Islamic State (IS); Daech *
Islamic State (IS); Daech *
The group, known today as the Islamic State (IS), emerged after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq when the US started a “de-baathification” process of the invaded country. This process included decisions banning old members of Saddam’s regime from adhering to the new government which not only affected political leaders but also public administration’s staffs such as doctors, teachers, experts etc. One of these decisions also involved the dissolution of the Iraqi Army making thousands of well-trained and skilled officers suddenly unemployed. Furthermore, the newly established government became more and more sectarian turning the tables and favoring Shia’s communities, whose political and societal aspirations were suppressed before under Saddam’s Baathist regime. The newly established government, in turn, also isolated Sunni communities who used to benefit from privileged social and institutional positions under Saddam’s regime* . The shattering of every State and security structure in Iraq, as well the disempowerment of the Sunni community appears to have provided fertile ground for Jihadists to thrive. This context has contributed to the radicalisation of many Iraqis, especially Sunnis, that cultivated growing hate and resentment towards the US.
One of them was Haji Bakr, a former intelligence officer in the Iraqi forces under Saddam’s regime, who later became a senior leader in IS military, and is sometimes referred to as “Lord of the Shadows”.**
In 2005, Haji Bakr formed an alliance with the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of the group Jama’at al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad, seen as the precursor of the Islamic State.
Sphere of influence
Daesh employs several thousands people as fighters as well as administrative staff in their conquered territories. Fighters are both volunteers and conscripts, the latter being forced by local commanders or tribes in conquered areas.
Administrative staff, both volunteers or coerced individuals, include workers that stayed in their job, convinced by Daesh officers that they will have their life unchanged. In order to keep control over the population, notably in key facilities such as municipal services or local stores, ISIS supervisors oversee operations in the facilities. 1
Recently, populations living under Daesh control faced multiple arbitrary arrests (i.e. charges of supposed spying) and high tax policies, such as the collection of electricity rations2 and delinquent fines3. This indicates an attempt by Daech to increase its revenues after the losses of key territories which lead to a diminution of its resources.
Furthermore, Daesh is often relocating citizens from their homes to prepare the city’s defense (i.e. Raqqa Province)4;
The group also opened an office for facilitating the marrying of local widows to Daesh fighters, providing financial incentives to men marrying the widows.5 Daesh also forces women and girls to be fully covered, at the risk of punishing them or one of their relatives if they don’t comply.6
Within this sphere, the group established a governance system including the maintenance of roads and control over education including the imposition of training sessions for teachers, prohibiting mixity between men and women changing the curriculum to be in line with their ideology (e.g. replacing philosophy by islamic philosophy, prohibiting maps representing Sykes-Picot borders, removing civic education).7
Daesh areas of influence, January 2017 8
Sources of income
The organisation managed to create an economic model built upon various sources of income. The exploitation of commodities, minerals and arable land within these territories, as well as the systematic extortion of the populations under its control, has ensured their financial self-sufficiency.
In terms of funding, oil was once the biggest and unique source of revenue for IS. The group has seized control of many oil fields in Syria and Iraq, and sells oil on the black market. However, production has fallen since the US-led coalition and Russian air strikes began targeting the oil infrastructure (June 2015). Additionally, IS also lacks the technology to maintain ageing equipment, which becomes more depleted with time, making oil more difficult to extract.
Thus, extortion has become the primary source of funding for IS in 2015, accounting for 33% of the group's income, compared to 12% of their revenue the previous year.9
In addition to charging for services like water and electricity, IS levies taxes on products like wheat and cotton and makes money from confiscating goods and property, before reselling them.
IS is now short of funds and is randomly imposing fines for offences like driving on the wrong side of the road.
Moreover, the organisation also secures income from trafficking of antiquities, donations, ransom...10
* K&R : kidnap and ransom.11
Tactics of insurgency, terrorism, and guerrilla warfare.12
Use of extreme violence as well as soft power tools (social media, propaganda, etc.)
Soft power tools
Coordination of digital campaign; control of Shumukh al-Islam jihadist forum.13
Vast presence on social medias (Facebook, Twitter), Youtube videos, Android app .
