The Islamic State

Formed2002
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackOctober 28, 2002: Members of Jama'at al-Tawhid wa'l Jihad (which would later become AQI and then ISIS) assassinated USAid officer Laurence Foley outside his home in Jordan. (1 killed). [1] [2]
Last AttackJanuary 6, 2015: ISIS began to carry out its first assaults on U.S. bases in Iraq, conducting mortar attacks against a training base. According to senior U.S. defense officials, the attacks have been completely ineffective against the base. (No casualties). [3]
UpdatedMay 15, 2015

Narrative Summary

The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) is a Salafi militant organization in Syria and Iraq whose goal is the establishment and expansion of a caliphate. The group has its origins in the early 2000s, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi began training extremist militants. Zarqawi’s militants became a major participant in the Iraqi insurgency during the American occupation, first under the name Jama’at al-Tawhid wa’al-Jihad and then, after swearing fealty to Al Qaeda, as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Facing backlash from the community and increased security from U.S. and Iraqi forces, the group faced decline until 2011, when it began to grow through its involvement in the Syrian Civil War. In 2013, it changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Over the course of 2013 and 2014, it quickly took over territory in Syria and Iraq. In addition to its rapid expansion, ISIS has also drawn attention for its public beheadings of Western captives and its large contingent of foreign fighters. On the ground, ISIS has fought Syrian government forces, Syrian rebel groups, the Iraqi military and militias, and the Kurdish pesh merga. The U.S. began airstrikes against the group in fall 2014.

This profile divides the Islamic State’s history into three distinct periods and follows the group through several name changes. It begins with Zarqawi’s creation of the group through his death in 2006 (which roughly coincides with the group being known as JTJ and becoming AQI), continues with a period of setbacks from 2006 through 2011 (its decline as AQI), and ends with a section from 2012 to the present day as the group expands and fights in Syria and Iraq (and becomes known as ISIS or IS).

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian-born terrorist who started to radicalize as a young man while in prison for drug possession and sexual assault. He traveled to Afghanistan in the late 1980s with the intention of joining the fight against Soviet occupation, but because the conflict was nearly over by the time he arrived, he went to work in Peshawar, a Pakistani border city with a thriving black market. [4] There, he adopted a Salafi ideology under the tutelage of extremist mentors like Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Zarqawi and Maqdisi returned to Jordan, where they founded a Salafi group called Bayat al-Imam and were arrested for their criticism of and plots against the Hashemite dynasty. The two gained a following while in prison, where they were able to smuggle out statements to be published on Salafi websites. Zarqawi radicalized further and began to overshadow his mentor. Zarqawi was released in a general amnesty arrangement in 1999. [5]

The statements that Zarqawi had released from prison caught the attention of Osama bin Laden. [6] The two allegedly met after Zarqawi’s release, although conflicting reports claim that they had little contact. [7] Bin Laden was reportedly suspicious of Zarqawi and disagreed about several targeting and tactical issues. The key ideological difference between the two was that Zarqawi preferred to target his “near enemies,” such as Israel and the Jordanian government, whereas AQ leadership often focused on the “far enemy,” the United States. [8] Zarqawi also had a strong hatred for Shiites that bin Laden did not agree with. [9] [10][11] Nonetheless, bin Laden allegedly asked Zarqawi to join AQ. [12] Zarqawi refused, but bin Laden instead reportedly provided him with money to set up a training camp in Herat, where Zarqawi would train between 2,000 and 3,000 Salafi terrorists by October 2001. Zarqawi and his men moved through Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Kurdish areas of Iraq after the 2001 American strikes in Afghanistan. [13]

While Zarqawi’s militants formed groups that were sometimes reported as separate organizations, U.S. State Department would eventually classify them together under the name of the most prominent Zarqawi organization, Jama’at al-Tawhid wa’al-Jihad (JTJ). [14] Its first operation was in Jordan, when JTJ organized the murder of USAid officer Laurence Foley in 2002, but after the American invasion of Iraq it quickly became active there. [15] The force had a strong foundation of foreign fighters, particularly from Jordan, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kurdish regions. [16] Some joined from the Kurdistan-based jihadi group Ansar al-Islam, which had been operating in Iraq before Zarqawi’s group came, and JTJ began to actively recruit other Iraqis. [17]

After the American invasion of Iraq, JTJ became one of the factions that attempted to drive the U.S. and coalition forces from country and to disrupt the governmental transition as part of the insurgency. JTJ quickly gained notoriety for its targeting, which included aid workers and native Iraqis in addition to coalition forces, and its violent tactics. For example, it carried out suicide bombings that left civilians dead while other insurgent groups continued to use guerilla attacks that targeted the U.S. and coalition forces. [18] It also drew international attention for its assassinations and gruesome beheading videos that it released on the internet after kidnapping and killing non-Arabs in Iraq. [19] One of JTJ’s strategies was to incite sectarian conflict in order to make the occupation and government transition more difficult, and as such it routinely carried out attacks on Shiite targets. [20] [21] Both JTJ as a group and Zarqawi as an individual quickly found themselves among the most prominent faces of the insurgency. [22] [23]

