Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

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Islamic State
الدولة الإسلامية (Arabic)
ad-Dawlah l-ʾIslāmiyyah
Rayat al-`Uqab, the "Eagle Banner"; also called the black flag of jihad
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: باقية وتتمدد (Arabic)
"Bāqiyah wa-Tatamaddad" (transliteration)
"Remaining and Expanding"
As of 24 August 2014      Areas controlled by the Islamic State      Areas claimed by the Islamic State      Rest of Iraq and Syria Note: map includes uninhabited areas.
As of 24 August 2014

     Areas controlled by the Islamic State      Areas claimed by the Islamic State      Rest of Iraq and Syria

Note: map includes uninhabited areas.
Capital Ar-Raqqah, Syria[3][4]
35°57′N 39°1′E / 35.950°N 39.017°E / 35.950; 39.017
Government Caliphate
 -  Caliph[5] Ibrahim[6][7]
 -  Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared 3 January 2014[8][9] 
 -  Caliphate declared 29 June 2014[5] 
Time zone Arabia Standard Time (UTC+3)
Calling code +963 (Syria)
+964 (Iraq)
Islamic State
الدولة الإسلامية (Arabic)
Participant in the Iraq War, the Global War on Terrorism, the Iraqi insurgency, and the Syrian Civil War
Flag of the Islamic State.svg
Flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Active 2004–present[10][11] (under various names)[12]
Ideology Sunni Islamism
Salafist Jihadism
Worldwide Caliphate
Headquarters Ar-Raqqah, Syria
Area of
Strength 80,000–100,000 (up to 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq)[18][19]
Part of al-Qaeda (2004[20]–2014)[21]
Originated as

Jama'at al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad
(The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad)
Al-Qaeda in Iraq
Mujahideen Shura Council

Islamic State of Iraq


Ba'ath Party Loyalists[30]

Iran Iran[34]

Iraq Iraq

Iraqi KurdistanSyrian Kurdistan Kurdish forces

Assyria Assyrian forces

Syria Syria[44]

Syria Syrian Opposition[45][46][47]

United States United States (aerial operations)[49]

Lebanon Lebanon

Turkey Turkey

Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia

Indonesia Indonesia

and wars

The Islamic State (IS)[5][7][63] (Arabic: الدولة الإسلاميةad-Dawlah l-ʾIslāmiyyah), formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (داعش) (ISIL /ˈsəl/) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS /ˈsɪs/),[a] is a Sunni jihadist group in the Middle East. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims across the world[64] and aspires to bring much of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control,[65] beginning with Iraq, Syria and other territory in the Levant region, which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and part of southern Turkey.[66] It has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, and has been described by the United Nations[67] and Western and Middle Eastern media as a terrorist group. The United Nations has accused the Islamic State of committing "mass atrocities" and war crimes.[68][69]

ISIS is the successor to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn—more commonly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—formed by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in 2004, which took part in the Iraqi insurgency against American-led forces and their Iraqi allies following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[66][70] During the 2003–2011 Iraq War, it combined with other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council and consolidated further into the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI /ˈsɪ/).[70][71] At its height it enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Nineveh, Kirkuk, most of Salah ad Din, parts of Babil, Diyala and Baghdad, and claimed Baqubah as a capital city.[72][73][74][75] However, the Islamic State of Iraq's violent attempts to govern its territory led to a backlash from Sunni Iraqis and other insurgent groups, which helped to propel the Awakening movement and a decline in the group.[70][76]

ISIS had close links to al-Qaeda until February 2014, when after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly for its brutality and "notorious intractability".[77][78][79]

Under its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS has grown significantly, gaining support in Iraq due to alleged economic and political discrimination against Arab Iraqi Sunnis, and establishing a large presence in the Syrian governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo after entering the Syrian Civil War.[80][81][82]

In June 2014, ISIS had at least 4,000 fighters in its ranks in Iraq[83] who, in addition to attacks on government and military targets, have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians.[84] In August 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the group had increased its strength to 50,000 fighters in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq.[18]

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.[85] 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.[5][6][7]

Name and name changes

The group has had a number of different names since its formation in early 2004 as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, "The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad" (JTJ).[10]

In October 2004, the group leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Laden and changed the name of the group to Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn, "The Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers," more commonly known as "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" (AQI).[10][86] Although the group has never called itself "Al-Qaeda in Iraq", this name has frequently been used to describe it through its various incarnations.[12]

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 to distance al-Qaeda from some of al-Zarqawi's tactical errors, notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman.[87] 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 Arab tribes, and together they swore the traditional Arab oath of allegiance known as Ḥilf al-Muṭayyabīn ("Oath of the Scented Ones").[b][88][89] During the ceremony, the participants swore to free Iraq's Sunnis from what they described as Shia and foreign oppression, and to further the name of Allah and restore Islam to glory.[c][88]

On 13 October 2006, the establishment of the Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah, "Islamic State of Iraq" (ISI) was announced.[10][90] A cabinet was formed and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi became ISI's figurehead emir, with the real power residing with the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri.[91] The declaration was met with hostile criticism, not only from ISI's jihadist rivals in Iraq, but from leading jihadist ideologues outside the country.[92] 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."[93][94] 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 (e.g. Jund al-Sham) refers to the Levant or Greater Syria.[95][96] ISIS was also known as al-Dawlah ("the State"), or al-Dawlat al-Islāmīyah ("the Islamic State"). These are short-forms of the name "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham" in Arabic; it is similar to calling the United States of America "the States".[97]

