against the merger and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them and put an end to tensions.[227] In the same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri's ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead.[228] In October 2013, al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of ISIS, putting Al-Nusra Front in charge of jihadist efforts in Syria.[229] Al-Baghdadi, however, contested al-Zawahiri's ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence,[228] and the group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIS.[54][230]

According to journalist Sarah Birke, there are "significant differences" between Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. While Al-Nusra actively calls for the overthrow of the Assad government, ISIS "tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory". ISIS is "far more ruthless" in building an Islamic state, "carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately", she said. While Al-Nusra has a "large contingent of foreign fighters", it is seen as a home-grown group by many Syrians; by contrast, ISIS fighters have been described as "foreign 'occupiers'" by many Syrian refugees.[84] It has a strong presence in mid- and northern Syria, where it has instituted sharia in a number of towns.[84] The group reportedly controlled the four border towns of Atmeh, al-Bab, Azaz and Jarablus, allowing it to control the exit and entrance from Syria into Turkey.[84] The foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA).[231] In November 2013, the JMA's ethnic Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi.[91] The group then split between those who followed al-Shishani in joining ISIS, and those who continued to operate independently in the JMA under a new leadership.[232]

In May 2014, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered Al-Nusra Front to stop attacks on its rival ISIS.[33] In June 2014, after continued fighting between the two groups, Al-Nusra's branch in the Syrian town of al-Bukamal pledged allegiance to ISIS.[233][234]

Conflicts with other groups

In Syria, rebels affiliated with the Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army launched an offensive against ISIS militants in and around Aleppo in January 2014.[235][236]

Treatment of civilians

During the Iraqi conflict in 2014, ISIS released dozens of videos showing its ill treatment of civilians, many of whom had apparently been targeted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of war crimes occurring in the Iraqi war zone, and disclosed one UN report of ISIS militants murdering Iraqi Army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul. The United Nations reported that in the 17 days from 5 to 22 June, ISIS killed more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians and injured more than 1,000.[237][238][239] After ISIS released photographs of its fighters shooting scores of young men, the United Nations declared that cold-blooded "executions" said to have been carried out by militants in northern Iraq almost certainly amounted to war crimes.[240]

ISIS's advance in Iraq in mid–2014 was accompanied by continuing violence in Syria. On 29 May, a village in Syria was raided by ISIS and at least 15 civilians were killed, including, according to Human Rights Watch, at least six children.[241] A hospital in the area confirmed that it had received 15 bodies on the same day.[242] The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that on 1 June, a 102-year-old man was killed along with his whole family in a village in Hama.[243]

ISIS has recruited to its ranks Iraqi children, who can be seen with masks on their faces and guns in their hands patrolling the streets of Mosul.[244]

Sexual violence allegations

According to one report, ISIS's capture of Iraqi cities in June 2014 was accompanied by an upsurge in crimes against women, including kidnap and rape.[245][246][247] According to The Guardian, ISIS is imposing an extremist agenda on women's body, and women living under their control are captured and raped.[248] Hannaa Edwar, a leading women’s rights advocate in Baghdad who runs an NGO called al-Amal, said that none of her contacts in Mosul were able to confirm any cases of rape. Another Baghdad based women's rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence exists in Iraq against women. “I’m sure it’s happening” in Mosul, she said. “Not just by ISIS but by all armed groups.”[249] During a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, British Foreign Minister William Hague said in regards to ISIS: "Anyone glorifying, supporting or joining it should understand that they would be assisting a group responsible for kidnapping, torture, executions, rape and many other hideous crimes."[250] According to Martin Williams in "The Citizen", some hardline Salafists apparently regard extramarital sex with multiple partners as a legitimate form of holy war which is difficult to reconcile with a religion where some adherents insist that women must be covered from head to toe, with only a narrow slit for the eyes.[251]

As Islamic State

On 29 June 2014, ISIS removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name and began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, declaring its occupied territory a new caliphate and naming Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph.[1]

