Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام
ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām
Founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [3]
Leaders
Dates of operation
1999–present
  • 1999: Established under the name of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad
  • October 2004: Joined al-Qaeda
  • 13 October 2006: Declaration of an Islamic state in Iraq
  • 8 April 2013: Claim of territory in the Levant
  • 3 February 2014:[17] Separated from al-Qaeda:[18]
  • 29 June 2014: Declaration of caliphate
  • 13 November 2014: Claim of territory in Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen
  • 29 January 2015: Claim of territory in South Asia[19]
  • 12 March 2015: Claim of territory in Nigeria[20]
  • 23 June 2015: Claim of territory in North Caucasus[21]
  • 20 July 2017: Recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces
  • 17 October 2017: Capture of Raqqa by SDF forces
  • 23 March 2019: Loses all of its territory in Syria
  • 27 October 2019: Killing of Baghdadi:
Group(s)
Headquarters
Active regions Territoires de l'Etat islamique juin 2015.png
ISIL's territory, in grey, at the time of its greatest territorial extent (May 2015).[30]
Map legend
  •   Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
  •   Syrian government
  •   Lebanese government
  •    Iraqi Kurdistan forces
  •    Syrian opposition forces
  •    Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)
  •    Hezbollah
  • Note: Iraq and Syria contain large desert areas with sparse populations. These areas are mapped as under the control of forces holding roads and towns within them.
Ideology
Size
List of combatant numbers
  • Inside Syria and Iraq:
    • 200,000[43][44] (2015 claim by Iraqi Kurdistan Chief of Staff)
    • 100,000[45][44] (2015 Jihadist claim)
    • 28,600–31,600[46] (2016 Defense Department estimate)
    • 35,000–100,000[47] (State Department estimate)
  • Outside Syria and Iraq: 32,600–57,900 (See Military activity of ISIL for more detailed estimates.)
  • Estimated total: 61,200–257,900
Civilian population
  • In 2015 (near max extent): 8–12 million[48][49]
Allies See section
Opponents State opponents

Non-state opponents

 Hezbollah

Full list...

More...
Battles and wars the Iraq War (2003–2011), the Iraqi insurgency, the Syrian Civil War, the Iraqi Civil War, the Second Libyan Civil War, the Boko Haram insurgency, the War in North-West Pakistan, the War in Afghanistan, the Yemeni Civil War, and other conflicts
Primary target of Operation Inherent Resolve and of the military intervention against ISIL in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Nigeria
Preceded by
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999) [88]

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; /ˈsəl, ˈsɪl/), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS; /ˈsɪs/),[89] officially known as the Islamic State (IS) and also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh (داعش, Dāʿish, IPA: [ˈdaːʕɪʃ]),[90] is a former unrecognized proto-state[91] that follows a Salafi jihadist doctrine.[92] ISIL was founded in 1999 by Jordanian Salafi jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi under the name Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad and gained global prominence in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive,[93] followed by its capture of Mosul[94] and the Sinjar massacre.[95]

The group has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations. ISIL is known for its videos of beheadings and other types of executions[96] of both soldiers and civilians, including journalists and aid workers, and its destruction of cultural heritage sites.[97] The United Nations holds ISIL responsible for committing human rights abuses, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.[98] The Islamic State committed genocide and ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq.[99][100]

ISIL originated in 1999 as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces at the behest of the United States. In June 2014, the group proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate[101][102] and began referring to itself as the Islamic State (الدولة الإسلامية ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah; IS).[103] As a caliphate, it claimed religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide.[104] Its adoption of the name Islamic State and its idea of a caliphate have been criticised, with the United Nations, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups vehemently rejecting its statehood.[105]

In Syria, the group conducted ground attacks on both government forces and opposition factions, and by December 2015, it held an area extending from western Iraq to eastern Syria, containing an estimated eight to twelve million people,[48][49][106] where it enforced its interpretation of sharia law. ISIL is believed to be operational in 18 countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, with "aspiring branches" in Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines.[107] In 2015, ISIL was estimated to have an annual budget of more than US$1 billion and a force of more than 30,000 fighters.[108]