ISIS's detractors, particularly in Syria, refer to the group as "Da'ish" or "Daesh", (داعش), a term that is based on an acronym formed from the letters of the name in Arabic, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham.[98][99] The group considers the term derogatory and reportedly uses flogging as a punishment for people who use the acronym in ISIS-controlled areas.[100][101]

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.[99] The debate over which acronym should be used to designate the group, ISIL or ISIS, has been discussed by several commentators.[96][97]

On 29 June 2014, the establishment of a new caliphate was announced, and the group formally changed its name to the "Islamic State".[5][102][d]

In late August 2014, a leading Islamic authority Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah advised Muslims to stop calling the group "Islamic State" and instead refer to it as "Al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria" or "QSIS", due to the militant group's un-Islamic character.[104][105]

Ideology and beliefs

ISIS is a Sunni extremist group that follows al-Qaeda's hard-line ideology and adheres to global jihadist principles.[106][107] 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.[108] ISIS follows an extreme anti-Western interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels and apostates. Concurrently, ISIS—now IS—aims to establish a Salafist-orientated Islamist state in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Levant.[107]

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 it believes corrupt its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam and hence has been attempting to establish its own caliphate.[109] However, there are some Sunni commentators, Zaid Hamid, for example, and even Salafi and jihadi muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, who say that ISIS and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis at all, but Kharijite heretics serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda.[110][111][112][113]

Salafists such as ISIS believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting against non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, since ISIS regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad, it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.[114][115]


From its beginnings the establishment of a pure Islamic state has been one of the group's main goals.[116] According to journalist Sarah Birke, one of the "significant differences" between al-Nusra Front and ISIS is that ISIS "tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory". While both groups share the ambition to build an Islamic state, ISIS is "far more ruthless ... carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately".[117] ISIS finally achieved its goal on 29 June 2014, when it removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name, began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, and declared the territory which it occupied in Iraq and Syria a new caliphate.[5]

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; this was a reference to the borders set by the Sykes–Picot Agreement during World War I.[118][119] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a July 2014 speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul vowed that "this blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy".[120][121][unreliable source?]

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, Nineveh, and parts of Babil.[90] 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—which 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, Ar-Raqqah, Al Badiya, Halab, Idlib, Hama, Damascus and the Coast.[122] 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, Ar-Raqqah.[122]

During the Iraq conflict in 2014 the group expanded the areas under its control even further, and concerns have now been expressed about the capability of the IS to govern the territories it has conquered.[123]


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,[124] 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 by various Sunni and Shia players as the root cause of ISIS's rise. The post-invasion policies of the international coalition forces have also been cited as a factor, with Fanar Haddad, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, blaming the coalition forces during the Iraq War for "enshrining identity politics as the key marker of Iraqi politics".[125] ISIS's violence is directed particularly against Shia Muslims and indigenous Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians and Armenian Christians.[126] 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".[127] Chechen fighter Abu Omar al-Shishani, for example, was made commander of the northern sector of ISIS in Syria in 2013.[128][129]

By 2014, ISIS was increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than a terrorist group by some organizations.[130] As major Iraqi cities fell to al-Baghdadi's cohorts in June, Jessica Lewis, a former US army intelligence officer 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 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."[130]

According to the Institute for the Study of War, ISIS's annual reports reveal a metrics-driven military command, which is "a strong indication of a unified, coherent leadership structure that commands from the top down".[131] 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."[130] 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.[132] On 21 August 2014, in response to a question asking whether ISIS posed a similar threat to al-Qaeda prior to the September 11th attacks[133] United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated: "(ISIS) is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group".[134]

Hillary Clinton stated: "The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled."[135]

ISIS runs a soft-power program in the areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, 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.[136]

Propaganda and social media

The group is also known for its effective use of propaganda.[137] 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.[138] ISIS's main media outlet is the I'tisaam Media Foundation,[139] which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF).[140] In 2014, ISIS established the Al Hayat Media Center, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English, German, Russian and French.[141][142] In 2014 it also launched the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants.[143]

In July 2014, ISIS began publishing a digital magazine called Dabiq in multiple languages, including English. According to the magazine, its name is taken from the town in northern Syria, which is mentioned in a hadith about Armageddon.[144] Harleen K. Gambhir, of the Institute for the Study of War, found that while al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine focused on encouraging its readers to carry out lone-wolf attacks on the West, Dabiq is more concerned with establishing the religious legitimacy of ISIS and its self-proclaimed caliphate, and encouraging Muslims to emigrate there.[145]

ISIS's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies".[146][147] 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.[148] Another comment is that "ISIS puts more emphasis on social media than other jihadi groups. ... They have a very coordinated social media presence."[149] Although ISIS's social media feeds on Twitter are regularly shut down, it frequently recreates them, maintaining a strong online presence. The group has attempted to branch out into alternate social media sites, such as Quitter, Friendica and Diaspora; Quitter and Friendica, however, almost immediately removed ISIS's presence from their sites.[150]

Egyptian and Lebanese media and politicians, as well as Facebook users, have spread the false claim that in her book Hard Choices Hillary Clinton stated that she created ISIS.[151] Fake quotes supposedly from Hard Choices have been used to support this false claim.[151]