In October 2004, Zarqawi came to an agreement with bin Laden and formally joined Al Qaeda, renaming his organization Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn Zarqawi, more commonly known in English as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). [24] [25] Despite the official pledge of allegiance to Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi and AQ leadership still disagreed on some key tactical issues, such as AQ’s willingness to cooperate with other groups against enemies, and its focus on the U.S. and the West rather than “near enemies.” These differences would create tensions that lasted for the duration of the affiliate relationship. [26]

Initially, many Sunnis in Iraq were sympathetic to AQI and its goal of driving American and coalition forces from Iraq and preventing a Shiite government takeover; Shiites, which are the majority in Iraq, had been oppressed by the Hussein regime, and many Sunnis feared what would happen when the Shiites gained power. However, AQI’s extreme and violent tactics began to alienate potential supporters. Many Iraqis, including Sunnis, took issue with AQI’s use of suicide bombings and other violent attacks like assassinations; its willingness to target Iraqis and popular Sunni leaders; its perceived foreign membership and leadership; and its intentional incitement of sectarian violence. [27] [28]

The violence was also criticized by AQ leadership. AQI’s increasingly violent attacks prompted Ayman al-Zawahiri, an AQ leader under bin Laden at the time, to send Zarqawi a letter urging him to foster better relations with Iraqi leaders. [29] However, Zarqawi often ignored AQ orders, and his tactics continued to alienate potential supporters. In November 2005, for example, AQI's bombing of three hotels in Amman, which killed mostly civilian Muslims, prompted critical responses even from radical Islamic groups that normally celebrated AQ’s attacks. [30] [31] Many Islamist groups also condemned Zarqawi's strategy of killing large numbers of Shiites and destroying Shiite religious sites to incite sectarian violence. [32] On February 22, 2006, AQI bombed the Askariyah Shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque in Samarra. In many ways, the AQI strategy was succeeding; the attack prompted at least 27 retaliatory strikes against Sunni mosques the same day in Baghdad alone, and violence between Shiites and Sunnis escalated until a curfew was instated for several days. [33]. [34]

Local backlash against the group continued, however, prompting AQI to join an umbrella group of extremist Salafi groups in Iraq. The move was seen as an attempt to present AQI as a more Iraqi group, willing to work together with other organizations as part of the insurgency. [35] The umbrella organization, called Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin (MSC), was a collective of six jihadi groups in Iraq that sought to consolidate jihadi efforts to expel U.S. and coalition forces from Iraq. [36] The MSC was a coordination body at most, a media front at worst, and had little to no control over what AQI did. [37]

On June 7, 2006, Zarqawi was killed by an American airstrike. [38]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
After Zarqawi’s death, AQI announced that his successor would be Abu Ayub al-Masri, an Egyptian bomb maker who had trained in Afghanistan. [39] Despite some intelligence officials’ assumptions that Zarqawi’s death would cripple the organization, Masri initially managed to maintain much of the group’s momentum, especially in carrying out attacks that encouraged sectarian violence. [40]

However, many Iraqi Sunnis continued to criticize AQI for the foreign presence in its leadership and fighting forces, its attempts to impose its own radical brand of Islam on Iraqis, and its use of extreme violence. In part to brand the group as more Iraqi, Masri convinced several other groups to merge into his when he declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI, although the group also continued to be known as AQI). [41] Masri installed an Iraqi, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, as the head of the ISI. The state declaration demonstrated that AQI aimed to unify resistance against the U.S. and coalition forces and to gain attention and support from the global jihadi community, and to prepare governing structures to take control after the U.S. and coalition withdrawal from the country. [42] It was supposed to be the first step toward creating a caliphate to rule in the Middle East. [43] Although the name and leadership changes were also seen as another attempt to rebrand the organization as more Iraqi (“Baghdadi” means “from Baghdad”), some sources questioned whether Baghdadi truly ran the organization, or was just a figurehead. [44][45]

The name change and the Iraqi supposedly in power did not quell the backlash against the group. The foreign presence in leadership and membership continued to alienate local Iraqis. By December 2007, local concerns over foreign fighters forced Abu Umar al-Baghdadi to issue a public statement claiming that only 200 foreign fighters were members of AQI. The number was questionable. It is true that AQI was majority Iraqi in 2006 but in 2007, the coalition forces captured records of 700 foreign nationals joining AQI and its affiliates between August 2006 and August 2007 alone.. [46] [47] [48] However, foreign fighters were on the decline, with fewer coming each month than earlier in the insurgency. Despite the decline, it is impossible to determine an exact number, and in any case Baghdadi’s declaration was not enough to convince many Iraqis. [49]

The local resistance to AQI contributed to the Anbar Awakening, a movement of Sunnis in the Anbar Province to cooperate with U.S. forces in the region against the insurgency. [50][51] The Awakening paved the way for U.S. and Iraqi security operations that made it difficult for AQI to maintain its level of attacks, ultimately diminishing its capacity by the end of 2007. As a result, AQI was unable to continue providing security or enforcing its extreme interpretations of Islamic law in the areas where it operated, and struggled to maintain territory. [52]