On the first night of Ramadan, Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, spokesperson for ISIS, described the establishment of the caliphate as "a dream that lives in the depths of every Muslim believer" and "the abandoned obligation of the era". He said that the group's ruling Shura Council had decided to establish the caliphate formally and that Muslims around the world should now pledge their allegiance to the new caliph.[252][253]

The declaration of a caliphate has been criticized and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival islamists inside and outside the occupied territory.[254][255][256][257][258]

Analysts observed that dropping the reference to region reflected a widening of the group's scope, and Laith Alkhouri, a terrorism analyst, thought that after capturing many areas in Syria and Iraq, ISIS felt this was a suitable opportunity to take control of the global jihadist movement.[259] A week before the change of name to Islamic State, ISIS had captured the Trabil crossing on the Jordan–Iraq border,[260] the only border crossing between the two countries.[261]

ISIS received some public support in Jordan, albeit limited, partly owing to state repression there,[262] but the group undertook a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia,[121] where tribes in the north are linked to those in western Iraq and eastern Syria.[263] Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved troops to their borders with Iraq in June and July after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, crossing points, which were thence under ISIS's command.[261][264] There was speculation that al-Maliki had ordered a withdrawal of troops from the Iraq–Saudi crossings in order "to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia and bring the threat of Isil overrunning its borders as well".[263]

Timeline of events

2003–06 events

The Al-Askari Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, after the first attack by Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2006
  • The group was founded in 2003 as a reaction to the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Its first leader was the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network on 17 October 2004.[265] Foreign fighters from outside Iraq were thought to play a key role in its network.[266] The group became a primary target of the Iraqi government and its foreign supporters, and attacks between these groups resulted in more than 1,000 deaths every year between 2004 and 2010.[20]
  • The Islamic State of Iraq made clear its belief that targeting civilians was an acceptable strategy and it has been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths since 2004.[267][not in citation given] In September 2005, al-Zarqawi declared war on Shia Muslims and the group used bombings—especially suicide bombings in public places—massacres and executions to carry out terrorist attacks on Shia-dominated and mixed sectarian neighbourhoods.[268] However, suicide attacks by the ISI also killed hundreds of Sunni civilians, which engendered widespread anger among Sunnis.

2007 events

  • Between late 2006 and May 2007, the ISI brought the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad under its control. Numerous Christian families left, unwilling to pay the jizya tax.[citation needed] US efforts to drive out the ISI presence stalled in late June 2007, despite streets being walled off and the use of biometric identification technology. By November 2007, the ISI had been removed from Dora, and Assyrian churches could be re-opened.[269][not in citation given] In 2007 alone the ISI killed around 2,000 civilians, making that year the most violent in its campaign against the civilian population of Iraq.[267][not in citation given]
  • 19 April: The organization announced that it had set up a provisional government termed "the first Islamic administration" of post-invasion Iraq. The "emirate" was stated to be headed by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and his "cabinet" of ten "ministers".[272]
Name (English transliteration) and notable pseudonyms Arabic name Post Notes
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
d. 18 April 2010
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi[273] (aka Abu Du'a)[274]
أبو عمر البغدادي, أبو بكر البغدادي Emir Abu Du'a, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,[274] is the second leader of the group.[275]
Abu Abdullah al-Husseini al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi Vice Emir
Abu Abdul Rahman al-Falahi أبو عبد الرحمن الفلاحي
ʾAbū ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān al-Falāḥī
"First Minister" (Prime Minister)
Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri)
d. 18 April 2010
Al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman (aka Neaman Salman Mansour al Zaidi)
أبو حمزة المهاجر War Identity of al-Muhajir with al-Masri suspected. ISI only used former name. Abu Suleiman is the second minister of war.
Abu Uthman al-Tamimi أبو عثمان التميمي
ʾAbū ʿUṯmān at-Tamīmī
Sharia affairs
Abu Bakr al-Jabouri
(aka Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jabouri)
d. 1/2 May 2007
أبو بكر الجبوري
ʾAbū Bakr al-Ǧabūrī