A pivotal moment[citation needed] occurred on 19 August 2014, when militants posted a propaganda video of the beheading of US photojournalist James Foley on the Internet; it claimed that the killing had been carried out in revenge for the US bombing of ISIS targets.[152] The video promised that a second captured US journalist Steven Sotloff would be killed next if the airstrikes continued.[153]


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.[154] 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.[154] 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.[154] 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.[154]

In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence extracted information from an ISIS operative which revealed that the organization had assets worth US$2 billion,[155] making it the richest jihadist group in the world.[156] About three quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul's central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul.[157][158] However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIS was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank,[159] and even on whether the bank robberies had actually occurred.[160]

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.[161] The group is widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in the Gulf states,[162][163] and both Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding ISIS,[164][165][166][167] although there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case.[167][168][169][170]

The group is also believed to receive considerable funds from its operations in Eastern Syria, where it has commandeered oilfields and engages in smuggling out raw materials and archaeological artifacts.[171][172] 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.[173]

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.[146][174]


The most common weapons used against US and other Coalition forces during the Iraq insurgency were those taken from Saddam Hussein’s weapon stockpiles around the country, these included AKM variant assault rifles, PK machine guns and RPG-7s.[175] ISIS has been able to strengthen its military capability by capturing large quantities and varieties of weaponry during the Syrian Civil War and Post-US Iraq insurgency. These weapons seizures have improved the group's capacity to carry out successful subsequent operations and obtain more equipment.[176] Weaponry that ISIS has reportedly captured and employed include SA-7[177] and Stinger[178] surface-to-air missiles, M79 Osa, HJ-8[179] and AT-4 Spigot[177] anti-tank weapons, Type 59 field guns[179] and M198 howitzers,[180] Humvees, T-54/55 and T-72 main battle tanks,[179] M1117 armoured cars,[181] truck mounted DShK guns,[177] ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns,[182][183] BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers[176] and at least one Scud missile.[184]

When ISIS captured Mosul Airport in June 2014, it seized a number of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and cargo planes that were stationed there.[185][186] However, according to Peter Beaumont of The Guardian, it seemed unlikely that ISIS would be able to deploy them.[187]

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".[188][189]

In August 2014, the ISIS reportedly used a captured Iraqi Army M1A1M Abrams main battle tank in the Battle for Mosul Dam.


As Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999–2004)


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 1999 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and a combination of foreigners and local Islamist sympathizers.[70] Al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian Salafi Jihadist 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 numerous 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.[190]

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.[191] In January 2003, Ansar's founder Mullah Krekar denied any connection with Saddam's government.[192]

A pair of armed anti-American insurgents in Iraq in 2006

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"[193] 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."[193] According to Michael Weiss, Ansar entered Iraqi Kurdistan through Iran as part of Iran's covert attempts to destabilize Saddam's government.[194]

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.[195]

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.[116]

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.[195] 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.[196] It conducted numerous attacks against US military personnel throughout 2004, and audacious suicide attacks inside the high-security Green Zone perimeter in Baghdad.[197] 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,[195] 23 people, including the chief of the United Nations Mission to Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, at the UN headquarters in Baghdad,[195] and at least 86 people, including Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, in the Imam Ali Mosque bombing in Najaf.[198] Included here is the November truck bombing, which killed 27 people, mostly Italian paramilitary policemen, at the Italian base in Nasiriyah.[195]

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;[199] the failed plot in April to explode chemical bombs in Amman, Jordan, which was said to have been financed by al-Zarqawi's network;[200] 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;[201] the June suicide car bombing in Baghdad which killed 35 civilians;[202] and the September car bomb which killed 47 police recruits and civilians on Haifa Street in Baghdad.[203]

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

Foreign civilian hostages abducted by the group in 2004 included: 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 (2004–2006)

Involvement in Iraqi Insurgency

US 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 and changed its official name to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين, "Organization of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia").[20][204][205] That same month, the group, now popularly referred to as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), kidnapped and killed 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 Shia 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.[201]

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.[197] In July, AQI claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Ihab Al-Sherif, Egypt's envoy to Iraq.[206][207] Also in July, a three-day series of suicide attacks, including the Musayyib marketplace bombing, left at least 150 people dead.[208] 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 Shia workers.[209] They claimed responsibility for a series of mosque bombings in the same month in the city of Khanaqin, which killed at least 74 people.[210]

The attacks blamed on or claimed by AQI continued to increase in 2006 (see also the list of major resistance attacks in Iraq).[211] 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 killed. 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.[212] 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,[213] who in reality was the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.[214]

Car bombings were a common form of attack in Iraq during the Coalition occupation

Inciting sectarian violence

Attacks against militiamen often targeted the Iraqi Shia majority in an attempt to incite sectarian violence.[215] Al-Zarqawi purportedly declared an all-out war on Shias[209] while claiming responsibility for the Shia mosque bombings.[210] 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 Shias in Iraq.[216] 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.[217]

US and Iraqi officials accused the AQI of trying to slide Iraq into a full-scale civil war between Iraq's majority Shia and minority Sunni Arabs via an orchestrated campaign of militiamen massacres and a number of provocative attacks against high-profile religious targets.[218] 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 Shia district of Sadr City, and the second al-Askari bombing in 2007, the AQI provoked Shia 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.[219] 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.[220] 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.[221] 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.[197]