By early 2008, coalition and local security forces had killed 2,400 AQI members and taken 8,800 prisoner. [53] By spring 2009, the U.S. was funding around 100,000 local Sunnis to fight AQI. [54] The local fighters carried out a campaign against the group, assassinating members and warning others not to work with the group. [55] By June, 2010, AQI had lost stable communication with AQ leadership, and 36 of AQI’s 42 leaders had been killed or captured. [56] [57] Through 2011, Coalition forces continued to coordinate efforts with tribal security forces, killing the majority of AQI’s leadership and leaving it in general disarray. [58]

Both Masri and Baghdadi were killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid on April 18, 2010. After the April raid, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (not to be confused with the deceased, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) assumed control of an AQI severely weakened by local backlash and coalition and local security forces. [59] AQI continued to struggle to maintain relevance through 2011, when Coalition forces withdrew.

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present
The December 2011 Coalition withdrawal signaled the end of AQI’s decline. Throughout 2012, with the group facing less pressure and security, the number of AQI attacks increased significantly. [60] [61] In 2012 and 2013, Baghdadi led two separate terror campaigns in Iraq: in 2012, the “Breaking Walls” campaign targeted the Maliki government and prioritized freeing members from prison; one year later, the “Soldier’s Harvest” campaign shifted the target to Iraqi security forces. [62] [63]

The absence of foreign security wasn’t the only force that expedited AQI’s return to prominence; local political tensions also played an important role. In December 2012, Sunnis in Iraq began protesting the policies of the Shiite Maliki government in Anbar province. When Iraqi security forces invaded protest camps, Sunni attacks against Shiite targets increased; the civilian death toll in 2013 was double that of 2012. When Iraqi security forces proceeded to attempt to clear a protest camp in Ramadi at the end of 2013, a local uprising drove the security forces out of much of Anbar Province, paving the way for later AQI expansion. [64]

Meanwhile, AQI used the ongoing Syrian Civil War as a training ground and tool for expansion. In April 2013, Baghdadi announced AQI operations in Syria and changed the group’s name to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He also claimed that AQI had created al-Nusra in Syria, and that that the two groups were now merged into one. Both al-Nusra leadership and Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri disputed the merger. [65] [66] Zawahiri dictated that ISIS should limit its operations to Iraq. [67] On June 14, Baghdadi publicly rejected Zawahiri’s statement. [68] [69] ISIS continued to operate in Syria, often clashing with other Islamist groups and ignoring calls for mediation. Attempts at reconciliation with Al Qaeda leadership failed, and AQ officially renounced any connection with ISIS in February 2014. [70]

Despite ISIS’s split from AQ, it grew in size and power as it carried out military offensives in Syria and Iraq. It fought against the governments of Iraq and Syria, tribal groups and militias in Iraq, the Kurdish pesh merga, and various rebel groups in Syria. ISIS made large territorial gains beginning in January 2014, when it first defeated Iraqi forces and took control of Fallujah.  The following March, it seized Mosul. [71] The funds seized through these invasions, combined with income from foreign donors and from criminal activities such as smuggling and extortion of local businesses, gave ISIS an estimated $2 billion in assets. [72] As of September 2014, experts estimated that ISIS’s oil revenues alone brought in between $1 million and $2 million per day. [73]

On June 29, 2014, after significant territorial gains in Iraq and Syria, the group again changed its name, this time to the “Islamic State” (IS), declaring a Caliphate and naming its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the Caliph. It called upon all Muslims to declare allegiance to the new Caliphate. [74] In addition to IS, it continues to be known as ISIS/ISIL globally.

In late September 2014, as ISIS continued to expand its borders, the U.S. announced that it would begin to carry out airstrikes against the organization. [75] In particular, the U.S. claimed that it was beginning airstrikes and humanitarian aid drops to help the Yazidis, a religious sect that were surrounded on a mountain and under threat of massacre by ISIS. [76] As of October 2014, the Iraqi army, supported by local militias and limited U.S. airstrikes, was fighting to keep control of Anbar province. [77] In November 2014, the Kurdish pesh merga were still fighting to keep ISIS from making gains in Kobani in northern Syria. In response to ISIS’s successes in the battle over Kobani, Turkey opened its borders for the Iraqi Kurds to join the front in Syria. The U.S. has conducted airstrikes on ISIS in Kobani and has armed the Kurdish groups there through airdrops. [78]

By November 2014, there were reports that the group’s territorial gains had slowed considerably, in part because it began to encounter non-Sunni towns, whose populations were more likely to resist ISIS occupation than Sunni-majority towns. In Syria, ISIS continued to face hostile militant groups. In Iraq, both government forces and Shiite militias continued their campaign against ISIS, while in the north, ISIS faced the Kurdish pesh merga. Tribesmen, both Sunni and Shiite, also made gains against the group in Iraq. Finally, the U.S.-led coalition of airstrikes limited the group’s mobility and took out oil wells and refineries run by the group, decreasing their revenue stream, and American Special Operations forces carried out at least one targeted raid to kill ISIS leaders. [79] [80]

However, the group maintained a hold on much of its territory and even expanded, seizing Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, in May 2015. Meanwhile, Islamist militant groups across the globe began declaring allegiance to ISIS, some even carried out attacks in its name.

