Table of Contents
Five years ago, the Islamic State did not exist. Now, the radical militant group has seized the territories of eastern Syria, north-western Iraq, small areas in Libya, Nigeria, and Afghanistan (What is “Islamic State”?, 2015). In June 2014, the organization has officially declared the establishment of a “caliphate” state, which is governed according to the Islamic religion and law. The IS declared that the Muslims all over the world have to swear allegiance to the leader of the state, Ibrahim Award Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai, and live on the territories where the Islamic State has established its control. Besides that, the Islamic States requested the jihadist groups to recognize the supreme authority of the IS. As a result, many groups have already joined the IS, including the supporters of the rival al-Qaeda organization. The Islamic State is an extremist group that adheres to global jihadist principles (Dhiman, 2015, p. 8). Similarly to other radical organizations, the IS’s strategy originated from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. The main purpose of the Islamic State is to restore God’s will and order on the planet, and create an Islamic state in Iraq, Syria, and other countries (Dhiman, 2015, p. 8). In the middle of 2014, the group announced its intention to eliminate the borders between the Islamic countries in the Middle East (Wood, 2015). In addition, the radical group declared the eradication of the obstacles during the achieving of its objectives, and defense of the Muslim population. The IS follows anti-Western ideology and promotes religious violence that justifies the fighting against non-Muslim nations in order to purify Islamic society (Dhiman, 2015, p. 9). Unlike other radical organizations, the Islamic State is “far more ruthless… carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately” (Birke, 2013). It led to the direct confrontation with the United States of America and its allies, which were treated as “a harbinger of an end-of-times showdown between Muslims and their enemies described in Islamic apocalyptic prophecies” (What is “Islamic State”?, 2015). While the Islamic State continues gaining supporters in Iraq and Syria, the United States announced concerns related to the national security threat. At the same time, according to the US President, the country has not yet developed an effective strategy for defeating the radical group. The efforts to combat the Islamic State did not bring any success. The organization constantly demonstrates its activities through Twitter or YouTube (Khedery, 2014). It has become more than an international terrorist group. It is an organization with a sophisticated structure that can establish control over the large territories of the Middle East. Thus, the Islamic State represents threat to the international security and stability. There is a necessity to analyze the establishment of the Islamic State, why the organization declared war against the United States, and how the conflict can be resolved.
History of the Rise of the Islamic State
The Islamic State is a basic organization of insurgent groups from Iraq and Syria, which was established in 2013. However, the history of the organization dates back to 2002, when Abu Musad al-Zarqawi started the terrorist group, named al-Qaeda in Iraq. After al-Zarqawi death in 2006, the terrorist group was renamed into the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) (Sackelmore, 2014, n.p.). The organization was weakened by the US coalition and establishment of the Sunni Arab group named Sahwa, which did not follow the severe methods of the ISI. The reorganization of the ISI began in 2010, and three years later ISI was responsible for the number of attacks and joined the rebellion against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (What is “Islamic State”?, 2015). As a result of such activities, the Islamic States managed to establish control over the 210,000 square kilometers territory of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin with approximately 10 million people (What is “Islamic State”?, 2015). ISIS controls strategic facilities, including roads and military buildings. According to the US National Intelligence, the ISIS has from 20,000 to 32,000 fighters (What is “Islamic State”?, 2015). However, the supporters of the organizations are not only Iraqi or Syrians. There are representatives from more than 100 countries (What is “Islamic State”?, 2015).
The presence of the United States and its allies in the Middle East has resulted in the increasing of the radical movements. For example, when in 2001 the USA and the International Security Assistance Forces deposed the Taliban in Afghanistan and extricated al-Qaeda, Afghanistan became the destination country for many mujahedeen (Alexander & Alexander, 2015, p. 168). In 2003, the coalition forces led by the United States of America established a campaign against the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. As a result, Iraq has attracted jihadist fighters, including Sunni and Shiite (Alexander & Alexander, 2015, p. 168). During the US invasion of Iraq, the organization constantly attacked the civilians, the Iraqi government, the US troops, and diplomats. The Islamic State has declared its goals, which included the forcing out the US-led coalition, establishment of the Islam rule in the form of caliphate, and expanding of the conflict to the neighboring territories, such as Israel, in order to establish new Islamic society (York, 2015, p. 58). In addition, the organization claimed the necessity to liberate Sunnis from oppression imposed by Shiite and the Western countries, „restore 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” (Al Qaeda’s grand coalition in Anbar, 2006). Thus, the aim of the organization was to seize the power in Iraq and expand its influence in other countries of the Middle East. However, the US-led forces succeeded in capturing and killing many of high-level representatives of the Islamic State and remove the insurgents from the occupied positions (York, 2015, p. 3). Since 2007, the radical group has experienced the crisis and transformed from the dominated by the foreigners’ organization to the Iraqi leading institution. In 2010, the Abu Bark al-Baghadadi became a new leader of the ISIS and contributed to the growth of organization. In 2012, the violence activities in Iraq renewed (York, 2015, p. 3).