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.[222] The group may have been linked to the little-known group called "Tawhid and Jihad in Syria",[223] and may have influenced the Palestinian resistance group in Gaza called "Tawhid and Jihad Brigades", better known as the Army of Islam.[224]

American officials believed that Al-Qaeda in Iraq had conducted bomb attacks against Syrian government forces.[225][226][227] Al-Nusra Front, another al-Qaeda-inspired group, claimed responsibility for attacks inside Syria, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that Al-Qaeda in Iraq members were going to Syria, where the militants had previously received support and weapons.[228]

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.[197] 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.[229] Because of these impediments, the attempt was largely unsuccessful.[219]

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.[211] 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.[230]

As Islamic State of Iraq (2006–2013)

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".[231] These figures do not include the other six[232][irrelevant citation] 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.[231][233] 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.[234]

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".[235][236] 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.[231][237] 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 Shia militias, and 17 out of 357 attacks on US troops.[231]

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.[238] 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.[239]


The Islamic State of Iraq captured and subsequently killed three US 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.[240] Al-Qaeda seemed to have lost its foothold in Iraq and appeared to be severely crippled.[241] Accordingly, the bounty issued for al-Masri was eventually cut from $5 million to $100,000 in April 2008.[242]

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.[242] 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.[242] 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.[243] 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".[242]

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.[244][245] 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,[246] 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,[247][248] and they openly sided with the government and the US troops.[249]

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.[250] 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.[251] 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.[252] 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.[243][253] The following month, the government announced that AQI leader al-Masri had been killed by ASC fighters.[214][218] 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".[254] 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.[255]

By June 2007, the growing hostility between foreign-influenced jihadists and Sunni nationalists had led to open gun battles between the groups in Baghdad.[256][257] The Islamic Army soon reached a ceasefire agreement with AQI, but refused to sign on to the ISI.[258] 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.[259] Meanwhile, the US military began arming moderate insurgent factions when they promised to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of the Americans.[260]

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.[261] 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",[262] which was attributable to a number of factors,[263] notably the Anbar Awakening.

Transformation and resurgence

In early 2009, US forces began pulling out of cities across the country, turning over the task of maintaining security to the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Police Service and their paramilitary allies. Experts and many Iraqis were worried that in the absence of US soldiers the ISI might resurface and attempt mass-casualty attacks to destabilize the country.[264] There was indeed a spike in the number of suicide attacks,[265] and through mid- and late 2009, the ISI rebounded in strength and appeared to be launching a concerted effort to cripple the Iraqi government.[266] During August and October 2009, the ISI claimed 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 represented a shift away from the group's previous efforts to incite sectarian violence, although a series of suicide attacks in April targeted mainly Iranian Shia pilgrims, killing 76, and in June, a mosque bombing in Taza killed at least 73 Shias from the Turkmen ethnic minority.

In late 2009, the commander of the US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, stated that the ISI "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.[267] On 18 April 2010, the ISI’s two top leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid near Tikrit.[268] In a press conference in June 2010, General Odierno reported that 80% of the ISI’s top 42 leaders, including recruiters and financiers, had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large. He said that they had been cut off from Al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan, and that improved intelligence had enabled the successful mission in April that led to the killing of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi; in addition, the number of attacks and casualty figures in Iraq for the first five months of 2010 were the lowest since 2003.[269][270][271] In May 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq'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, during which an Iraqi general and several others were also killed.[272][273]

On 16 May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq;[274] he had previously been the general supervisor of the group's provincial sharia committees and a member of its senior consultative council.[275] Al-Baghdadi replenished the group's leadership, many of whom had been killed or captured, by appointing former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had served during the Saddam Hussein regime. These men, nearly all of whom had spent time imprisoned by American forces, came to make up about one-third of Baghdadi's top 25 commanders. One of them was a former Colonel, Samir al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, who became the overall military commander in charge of overseeing the group's operations.[276][277]

In July 2012, al-Baghdadi’s first audio statement was released online. In this he announced that the group was returning to the former strongholds that US troops and their Sunni allies had driven them from prior to the withdrawal of US troops.[278] He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls which would focus on freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons.[278] Violence in Iraq began to escalate that month, and in the following year the group carried out 24 waves of VBIED attacks and eight prison breaks. By July 2013, monthly fatalities had exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008.[279] The Breaking the Walls campaign culminated in July 2013, with the group carrying out simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prison, freeing more than 500 prisoners, many of them veterans of the Iraqi insurgency.[279][280]

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on 4 October 2011 by the US State Department, with an announced reward of US$10 million for information leading to his capture or death.[281]

As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–2014)

Declaration and dispute with al-Nusra Front

In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following month violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarisation of the conflict.[282] In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members, experienced in guerilla warfare, across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country. Led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country.[283][284] On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra l’Ahl as-ShamJabhat al-Nusra—more commonly known as al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra rapidly expanded into a capable fighting force with a level of popular support among opposition supporters in Syria.[283]

In April 2013, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq[285] and that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham".[286] 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.[287] 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.[288] In the same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri's ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead.[289] In October 2013, al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of ISIS, putting al-Nusra Front in charge of jihadist efforts in Syria,[290] but al-Baghdadi contested al-Zawahiri's ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence[289] and the group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIS.[77]

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.[291] It has a strong presence in mid- and northern Syria, where it has instituted sharia in a number of towns.[117] 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.[117] Foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA).[292] In November 2013, the JMA's ethnic Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi;[293] 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.[14]

