The ISIS Crisis Grows

Sep 14, 2014 By Deepa Gopal
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A new terrorist organization has sprung up in the Middle East once again.

It goes by the name of ISIS - or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and may be much more powerful and ruthless than Al Qaeda. Recent acts of violence and kidnappings by the ISIS have stunned the world. 

In a televised address last Wednesday, U.S President Barack Obama threatened to "hunt down terrorists wherever they are." He warned of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, and arming local forces who are fighting the terrorists. The President has ruled out sending U.S soldiers to fight on the ground in Iraq for now. 

Meanwhile, U.S Secretary of State John Kerry has completed a tour of the Middle East where he is gathering support for action against ISIS. On Monday, representatives from 30 countries met in Paris to discuss strategies for combating the terrorists and providing humanitarian aid in the region.  

How The ISIS Came To Be

ISIS was born out of civil unrest in Syria and Iraq [read our earlier article here]. 

When the U.S withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2010, the security of the country was back in the hands of the Iraqi Government and its Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki, a Shia, turned out to be a weak leader who could not unite the Kurdish tribesmen in the country's North, and the minority Sunni sect that was feeling left out of the Government [see Side Notes].

Seizing the opportunity, a small terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq started waging attacks, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. For a while, it appeared to be a local issue. But then, al-Baghdadi decided to align himself with the rebels in neighboring Syria who were fighting in a long drawn civil war. The Syrian rebels had plenty of funding and money from Arab countries (with Sunni governments) and the West.

Why Is The World Worried?

Unlike Al Qaeda, the ISIS is much better organized. In June 2013, ISIS took control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and has since captured several others.

Upon capturing a town, ISIS takes control of water, food and petroleum resources in the area, making the local population dependent on it for survival. The militants also take over weapons and equipment left behind by the retreating army, in addition to looting money from the city’s banks.

ISIS is in control of a dozen oil fields in Iraq, and sells the oil on the black market at $25-$45 a barrel (compared to the typical $100/barrel cost). The money it gets from the sale of oil, as well as ransom from kidnappings amount to $2 million per day! ISIS uses the money to pay salaries, rent and medical expenses for its members and to purchase weapons and other equipment.

The fact that ISIS has taken root so quickly in Iraq and Syria, as well as developed an economy that allows it to sustain and grow, is worrisome. If the militants establish an Islamic empire, they will impose harsh Islamic laws that could lead to oppression of women and other sects of Muslims. The ISIS has also been attracting both locals and foreigners with clever campaigns - it is said people from 80 countries have joined ISIS. 

With unfriendly governments such as Iran and Syria in the Middle East, air attacks alone may not suffice in taking out the ISIS. We will have to wait and see what comes out of the Paris meetings.