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Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL)

The beginnings:
Originally emerged as Al Qada in Iraq (2004) as part of Sunni insurgency against
the US led coalition that deposed Saddam Hussein. Rebranded as IS two years later. It
was an ally of and had similarities with -- Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda: both were radical Sunni
anti-Western militant groups devoted to establishing an independent Islamic state in the region.
But ISIS unlike al Qaeda, which disowned the group in early 2014 has proven to be more
brutal and more effective at controlling territory it has seized.
Fighters from the group moved across the border into Syria to join in the civil war
in 2011 and fought alongside forces opposed to the Government of Bashar alAssad. However unlike other most other groups opposing Assad, ISIS has a much
broader objective of establishing of an Islamic caliphate across the region,
incorporating Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
The Islamic State gained control of an arc of territory across the north-east of
Syria, stretching from the Turkish border across to the frontier with Iraq. The
Syrian enclave, based around the northern city of Raqqa, provided the jumping
off point for attacks into western Iraq.

Grabbing the international spotlight:

In 2014 the organisation expanded its activities into Iraq capturing the city of
Fallujah and large tracts of the surrounding Anbar province in January. In June
2014, the group expanded its reach into Iraq by capturing the second largest city
of Mosul.
ISIS has acquired significant wealth through the territory it has gained as it has
provided valuable access to resources such as oil as well as large supplies of
weaponry. They have outsmarted and outfought Iraq's 1 million strong security
forces, trained and equipped by the US at a cost of $US25 billion.
A significant aspect of the organisations ongoing success has been its ability to attract
thousands of foreign recruits through its effective use of propaganda via social media.

The US Response to Islamic State.

In response to the rapid territorial gains made by IS in Iraq in the first half of 2014, the US has
responded by leading a coalition of Arab Nations (including Saudi Arabia, Jordan) and its
Western allies( including UK, France and Australia) on a campaign to degrade and ultimately
destroy IS. The military response has consisted of a campaign of sustained airstrikes against
Islamic State positions in Iraq, as well as training and logistical support for the Iraqi and Kurdish
Peshmerga forces fighting IS on the ground. The US has also conducted airstrikes against IS
positions in Syria More than 3,900 missions have been flown.

How successful has this response been?

While the rapid nature of the IS advances through Iraq that took place in the first half of 2014
have slowed, the city of Tikrit has been retaken and some alleged leaders of the group have
been killed, the fall of Ramadi in May 2015 (only 70 miles from the capital), Bagdad suggests
that IS remains a significant threat to the pro-Western Iraqi government. Similarly, the
organisation continues to be an influential player in the conflict in Syria. IS forces have responded
to the air strikes by staying much closer to areas with large civilian populations so as to make it
more difficult to be targeted without the possibility of heavy civilian casualties.
The reluctance of the US and their allies to commit ground forces to the conflict with IS has
limited their capacity to significantly weaken the organisation. Sending ground forces which result
in much higher casualty rates for US soldiers and possibly involve the US in another protracted,
expensive war such as it has recently experienced in Iraq with the 2003 invasion and continues to
experience in Afghanistan. Such an outcome would prove very unpopular with the domestic
population in the US.