In May 2014, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered al-Nusra Front to stop attacks on its rival ISIS.[28] 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.[294][295]

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.[296][297]

Suggested ties with the Syrian government

In January 2014, The Daily Telegraph said that Western "intelligence sources" believed that the Syrian government made secret oil deals with ISIS and al-Nusra Front, alleging that the militants were funding their campaign by selling crude oil to the regime from the fields they have captured.[298]

As Islamic State (2014–present)

On 29 June 2014, ISIS removed "Iraq and the Levant" from its name and began to refer to itself as the Islamic State, declaring the territory under its control a new caliphate and naming Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph.[5]

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.[299][300]

The declaration of a caliphate has been criticized and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists inside and outside the occupied territory.[301][302][303][304][305][306]

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.[307] A week before its change of name to the Islamic State, ISIS had captured the Trabil crossing on the Jordan–Iraq border,[308] the only border crossing between the two countries.[309]

ISIS has received some public support in Jordan, albeit limited, partly owing to state repression there.[310] Raghad Hussein, the daughter of Saddam Hussein now living in opulent asylum in Jordan, has publicly expressed support for the advance of ISIS in Iraq, reflecting the Ba'athist alliance of convenience with ISIS with the goal of return to power in Bagdad.[311] ISIS undertook a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia,[168] where tribes in the north are linked to those in western Iraq and eastern Syria.[312]

In June and July 2014, Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved troops to their borders with Iraq after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, strategic crossing points, which were thence under ISIS's command.[57][309] 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 Isis over-running its borders as well".[312]

After the group captured Kurdish-controlled territory[313] and massacred Yazidis,[314] the US launched a humanitarian mission and aerial bombing campaign against ISIS.[315][316]

In July 2014, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declared support for the new Calpihate and Caliph Ibrahim.[23] In August, Abubakar Shekau announced that Boko Haram had captured the Nigerian town of Gwoza in the name of the Caliphate. Shekau announced: "Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brothers in Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate".[317] This announcement appears to be unilateral.

The moderate rebels in the Free Syrian Army had been backed by the United States with weapons and training,[318][319] but in August 2014, a high-level commander in the Islamic State stated: "In the East of Syria, there is no Free Syrian Army any longer. All Free Syrian Army people [there] have joined the Islamic State".[320] The Islamic State recruited more than 6,300 fighters in July 2014 alone, many of them coming from the Free Syrian Army.[321]

Human rights abuses

ISIS compels people in the areas it controls, under the penalty of death, torture or mutilation, to declare Islamic creed, and live according to its interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law.[322][323] It directs violence against Shia Muslims, indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans in particular.[126]

War crimes accusations

The BBC reported the UN's chief investigator as stating: "Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) may be added to a list of war crimes suspects in Syria."[324]

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.[325][326][327] 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.[328]

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.[329] A hospital in the area confirmed that it had received 15 bodies on the same day.[330] 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.[331]

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.[332]

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.[333][334][335] The Guardian reported that ISIS's extremist agenda extended to women's bodies and that women living under their control were being captured and raped.[336] 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; however, another Baghdad-based women's rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb, said that a culture of violence existed in Iraq against women generally and felt sure that sexual violence against women was happening in Mosul involving not only ISIS but all armed groups.[337] During a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, CyprusBritish Foreign Minister William Hague said with regard 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".[338] According to Martin Williams in The Citizen, some hard-line Salafists apparently regard extramarital sex with multiple partners as a legitimate form of holy war and it is "difficult to reconcile this with a religion where some adherents insist that women must be covered from head to toe, with only a narrow slit for the eyes".[339] Yezidi girls in Iraq were allegedly raped by ISIS fighters and subsequently committed suicide, as described in a witness statement recorded by Rudaw.[340]

Guidelines for civilians

After the self-proclaimed Islamic State captured cities in Iraq, ISIS issued guidelines on how to wear clothes and veils. ISIS warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or face severe punishment.[341][342] A cleric told Reuters in Mosul that ISIS gunmen had ordered him to read out the warning in his mosque when worshippers gathered.[341] ISIS also banned naked mannequins and ordered the faces of both male and female mannequins to be covered.[343] ISIS released 16 notes labeled "Contract of the City", a set of rules aimed at civilians in Nineveh. One rule stipulated that women should stay at home and not go outside unless necessary. Another rule said that stealing would be punished by amputation.[136][344]

Christians living in areas under ISIS control who wanted to remain in the "caliphate" faced three options: converting to Islam, paying a religious levy—jizya—or death. "We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword", ISIS said.[345] ISIS had already set similar rules for Christians in Ar-Raqqah, Syria, once one of the nation's most liberal cities.[346][347]

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.[348] Foreign fighters from outside Iraq were thought to play a key role in its network.[349] 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.[350]
  • 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.[351] 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.[352] 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.[353][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.[351]
  • 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".[356]
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[357] (aka Abu Du'a)[358]
أبو عمر البغدادي، أبو بكر البغدادي Emir Abu Du'a, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,[358] is the second leader of the group.[359]
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. According to the The Long War Journal, no evidence was provided to support this and US sources remained skeptical.[360] The Islamic State of Iraq released a statement later that day which denied his death.[361]
  • 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 that 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 killed and buried, but no direct proof was given. Their bodies were found a year later.[362][363]
  • 25 June: The suicide bombing of a meeting of Al Anbar tribal leaders and officials at Mansour Hotel, Baghdad[365] killed 13 people, including six Sunni sheikhs[366] and other prominent figures. This was proclaimed by the ISI to have been in retaliation for the rape of a Sunni woman by Iraqi police.[367] Security at the hotel, which is 100 meters outside the Green Zone, was provided by a British contractor[368] which had apparently hired guerrilla fighters to provide physical security.[369][not in citation given] There were allegations that an Egyptian Islamist group may have been responsible for the bombing, but this has never been proven.[370]
  • 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.[371] 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.[372]