- Affiliated News Agencies, such as Amaq, and media offices in all provinces;
- Alleged Chief of Media Operations in charge of Al Hayat media division;
- Twitter: high privacy settings and sophisticated hashtags;
- App “The Dawn of Glad Tidings”(Fajr Al-Basha’ir) imitates the functions of the app Thunderclap, used for political campaigns in the US, used to update activities of Daesh affiliates;
- Highly professional videos, use of tools of propaganda that includes cinema’s marketing language. i.e. “Clanging of the Swords”, a video posted a few weeks before the conquest of Mosul;
- Propaganda magazine, Dabiq;
- Radio station, Al Bayan (diffusing fake news);
Use of different narratives to reach an audience (see below)14:
Number of troops
- On December 2015 the number of troop was estimated between 27,000 and 31,000 fighters15
- Many of them are foreigners from at least 86 countries who have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups;
- Most of the foreign fighters come from Tunisia (6000); Saudi Arabia (2,500); Russia (2,400); Turkey (2,100); Jordan (2,000) or Western Europe countries such as France, UK, Germany and Belgium, among others.16
If applicable, type of weapons
M79 90mm anti-tank rockets;
US-manufactured small arms (US M16A4, US XM15-E2S 5.56 x 45 mm semi-automatic rifle);
USSR-manufactured AKM 7.62 x 39 mm assault rifles;
Chinese-manufactured M80 general-purpose machine guns;
Belgian FN Herstal Browning Hi-Power 9 x 19 mm semi-automatic pistol;
Austrian Glock G19 9 x 19 mm semi-automatic pistol.17
History & Politics
1. Building the Islamic State under Zarqawi (2002-2006)
The ideological pillar of IS can be traced back to the Jordanian Islamist Abû Mus’ab az-Zarqâwî (1966-2006), who founded the Herat training camp in Afghanistan in 1999. Although this camp was financed by Al Qaeda, it was operationally independent from the group. During the American offensive in Afghanistan on October 2001, Zarqawi joined al Qaeda and Taliban fighters against the Western allies and got seriously wounded during combats. Afterwards, he is believed to have fled to Northern Iraq where he was sheltered by Ansar Al-Islam (Islamic Brigades), a group close to AQ where his men were fighting. He formed his group, Tawhid al-Jihad , during the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.
One of his first major operations was the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which killed the UN Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio de Mello. Afterwards, Al-Zarqawi distanced himself from his former mentor, the salafist anti-Saud shaikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, who condemned the methods used by Al-Zarqawi and his followers.18
After an initial independence from Al Qaeda, Al-Zarqawi, eager to extend his authority over all jihadists in Iraq, pledged his allegiance to Bin Laden in 2004 and changed the name of his organisation from Al-Tawhid al-Jihad to Tandhim Qaedat Al-Jihad fi bilad Al-Rafidain (‘The Al-Qaeda Jihad Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers’).
In January 2005, al-Zarqawi was officially designated Al Qaeda Emir (Prince) in Iraq by Bin Laden. This appointment entailed a formal acceptance of the principles and the rules of Qaedism, and thus an ideological frame for the future establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
He also formed an alliance with Haji al-Bakr a former intelligence officer in the previously dissolved Iraqi forces, who was imprisoned after the death of Saddam Hussein and the American invasion of Iraq. Al-Bakr would later manage to build up a large network of supporters for the group inside the prison. After his release, he became a Senior leader in ISI.
However, Zarqawi was killed in 2006 by an US airstrike in Baquba, located in the northeast of Baghdad and Omar al-Baghdadi became the new leader of the group.
2. Beginning of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) 2006-2011
After, Zarqawi death, al- Baghdadi renamed the Council “the Islamic State in Iraq” (ISI) and announced the dissolution of Al Qaeda in Iraq which power was decreasing after leaders in Iraq’s Anbar Province withdrew their support for the group.
As noted, al-Bakr who was held in Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib prisons, both in Iraq, from 2006 to 2008, managed to build up a large network of supporters, as well as forge alliances with other military officials.
Operating in Iraq, ISI faced many pressure from the US military, the UN and the Government of Iraq, led by the Shia Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, appointed in 2006. In 2008, Maliki led a sectarian domestic policy targeting Sunni communities and contributing to the politicisation of the Iraqi military. Al-Maliki "Shiafication" of the security forces was a way of strengthening his regime over the security of Iraq.19 This led to the radicalisation of many Sunnis who felt disempowered by the newly established regime.
In January 2009, Maliki targeted Sunni leaders, increasing sectarian tensions and latent support for ISI in Sunni tribal areas. Five months later, ISI bombed Iraqi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Finance, killing hundreds. Responding to this attack, a US-led air strike in April 2010 killed both ISI leaders Abu Omar al Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al Masri.20
By 2010, the group’s struggle to overthrow Iraqi government forces was not gaining traction. However, the group remained active underground, and the revolution in Syria in 2011 provided it with an opportunity to expand its power.
3. Islamic State (2011- current ): landscape of an ongoing conflict
By the end of 2011, a small portion of the group, named Jabhat al-Nusra, was sent to Syria where it gained a lot of power and started seizing territory.