In mid-2014, an international coalition led by the United States intervened against ISIL in Syria and Iraq with an airstrike campaign, in addition to supplying advisors, weapons, training, and supplies to ISIL's enemies in the Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces. This campaign reinvigorated the latter two forces and dealt a blow to the nascent Islamist proto-state, killing tens of thousands of its troops[109] and damaging its financial and military infrastructure.[110] This was followed by a smaller-scale Russian intervention exclusively in Syria, in which ISIL lost thousands more fighters to airstrikes, cruise missile attacks, and other Russian military activities and had its financial base even further degraded.[111] In July 2017, the group lost control of its largest city, Mosul, to the Iraqi army, followed by the loss of its de facto political capital of Raqqa to the Syrian Democratic Forces.[112] ISIL continued to lose territory to the various military forces allied against it.[113] By December 2017, the Islamic State controlled just 2% of its maximum territory (in May 2015).[114] In December 2017, Iraqi forces had driven the last remnants of the Islamic State underground, three years after the group captured about a third of Iraq's territory.[115] By March 2019, ISIL lost one of their last significant territories in the Middle East in the Deir ez-Zor campaign, surrendering their "tent city" and pockets in Al-Baghuz Fawqani to the Syrian Democratic Forces after the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani.[29]

On 31 October 2019, ISIL media announced that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi was the new leader of the Islamic State,[116] after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest during the US Barisha raid in the Syrian rebel-held Idlib province of Syria four days previously.[117][118][119]

Name

In April 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām (الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام‎). As al-Shām is a region often compared with the Levant or Greater Syria, the group's name has been variously translated as "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham",[120] "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria"[121] (both abbreviated as ISIS), or "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (abbreviated as ISIL).[89]

While the use of either one or the other acronym has been the subject of debate,[89][122] the distinction between the two and its relevance has been considered not so great.[89] Of greater relevance is the name Daesh, which is an acronym of ISIL's Arabic name al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī l-ʻIrāq wa-sh-Shām. Dāʿish (داعش‎), or Daesh. This name has been widely used by ISIL's Arabic-speaking detractors,[123] for example when referring to the group whilst speaking amongst themselves, although ⁠ ⁠—  and to a certain extent because ⁠ ⁠—  it is considered derogatory, as it resembles the Arabic words Daes ("one who crushes, or tramples down, something underfoot") and Dāhis (loosely translated: "one who sows discord").[90][124] Within areas under its control, ISIL considers use of the name Daesh punishable by flogging[125] or cutting out the tongue.[126]

In late June 2014, the group renamed itself ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah (lit. 'Islamic State' or IS), declaring itself a worldwide caliphate.[102] The name "Islamic State" and the group's claim to be a caliphate have been widely rejected, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to use the new name.[127] The group's declaration of a new caliphate in June 2014 and its adoption of the name "Islamic State" have been criticised and ridiculed by Muslim scholars and rival Islamists both inside and outside the territory it controls.[127][128]

In a speech in September 2014, United States President Barack Obama said that ISIL was neither "Islamic" (on the basis that no religion condones the killing of innocents) nor was it a "state" (in that no government recognises the group as a state),[129] while many object to using the name "Islamic State" owing to the far-reaching religious and political claims to authority which that name implies. The United Nations Security Council,[130] the United States,[129] Canada,[131] Turkey,[132] Australia,[133] Russia,[citation needed] the United Kingdom[134] and other countries generally call the group "ISIL", while much of the Arab world uses the Arabic acronym "Dāʻish" (or "Daesh"). France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists. The Arabs call it 'Daesh' and I will be calling them the 'Daesh cutthroats'."[135] Retired general John Allen, the U.S. envoy appointed to co-ordinate the coalition; U.S. Army Lieutenant General James Terry, head of operations against the group; and Secretary of State John Kerry had all shifted towards use of the term Daesh by December 2014.[136]

In 2014, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah dubbed ISIS as QSIS for "al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria", arguing that ISIL does not represent the vast majority of Muslims.[137]

