ISIS – The war against Islamic State

At the end of November 2017, it went almost unnoticed that the so-called Islamic State, the terror organization that captivated global attention, lost the last cities it controlled in the Middle East. How did this group succeed, in a matter of months, to control territory as big as the United Kingdom?

Middle East Conflict

Saddam Hussein

Syria and Iraq are located in the Middle East between two great rivals from the ethnic and religious point of view Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is part of the Arab World and is 87% Sunni while Iran is predominantly Persian and Shiite. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein, who was Sunni, ruled the country since 1979.

Bashar al-Assad

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad, who like 13% of the population, is Alawite- a branch of Shia Islam- succeeded his father as president in 2000. Finally, both countries have an ethnic Kurdish Minority who are part of a population of about 35 million people spread over several states.

Oil Reserves

Looking at resources in the region, Iraq at the time had the largest known oil reserve in the world. 7 main deposit of which 2 are currently being drilled. Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraqi oil in 1972, so it can only be mined by national companies.

Intervention By United States

In 2003, the United States, under the pretext of its fight against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, formed an international coalition and overthrew the Iraqi government in three weeks. They then put in place a provisional authority which was in charge of suppressing everything related to Saddam Hussein.

Formation of Militant Groups

First, the US banned the Baath Party which had 1.5 million members and laid off 200,000 public sector employees. They then dismantled the Iraqi Armed Forces and let go of more than 250,000 soldiers, mostly Sunnis. This policy would destabilize the country and allow the emergence of rebel militias that would organize and quickly grow in power. In 2004, one such Sunni Jihadist group pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and became Al Qaeda in Iraq. It was later based Al Anbar province and essentially fought against the US coalition and the Shiites, sparking a civil war. Later, the group merged with five other militias and proclaimed themselves the Islamic State Of Iraq.

New Iraqi Government

In June 2009, the new Iraqi government auctioned away its oil deposits to multinationals. At the same time, the US began the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, making the end of the civil war there. 2011 would be marked by the Arab Spring with popular revolts rising up against leaders who’d mostly been in power for several decades. Syria was not spared but the revolts were violently muted by the army, pushing some soldiers to defect and creating the Free Syrian Army. They were quickly supported and armed, sometimes discreetly by the international community. Fighting alongside the regular army was the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Guard Corps of the Islamic Revolution, a paramilitary organization based in Iran – both Shiites and allies of Bashar Al-Assad.

Al-Nusra Front

The conflict would make the country unstable and allow the arrival of a new Sunni Jihadist and Salafist factions that quickly took over the revolution. Among those was the Al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al-Qaeda. In April 2013, the Islamic State in Iraq becomes the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, encompassing Al-Nusra. But Al-Qaeda refused to validate the new group, breaking the link between the organizations.


The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant decided to intervene alone in Syria. In June, they would seize a good part of Raqqa at the expense of the Free Syrian Army. The city became its political and military capital. Faced with this threat, the Kurds of Syria would federate and create their own autonomous administration. They also organized protection units: the YPG and its all-female branch the YPJ. In Iraq, the second civil war breaks out with a revolt of Sunni tribes in Al-Anbar. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant rapidly gained territory. During its offensive, the organization seized oil reserves and military equipment abandoned by the fleeing army.

Mosul City

In June, they captured Mosul, the second city of Iraq with 2 million inhabitants, which became its religious and intellectual capital. However, they would be stopped in their March towards Kirkuk by the Peshmergas, the armed faction of the Kurds of Iraq. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant became the Islamic State and proclaimed a Caliphate on its territory. Iran would react by militarily supporting Iraq and carrying out bombings. The US creates a new international coalition, bringing together 69 countries. The coalition would be responsible for supporting forces against the Islamic State and choking off it’s funding.

Follow the link and trace the history of the global war against the Islamic State.

Jihadist Groups

Around the world, Jihadist rebel groups begin to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. In the north of Syria, the Islamic State pushed the Kurds back to the Kobane on the Turkish border. But a few months later, with the support of the international coalition, the Kurds took over and pushed back the Islamic State to Lake Assad. Then they inflict a major defeat on the Islamic State by taking over the border towns of Tell Abyad, which was the major crossing point for smuggling oil, arms, and foreign fighters.

Intervention By Russia

At the end of September, Russia intervened in support of Bashar Al-Assad, a historical ally. It must also defend its only naval base in the Mediterranean Sea, located in Tartus. It would first attack rebels whose front Al-Nusra than controlled 20-25% if the Syrian population. At the same time, the Kurds announced they were joining forces with other rebel groups to form the Syrian Democratic Forces. They tried to gain more ground by proclaiming the federal region of Rojava which made Turkey react. Rather isolated from a diplomatic point of view, the Turks first restored ties with Russia and then launched operation Euphrates Shield. This seized the last territories of the Islamic State along its border.

In Iraq, the Peshmerga who liberated Sinjar began to take over Mosul with the Iraqi army. In February, Turkey reached his goal which was Al-Bab and aimed to take over Manjib from the Kurds. But the US and Russia would prevent it. Turkey then officially withdrew from and offered conquered land to the rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

With the Islamic State weekend and loosing on all fronts, the Syrian Democratic Force enters Raqqa. A month later, Mosul is completely liberated. The Iraqi army and its allies quickly win back territory. However, the Kurds of Iraq would organize a referendum for their independence, reviving ethnic tensions. The Iraqi government then entered the fight and regained control of strategic areas including oil deposits and important borders. Finally, a ceasefire would end this conflict. Raqqa is now fully liberated, quickly followed by the last remaining towns and villages controlled by the Islamic State. Today the Islamic State has no territory in the Middle East, but its reign isn’t without consequence. In Iraq, a fragile peace seems to be held at the moment. The country must rebuild itself by finding a balance between its three major communities.

Syrian Crisis

In Syria, the civil war that has so far killed more than 400,000 and displaced half its population is still not over. Some areas are still controlled by rebel groups. Bashar Al-Assad clings on to power and the Kurdish movement continues to be an important factor. Finally, Iran and Russia seem to be diplomatically reinforced by this conflict. While Saudi Arabia is now bogged down in another conflict in Yemen where it is fighting the Houthis – Shiite rebels who are backed by Iran.

If you found my article helpful please do like and comment if you have any suggestions or quarries.

Fonder of Cameo Dreams :- Kaushal Jaiswal

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Watch this detailed report on the Middle East conflict by Vox Media

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