Since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, fighting has again flared up there. Not only has Iraq continued to experience internal conflict, but the civil war in neighboring Syria has also spilled over Iraq’s northern border. At the center of the renewed warfare is an extremist terror group called the Islamic State, or ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). (See more about the group’s name below.) Made up of Sunni militants, ISIS formed from the remnants of the group Al Qaeda in Iraq, which had been largely destroyed.
The rapid advance of ISIS forces across northern Iraq this summer caught many by surprise—as did their brutality in driving thousands of Iraqis from their homes under threat of death. They targeted Iraqi Christians and later brutally murdered foreign journalists being held hostage. As ISIS gained territory and spread terror, the Iraqi army proved unable to stop it. Meanwhile, the terrorist group amassed weapons abandoned by the Iraqi military.
In August, the Obama administration decided to act militarily, with the announced goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. The president ruled out putting American “boots on the ground,” though small numbers of U.S. Special Forces are engaged in coordinating airstrikes. U.S. bombs have targeted ISIS strongholds in Syria as well as Iraq.
The effort to counter the terrorist group involves a side debate over what exactly to call it. President Obama used the acronym ISIL, for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. In Arabic, the group’s name includes “Syria” but in the sense of “Greater Syria,” meaning a larger area than the present nation of Syria. The term Levant is another historical term for a broader, indefinite area encompassing much of the Eastern Mediterranean west of Iraq. ISIS has ambitions to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, and does not respect existing national borders.
Image credit: © AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
- Many Missteps in Assessment of ISIS Threat
This article gives an account of how the ISIS was until recently underestimated by the Obama adminstration.
(Source: New York Times, September 29, 2014)
- ISIS, ISIL or Islamic State: What’s in a Name?
This article discusses the various terms being used to describe the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL.
(Source: NPR, September 12, 2014)
- Panetta: “30-Year War” and a Leadership Test for Obama
This article presents a brief interview with former secretary of defense and head of the CIA Leon Panetta on the threat of ISIS.
(Source: USA Today, October 6, 2014)
- A Rogue State along Two Rivers
This interactive map shows how the terrorist group known as ISIS came to control large swaths of southern and eastern Syria and northern Iraq along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
(Source: New York Times, July 3, 2014)
- Greater Syria
This article explains various uses of the term “Greater Syria” (or Bilad ash-Sham) and the historical background of the region; includes links to a variety of articles on Syria, from prehistory through the Umayyad Caliphate to modern times.
(Source: Wikipedia.org; accessed October 6, 2014)