  1. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (2002 to June 7, 2006): AQI's founder and first leader, Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006. He was a major figurehead in the Iraqi insurgency and became America’s most wanted man in Iraq. [81]
  2. Abu Umar al-Baghdadi (October 2006 to April 18, 2010): Masri’s replacement as top commander, Baghdadi was killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in 2010. Some sources reported that Baghdadi was not actually the true leader of AQI, but instead a figurehead meant to give the organization an Iraqi face to combat local backlash concerning its foreign origins and membership. [82]
  3. Abu Ayub al-Masri, also known as Hamza al-Muhajir and Abu Hamza (October 2006 to April 18, 2010): Masri became AQI's top commander after Zarqawi's death. A former member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Masri had close ties to AQ leadership, particularly EIJ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Masri was killed during a joint raid by U.S. and Iraqi solders in April 2010, several years after officially turning over power to Abu Umar al-Baghdadi. Some reports indicated that Masri maintained control after Baghdadi became the face of the organization. [83]
  4. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Du'a (2010 to Present): Baghdadi took control of AQI in 2010 and led its expansion. He is a secretive figure, not appearing in video until a July 2014 sermon, and little is known about him. [84]

Ideology & Goals

Since its inception, the Islamic State has ultimately sought to establish an Islamic caliphate based on its extreme interpretation of Islam and Shariah. [85] [86] In its earlier iterations as JTJ and AQI, the group focused on more concrete goals like driving foreign forces from Iraq, but as it has grown it has been able to prioritize the establishment of a state.

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, JTJ sought to drive the U.S. out of Iraq and prevent a Shiite takeover of government. [87] This goal was shared by a number of nationalist, Baathist, and other Islamist forces in Iraq. [88] JTJ also sought to impose its extreme interpretation of Shariah, and to eventually found an Islamic state. [89] [90]

In March 2005, after pledging itself to Al Qaeda and becoming AQI, the group released an explanation of its ideology. It regarded secularism, nationalism, tribalism, Baathism, and other ideological commitments as violations of Islam, and believed that all Sunni Muslims made up a single nation. Shiites were considered apostates. It committed itself to spreading its own extreme interpretation of Islam and ultimately eliminating other beliefs systems from the world. [91]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
After Zarqawi’s death, AQI maintained its goals of driving the U.S. out of Iraq and forcing the transitional government into failure. It still opposed Shiite control of the country. Its ultimate goal continued to be the establishment of a caliphate within Iraq and to that end it began imposing Islamic law in some areas, and imposing those laws became a larger priority as the group changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). [92]  [93]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present

The group continued to oppose security forces in Iraq. AQI had failed in its goal of preventing a Shiite takeover in government; after he won the 2010 election, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began to concentrate government power with other Shiites. [94] Aiming to collapse the Maliki government, AQI began attacking government targets more aggressively as part of Baghdadi’s 2012 “Breaking Walls” campaign. [95]

In 2013, Baghdadi announced AQI operations in Syria and began to emphasize the goal of the establishment of a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim state in Iraq and Greater Syria. [96] [97] After finding some success, it focused on capturing territory and enforcing its interpretation of Shariah in the areas it controls, and ultimately proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate. [98]

Name Changes

Size Estimates

COMPOSITION
Foreign fighters have played a significant role in the organization since the beginning of Zarqawi’s original JTJ through the current iteration, the Islamic State.

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
Foreign fighters, mostly from Jordan, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kurdish regions, made up the foundation of the group that entered Iraq with Zarqawi and became JTJ. [99]

AQI established a network in Syria that coordinated the arrival of foreign fighters in Iraq. This network reportedly grew from the preexisting smuggling groups that worked along the Syria/Iraq border, and that do not necessarily have loyalties to AQI. [100]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
The Sinjar Records reveal that AQI had a large contingent of foreign fighters from countries throughout the Arabian Gulf and North Africa. Saudi Arabians and Libyans were the largest groups of foreign fighters in AQI. Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt were also sources of recruits for AQI. [101] [102] The records further revealed that between August 2006 and 2007, foreign fighters were responsible for three-quarters of suicide bombings in Iraq. [103]

AQI was majority Iraqi by 2006. [104] By 2007, U.S. officials estimated that 90% of its members were Iraqi. [105]  And by 2008, the amount of foreign fighters coming into the country each month had decreased to between 40 and 50, while others attempted to leave the country. [106]

However, it still relied on foreign fighters in Iraq. Records captured by coalition forces in October 2007 list 700 foreign recruits who joined AQI and its affiliate organizations just between August 2006 and August 2007. The most foreign fighters came from Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Syria, and the majority were students before they came to Iraq. [107]