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While the United States contributed to the establishment of the democratic forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, removed existing regimes, and provided opportunity for the development of democratic constitutionalism, the transformations did not occur. It is determined by the fact that the Muslim population gave preferences to the combination of the classic Islam law with constitutional democracy (Feldman, 2012, p. 14). Thus, the desire for Islamic State appearance was increasing. With the beginning of the Arab Spring, the democratic tendencies began to spread in the Muslim world. In Syria, the situation was similar. The population tried to transform the uprising in favor of democracy and human rights. However, the opportunities for militant groups in Syria grew, as the industrial towns of Syria, including Hama and Homs, had a tradition of Islamic organization (Lynch, 2014, p. 207). The influence of the militant groups increased and used visible and violent tactics against state targets. They declared the necessity of building Islamic governance and, as the conflict continued, Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria joined and created an organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Lynch, 2014, p. 207).
Thus, the history of the Islamic State establishment demonstrates its quick development and growth. As a result, it represents a challenge to the established international order. Rejecting the international norms and laws, the radical group declared its intention to build a caliphate that will encompass several countries in the Middle East and unite the Muslim population all over the world.
Theories on the Rise of the Islamic State
The creation of the Islamic State differs from the sovereign state systems introduced by the Treaty of Westphalia (Cali, 2014). It is determined by the fact that the organization does not follow the international norms and laws. Some of the scientists claim that the organization’s establishment was facilitated by the US policy in the Middle East (Kianpour, 2014). In addition, it can be beneficial for the United States to create the tension in the region. However, the official position of the US denies any connection to the creation of the radical group. According to the US embassy in Beirut, “any suggestions that the United States ever considered recognizing the Islamic State of Ira and Levant as anything other than a terrorist organization, or had any role in its creation, is patently false” (Kianpour, 2014). However, the US administration has made many mistakes in combating the ISIS and the realism paradigm applied by the officials failed to solve the conflict in the region. The inability to provide political and social stability in Iraq and Syria has resulted in the strengthening of the Islamic State position in the region.
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However, the current situation in the Middle East is not only resulted from the US War on Terror and invasion of Iraq or the lack of the Obama’s leadership in the resolving the conflict in the region. Besides the US foreign policy, other factors contributed to the occurrence of the favorable conditions for the Islamic State creation. They include the discriminatory policies implemented by the Iraqi government towards Sunnis, suppression of the religious Syrian protestors, existence of the rivalry between the regional politicians, and ongoing confrontation between Israel and Palestine (Shahhosseini, 2014). Besides, the socio-historical factors also contributed to the occurrence of the radical group. In particular, the idea of the establishment of the world caliphate appeared among Sunnis in the 19th century with the modernization of the Ottoman Empire (York, 2015). The support of the ideology that calls for the establishment of modern caliphate in the Middle East is a driving force of the ISIS. Despite the attempts to introduce secular-friendly and democratic systems in the Muslim world, they did not receive a support of the population. Even non-jihadist groups define its ultimate goal as an establishment of the Islamic entity. As a result, the Muslim world shares the idea of Sharia laws expansion.
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The Position of the US Government
The position of the US President regarding the ISIS threat foresees the necessity of the effective combating strategy development. In particular, Obama has previously stated that the fight against the Islamic State cannot be held exceptionally by the USA. On the contrary, the international community, as well as the Iraqi population, has to join the US efforts of the terrorist suppression. According to the US President, the United States “will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy” (Statement by the President on ISIL, 2014). The strategy is based on the several elements. The first of them foresees the establishment of the cooperation with the Iraqi government and performance of humanitarian missions to protect the civilians and the US military forces. Second, the US-led coalition will provide assistance to the Iraqi security forces. The purpose of the US support is not to begin a new war in the region, but to help the legitimate government to establish its authority in Syria and Iraq. Third, the United States will continue the counterterrorist operations to prevent the potential attacks organized by the Islamic State. Finally, the US President underlined the importance of providing humanitarian support for the civilian population, including Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
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Pentagon supports the position of the US President on the statement that the Iraqi population, rather than the United States, has to fight against the Islamic State. According to the US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, the Iraqis “are the ones that have to beat ISIL and then keep them beaten; we can participate in the defeat of ISIL but we can’t make Iraq run as a decent place for people to live; we can’t sustain the victory; only the Iraqis can do that, and in particular, in this case, the Sunni tribes to the west” (Starr, 2015). At the same time, the Pentagon does not exclude the transformation of the US policy in the Middle East. For example, the strengthening of the Sunni tribes’ role indicates the possible shift of the dismemberment of Iraq within certain regions.