In April 2013, the leader of the IS declared that both groups were a unique organisation, and renamed it the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, this declaration was refuted by the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, which led to a division of the latter between supporters of al-Nusra and ISIS.
In June 2013, Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri declared that ISIS should leave Syria. In response, to justify its refusal to leave, ISIS raised the theological argument that the two first Islamic caliphates were initially located in Syria and Iraq and expressed its disregard for the 1916 Sykes-Picot boundaries. This theological line of argumentation convinced the majority of al-Nusra fighters, especially the foreigners, to join the group. Despite the coalition of most Syrian rebels against ISIS, ISIS’s power and influence increased as it gained control over many oil fields in Syria, thus threatening the economic viability of al-Nusra.
The following year, on June 29, 2014 the group, who expanded into northern and western Iraq, declared the establishment of the Caliphate, and proclaimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "caliph," changing its name once more to the current “Islamic State.21
Following a period of expansion from 2014 to 2015, Daesh went into a gradual decline, observable at several scales. The group faced many challenges in terms of funding, manpower and administration, primarily due to the pressure exerted by the US-led and Russian coalitions.22
According to the Global Coalition data and information base, the coalition and its partners have liberated up to June 2017, 4.1 million people from Daesh across Iraq and Syria23. Also, on July 10, Mossoul the proclaimed capital of the caliphate, was officially declared “liberated” from ISIS.
Finally, on the 9th November 2017, Syrian army declared victory over IS by liberating the last area held by the militants.
One month later on the 10th December 2017, Iraqi Primer Minister Haider al Abadi officially declared the victory of Iraq over IS marking the collapse of Daesh proclaimed Caliphate.
Balance of power in Syria and Iraq - June 19, 2017 24
However, its worldwide campaign is not curbing, and the organisation has a great part of its contingent coming from non-Arab countries, particularly in Europe, where their communication campaign is prevalent. Many acts of violence perpetrated by individuals alleged to Daesh had happened, convinced by the idea that they live among the “infidels” who persecute them in the West.25 In fact, more than 70 terrorists acts have been related to Daesh in more than 20 countries such as France, U.S, Spain, U.K, Lebanon and Turkey among others, excluding Iraq and Syria. For example, on the 13th of November 2015, a serie of coordinated attacks took place in Paris, France with suicide bombings and mass shootings in pubs and restaurants, as well as during a rock concert that led to 130 causalities and 368 injured. More recently, on the 1st January 2017 a gunmen opened fire in a night club on New year’s eve killing 39 people.
Impacts on Lebanon
According to the Middle East Institute for Research and Strategic Studies, Lebanon witnessed a huge rise in Daesh terrorist cells since the beginning of the war in Syria. Both Lebanese Sunni and Palestinian refugees have travelled to Syria to fight with Daesh, while other partisans remained in Lebanon and are actively supporting the group from the Lebanese territory by sending fundings, recruiting terrorists, smuggling weapons etc..26
Consequently, Lebanon suffered from several terrorists attacks.
On November 12, 2015, during rush hours, two suicide bomber detonated in the popular commercial and residential Beirut’s southern suburb of Burj el-Barajne. The area is also an important stronghold of Hezbollah which is actively fighting with the regime against rebel and terrorist groups inside Syria . The attack killed 43 people and injured more than 200.27
More recently, two waves of suicide bombings occurred in the city of el-Qaa on June 27, 2016, each involving four suicide bombers affiliated to Daesh. Consequently, 9 people were killed and 32 were injured. In response, the Lebanese State increased raids across the country, targeting terrorist activity and proceeding to many arrests.28
Moreover, Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Saida witnessed many tensions and reports indicating possible links with terrorist organisations such as Daesh or al-Nusra Front.
Furthermore, the militant group has established posts near the Northeast Syrian-Lebanese border in Arsal outskirts and Ras Baalbeck. Thus, violent clashes often arise between the Lebanese Armed Forces and IS militants in these regions. One of the most violent clash occurred in April 2014 between Daesh, al-Nusra Front and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in the outskirt of Arsal. Besides causing many casualties among all parties, it also lead to the kidnapping of Lebanese soldiers, which is still an ongoing issue, as their fate remains unknown.29 (see our timeline on Arsal conflicts)
Consequently, Lebanon appeared to be in the midst of defending its sovereignty from several forces within its borders, with Hezbollah and the LAF, at times also supported by the Syrian forces, fighting on the frontline against Daesh militants. These regions have also witnessed clashes between IS and al-Nusra Front militants, which might indicate a turf war in attempt to gain more influence,30 as Arsal is seen as a geo-strategic stronghold for the Syrian militants.