Purpose and strategy

Ideology

ISIL is a theocracy, proto-state[138] and a Salafi[32] or Wahhabi group.[35][139] ISIL's ideology has been described as being based on Salafism,[32] Salafi jihadism,[32][33][34][35] and Wahhabism.[34][35][36][37] Through the official statement of beliefs originally released by its first leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in 2007 and subsequently updated since June 2014, ISIL defined its own creed as "a middle way between the extremist Kharijites and the lax Murji'ites".[33]:38 ISIL's ideology represents radical Salafi Islam, a strict, puritanical form of Sunni Islam.[140] Muslim organisations like Islamic Networks Group (ING) in America have argued against this interpretation of Islam.[141] ISIL promotes religious violence, and regards Muslims who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates.[31] According to Hayder al Khoei, ISIL's philosophy is represented by the symbolism in the Black Standard variant of the legendary battle flag of Muhammad that it has adopted: the flag shows the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, "There is no god but Allah".[142] Such symbolism has been said to point to ISIL's belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, with all the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would imply.[143]

ISIL adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups,[17][31] which is closely related to Wahhabism.

For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State ... are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group's territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.

—  David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times[144]

According to The Economist, dissidents in the former ISIL capital of Raqqa report that "all 12 of the judges who now run its court system ... are Saudis". Saudi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out "vice" and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction or re-purposing of any non-Sunni religious buildings.[145] Bernard Haykel has described ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's creed as "a kind of untamed Wahhabism".[144] Senior Saudi religious leaders have issued statements condemning ISIL[146] and attempting to distance the group from official Saudi religious beliefs.[147]

ISIL aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam and seeks to revive the original Wahhabi project of the restoration of the caliphate governed by strict Salafist doctrine. Following Salafi-Wahhabi tradition, ISIL condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi Arabian government in that category.[92]

Salafists such as ISIL 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 non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, ISIL regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and see fighting Hamas as the first step towards confrontation by ISIL with Israel.[144][148]

Islamic eschatology

One difference between ISIL and other Islamist and jihadist movements, including al-Qaeda, is the group's emphasis on eschatology and apocalypticism – that is, a belief in a final Day of Judgment by God. ISIL believes that it will defeat the army of "Rome" at the town of Dabiq.[34] ISIL also believes that after al-Baghdadi there will be only four more legitimate caliphs.[34]

The noted scholar of militant Islamism Will McCants writes:

References to the End Times fill Islamic State propaganda. It's a big selling point with foreign fighters, who want to travel to the lands where the final battles of the apocalypse will take place. The civil wars raging in those countries today [Iraq and Syria] lend credibility to the prophecies. The Islamic State has stoked the apocalyptic fire. [...] For Bin Laden's generation, the apocalypse wasn't a great recruiting pitch. Governments in the Middle East two decades ago were more stable, and sectarianism was more subdued. It was better to recruit by calling to arms against corruption and tyranny than against the Antichrist. Today, though, the apocalyptic recruiting pitch makes more sense than before.

—  William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State[149]

Goals

U.S. Army soldier with captured ISIL flag in Iraq, December 2010

Since at latest 2004, a significant goal of the group has been the foundation of a Sunni Islamic state.[150] Specifically, ISIL has sought to establish itself as a caliphate, an Islamic state led by a group of religious authorities under a supreme leader – the caliph – who is believed to be the successor to Prophet Muhammad.[151] In June 2014, ISIL published a document in which it claimed to have traced the lineage of its leader al-Baghdadi back to Muhammad,[151] and upon proclaiming a new caliphate on 29 June, the group appointed al-Baghdadi as its caliph. As caliph, he demands the allegiance of all devout Muslims worldwide, according to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).[152]

ISIL has detailed its goals in its Dabiq magazine, saying it will continue to seize land and take over the entire Earth until its:

Blessed flag...covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth, filling the world with the truth and justice of Islam and putting an end to the falsehood and tyranny of jahiliyyah [state of ignorance], even if America and its coalition despise such.