2009–12 events

  • 8 February 2011: According to the SITE Institute, 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. 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".[379]
  • In a four-month process ending in October 2011, the Syrian government reportedly released imprisoned Islamic radicals and provided them with arms "in order to make itself the least bad choice for the international community."[380]
  • 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.[381]
  • 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.[382]

2013 events

2012–14 Iraqi protests: Iraqi Sunni demonstrators protesting against the Shia-led government.
  • Starting in April 2013, the group made rapid military gains in controlling large parts of Northern Syria, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described them as "the strongest group".[383]
  • 11 May: Two car bombs exploded in the town of Reyhanlı in Hatay Province, Turkey. At least 51 people were killed and 140 injured in the attack.[384] The attack was the deadliest single act of terrorism ever to take place on Turkish soil.[385] Along with the Syrian intelligence service, ISIS was suspected of carrying out the bombing attack.[386]
  • By 12 May, nine Turkish citizens, who were alleged to have links with Syria's intelligence service, had been detained.[387] 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.[388]
  • 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.[389]
  • 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.[390][391] 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.[390][391] 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.[392]
  • In early August, ISIS led the final assault in the Siege of Menagh Air Base.[393]
  • 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.[394][395]
  • Also in September, ISIS overran the Syrian town of Azaz, taking it from an FSA-affiliated rebel brigade.[396] ISIS members had attempted to kidnap a German doctor working in Azaz.[397] 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 Ar-Raqqah.[398]
  • From 30 September, several Turkish media websites reported that ISIS had accepted responsibility for the attack and had threatened further attacks on Turkey.[399][400][401][402]
  • In November, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated: "ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria—100%—and anyone who tells you anything else is lying."[383]
  • 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.[403]

