What is the Islamic state?

How did this radical organization gain power and world recognition in a short amount of time? Where did they come from? What is their endgame? Why are their practices so extreme? What can the world do to combat this evil? I did some research into the background of the Islamic State and will simply explain what you need to know about them.

Let me first start by giving a brief background of the history of Iraq. I believe it is important in understanding the instability in the region and the change in regime and policy.


During WWI, present day Iraq was under control by the Ottomans who sided with the Germans. The British invaded and took control of Baghdad in 1917. They granted Iraq its independence in 1932 and retained military bases with transit rights in the country. The pro-British leader was overthrown by a rebel group, and western countries believed he would jeopardize oil interests in the region (Iraq had the second largest reserves in the world). The British then invaded Iraq to defend their interests. Years later, the pact to have British military bases in Iraq ended, thus removing British power from the country. Three Coups d’état later General Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath party were in charge.

After the Iranian revolution which overthrew the Shah (Pro-Western leader), Ayatollah Khomeini wanted to spread his Islamic Republic to Iraq by arming Shiite and Kurdish rebels. These two sects are minorities in Iraq to the Sunni majority led by Saddam. Iraq went to war with Iran, and this was known as the First Persian Gulf war.

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait due to disagreements in oil ownership along its borders. The United States formed a coalition and successfully exterminated Saddam from Kuwait in a testament of American Military capability (after embarrassing itself from the Vietnam War). George H.W. Bush refrained from invading Iraq and pursuing Saddam. This is a widely debated topic, some agree that Bush should have pursued Saddam, and others believe another the tyrant would act out again.

Saddam continued to kill hundreds of thousands of Shiite and Kurdish rebels and anyone who opposed him. The United Nations ordered Iraq to destroy its chemical weapons cache, but Saddam ignored this request.

Next comes the 2003 Iraq invasion to find “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” This is a widely held debate, some individuals in the intelligence community agreed that the intelligence given about WMD was not trustworthy and there was no factual proof that Iraq had nuclear capabilities. I personally believe it was to finish what the first Bush started.

The US quickly overthrew Saddam, and they let his own people hang him to death. Below is the iconic photo of Marines taking down the statue of Saddam in Firdos Square.

The US formed a new Iraqi government that excluded former Ba’ath members and dissolved the Iraqi army. After this, various militias were formed by former Saddam military, including Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which became the Islamic State in Iraq.

Islamic State Origins

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a Jordanian Jihadist formed Al Qaeda in Iraq after pledging allegiance to Osama Bin Laden. His practices were considered too extreme so the group rejected him. Years later he was subsequently killed by a US drone strike. Subsequent changes in power occurred, then a man named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control of AQI in 2010. He was a former US prisoner in Camp Bucca and has a PhD in Islamic Studies. He took advantage of the Syrian Civil War and formed the al-Nusra Front to fight against President Bashar al-Assad. Baghdadi then merged AQI and al-Nusra to form one sole entity, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri and al-Nusra Front leaders disagreed with this move and cut ties with ISIL. Baghdadi retained much of his following and continued his quest to form a caliphate. The Islamic State was aided by former Saddam loyalists and overtook large swathes of Iraq including the notorious city of Fallujah (Google the deaths of Blackwater contractors who were publicly killed and paraded through the streets). In June 2014, they captured Mosul and declared its caliphate (sole government to rule the world).

What do they want?

They demand that all Muslims and non-believers pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other Jihadist groups must accept its authority as the sole caliphate. They believe in an end of times battle in a town called Dabiq located in Syria. Similar to Christianity, where Revelations prophesied the end of times where the second coming of the King of Kings will mark the end of the world, the Islamic State strongly believes this will be their day to see God.

How does the Islamic State fund their organization?

When taking over large areas of Iraq, they invaded the Central Bank and possess whatever reserves were held at these locations. They conduct extortion, impose taxes on citizens living in areas under its control, kidnap, loot, and profit from antiquities stolen from museums which date back thousands of years. Their bread and butter comes from selling oil through affiliates in Iran, Turkey and the Syrian Government. Ransoms also provide a source of revenue, as well as donations from foreign affiliates who support their cause.

How to destroy IS and their ideologies?

Obviously there is no simple solution to this problem. Some people think we need ‘boots on the ground’ to round them out one by one, but I believe this will act as a recruit tool for the Islamic State and further support their end game. Others believe a Muslim state coalition should be the ones to do it, aided by Western support from the air.

If a Democratic nominee wins the election, I believe they will maintain Obama’s current foreign policy stance, however if a Republican wins, we may see Americans on the ground and another long dragged out war in a country and region that we clearly do not and probably will never understand.