—  5th edition of Dabiq, the Islamic State's English-language magazine[153]

According to German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer, who spent ten days embedded with ISIL in Mosul, the view he kept hearing was that ISIL wants to "conquer the world", and that all who do not believe in the group's interpretation of the Quran will be killed. Todenhöfer was struck by the ISIL fighters' belief that "all religions who agree with democracy have to die",[154] and by their "incredible enthusiasm" – including enthusiasm for killing "hundreds of millions" of people.[155]

When the caliphate was proclaimed, ISIL stated: "The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organisations becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah's [caliphate's] authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas."[151] This was a rejection of the political divisions in Southwestern Asia that were established by the UK and France during World War I in the Sykes–Picot Agreement.[156]

All non-Muslim areas would be targeted for conquest after the Muslim lands were dealt with, according to the Islamist manual Management of Savagery.[157]

Strategy

The Al-Askari Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, after the first attack by Islamic State of Iraq in 2006

Documents found after the death of Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a former colonel in the intelligence service of the Iraqi Air Force before the US invasion who had been described as "the strategic head" of ISIL, detailed planning for the ISIL takeover of northern Syria which made possible "the group's later advances into Iraq". Al-Khlifawi called for the infiltration of areas to be conquered with spies who would find out "as much as possible about the target towns: Who lived there, who was in charge, which families were religious, which Islamic school of religious jurisprudence they belonged to, how many mosques there were, who the imam was, how many wives and children he had and how old they were". Following this surveillance and espionage would come murder and kidnapping – "the elimination of every person who might have been a potential leader or opponent". In Raqqa, after rebel forces drove out the Assad regime and ISIL infiltrated the town, "first dozens and then hundreds of people disappeared".[158]

Security and intelligence expert Martin Reardon has described ISIL's purpose as being to psychologically "break" those under its control, "so as to ensure their absolute allegiance through fear and intimidation", while generating "outright hate and vengeance" among its enemies.[159] Jason Burke, a journalist writing on Salafi jihadism, has written that ISIL's goal is to "terrorize, mobilize [and] polarize".[160] Its efforts to terrorise are intended to intimidate civilian populations and force governments of the target enemy "to make rash decisions that they otherwise would not choose". It aims to mobilise its supporters by motivating them with, for example, spectacular deadly attacks deep in Western territory (such as the November 2015 Paris attacks), to polarise by driving Muslim populations – particularly in the West – away from their governments, thus increasing the appeal of ISIL's self-proclaimed caliphate among them, and to: "Eliminate neutral parties through either absorption or elimination".[160][161] Journalist Rukmini Maria Callimachi also emphasises ISIL's interest in polarisation or in eliminating what it calls the "grey zone" between the black (non-Muslims) and white (ISIL). "The gray is moderate Muslims who are living in the West and are happy and feel engaged in the society here."[162]

A work published online in 2004 entitled Management of Savagery[163] (Idarat at Tawahoush), described by several media outlets as influential on ISIL[164] and intended to provide a strategy to create a new Islamic caliphate,[165] recommended a strategy of attack outside its territory in which fighters would "Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible."[166]

The group has been accused of attempting to "bolster morale" and distract attention from its loss of territory to enemies by staging terror attacks abroad (such as the 2016 Berlin truck attack, the 6 June 2017 attacks on Tehran, the 22 May 2017 bombing in Manchester, and the 3 June 2017 attacks in London that ISIL claimed credit for).[167]

Organisation

Raqqa in Syria was under ISIL control from 2013 and in 2014 it became the group's de facto capital city.[168] On 17 October 2017, following a lengthy battle that saw massive destruction to the city, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the full capture of Raqqa from ISIL.