Sunni Iraqis were so opposed to the amount of foreign fighters in Iraq that commander Abu Umar al-Baghdadi made a public statement that AQI was almost entirely Iraqi. Soon after, Ayman al-Zawahiri, at the time second in command of Al Qaeda, also issued a public statement, urging Sunnis to support AQI. [108]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present
In December 2013, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) estimated that up to 11,000 foreigners were fighting in Syria, from seventy-four different countries. [109] In December 2014, the U.S. intelligence community estimated that since January 2012, over 16,000 foreign fighters had joined the fight in Syria. Many of them joined ISIS, although it is difficult to say exactly how many. [110] The ICSR claims that over two-thirds of these are affiliated with either ISIS or al-Nusra. [111] One BBC reporter estimated in 2013 that at least 60-70% of ISIS’s fighters in Syria were Syrian, and noted that foreigners were disproportionately represented in ISIS leadership. [112] ISIS stepped up its recruitment efforts in June 2014. [113] By August 2014, the FBI claimed that 100 Americans have gone to fight in Syria. Harvard lecturer Jessica Stern claims that many of the foreign fighters are recent converts to Islam who have had a history of trouble with the law. [114] Foreign fighters have easy access to the group through the relatively porous border between Turkey and Syria, where ISIS controls some territory. [115]

In Iraq, Baghdadi removed foreign fighters from most administrative leadership positions and placed them in combat units and support roles including media and recruitment positions. [116]
 

Designated/Listed

• US Department of State Terrorist Organizations List: December 2004 to Present. [123]


• UNSC Al Qaeda Sanctions List: October 18, 2004 to Present.  [124] [125]  

 

Resources

The Islamic State has financed itself through oil sales since its days as AQI, first stealing oil products to sell and now operating oil refineries that is has taken over. It has also received funding from foreign donors, including the fighters that come to join it, and earned money through crimes like kidnapping and smuggling. It has consistently relied on networks in Syria to funnel goods, money, and people into its territory.

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
Zarqawi’s original training camp in Herat was funded by bin Laden. [126]  Beginning in 2002, AQI relied on weapons and fighters smuggled across the border from supporters based in Syria and logistical assistance from supporters throughout the Arabian Gulf. [127]

It may have self-financed with stolen oil products; for example in 2007, between $1 and $2 billion of products had disappeared from the Bayji oil refinery and been sold in the black market, and smuggling stolen oil products was a popular way for groups to fund their insurgency. [128]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011

Foreign fighters provided significant funding for AQI. One of AQI’s “sectors,” for example, received more than seventy percent of its operating budget from foreign fighters. Of the foreign fighter donors, Saudi Arabians provided the largest sums. [129]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present
As it began operating in Syria, ISIS relied heavily on monetary support from donors in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan. [130] After its split from AQ Central in 2013, ISIS funded itself through territorial conquests and criminal activities, such as kidnapping, extortion of local businesses, robberies, and smuggling. [131] [132]  Further, ISIS began seizing assets from areas under its control. For example, when it took over Mosul, it stole the money of the Mosul Central bank. The Washington Post estimated that ISIS took around $425 million from the bank, while the New York Times estimated that ISIS took somewhere between $65-400 million. [133] [134] It now finances itself through oil refineries that it has taken over in its territorial expansion. As of September 2014, experts estimated that ISIS’s oil revenues alone brought in between $1 million and $2 million per day. [135] In summer 2014, some estimates claimed that ISIS was worth up to $2 billion. [136]

External Influences

The group has had a complex history with Al Qaeda, existing both as a tenuous ally and then as an affiliate before being disowned. It is reportedly receiving support from Iran, although such support has since ended, and allegedly had ties to the Syrian government.

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
None

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
In 2006, U.S. forces in Iraq found documents that proved that Iran provided AQI with funding and weapons, and also negotiated releases of AQI prisoners. Because Iran is a Shiite state and AQI had always been hostile toward Shiites, the move was likely an attempt to sabotage the U.S. intervention in Iraq. [137] In 2009, the Iraqi government accused the Syrian government of harboring terrorist cells, an allegation that Syrian officials denied. {Londoño, Ernesto, "Al-Qaeda in Iraq gaining in strength," Washington Post Foreign Service, November 22, 2009, retrieved on January 26, 2010 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/21/AR2009112102009.html.

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present

The Iranian government reversed its policy of aiding the group in 2014, instead offering assistance to U.S. counterterrorism efforts against ISIS. [138] [139]

Geographical Locations

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
AQI operated in Jordan from 2002 until 2005. It has operated in Iraq continually since 2003. [140]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
By late 2010, AQI was primarily located in northern Iraq, but remained capable of conducting attacks across the entire country. [141]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present

ISIS operations expanded into Syria in 2013 and have been largely successful, taking control of cities in both northern Syria and western Iraq, including Raqqa, Ramadi, Fallujah, and Mosul.  [142] Its strongest Syrian base is Raqqa. [143] ISIS has also taken control of nearly all official border crossings between Iraq and Syria, and the only border crossing between Iraq and Jordan. [144]

Targets & Tactics

The group largely focused its targeting on American and coalition forces and interests during the war in Iraq, while also targeting Shiites and Sunni Iraqis who spoke out or fought against them. As coalition forces withdrew from the country, the group targeted the Maliki government. Finally, as it expanded into Syria and began to establish its state, it targeted other rebel groups in Syria and any groups or individuals resisting its rule.