(aka محارب عبد اللطيف الجبوري)
Muḥārib ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Ǧabūrī)
Public Relations Common spelling variants: al-Jubouri, al-Jiburi.
Abu Abdul Jabar al-Janabi أبو عبد الجبار الجنابي Security
Abu Muhammad al-Mashadani أبو محمد المشهداني
ʾAbū Muḥammad al-Mašhadānī
Abu Abdul Qadir al-Eissawi أبو عبد القادر العيساوي
ʾAbū ʿAbd al-Qādir al-ʿĪsāwī
Martyrs and Prisoners Affairs
Abu Ahmed al-Janabi أبو أحمد الجنابي
ʾAbū ʾAḥmad al-Ǧanābī
Mustafa al-A'araji مصطفى الأعرجي
Muṣṭafā al-ʾAʿraǧī
Agriculture and Fisheries
Abu Abdullah al-Zabadi أبو عبد الله الزيدي Health
Mohammed Khalil al-Badria محمد خليل البدرية
Muḥammad Ḫalīl al-Badriyyah
Education Announced on 3 September 2007

The names listed above are all considered to be noms de guerre.

  • 3 May: Iraqi sources claimed that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed a short time earlier. No evidence was provided to support this and US sources remained skeptical.[276] The Islamic State of Iraq released a statement later that day which denied his death.[277]
  • 12 May: In what was apparently the same incident, it was announced that "Minister of Public Relations" Abu Bakr al-Jabouri had been killed on 12 May 2007 near Taji.[verification needed] The exact circumstances of the incident remain unknown. The initial version of the events at Taji, as given by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, was that there had been a shoot-out between rival Sunni militias. Coalition and Iraqi government operations were apparently being conducted in the same area at about the same time and later sources implied they were directly involved, with al-Jabouri being killed while resisting arrest. (See Abu Omar al-Baghdadi for details.)
  • 12 May: The ISI issued a press release claiming responsibility for an ambush at Al Taqa, Babil on 12 May 2007, in which one Iraqi soldier and four US 10th Mountain Division soldiers were killed. Three soldiers of the US unit were captured and one was found dead in the Euphrates 11 days later. After a 4,000-man hunt by the US and allied forces ended without success, the ISI released a video in which it was claimed that the other two soldiers had been executed and buried, but no direct proof was given. Their bodies were found a year later.[278][279][dead link]
  • In July, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi released an audio tape in which he issued an ultimatum to Iran. He said: "We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you". He also warned Arab states against doing business with Iran.[287] Iran supports the Iraqi government which many see as anti-Sunni.[citation needed]
  • Resistance to coalition operations in Baqubah turned out to be less than anticipated. In early July, US Army sources suggested that any ISI leadership in the area had largely relocated elsewhere in early June 2007, before the start of Operation Arrowhead Ripper.[288]

2009–12 events

  • 23 July 2012: About 32 attacks occurred across Iraq, killing 116 people and wounding 299. The ISI claimed responsibility for the attacks, which took the form of bombings and shootings.[295]

Egyptian Revolution of 2011

A statement of support for Egyptian protesters—which appears to have been the first reaction of any group affiliated with al-Qaeda to the protests in Egypt during the 2011 Arab Spring Movement—was issued by the Islamic State of Iraq on jihadist forums on 8 February 2011, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which provided a translation of the text. The message addressed to the protesters was that the "market of jihad" had opened in Egypt, that "the doors of martyrdom had opened", and that every able-bodied man must participate. It urged Egyptians to ignore the "ignorant deceiving ways" of secularism, democracy and "rotten pagan nationalism". "Your jihad", it went on, is in support of Islam and the weak and oppressed in Egypt, for "your people" in Gaza and Iraq, and "for every Muslim" who has been "touched by the oppression of the tyrant of Egypt and his masters in Washington and Tel Aviv".[296]