Leadership and governance

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

From 2013 to 2019, ISIL was headed and run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State's self-styled Caliph. Before their deaths, he had two deputy leaders, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani for Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari (also known as Abu Ala al-Afri)[169] for Syria, both ethnic Turkmen. Advising al-Baghdadi is a cabinet of senior leaders, while its operations in Iraq and Syria are controlled by local 'emirs,' who head semi-autonomous groups which the Islamic State refers to as its provinces.[170] Beneath the leaders are councils on finance, leadership, military matters, legal matters (including decisions on executions) foreign fighters' assistance, security, intelligence and media. In addition, a shura council has the task of ensuring that all decisions made by the governors and councils comply with the group's interpretation of sharia.[171] While al-Baghdadi has told followers to "advise me when I err" in sermons, according to observers "any threat, opposition, or even contradiction is instantly eradicated".[172]

According to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group, almost all of ISIL's leaders—including the members of its military and security committees and the majority of its emirs and princes—are former Iraqi military and intelligence officers, specifically former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath government who lost their jobs and pensions in the de-Ba'athification process after that regime was overthrown.[173][174] The former Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism of the US State Department, David Kilcullen, has said that "There undeniably would be no Isis if we had not invaded Iraq."[175] It has been reported that Iraqis and Syrians have been given greater precedence over other nationalities within ISIL because the group needs the loyalties of the local Sunni populations in both Syria and Iraq in order to be sustainable.[176] Other reports, however, have indicated that Syrians are at a disadvantage to foreign members, with some native Syrian fighters resenting "favouritism" allegedly shown towards foreigners over pay and accommodation.[177]

In August 2016, media reports based on briefings by Western intelligence agencies suggested that ISIL had a multilevel secret service known in Arabic as Emni, established in 2014, that has become a combination of an internal police force and an external operations directorate complete with regional branches. The unit was believed to be under the overall command of ISIL's most senior Syrian operative, spokesman and propaganda chief Abu Mohammad al-Adnani[178] until his death by airstrike in late August 2016.[11]

On 27 October 2019 al-Baghdadi was targeted by US military and died after he detonated a suicide vest in Barisha, Idlib, Northwest Syria.[118] U.S. President Donald Trump stated in a televised announcement that Baghdadi had, in fact, died during the operation and that American forces used support from helicopters, jets and drones through airspace controlled by Russia and Turkey. [179] He said that "Russia treated us great... Iraq was excellent. We really had great cooperation" and Turkey knew they were going in.[180] He thanked Turkey, Russia, Syria, Iraq and the Syrian Kurdish forces for their support.[180] The Turkish Defence Ministry also confirmed on Sunday that Turkish and U.S. military authorities exchanged and coordinated information ahead of an attack in Syria's Idlib.[181] Fahrettin Altun, a senior aide to Turkish President Tayyib Erdogan, also stated, among other things, that "Turkey was proud to help the United States, our NATO ally, bring a notorious terrorist to justice" and that Turkey "will continue to work closely with the United States and others to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."[182] Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say if the United States had told Russia about the raid in advance but said that its result if confirmed, represented a serious contribution by the United States to combat terrorism.[183] Russia had previously claimed Baghdadi was killed in May 2019 by their airstrike.[184]

In September 2019, a statement attributed to ISIL's propaganda arm, the Amaq news agency, claimed that Abdullah Qardash was named as al-Baghdadi's successor.[185] Analysts dismissed this statement as a fabrication, and relatives were reported as saying that Qardash died in 2017.[186] Rita Katz, a terrorism analyst and the co-founder of SITE Intelligence, noted that the alleged statement used a different font when compared to other statements and it was never distributed on Amaq or ISIL channels.[187]

On 29 October 2019, Trump stated on social media that al-Baghdadi's "number one replacement" had been killed by American forces, without giving a name.[188] A U.S. official later confirmed that Trump was referring to ISIL spokesman and senior leader Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir,[189] who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Syria two days earlier.[190] On 31 October, ISIL named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi as Baghdadi's successor.[191]

Civilians in ISIL-controlled areas

Maximum extent of ISIL's territorial control in Syria and Iraq, on 21 May 2015. [30]

In 2014 The Wall Street Journal estimated that eight million people lived in the Islamic State.[192] The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stated that ISIL "seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey".[193] Civilians, as well as the Islamic State itself, have released footage of some of the human rights abuses.[194]

Social control of civilians was by imposition of ISIL's reading of sharia law,[195] enforced by morality police forces known as Al-Hisbah and the all-women Al-Khanssaa Brigade, a general police force, courts, and other entities managing recruitment, tribal relations, and education.[193] Al-Hisbah was led by Abu Muhammad al-Jazrawi.[196]