At the same time, with the strengthening of the Islamic State position, the tensions in the White House have occurred. In particular, the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, criticized the US President for the withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. Clinton also expressed an opinion that the United States had to adopt more effective strategy concerning the emerging threat of the ISIS. For example, the Syrian rebel forces, which opposed Al-Assad regime, should have been supported by the weaponry and additional troops (Clinton, 2014). The representatives of the Democratic Party also expressed the same position on the issue. According to Elliot Engel, the ISIS would not have appeared if the United States supported and empowered the moderate Syrian opposition (Barkan, 2014).
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However, the US Administration has not yet developed a plan for the Islamic State defeat in Syria. The United States does not have allies in the region that can provide support for the US policies. While Jordan, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia would like to reduce the violence in Syria and establishment of sustainable government, the countries are not willing to fight against ISIS.
Critical Interpretations of the US War with ISIS
The US policy in the Middle East has always faced criticism. As a result, current efforts that address combating ISIS face opposition among scholars and officials. In particular, the US strategy is being criticized for imperialist nature. American imperialism is defined as the establishment of the economic, cultural, and military influence in other countries (Fouskas & Gokay, 2005, p. 2). From such perspective, the US presence in the region is aimed at securing its positions and achieving national interests. Since the middle of the 20th century, the US foreign policy resulted in appearance of the intensive radical movements in the Middle East. During the Cold War, the United States Islamic fundamentalists were considered to be the allies in the fight against the Soviet Union or direct threats to the positions of the American and European corporations in the region (Martin, 2014). For example, the Central Intelligence Agency supported the right-wing Islamists in Iran to oppose Mossadegh’s government that nationalized the oil industry. The similar support was given to the movements in the other countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. As a result, the fundamentalists’ groups have spread all over the world. After the 9/11 attacks, the multilateral approach to the foreign policy was replaced by the Bush Doctrine, which was based on the militarism and imperial values (Fouskas & Gokay, 2005, p. 3). Later, the US invasion to Iraq facilitated the increase of the radical movements. The American occupation changed the sectarian division of the power in the country and resulted in the growth of the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Anti-imperialists claim that the activities of the ISIS in the countries of the region will be considered as a legitimate reason for the US intervention. Thus, the United States will continue its imperialist foreign policy.
The Islamic State is a jihadist group responsible for military opposition in Iraq and Syria. The organization has declared the goal of the establishment of a caliphate, which represents a single transnational Islamic State based on the rules of Sharia. The Islamic State has emerged as a result of the US-led invasion in Iraq and fight against Saddam Hussein. The insurgents succeeded in creating the basis for a guerilla war against the coalition forces and their allies in the region of the Middle East. With the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq, the jihadist group has increased attacks on the Shiite targets. As a result, the international community has to develop an effective strategy in order to fight the new threat imposed by the Islamic State.
The possible solutions of the ISIS problem vary greatly. While some of the scholars and officials claim that the United States and its allies have to apply airstrikes, the other underline the necessity to adopt a counter-offensive strategy. However, in order to develop an effective mechanism of the ISIS combating, the peculiarities of the organization have to be taken into consideration. First, the Islamic State differs from the terrorist organizations. It has its army and capable of establishing the control over the large territories of Syria and Iraq, as well as small areas in Libya, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. As a result, a counter-terrorism strategy will not bring success in defeating of the radical group. Individual actions taken by countries will not be sufficient as well. In addition, deterrence concept cannot be applied when the influence of the Islamic State increases. With the destruction of Iraq and Syria, the ISIS will create a threat to the American interests abroad. The adoption of military intervention in the Middle East countries with the aim of defeating the Islamic State can be considered as the imperialist policy. Thus, instead of sending more troops to Syria and Iraq or applying of the airstrikes, the United States has to develop a strategy aimed at countering ISIS’s public relation mechanism. In addition, it is necessary to train local forces to make them capable of sustaining progress in the region. The main purpose of the local forces is to provide the basis for the long-term campaign. The Islamic State has already eradicated in the Muslim World, and the process of its elimination can be long-lasting. As a result, the strategy should consider the political, social, and ethnic peculiarities of Iraq and Syria. For example, there is a division within the Muslim society, which can be used to stop the support of the ISIS by the local population. Kurdish can also assist the international forces in combating the Islamic State. Indeed, the airstrikes can significantly limit the gains of the ISIS, but they cannot completely defeat the group. In addition, the strategy of containment can guarantee that the Islamic States is deprived of support within the Middle East countries.