2013 events

2012–14 Iraqi protests: Iraqi Sunni demonstrators protesting against the Shiite-led government.
  • By 12 May, nine Turkish citizens, who were alleged to have links with Syria's intelligence service, had been detained.[301] On 21 May 2013, the Turkish authorities charged the prime suspect, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency. Four other suspects were also charged and 12 people had been charged in total.[clarification needed] All suspects were Turkish nationals whom Ankara believed were backed by the Syrian government.[302]
  • In July, Free Syrian Army battalion chief Kamal Hamami—better known by his nom de guerre Abu Bassir Al-Jeblawi—was killed by the group's Coastal region emir after his convoy was stopped at an ISIS checkpoint in Latakia's rural northern highlands. Al-Jeblawi was traveling to visit the Al-Izz Bin Abdulsalam Brigade operating in the region when ISIS members refused his passage, resulting in an exchange of fire in which Al-Jeblawi received a fatal gunshot wound.[303]
  • Also in July, ISIS organised a mass break-out of its members being held in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. British newspaper The Guardian reported that over 500 prisoners escaped, including senior commanders of the group.[304][305] ISIS issued an online statement claiming responsibility for the prison break, describing the operation as involving 12 car bombs, numerous suicide bombers and mortar and rocket fire.[304][305] It was described as the culmination of a one-year campaign called "destroying the walls", which was launched on 21 July 2012 by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; the aim was to replenish the group's ranks with comrades released from the prison.[306]
  • In September, members of the group kidnapped and killed the Ahrar ash-Sham commander Abu Obeida Al-Binnishi, after he had intervened to protect members of a Malaysian Islamic charity; ISIS had mistaken their Malaysian flag for that of the United States.[308][309]
  • Also in September, ISIS overran the Syrian town of Azaz, taking it from an FSA-affiliated rebel brigade.[310] ISIS members had attempted to kidnap a German doctor working in Azaz.[311] In November 2013, Today's Zaman, an English-language newspaper in Turkey, reported that Turkish authorities were on high alert, with the authorities saying that they had detailed information on ISIS's plans to carry out suicide bombings in major cities in Turkey, using seven explosive-laden cars being constructed in Raqqa.[312]
  • From 30 September, several Turkish media websites reported that ISIS had accepted responsibility for the attack and had threatened further attacks against Turkey.[313][314][315][316]
  • In December, there were reports of fighting between ISIS and another Islamic rebel group, Ahrar ash-Sham, in the town of Maskana, Aleppo in Syria.[317]