Military

Estimates of the size of ISIL's military have varied widely, from tens of thousands[198] up to 200,000.[43] In early 2015, journalist Mary Anne Weaver estimated that half of ISIL fighters were foreigners.[199] A UN report estimated a total of 15,000 fighters from over 80 countries were in ISIL's ranks in November 2014.[200] US intelligence estimated an increase to around 20,000 foreign fighters in February 2015, including 3,400 from the Western world.[201] In September 2015, the CIA estimated that 30,000 foreign fighters had joined ISIL.[202]

According to Abu Hajjar, a former senior leader of ISIL, foreign fighters receive food, petrol and housing, but unlike native Iraqi or Syrian fighters, they do not receive payment in wages.[203] Since 2012, more than 3000 people from the central Asian countries have gone to Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan to join the Islamic State or Jabhat al Nusra.[204]

ISIL relies mostly on captured weapons with major sources including Saddam Hussein's Iraqi stockpiles from the 2003–11 Iraq insurgency[205] and weapons from government and opposition forces fighting in the Syrian Civil War and during the post-US withdrawal Iraqi insurgency. The captured weapons, including armour, guns, surface-to-air missiles, and even some aircraft, enabled rapid territorial growth and facilitated the capture of additional equipment.[206] For example, ISIL captured US-made TOW anti-tank missiles supplied by the United States and Saudi Arabia to the Free Syrian Army in Syria.[207] Ninety percent of the group's weapons ultimately originated in China, Russia or Eastern Europe according to Conflict Armament Research.[208]

The group uses truck and car bombs, suicide bombers and IEDs, and has used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria.[209] ISIL captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014, but is unlikely to be able to convert them into weapons.[210] In September 2015 a US official stated that ISIL was manufacturing and using mustard agent in Syria and Iraq, and had an active chemical weapons research team.[211] ISIL has also used water as a weapon of war. The group closed the gates of the smaller Nuaimiyah dam in Fallujah in April 2014, flooding the surrounding regions, while cutting the water supply to the Shia-dominated south. Around 12,000 families lost their homes and 200 square kilometres (77 sq mi) of villages and fields were either flooded or dried up. The economy of the region also suffered with destruction of cropland and electricity shortages.[212]

An ISIL fighter captured by Iraqi Security Forces near Tikrit, 2015

During the Battle of Mosul, commercially available quadcopters and drones were being used by ISIL as surveillance and weapons delivery platforms using improvised cradles to drop grenades and other explosives.[213] One ISIL drone base was struck and destroyed by two Royal Air Force Tornado using two Paveway IV guided bombs.[214]

Non-combatant recruits

Although ISIL attracts followers from different parts of the world by promoting the image of holy war, not all of its recruits end up in combatant roles. There have been several cases of new recruits expecting to be mujahideen who have returned from Syria disappointed by the everyday jobs that were assigned to them.[citation needed]

Women

ISIL publishes material directed at women, with media groups encouraging them to play supportive roles within ISIL, such as providing first aid, cooking, nursing and sewing skills, in order to become "good wives of jihad".[215] In 2015, it was estimated that western women made up over 550, or 10%, of ISIL's western foreign fighters.[216]

Until 2016, women were generally confined to a "women's house" upon arrival which they were forbidden to leave. These houses were often small, dirty and infested with vermin and food supply was scarce. There they remained until they either had found a husband, or the husband they had arrived with had completed his training. After being allowed to leave the confinement, women still generally spent most of their days indoors where their lives are devoted to caring for their husbands and the vast majority of women in the conflict area have children. Mothers play an important role passing on ISIL ideology to their children. Widows are encouraged to remarry.[217]

In a document entitled Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study released by the media wing of ISIL's all-female Al-Khanssaa Brigade, emphasis is given to the paramount importance of marriage and motherhood (as early as nine years old). Women should live a life of "sedentariness", fulfilling her "divine duty of motherhood" at home, with a few exceptions like teachers and doctors.[218][219] Equality for women is opposed, as is education on non-religious subjects, the "worthless worldly sciences".[219]

