ISIS…or is it ISIL? Perhaps you recognize the names from passing news stories. Maybe you’ve heard and are familiar with some of the horrible things they are responsible for. Or, perhaps it’s one of those things that you’ve simply chosen not to know about. The old phrase, “What I don’t know can’t hurt me,” is a philosophy you hold to. But in this case, it’s very important to be informed.
First of all, to dispel some of the confusion, ISIS is an acronym that stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. When referred to as ISIL, it stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Why use both acronyms? According to CBC, “the last letter is open to interpretation because the last word in Arabic, “al-Sham,” can mean the Levant, Syria, or even Damascus in some instances.” So, whether you hear ISIS or ISIL, or even as it has been more recently referred to – the Islamic State – they all refer to the same terror militant group.
Now that you know who they are, where did ISIS come from? And why should we care?
They formed initially as a rebel group out of Al-Qaeda, breaking ranks with Al-Qaeda as an independent group sometime after the Syrian Civil War. ISIS is a well-armed and well-organized group that no longer can be considered a rebel group, but a full military organization. It’s been said that they are the “largest jihadist entity on the planet because it can actually boast territory, whereas the old Al-Qaeda is weakened and in hiding.”—Kamran Bokhari, vice-president of Middle Eastern and South Asian affairs for the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor.
It is further believed that ISIS, as of June 2014, had acquired land equal to the size of Switzerland. They maintain a reputation to be feared, causing not only civilians to seek refuge in the mountains, but thousands of Iraqi militants as well.
As part of their destructive reign, they have released hundreds of prisoners, ransacked army bases, kidnapped, tortured, bombed, and executed their opponents. When they take over a city, any residents who remain can expect to convert to Islam or be killed. ISIS militants have even killed fellow jihadists who dare question the tactics they are forced to use.
In response to requests from Iraq, Obama sent targeted airstrikes to help protect the trapped civilians, who had fled into the mountains, to provide them with food and water. Targeted strikes may also be used to protect American personnel in Irbil and possibly even to protect Baghdad, should it come under pressure.
Since then, UN officials believe there are approximately 200,000 new refugees seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish North. Qaraqosh, home to about 50,000 Christians, is among the latest to fall, sending its residents to flee as extremists got closer. Other Christian towns and communities surrounding Mosul have been nearly emptied, with the inhabitants who remain forced to follow Islamic rule and way of life.
Iraqi college students are upset to find themselves in another war so soon. Even though some attend where war is not active, they fear the closing of their schools, as well as the possibility of ISIS invading their homes and communities.
A third year medical student at the University of Maysan’s College of Medicine reported that police men and soldiers are now a common presence on their city streets. This same student found it “annoying” to be stopped at three checkpoints on his way to the university.
Students attending classes in the fight zone, who were in the middle of exams, were told by their deans to leave their studies, drop everything, and go home. Many of those students have since fled to safer locations, like Maysan, where the ground fight had not gotten to yet.
Yet another dilemma exists with students who attend university in a safe location. Many of them have families very close to, if not in the middle of the fighting, and they struggle with knowing that their families have had to flee up into the mountains, unsure of how or when they might see them again. These students also face an uncertain future as the war continues to unfold, not knowing week to week, month to month, semester to semester, if they will be able to continue in their studies, or if their families will be okay.
On campus, the ISIS conflict has inspired debate over the political issues surrounding the attacks. Many students choose to unite by volunteering and organizing drives to help refugees and family members who are directly affected. One student expressed, “We lived through war after war. We are all psychologically tired. Somehow war makes us tougher.”—Mushin, a senior studying business at the American University of Iraq.
Despite his father’s opposition, a 13 year old was forced to join others under the age of 15 to attend a children’s training camp. The father, whose life was threatened if he didn’t let his son go, described the camp as a form of brainwashing for children.
This child returned home with homework that included a blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll and a large knife. He was supposed to practice decapitation. His parents were mortified, as were the parents of many others faced with the same situation. Many of those families have since fled to the mountains to keep their children from these harsh and extreme conditions.
Beyond this training camp, ISIS has enforced rules that ban traditional children’s games and forces them to fall in line with the ways of ISIS. It was described as having to live a “brutal interpretation of Sharia Law.” Children 15 and under must attend ISIS camps where they are introduced to foundations of their brand of Islam. Male children are then transferred to adult military camps to be trained to use arms and fight.
Inevitably, the question arises: What is the United States doing about ISIS? “ISIL has real capabilities, we need to take them seriously, and we need to be smart about how we tackle the threat they represent.” This statement was given by Democratic senator Mark Udall. Obama acknowledges that attacking ISIS alone is not wise. He wants to form an international coalition, and leaders from Australia, the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Israel are being consulted for this effort.
Airstrikes that started about one month ago have expanded, shifting from Northern Iraq to include Western Iraq. Initially, airstrike objectives were to protect Kurdish people and US personnel in Irbil, as well as helping Yazadis who fled to Sinjar and other locations in the Ninewa Province. Now, the airstrikes are protecting critical Iraq infrastructure, as well as protecting the Haditha Dam. Baghdad requested this help to keep the Haditha Dam from falling into ISIS hands, or being destroyed, either of which would have significant ripple effects to the region.
President Obama spoke to the American public during prime time on Sept. 10. He stated that a new Iraqi government is in place to work with the newly formed Coalition that America will lead to fight against the terrorist threat presented by ISIS. The official plan begins with a systematic campaign of airstrikes. Obama will send troops, not for a combat mission against ISIS, but to support and train Iraqi military forces as they fight on the ground. America will also continue to provide humanitarian support to families displaced by ISIS terrorism. Obama proudly remarked, “As Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.” Hopefully, with the combined efforts of other nations, we will be able to end the chaos that is the Islamic State before they strike American soil.