How Can the Middle East and the World Challenge ISIS’ Ambitions?


By: Misara Elgammal

In January of this year, ISIS, made a decision to expand its operations beyond Syria, taking on Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq, a mere hour’s drive from the capital, Baghdad. However, it was in June, when less than a thousand insurgents took Mosul, a city of two million, that ISIS caught our attention.


They stole more than $450 million from government banks, seized hundreds of American made Humvees and trucks, and added a consortium of ant-aircraft cannons, tanks and a couple helicopters, effectively becoming a modern army. With 30,000 fighting members, the group’s funding has transitioned from hand-outs and ransom kidnappings to a tax based, self-sufficient economy with makeshift-run oil & gas operations that generate $2 million a day. Their goal? Form a caliphate—a sovereign state for all Muslims, ruled by Sharia law.

ISIS developed by capitalizing on hastily orchestrated decisions set forth by Arab states. Fresh off assisting in the overthrow of Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi, Qatar, alongside Saudi Arabia,  has indiscriminately funded and armed anyone willing to fight Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government.  Al-Qaeda linked groups in Iraq to hurriedly set-up operations in Syria, and within no time, became the most effective rebel force in the region.


Inevitably, securing territory and controlling the supply routes, made bounty sharing with their Iraqi associates a foregone conclusion. Their upcoming new found prestige stimulated even the moderate Sunni’s to join or help. Revitalized generals from the Saddam Hussein era, seeking revenge for years of injustice they faced from the (US and Iran backed) Maliki government, were given lead positions within the organization. Slowly but surely, hit-and-run suicide operations became confrontational ground assaults, turning check-point trained Iraqi soldiers into Olympic sprinters. Today, ISIS controls a region larger than Britain.  

Prior to ISIS’s advance on Erbil, a western oil stronghold in Iraq, the United States depended on the Kurd’s Pashmerga army to contain, if not defeat ISIS. But the Kurds’ continued strife in their struggle to gain independence allowed ISIS to come within 30 minutes of Erbil. Without hesitance, President Obama quickly scrambled F-18 fighter jets to strike ISIS positions.

With a vote of confidence from the American people, Congress and European nations, the United States has launched a coalition mission against ISIS. However, a the strategy based on aerial strikes is unlikely to “degrade and destroy” the group, but rather, may prove counterproductive. Contrary to standard procedure, all proposed targets must be signed off by the White House, with Vice-President Joe Biden responsible for Iraq and President Obama for Syria. This is likely an attempt to contain and avoid civilian casualties, which if they occur, may dissuade Sunni-Iraqis from countering ISIS, but more importantly, would provide Syria’s Assad with an unconditional waiver to elevate his own aggression, based on his opposition against both ISIS and the western/Arab league airstrikes.

In the short-term, despite present quarrels, Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Islamist groups in Syria will join in their common effort to create a caliphate. Additionally, terrorist groups like Al-Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria could act as recruitment agencies for ISIS. To counter this threat, ground troops are necessary.

ISIS presents an imminent threat to many middle eastern countries. To fight the threat of the rising caliphate, these states must form a union of sorts as well . A swift move by Saudi troops from the south into the remote western Anbar province could engage support from a strong Egyptian military and even encourage Turkey to deploy troops from the north. This would not only eliminate ISIS, but without shedding blood force President Assad to cede control. Abandoning nationalistic and sectarian agendas is the only strategy available to countering a serious threat and developing a peaceful, prosperous Middle East.

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