Communications

ISIL is known for its extensive and effective use of propaganda.[220] It uses a version of the Muslim Black Standard flag and developed an emblem which has clear symbolic meaning in the Muslim world.[142]

Videos by ISIL are commonly accompanied by nasheeds (chants), notable examples being the chant Dawlat al-Islam Qamat, which came to be viewed as an unofficial anthem of ISIL,[221] and Salil al-sawarim.[222]

ISIL, in a mid-March 2020 Al-Naba article, described the fearful reaction to COVID-19 as a divinely wrought "painful torment" against Western "crusader nations".[223] An early February article praised God for the same against Iran's Shiites and China.[224]

In November 2006, shortly after the group's rebranding as the "Islamic State of Iraq", it established the Al-Furqan Foundation for Media Production, which produces CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products and official statements.[225] It began to expand its media presence in 2013, with the formation of a second media wing, Al-I'tisam Media Foundation, in March[226][227] and the Ajnad Foundation for Media Production, established in January 2014, which specialises in acoustics production from a nasheed, quranic recitation.[228] On 4 May 2016 Al-Bitar Foundation launched an application on Android called "Ajnad" that allows its users to listen to the songs of the Ajnad Foundation on their mobile phones. The foundation has many singers, the most famous of whom are Abu Yasir and Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir.)[229]

In mid-2014, ISIL established the Al Hayat Media Center, which targets Western audiences and produces material in English, German, Russian and French.[230] When ISIL announced its expansion to other countries in November 2014 it established media departments for the new branches, and its media apparatus ensured that the new branches follow the same models it uses in Iraq and Syria.[231] Then FBI Director James Comey said that ISIL's "propaganda is unusually slick," noting that, "They are broadcasting... in something like 23 languages".[232]

In July 2014, al-Hayat began publishing a digital magazine called Dabiq, in a number of different languages including English.[233] According to the magazine, its name is taken from the town of Dabiq in northern Syria, which is mentioned in a hadith about Armageddon.[234] Al-Hayat also began publishing other digital magazines, including the Turkish language Konstantiniyye, the Ottoman word for Istanbul,[235] and the French language Dar al-Islam.[236] By late 2016, these magazines had apparently all been discontinued, with Al-Hayat's material being consolidated into a new magazine called Rumiyah (Arabic for Rome).[237]

The group also runs a radio network called Al-Bayan, which airs bulletins in Arabic, Russian and English and provides coverage of its activities in Iraq, Syria and Libya.[238]

ISIL's use of social media has been described by one expert as "probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies".[220][239] It regularly uses social media, particularly Twitter, to distribute its messages.[239][240] The group uses the encrypted instant messaging service Telegram to disseminate images, videos and updates.[241]

The group is known for releasing videos and photographs of executions of prisoners, whether beheadings, shootings, caged prisoners being burnt alive or submerged gradually until drowned.[242] Journalist Abdel Bari Atwan described ISIL's media content as part of a "systematically applied policy". The escalating violence of its killings "guarantees" the attention of the media and public.[172]

Along with images of brutality, ISIL presents itself as "an emotionally attractive place where people 'belong', where everyone is a 'brother' or 'sister'". The "most potent psychological pitch" of ISIL media is the promise of heavenly reward to dead jihadist fighters. Frequently posted in their media are dead jihadists' smiling faces, the ISIL 'salute' of a 'right-hand index finger pointing heavenward', and testimonies of happy widows.[172] ISIL has also attempted to present a more "rational argument" in a series of videos hosted by the kidnapped journalist John Cantlie. In one video, various current and former US officials were quoted, such as the then US President Barack Obama and former CIA Officer Michael Scheuer.[243]

It has encouraged sympathisers to initiate vehicle-ramming and attacks worldwide.[244]

Finances

According to a 2015 study by the Financial Action Task Force, ISIL's five primary sources of revenue are as follows (listed in order of significance):

  • proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, petroleum reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets)
  • kidnapping for ransom[245]
  • donations from Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, often disguised as meant for "humanitarian charity"
  • material support provided by foreign fighters
  • fundraising through modern communication networks[246]

Since 2012, ISIL 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.[220][247]

In 2014, the RAND Corporation analysed ISIL's funding sources from documents captured between 2005 and 2010.[248] It found that outside donations amounted to only 5% of the group's operating budgets,[248] and that cells inside Iraq 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, which would then redistribute the funds to provincial or local cells that were in difficulties or needed money to conduct attacks.[248] In 2016, RAND estimated that ISIL finances from its largest source of income — oil revenues and the taxes it extracts from people under its control — had fallen from about US$1.9 billion in 2014 to US$870 million in 2016.[249]

In mid-2014, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service obtained information that ISIL had assets worth US$2 billion,[250] making it the richest jihadist group in the world.[251] About three-quarters of this sum was said to looted from Mosul's central bank and commercial banks in the city.[252] However, doubt was later cast on whether ISIL was able to retrieve anywhere near that sum from the central bank,[253] and even on whether the looting had actually occurred.[254]

ISIL attempted to create a modern gold dinar by minting gold, silver, and copper coins, based on the coinage used by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century.[255] Despite a propaganda push for the currency, adoption appeared to have been minimal and its internal economy is effectively dollarised, even with regards to its own fines.[256]

The education in ISIL held territory was organised by the Diwan of Education.[257][258] ISIL introduced its own curriculum which did not include lessons in history, music, geography or art, but included lectures in Islamic Law, Sharia, and Jihad.[258] The Diwan of Education was often in competition with the Diwan of Outreach and Mosques which organised educational centres focused on the sharia.[257]

History

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

The group was founded in 1999 by Jordanian Salafi jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi under the name Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād (lit. '"The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad"').[88] In a letter published by the Coalition in February 2004, Zarqawi wrote that jihadis should use bombings to start an open sectarian war so that Sunnis from the Islamic world would mobilise against assassinations carried out by Shia, specifically the Badr Brigade, against Ba'athists and Sunnis.[259]

Territorial control and claims

Military situation in Libya in early 2016:
Location dot grey.svg Ansar al-Sharia Location dot black.svg ISIL

As a self-proclaimed worldwide caliphate, ISIL claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide,[104] and that "the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah's [caliphate's] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas".[151]

In Iraq and Syria, ISIL used many of those countries' existing governorate boundaries to subdivide territory it conquered and claimed; it called these divisions wilayah or provinces.[260] By June 2015, ISIL had also established official "provinces" in Libya, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and the North Caucasus.[261] ISIL received pledges of allegiance and publish media releases via groups in Somalia,[262] Bangladesh[263] and the Philippines,[264] but it has not announced any further official branches, instead identifying new affiliates as simply "soldiers of the caliphate".[265]

ISIL's capital Raqqa suffered extensive damage during the battle of Raqqa in June–October 2017

By March 2019, ISIL had lost most of its territory in its former core areas in Syria and Iraq, and was reduced to a desert pocket as well as insurgent cells,[266] which they lost in September 2020.[citation needed]

International reaction

International criticism

The group has attracted widespread criticism internationally for its extremism, from governments and international bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International. On 24 September 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated: "As Muslim leaders around the world have said, groups like ISIL – or Da'ish – have nothing to do with Islam, and they certainly do not represent a state. They should more fittingly be called the 'Un-Islamic Non-State'."[267] ISIL has been classified a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, the European Union and its member states, the United States, Russia, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and many other countries (see § Classification). Over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against ISIL (see § Countries and groups at war with ISIL). The group was described as a cult in a Huffington Post column by notable cult authority Steven Hassan.[268]

Twitter has removed many accounts used to spread IS propaganda, and Google developed a "Redirect Method" which identifies individuals searching for IS-related material and redirects them to content which challenges IS narratives.[269]

Islamic criticism

The group's declaration of a caliphate has been criticised and its legitimacy has been disputed by Middle Eastern governments, by Sunni Muslim theologians and historians as well as other jihadist groups.[270]

Around the world,