Articles Iraq

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Book Review)

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Author: Joby Warrick
Publisher:  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015

Reviewed by Jack Sheldon Anderson

Reflecting on the question what is history?–the English historian E.H. Carr wryly argued that to “praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using well-seasoned timber.”[1] In other words, interpretation matters. Interpretation is central to Joby Warrick’s Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, a spellbinding and thoroughly readable account of the origins of the brutal Islamic State. Warrick explains the terrible drama unfolding in the present in light of the scarcely cool facts of terrorism, collapsing regimes, and U.S. invasion only a decade or two old. Here we can paraphrase Carr–to praise Warrick for his accuracy is to miss what he’s accomplishing with a book that makes use of both the tools of the historian and the novelist. Warrick is an able and enthralling guide through recent events, but he is also making a case for what certain facts mean, and it pays to be aware of the effect of his style and selection of detail.

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The Islamic State (IS) (Analysis by David Riedman)

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Group Name: The Islamic State (IS)

Principal Ideology: Salifi Jihadist

Area of Operation: Iraq and Syria (with global unaffiliated supporters)

Leadership: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Affiliated groups: 43 affiliate or supporter groups

Principal Enemy: Iraqi and Syrian Governments, U.S. Led Military Coalition

Tactics: Insurgent, Terrorism, Pseudo Nation-State


The Islamic State (IS) led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the establishment of the new Islamic Caliphate by the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria which was a paramilitary group of Sunni Islamists.[1] ISIS initially overthrew the Iraqi government in major northern cities and took weapons, military vehicles, and money within those cities.[2] IS currently controls large portions of northern Iraq and the Syria north of the Euphrates River.[3] While the speed that The State gained territory seemed shocking, religious group affiliations offers an explanation. IS’s supporters were initially a Sunni in-group in Iraq who felt that the former Shia Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was not a legitimate leader due to his out-group membership and alignment with the United States. Iraq’s current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is a member of the Shia Islamic Dawa Party[4], continues to perpetuate the out-group dynamic of Iraq’s political leaders in relations to IS’s in-group supporters.

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Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (Analysis by Karrie Jefferson)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Group Name: Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) / Al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers / Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia

Principal Ideology: Takfiri Salafi Jihadist

Area of Operation: Iraq

Leadership: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir

Affiliated Groups: Al-Qaeda Central

Principal Enemy: Jordan Monarchy, America Forces and Coalition Partners in Iraq

Tactics: Hostage beheadings, suicide bombings


Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), also known as al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was born out of a marriage of convenience between al-Qaeda Central and a group founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999, known as Jamaatal-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (JTWJ).[1] Al-Qaeda Central, led by Osama Bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had similar, but slightly conflicting goals to JTWJ initially.

While Bin Laden was focused on the “far enemy,” specifically on attacking the United States and the West before building the Caliphate, Zarqawi was focused on the “near enemy,” which meant ending the monarchy in Jordan and continuing on to unite the rest of the Levant.[2] What brought them together in 2004 was the JTWJ’s rise in fame. Bin Laden had requested that Zarqawi pledge baya, an oath of allegiance, to him multiple times between 2000 and 2001, but Zarqawi resisted.[3] He did not want to become ensnared in the fight between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan and didn’t think Bin Laden was focused enough on jihad.[4]

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Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (Analysis by Chris Kimrey)

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Group Name: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Principal ideology: Wahhabi/ Jihadi-Salafist

Area of Operation:  Iraq and Syria

Leadership: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Affiliated groups: Ansar al-Islam, Boko Haram, Abu Sayyaf, et al.

Principal enemy: Syrian government; al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah Front

Tactics: Insurgency, terror tactics, inspired-attacks


Executive Summary

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formerly Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, is a collaborative patchwork of tribal factions and armed groups, emerged primarily from Islamic State in Iraq and al-Nusra Front in April 2013.[1] The common thread of the network of groups appears to be the Covenant of Medina which stipulated all Muslims “constitute one umma” and that “all believers shall rise as one man against whomsoever rebels… even though he be one of their sons.”[2],[3] The capability and ferocity of ISIS appears unmatched in the region and has allowed feverish spread of the group’s influence throughout northern Iraq and Syria. The group’s rapid growth and aggressiveness are a direct result of its development of a social identity apart from al Qaeda Central (AQC) through direct social competition. After being disenfranchised by al Qaeda, ISIS quickly sought to re-establish its relevance among its followers through a series of challenges to AQC, the most recent and direct of which—the group renamed itself simply the Islamic State consistent with its Islamic namesake ‘Daesh,’ declaring its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”[4] Although some armed groups in the region have chosen to align with ISIS, Muslims outside the region are not willing to recognize the caliph as legitimate. Most recently, the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) dismissed the ISIS announcement, noting it “lacked any Islamic or realistic aspects.”[5]

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Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (Analysis by Greg Mammana)

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Group Name: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Principal ideology: Wahhabi/ Jihadi-Salafist

Area of Operation:  Iraq and Syria

Leadership: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Affiliated groups: Ansar al-Islam, Boko Haram, Abu Sayyaf, et al.

Principal enemy: Syrian government; al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah Front

Tactics: Insurgency, terror tactics, inspired-attacks


Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, seems to have erupted into a household name overnight. The group has seen different names and leaders since 2013 when they first identified as ISIS. Prior to that they were the Iraqi division of al Qaeda called the Islamic State of Iraq, or al Qaeda in Iraq. Today it’s been known as Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), Islamic State (IS), and DAESH, an acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. As Sunnis, ISIS rise to power was inspired by objection to the Shi’a-led Iraqi government, claiming that they have been “persecuted by… [then] Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, starved of resources and excluded from a share of power.”[1] Prior to 2013, ISIS was a faction of al Qaeda, creating a sub-group in parts of Iraq and Syria with similar social identities as the al Qaeda main group. However, techniques for achieving goals differed between the factions, causing the al Qaeda to question ISIS’ relevance.[2]

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