2014 events

Current (July 2014) military situation:
  Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
  Controlled by other Syrian rebels
  Controlled by Syrian government
  Controlled by Iraqi government
  Controlled by Syrian Kurds
  Controlled by Iraqi Kurds
January 2014
  • 3 January: ISIS proclaimed an Islamic state in Fallujah.[8] In response, the Army of the Mujahideen, the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front launched an offensive against ISIS-held territory in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.[citation needed] A spokesman for the rebels said that rebels had attacked ISIS in up to 80% of all ISIS-held villages in Idlib and 65% of those in Aleppo.[318]
  • 4 January: ISIS claimed responsibility for the car-bomb attack on 2 January that killed four people and wounded dozens in the southern Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik, a Hezbollah bastion.[14][15]
  • By 6 January, Syrian rebels had managed to expel ISIS forces from the city of Raqqa, ISIS's largest stronghold and capital of Raqqa province. Several weeks later ISIS took the city back.[319]
  • 8 January: Syrian rebels expelled most ISIS forces from the city of Aleppo.[320] However, ISIS reinforcements from Deir ez-Zor province managed to retake several neighborhoods of the city of Raqqa.[321] By mid-January ISIS fighters had retaken the entire city of Raqqa, while rebels expelled ISIS fighters fully from Aleppo city and the villages west of it.[citation needed]
  • 25 January: ISIS announced the creation of its new Lebanese arm, pledging to fight the Shia militant group Hezbollah and its supporters in Lebanon.[322]
  • 29 January: Turkish aircraft near the border fired on an ISIS convoy inside the Aleppo province of Syria, killing 11 ISIS fighters and one ISIS emir.[323][324]
  • 30 January: ISIS fired on border patrol soldiers in Turkey. In return, the Turkish Army retaliated with Panter howitzers and destroyed the ISIS convoy.[28][29][30]
  • In late January, it was confirmed that Syrian rebels had assassinated ISIS's second-in-command, Haji Bakr, who was al-Qaeda's military council head and a former military officer in Saddam Hussein's army.[325]
February 2014
  • 3 February: Al-Qaeda's general command claimed that it had no links with ISIS, apparently to redirect the Islamist effort towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad.[75]
  • By mid-February, Al-Nusra Front had joined the battle in support of rebel forces, and expelled ISIS forces from Deir ez-Zor province in Syria.[326]
March 2014
  • By March, ISIS forces had fully retreated from the Idlib province of Syria after battles against the Syrian rebels.[327][328]
  • 4 March: ISIS retreated from the Aleppo province-Turkey border town of Azaz and other nearby villages, choosing instead to consolidate around Raqqa in anticipation of an escalation of fighting with Al-Nusra.[329]
  • 8 March: During an interview with French television channel, France24, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding ISIS.[117][330]
  • 20 March: In Niğde city in Turkey, three ethnic Albanian[331] members of ISIS[332]—Benjamin Xu, Çendrim Ramadani and Muhammed Zakiri—opened fire while hijacking a truck which killed one police officer and one gendarmerie officer and wounded five people.[333][334] Shortly after their arrest, Polis Özel Harekat teams launched a series of operations against ISIS in İstanbul. Police found documents and an ISIS flag in one place and two Azerbaijanis were arrested.[335]
April 2014
  • 27 April: Iraqi military helicopters reportedly attacked and destroyed an ISIS convoy of eight vehicles inside Syria. This may be the first time that Iraqi forces have struck outside their country since the Gulf War.[336]
May 2014
  • 1 May: ISIS carried out a total of seven public executions in Raqqa, northern Syria.[337] Pictures that emerged from the city of Raqqa show how ISIS had been carrying out public crucifixions in areas under its control.XX[338] In most of these crucifixions, the victims were shot first and their bodies then displayed,[339] but there were also reports of crucifixion preceding being shot or decapitated.[340] In one case a man was said to have been "crucified alive for eight hours", but there was no indication of whether he died.[339]
June 2014
  • In early June, following its large-scale offensives in Iraq, ISIS was reported to have seized control of most of Mosul, the second most populous city in Iraq, a large part of the surrounding Nineveh province, and the city of Fallujah.[341] ISIS also took control of Tikrit, the administrative center of the Salah ad Din Governorate,[342] with the ultimate goal of capturing Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.[343] ISIS was believed to have only 2,000–3,000 fighters up until the Mosul campaign, but during that campaign it became evident that this number was a gross underestimate.[344]
  • Also in June, there were reports that a number of Sunni groups in Iraq that were opposed to the predominantly Shia government had joined ISIS, thus bolstering the group's numbers.[345][not in citation given][346] However, the Kurds—who are mostly Sunnis—in the northeast of Iraq were unwilling to be drawn into the conflict, and there were clashes in the area between ISIS and the Kurdish Peshmerga.[347][348]
  • 5 June: ISIS militants stormed the city of Samarra, Iraq, before being ousted from the city by airstrikes mounted by the Iraqi military.[349]
  • 6 June: ISIS militants carried out multiple attacks in the city of Mosul, Iraq.[350][351]