2014 events

Current military situation (August 2014):
  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 is proclaimed an Islamic state in Fallujah.[8] After prolonged tensions, the newly formed Army of Mujahedeen, the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front launched an offensive against ISIS-held territory in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. 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.[404]
  • 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.[16][17]
  • By 6 January, Syrian rebels had managed to expel ISIS forces from the city of Ar-Raqqah, ISIS's largest stronghold and capital of Ar-Raqqah province. Several weeks later ISIS took the city back.[405]
  • 8 January: Syrian rebels expelled most ISIS forces from the city of Aleppo.[406] However, ISIS reinforcements from Deir ez-Zor province managed to retake several neighborhoods of the city of Ar-Raqqah.[407] By mid-January ISIS fighters had retaken the entire city of Ar-Raqqah, 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.[408]
  • 29 January: Turkish aircraft near the border fired on an ISIS convoy inside Aleppo province in Syria, killing 11 ISIS fighters and one ISIS emir.[409][410]
  • 30 January: ISIS fired on border patrol soldiers in Turkey. The Turkish Army retaliated with Panter howitzers and destroyed the ISIS convoy.[53][54][55]
  • 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.[411]
February 2014
  • 3 February: al-Qaeda's general command broke off its links with ISIS, reportedly to concentrate the Islamist effort on unseating President Bashar al-Assad.[106]
  • By mid-February, the al-Nusra Front had joined the battle in support of rebel forces, and expelled ISIS forces from Deir ez-Zor province in Syria.[412]
March 2014
  • By March, ISIS forces had fully retreated from Syria's Idlib province after battles against the Syrian rebels.[413][414]
  • 4 March: ISIS retreated from the Aleppo province–Turkey border town of Azaz and nearby villages, choosing instead to consolidate around Ar-Raqqah, in anticipation of an escalation of fighting with al-Nusra.[415]
  • 8 March: During an interview with French television channel France 24, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding ISIS.[164][416]
  • 20 March: In Niğde city in Turkey, three ethnic Albanian[417] members of ISIS[418]—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.[419][420] 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.[421]
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.[422]
May 2014
  • 1 May: ISIS carried out a total of seven public executions in the city of Ar-Raqqah, in northern Syria.[423] Pictures that emerged from the city show how ISIS had been carrying out public crucifixions in areas under its control.[424] In most of these crucifixions, the victims were shot first and their bodies were then displayed,[425] but there were also reports of crucifixions preceding the victims being shot or decapitated.[426] In one case, a man was said to have been "crucified alive for eight hours," but there was no indication of whether he died.[425]
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.[427] ISIS also took control of Tikrit, the administrative center of the Salah ad Din Governorate,[428] with the ultimate goal of capturing Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.[429] 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.[430]
  • 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.[431][not in citation given][432] 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.[433][434]
  • 5 June: ISIS militants stormed the city of Samarra, Iraq, before being ousted from the city by airstrikes mounted by the Iraqi military.[435]
  • 6 June: ISIS militants carried out multiple attacks in the city of Mosul, Iraq.[436][437]
  • 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.[438][439]
  • 9 June: Mosul fell to ISIS control. The militants seized control of government offices, the airport, and police stations.[440] Militants also looted the Central Bank in Mosul, reportedly absconding with US$429 million.[441] More than 500,000 people fled Mosul to escape ISIS.[442] Mosul is a strategic city as it is at a crossroad between Syria and Iraq, and poses the threat of ISIS seizing control of oil production.[430]
  • 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.[443]
  • 12 June: Human Rights Watch, an international human rights advocacy organization, issued a statement about the growing threat to civilians in Iraq.[444]
  • 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."[445]
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.[446] ISIS claimed that 1,700 Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered in the fighting had been killed, and released many images of mass executions via its Twitter feed and various websites.[447]
  • 22 June: ISIS militants captured two key crossings in Anbar, a day after seizing the border crossing at Al-Qaim, a town in a province which borders Syria. According to analysts, capturing these crossings could aid ISIS in transporting weapons and equipment to different battlefields.[448]
  • 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."[449]
  • 25 June: The al-Nusra Front's branch in the Syrian town of al-Bukamal pledged loyalty to ISIS, thus bringing months of fighting between the two groups to a close.[294][295]
  • 25 June: In an interview with the BBC Arabic service, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that Iraq had 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.[450] "[If] we had air cover, we would have averted what happened", he said.[451][452]
  • 26 June: Iraq launched its first counterattack against ISIS's advance with an airborne assault designed to seize back control of Tikrit University.[453]
  • 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.[454]
  • 29 June: ISIS announced the establishment of a new caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed its caliph, and the group formally changed its name to the Islamic State.[5]
July 2014
Prophet Yunus Mosque before being destroyed.
  • 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."[455][456] He called on Muslims the world over to unite behind him as their leader.[457]
  • 3 July: ISIS captured Syria's largest oilfield from rival Islamist fighters, al-Nusra Front, who put up no resistance to the attack. Taking control of the al-Omar oilfield gave ISIS access to potentially useful crude oil reserves.[458]
  • 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.[459] The SOHR later put the death toll from the fighting and executions at 270 soldiers, militiamen and staff, and at least 40 ISIS fighters.[460]
  • 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, which is the site of a major Shia shrine.[461]
  • 24 July: ISIS blew up the Mosque and tomb of the Prophet Yunus (Jonah) in Mosul,[462] with no reported casualties.[463] Residents in the area said that ISIS had erased a piece of Iraqi heritage.[464] Johah's tomb was also an important holy site in the Jewish heritage as well.[465]
  • 26 July: ISIS blew up the Nabi Shiyt (Prophet Seth) shrine in Mosul. Sami al-Massoudi, deputy head of the Shia endowment agency which oversees holy sites, confirmed the destruction and added that ISIS had taken artifacts from the shrine to an unknown location.[466]
  • 28 July: To mark the Muslim holy festival of Eid al-Fitr, which ends the period of Ramadan, ISIS released and circulated a 30-minute video showing graphic scenes of mass executions.[467][468]
  • The UN reported that of the 1,737 fatal casualties of the Iraq conflict during July, 1,186 were civilians.[469]
President Obama delivers an update on the situation and US position on Iraq, authorizing airstrikes against ISIL and humanitarian aid for religious minorities trapped on a mountain.[470]
August 2014
  • 1 August: The Indonesian BNPT (id) declared ISIS a terrorist organization.[471]
  • 2 August: The Iraqi Army confirmed that 37 loyalist fighters had died during combat with Islamic State militants south of Baghdad, and in Mosul. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) claimed that "hundreds" of IS militiamen had died in the action.[472]
  • 2 August: ISIS and its al-Nusra Front allies invade Lebanon in and around the town of Arsal, sparking a five day battle between them and the Lebanese army, who push ISIS back across the border into Syria. Over a hundred fighters were killed, and scores of civilians were killed or wounded.