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
JTJ targeted American forces and interests in Iraq by attacking oil companies, the U.S. and coalition partners, the Iraqi police and National Guard, Iraqi politicians, and civilian and humanitarian aid workers. [145] [146]  A number of these targets and strategies were shared by nationalist and Baathist forces who participated in the insurgency. In addition to these attacks, meant to deter Iraqis and foreigners from aiding the American occupation and transition plan for Iraq, JTJ attacked Shiite targets to provoke a Shiite-Sunni civil war that would make it more difficult for the U.S. to carry out its mission. [147]

JTJ gained notoriety for its consistent use of suicide bombings while other insurgent groups continued to use guerilla tactics that targeted the U.S. and coalition forces. [148] It also carried out a number of assassinations, beginning with the shooting death of USAid official Laurence Foley in Jordan in 2002. It targeted Iraqi officials of the transition government like Izzedin Salim, the chairman of the Governing Council of Iraq. [149]

JTJ also abducted foreign civilians in Iraq and broadcast their executions. [150]  The first videotaped beheading, that of the American Nicholas Berg in 2004, drew global publicity and condemnation. Zarqawi claimed to be the executioner in the video, a claim supported by the CIA. [151]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
AQI continued to target coalition forces, their allies and supporters, and the Iraqi government, as well as Shiite civilians and religious sites, and even popular Sunni leaders who opposed them. AQI regularly used suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to destroy targets. [152] During 2007, as AQI began to compete with other Sunni groups for leadership of the insurgency in Iraq, it started to use chlorine gas in conjunction with conventional explosives to target civilians and other Sunni militants. [153] [154] However, such tactics drew strong criticism, and reports of chlorine attacks stopped around May 2007. [155]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present
In July 2012, Baghdadi announced a campaign that he called “Breaking Walls.” A key goal of the campaign was to free AQI prisoners from prison. [156] In Iraq in July 2013, the group increased its focus on targeting Iraqi security forces in a campaign Baghdadi called “Soldier’s Harvest.” [157]

It soon joined the ongoing Syrian Civil War, where it first targeted government and other rebel groups, but soon shifted tactics to taking over territory. It continues to target the Iraqi military as well as Shiite and minority civilians while taking over towns in Iraq and Syria. [158] [159]  In battle, the group began to prioritize the early capture of municipal and infrastructure buildings so that they could control vital needs in the territory. [160] In response to U.S.-led airstrikes against the group beginning in 2014, ISIS altered some of its tactics. It began working in smaller units and is reportedly creating sleeper cells in towns that it intends to overtake instead of storming target areas in large, visible groups. [161] [162]

ISIS also kidnaps foreigners in Syria, often journalists and aid workers, and demands ransom money from their home countries. Some European captives have been freed after their governments reportedly paid ransoms, but the United States and Britain have no-negation policies. When ISIS determines that it cannot gain money from a hostage, it instead uses the captive as publicity. [163] In late August 2014, ISIS recorded the beheading of American journalist James Foley and published the video online, where it quickly gained international attention. [164] One Russian, two Britons, and two Americans have been beheaded since Foley was killed, while hostages from France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, and Peru have been released. [165] Most recently, ISIS released a propaganda film of British hostage John Cantlie giving a tour of the city of Mosul, which the video represented as peaceful and orderly under ISIS occupation. Previous videos of Cantlie depicted him under duress. [166]

Political Activities

The group never engaged in legal politics but instead sought to establish its own state. Since its seizure of territory in Iraq and Syria, it has created a system of government and carries out its own version of government services in the areas it controls.

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
NA

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
In October 2006, AQI increased its focus on the creation of institutional infrastructure for a Shariah-run Iraq, in an attempt to increase support by rebranding itself as more Iraqi. It formed the ISI, attempting to impose order in the regions it controlled, issuing religious instructions and establishing a cabinet complete with a Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. However, the idea of a state was failing by the end of 2007 because it was too weak to provide security or enforce its extreme interpretation of Shariah. [167]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present
After taking over territory in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has established governmental structures in the areas it controls. On the “state” level, the government is headed by three councils: the Shura Council, the Military Council, and the Security and Intelligence Council. The Military Council is made up of three members, and the Shura Council includes a cabinet of nine to eleven members. Baghdadi oversees them all, and provincial governors carry out Baghdadi’s commands on the ground. [168] Baghdadi, as “Caliph,” oversees both religious and political life in the Islamic State. [169]

On the ground, ISIS often follows a process to establish administrative control of an area it has conquered. As it moves into an area, ISIS lays the foundation for governance with an outreach center and a simple court system. After securing the region, it makes the laws stricter, brings in religious police, and takes over the education system. It also manages humanitarian aid and often comes to control vital basics, like bakeries, water treatment plans, and power plants. [170]