More recently, on August 19th 2017, the Lebanese Army led an offensive against IS militants posts in Ras Baalbeck outskirts in order to expel them from Lebanese territories. This operation came a few weeks after Hezbollah launched a similar attack against Jabhat al-Nusra in Arsal at the end of July. From an international perspective, this battle against IS can be seen as part of a greater geopolitical strategy launched in parallel with the international coalition, as well as Syrian and Iraqi’s Forces, as they intensify their strikes against the group in Syria and Iraq.31
After this operation, although the armed militants were ousted from Lebanese territories, the risk of terrorist attack perpetrated by Daesh remain high as the LAF is continuing its ground operation arresting people affiliated to the group and planning attacks in Lebanon.
August 19, 2003: bombing UN HQ in Baghdad killing UN Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio de Mello (when the group was still AQI)32
January 2014, Raqqa in the northeast of Syria, is conquered by ISIL and became the stronghold of the group
February 3, 2014: Al Qaeda officially cut ties with Daesh.
June 9,2014: Mossoul is conquered by ISIL.
June 29, 2014: ISIL declared the establishment of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq and proclaimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "caliph".
ISIL changed his name and became IS.
August 2-7 2014: Siege of Arsal, East Lebanon, and kidnapping of Lebanese Armed Forces elements. 59 people died.
August 7, 2014: President Obama announces the beginning of air strikes against ISIS in Iraq to defend Yazidi citizens stranded in Sinjar.
August, 19 2014: ISIS kills American journalist James Foley.
August 28, 2014: Ali Sayyed, a Lebanese soldier kidnapped during Arsal clashes in Lebanon , is the first out of the group to be beheaded by ISIS militants.
September 2014: Siege of Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane.33
January 2015: Kurdish fighters, with the help of U.S. and coalition airstrikes, force out ISIS militants from the Syrian border town of Kobani after a four-month battle.34
March 31 2015: Liberation of Tikrit (north of Bagdad) in Iraq
November 13, 2015: Liberation of northern Sinjar region in Iraq
May, 2015: Daesh takes over Ramadi (Iraq), Palmyre (Syria) and Sirte (Libya) over a week.
November, 12 2015: ISIS claims responsibility for suicide attacks in Beirut that killed 44 people. The next day, ISIS carries out a series of coordinated attacks in Paris, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds. This is the most deadly attack on European soil operated by Daesh.
July 3, 2016: ISIS militants carry out a suicide bombing that kills more than 300 people on a busy shopping street in Baghdad. The attack, which occurred during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was ISIS’s deadliest bomb attack on civilians to date.
October 2016: Operation by a coalition of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by US support was launched to take back Mossoul
July 10, 2017: Mossoul was proclaimed liberated from ISIS
August 19-August 29, 2017: LAF launched an offensive attack to expel IS from Ras Baalbeck outskirts
[Last updated on December 2017]
- *. Jim Mur. Islamic State: The full history, BBC news. June 20, 2016, Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35695648 [last accessed August 17, 2017]
- **. Christoph Reuter, Secret Files reveal the Structure of Islamic State, Spiegel, April 18, 2017 available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamic-state-files-show-struc... [last accessed June 20, 2017].
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- 3. The Global Coalition, Life Under Daesh, available at: http://theglobalcoalition.org/en/delinquent-fines-collected-in-daesh-ter... [last accessed June 21, 2017].
- 4. The Global Coalition, Life Under Daesh, available at: http://theglobalcoalition.org/en/life-under-daesh-daesh-continues-to-ali... [last accessed June 21, 2017].
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Read Fatima’s testimony in The Global Coalition, Counter messaging, Women and Daesh available at: http://theglobalcoalition.org/en/women-and-daesh-the-female-guard-said-t... [last accessed June 21, 2017].
- 7. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Romain Caillet, November 12th, 2014, Beirut.
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- 13. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Romain Caillet, November 12th, 2014, Beirut.
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- 17. NB: Oxy-acetylene torches or arc welders used to remove the serial numbers of IS weapons as to conceal the point at which weapons diverted from legal to illicit custody, for more c.f. Conflict Armament Research, Islamic State Weapons in Iraq and Syria: Analysis of weapons and ammunition captured from Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, September 2014, London, available at: http://conflictarm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dispatch_IS_Iraq_Syria... [last accessed November 20th, 2014]
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- 21. Ibid.
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- 23. The Global Coalition, June 5, 2017 available at: http://theglobalcoalition.org/en/maps-stats/ [last accessed June 20, 2017]
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