  • 3 August: IS fighters occupied the city of Zumar and an oilfield in the north of Iraq, after a battle against Kurdish forces.[473]
  • 5 August: Al Jazeera reported that an IS offensive in the Sinjar area of northern Iraq had forced 30,000–50,000 Yazidis to flee into the mountains, fearing they would be killed by the IS. They had been threatened with death if they refused conversion to Islam. A UN representative said that "a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar."[474]
  • 6 August: The Islamic State kidnapped 400 Yazidi women in Sinjar to sell them as sex slaves.[475]
  • 7 August: IS fighters took control of the town of Qaraqosh in the province of Nineveh in northern Iraq, which forced its large Christian population to flee.[476]
  • 7 August: President Obama authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS, along with airdrops of aid.[477] The UK offered the US assistance with surveillance and refuelling, and planned humanitarian airdrops to Iraqi refugees.[478]
  • 8 August: The US asserted that the systematic destruction of the Yazidi people by the Islamic State was genocide.[479] The US military launched indefinite airstrikes targeting Islamic State fighters, equipment and installations, with humanitarian aid support from the UK and France, in order to protect civilians in northern Iraq.[480][481] The Islamic State had advanced to within 30 km of Erbil in northern Iraq.[482][483] The UK is also considering joining the US in airstrikes.[484]
  • 10 August: France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that Iraq's Kurds must be equipped to fight against ISIS and indicated that France would consider providing arms aid "in liaison with the Europeans".[485] Islamic State militants buried an unknown number of Yazidi women and children alive, in an attack that killed 500 people, in what has been described as ongoing genocide in northern Iraq.[486][487]
  • 11 August: The Arab League accused the Islamic State of committing crimes against humanity.[488][489] The UK decided not to join the US in airstrikes and instead stepped up its humanitarian aid to refugees.[490]
  • 12 August: The parents of kidnapped American journalist James Foley received an email from his captors.[491] The US announced that it would not extend its airstrikes against the Islamic State to areas outside northern Iraq, emphasizing that the objective of the airstrikes was to protect US diplomats in Erbil.[492] The US and the UK airdropped 60,000 litres of water and 75,000 meals for stranded refugees. The Vatican called on religious leaders of all denominations, particularly Muslim leaders, to unite and condemn the IS for what it described as "heinous crimes" and the use of religion to justify them.[493]
  • 13 August: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Islamic State jihadists had seized control of six villages near the Turkish border in the northern province of Aleppo in Syria.[494]
    More than 10,000 Kurds in Hanover protest against the terror of ISIS in Iraq, 16 August 2014
  • 15 August: The United Nations Security Council issued a resolution which "deplores and condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist acts of ISIL (Islamic State) and its violent extremist ideology, and its continued gross, systematic and widespread abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law."[67]
  • 16 August: The Islamic State massacred 80 Yazidis.[495] The EU agreed to supply Kurdish forces with arms,[496] and US military forces continued to attack Islamic State fighters in the area around Iraq’s crucial Mosul Dam.[497]
  • 17 August: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Islamic State had killed 700 members of the Syrian al-Sheitaat tribe, mostly civilians, after two weeks of clashes over the control of two oilfields in the region.[498] Peshmerga troops, aided by the US air campaign, began an offensive to take back the strategic Mosul Dam from the Islamic State, amid fears that the destruction of the dam might unleash a 65-foot wave of water that could engulf the northern city of Mosul, and even flood Baghdad.[499][500]
  • 18 August: Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, said that the international community would be justified in stopping Islamist militants in Iraq. He also said that it should not be up to a single nation to decide how to intervene in the conflict.[501]
  • 19 August: According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State now has an army of more than 50,000 fighters in Syria.[18] American journalist James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State on video tape.[502]
  • 20 August: US President Obama denounced the "brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group ISIL."[503]
  • 21 August: The US military admitted that a covert rescue attempt involving dozens of US Special Operations forces had been made to rescue James Foley and other Americans held captive in Syria by Islamic State militants. The air and ground assault, involving the first known US military ground action inside Syria, had the authorization of President Barack Obama. The ensuing gunfight resulted in one US soldier being injured. The rescue was unsuccessful, as Foley and the other captives were not in the location targeted. This was the first known engagement by US ground forces with suspected Islamic State militants.[504] The US Defense Secretary warned that the Islamic State were tremendously well-funded, adding, "They have no standard of decency, of responsible human behavior" and that they were an imminent threat to the US.[505]
  • 22 August: The US is considering airstrikes on ISIS in Syria, which would draw US military forces directly into the Syrian Civil War, as President Obama develops a long-term strategy to defeat the Islamic State.[506]
  • 28 August: The Islamic State beheaded a Lebanese Army soldier whom they had kidnapped.[507] The group also beheaded a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in response to Kurdistan's alliance with the United States, and executed around 250 Syrian soldiers captured after the fall of Tabqa Air Base in Ar-Raqqah province.[508] The soldiers had earlier been marched to their place of execution wearing just their underwear.[509]
  • 29 August: UK Prime Minister David Cameron raised the UK's terror level to "severe" and committed to fight radical Islam "at home and abroad".[510][511]
  • 31 August: Iraqi military forces supported by Shia militias and American airstrikes broke the two-month siege of the northern Iraqi town of Amerli by Islamic State militants.[512] German Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen announced that Germany will send enough weapons to arm 4,000 Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq fighting Islamic State insurgents.[513] The delivery to be scheduled in stages will include 16,000 assault rifles, 40 machine guns, 240 rocket-propelled grenades, 500 MILAN anti-tank missiles with 30 launchers and 10,000 hand grenades, with a total value of around 70 million euros. In order to assess the needs of the Peshmerga and prevent an excessive accumulation of arms, the Bundeswehr seconded six liaison officers to Erbil, who will report to Berlin.[514]
September 2014
  • 1 September: The German government's Cabinet decision to arm the Kurdish Peshmerga militia was ratified in the Bundestag by a "vast majority" of votes, after an emotional debate.[515]

Notable members

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US armed forces while in detention at Camp Bucca in 2004
Other personnel

Designation as a terrorist organization

Country Date References
United States United States 17 December 2004 [516]
Australia Australia 2 March 2005 [517]
Canada Canada 20 August 2012 [518]
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 7 March 2014 [519]
United Kingdom United Kingdom 20 June 2014 [520]
Indonesia Indonesia 1 August 2014 [471]

Also media sources worldwide have called IS a terrorist organization.[521][161][322][522][523]

See also


  1. ^ The Islamic State was previously known as 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 والشامad-Dawlah l-ʾIslāmiyyah fī al-ʿIrāq wash-Shām). The group is also known by the Arabic acronym DAESH (Arabic: داعشDāʿish). These names continue to be used colloquially.
  2. ^ 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.[88]
  3. ^ During this 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..."[88]
  4. ^ "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."[103]


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