Major Attacks

  1. October 28, 2002: JTJ assassinated Laurence Foley in Jordan. (1 killed, 0 wounded).[171]
  2. August 19, 2003: JTJ bombed the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, killing prominent UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello and twenty-two others. (23 killed, 100+ wounded).[172]
  3. August 28, 2003: The group bombed the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. (85 killed, unknown wounded).[173]
  4. May 7, 2004: Zarqawi beheaded American civilian worker Nicholas Berg in Iraq. (1 killed, 20+ wounded).[174]
  5. November 9, 2005: The group bombed western hotels in Amman, Jordan. (57 killed, unknown wounded).[175]
  6. February 22, 2006: The organization bombed the Shi'ite Golden Mosque in Samarra, 65 miles north of Baghdad, sparking retaliation against 100 or more Sunni mosques. (No reported casualties).[176]
  7. August 2009: AQI claimed responsibility for the bombings of several government buildings in Baghdad. (250 killed, 1000+ wounded).[177]
  8. May 2010: AQI carried out attacks across Iraq in response to the killings of AQI leaders Masri and Baghdadi. (85 killed, 300+ wounded).[178]
  9. March 21, 2012: AQI claimed responsibility for attacks across eight cities in just under six hours. Shiites, police, security forces and government officials were targeted in Karbala, Kirkuk, and Baghdad (46 killed, 200 wounded).[179]
  10. July 22, 2013: AQI attacked Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in Iraq, freeing approximately 800 prisoners with Al Qaeda affiliations. (26 Killed, unknown wounded).[180]
  11. September 14, 2013: ISIS took control of an air defense base in Hama, Syria. (Unknown casualties).[181]
  12. June 10, 2014: ISIS took control of Mosul. (Unknown casualties).[182]
  13. June 17, 2014: ISIS attacked Baji oil field, although the Iraq Army reported that it successfully drove out ISIS within two to three days of fighting. (Unknown casualties).[183]
  14. June 23, 2014: ISIS seized border crossings at Qaim, Waleed, and Trebil, gaining control over the border between Iraq and Syria and the border between Iraq and Jordan. (Unknown casualties).[184]
  15. July 2014: ISIS takes control of Raqqa, Syria. (Unknown casualties).[185]
  16. August 2014: Over a period of two weeks, ISIS executed 700 members of the al-Sheitaat tribe in the Deir al-Zor province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The tribe and ISIS began fighting in July. (700+ killed, unknown wounded).[186]
  17. August 19, 2014: SIS beheaded American captive James Foley and releases a video of the murder. The video garnered international attention and ISIS would proceed to behead more British and American hostages in the coming months. (1+ killed, unknown wounded).[187]
  18. October 29, 2014: ISIS publicly executed a number of members of a Sunni tribe, the Albu Nimr, that had been resisting ISIS’s advance in the Anbar province. Reports on the number of dead range from forty-six to over three hundred, and differ on whether or not women and children were killed along with men. (46+ killed, unknown wounded).[188]
  19. January 6, 2015: ISIS began to carry out its first assaults on U.S. bases in Iraq, conducting mortar attacks against a training base. According to senior U.S. defense officials, the attacks have been completely ineffective against the base. (None).[189]
  20. May 15, 2015: ISIS seized Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, from Iraqi security forces, which were supported by Shiite militias and American airstrikes. ISIS had controlled areas around Ramadi for almost a year and a half before taking the city. (500+ killed, unknkown wounded).[190]

Relationships with Other Groups

The group has had a rocky relationship with Al Qaeda, acting as its affiliate in Iraq despite ideological differences before AQ eventually disowned ISIS for its disobedience and targeting choices. The group has had few ally relationships in the early period of its involvement in the Syrian Civil War and instead fought against most of the other organizations it encountered in Iraq and Syria. In late 2014 and early 2015, however, Islamic militant groups from all over the world began to declare allegiance to Baghdadi and his caliphate.

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
Tensions existed between AQI and AQ since before it officially became an affiliate organization, largely due to several ideological differences. [191] The most significant difference was disagreement on targets; while Zarqawi preferred to attack the “near enemy” like Jordan and Israel, AQ leadership prioritized attacking the United States. [192] Nonetheless, bin Laden allegedly asked Zarqawi to join AQ. While Zarqawi initially refused, American intelligence officials believed that his group JTJ maintained an alliance with Osama bin Laden before the group officially became AQI. [193]

Zarqawi finally declared allegiance to bin Laden in October of 2004, but continually disobeyed AQ leadership. [194] In July 2005, bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wrote to Zarqawi, criticizing his brutal tactics like beheadings and attacks that consistently killed Muslims and alienated Iraqis, and questioning the strategy of targeting Shiites to fuel a sectarian conflict. When ordered to stop attacking Shiite cultural sites, Zarqawi ignored AQ leadership. [195] [196]