  • 7 June: ISIS militants took over the University of Anbar in Ramadi, Iraq, and held 1,300 students hostage before being ousted by the Iraqi military.[352][353]
  • 9 June: Mosul fell to ISIS control. The militants seized control of government offices, the airport and police stations.[354] Militants also looted the Central Bank in Mosul, absconding with US$429 million.[355] More than 500,000 people fled Mosul to escape ISIS.[356] Mosul is a strategic city as it is a crossroad between Syria and Iraq, and poses the threat of ISIS seizing control of oil production.[344]
  • 11 June: ISIS seized the Turkish consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul and kidnapped the head of the diplomatic mission and several staff members. ISIS seized the Iraqi city of Tikrit.[357]
  • 12 June: Human Rights Watch, an international human rights advocacy organization, issued a statement about the growing threat to civilians in Iraq.[358]
  • 13 June: Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed alarm at reports that ISIS fighters "have been actively seeking out—and in some cases killing—soldiers, police and others, including civilians, whom they perceive as being associated with the government".[359]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad on 23 June 2014
  • 15 June: ISIS militants captured the Iraqi city of Tal Afar in the province of Nineveh.[360] ISIS claimed that 1,700 Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered in the fighting had been executed, and released many images of mass executions via its Twitter feed and various websites.[361]
  • 22 June: ISIS militants captured two key crossings in Anbar, a day after seizing Al-Qa'im border crossing at Qaim, a town in the province that borders Syria. According to analysts, capturing these crossings could help ISIS transport weapons and equipment to different battlefields.[362]
  • 24 June: The Syrian Air Force bombed ISIS positions in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated: "There was no coordination involved, but we welcome this action. We welcome any Syrian strike against Isis because this group targets both Iraq and Syria."[363]
  • 25 June: Al-Nusra Front's branch in the Syrian town of al-Bukamal pledged loyalty to ISIS, thus bringing to a close months of fighting between the two groups.[233][234]
  • 26 June: Iraq launched its first counter-attack against the ISIS advance with an airborne assault designed to seize back control of Tikrit University.[250]
  • 28 June: The Jerusalem Post reported that the Obama administration had requested US$500 million from the US Congress to use in the training and arming of "moderate" Syrian rebels fighting against the Syrian government in order to counter the growing threat posed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.[364]
  • Iraq has reportedly purchased used Sukhoi fighter jets from Russia and Belarus to battle ISIS militants after delays in the delivery of F-16 fighters purchased from the US.[365] In an interview with the BBC Arabic service, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, "[If] we had air cover, we would have averted what [has] happened".[366][367]
  • 29 June: ISIS announced the establishment of a new caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed as caliph, and the group formally changed its name to "Islamic State".[1]
July 2014
  • 2 July: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the new Islamic State, said that Muslims should unite to capture Rome in order to "own the world".[368][369] He called on Muslims the world over to unite behind him as their leader.[370]
  • 3 July: ISIS captured Syria's largest oil field from rival Islamist fighters, Al-Nusra Front on 3 July, facing no resistance from them. Taking control of the al-Omar oil field gave ISIS crude oil reserves which could be useful to its advancing fighters.[371]
  • 17 July: Syria's Shaer gas field in the Homs Governorate was seized by the Islamic State. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 90 National Defence Force guards defending the field were killed, as were 21 ISIS fighters.[372] Two days later, the SOHR put the death toll from the fighting and executions at 270 soldiers, militiamen and technicians.[373]
  • 19 July: ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing which killed 33 people and left more than 50 wounded. The explosion occurred in Baghdad's Kadhimiya district, the site of a major Shia shrine.[374]

Notable members

Other personnel

See also


  1. ^ According to classical Islamic sources, Hilf al-Mutayyabin was an oath of allegiance taken in pre-Islamic times by several clans of the Quraysh tribe, in which they undertook to protect the oppressed and the wronged. The name "oath of the scented ones" apparently derives from the fact that the participants sealed the oath by dipping their hands in perfume and then rubbing them over the Kaʻbah. This practice was later adopted by the Prophet Muhammad and incorporated into Islam.[60]
  2. ^ During the ceremony, the participants declared: "We swear by Allah…that we will strive to free the prisoners of their shackles, to end the oppression to which the Sunnis are being subjected by the malicious Shi'ites and by the occupying Crusaders, to assist the oppressed and restore their rights even at the price of our own lives… to make Allah's word supreme in the world, and to restore the glory of Islam…"[60]
  3. ^ "Accordingly, the "Iraq and Shām" in the name of the Islamic State is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration."[74]


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