In January 2006, AQI joined the umbrella organization Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin (MSC), which was a collective of six jihadi groups in Iraq that sought to consolidate jihadi efforts to expel U.S. and coalition forces from Iraq. [197] By joining the MSC, AQI attempted to prove that it was an Iraqi-based organization and showed that it was willing to work with other groups. [198] While it presented itself as a mere member of the MSC, AQI had significant influence in the group, which in many ways functioned as little more than a media front. [199]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011
Following Zarqawi’s death, AQI became more integrated with AQ leadership. [200]

Although AQI was able to gather several insurgent groups under its banner of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, other insurgents argued that the declaration of a state was illegal in Islamic law. Some voiced their concerns to bin Laden and others fought AQI members on the ground. [201]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present
At the outset of the Syrian Civil War, Baghdadi sent AQI member Abu Muhammad al-Julani to the country to create a Salafi cell to operate against Bashar al-Assad. Julani established al-Nusra, and received funding and personnel from both AQI and Al Qaeda. In April 2013, Baghdadi declared that al-Nusra and AQI would be merged under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. [202]  Julani denied the merger and re-pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda commander Ayman al-Zawahiri. [203] Zawahiri subsequently ruled in favor of Julani and decreed that the two organizations would continue to operate independently of one another. He also appointed AQ leader Abu Khalid al-Suri to mediate the conflict in Syria and ensure that his orders were followed. [204] The leadership dispute created conflict between the two groups on the ground, resulting in 3,000 casualties by March 2014. [205] However, despite the larger fight, there is evidence of some ground-level cooperation between al-Nusra and ISIS units in certain areas of the country. For example, in summer 2014 they released an anti-Hezbollah video together from the eastern mountains of Lebanon, where they had separately taken Lebanese soldiers hostage. [206] Now, both facing U.S. airstrikes, al-Nusra and ISIS leadership have reportedly begun to meet to discuss coordination. [207]

Tensions and skirmishes between ISIS and other Islamist groups on the ground escalated in 2013. Other groups, even some linked to Al Qaeda, found ISIS’s interpretation of Islam too extreme and its tactics too violent, and distrusted the amount of foreign fighters in the group. [208] [209] In early January 2014, conflict exploded when ISIS clashed with the Islamist Mujahedeen Army and FSA-linked units in a number of locations around Aleppo. { Landis, Joshua. "The Battle between ISIS and Syria's Rebel Militias." Syria Comment. N.p., 4 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. <http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/battle-isis-syrias-rebel-militias/>. Meanwhile, Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafi member of the Islamic Front, worked with al-Nusra and other rebel groups to push ISIS out of Raqqa. [210] Later that month, a popular Saudi Cleric, Abdulah Muhammad al-Muhaysini, relocated to Syria and announced a reconciliation plan to end the infighting between Islamist groups in Syria. Al-Nusra and other Islamist groups quickly agreed to the plan, but ISIS rejected it. [211]

Leaders of Islamist militant groups in Syria, like those in the powerful Islamic Front umbrella organization, began publicly questioning and condemning ISIS’s tactics in early 2014. After a commander in Ahrar al-Sham was tortured and killed by ISIS, Ahrar al-Sham leader Hassan Abboud criticized the killing and later condemned ISIS for its practice of calling other Islamist rebels “infidels,” and for refusing to submit to mediation. [212] [213] ISIS has increasingly targeted rival group leaders. In February, an ISIS suicide bombing killed Liwa al-Tawhid leader Adnan Bakour, along with twenty-five others, in Aleppo. That same day in Hama, Suqour al-Sham commander Abu Hussein al-Dik was killed by ISIS. Both organizations are members of the Islamic Front. [214] In February, Abu Khalid al-Suri, Zawahiri’s delegate to Syria and a leader of Ahrar al-Sham, was killed in a suicide bombing, and Abboud blamed ISIS. [215] In addition to targeted attacks, ISIS also continues to battle Islamist units on the ground. For example, Liwa al-Tawhid worked with al-Nusra to expel ISIS from several areas near Aleppo and Latakia in March 2014. [216]

ISIS’s relationships with different Free Syrian Army brigades have been even more contentious. ISIS ideology is opposed to a secular state, which is a goal of many FSA-linked brigades. However, their relationship has included some cooperation when tactically useful. [217] In September 2014, for example, ISIS and the Free Syrian Army signed a truce; they both agreed to the release of around 100 prisoners and that a border issue between Syria and Turkey be submitted to an Islamic court. [218] 

After ISIS gained global notoriety, many Islamist militant organizations across the world, particularly in the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa, began to declare allegiance to the group. Some of these groups appear to have been created as a response to ISIS’s success and Baghdadi’s call for Muslim support, while others were already in existence. A declaration does not always indicate a working relationship, as many groups make pledges of allegiance in order to attach their name to the infamous ISIS brand without having any operational ties to the group. [219] For example, a faction of Abu Sayyaf (AS), an Islamist separatist organization in the Phillipines, posted a video threatening to kill two German hostages if Germany did not stop supporting the American airstrikes against ISIS. After Germany paid a ransom, however, AS dropped their political demands and freed the hostages; the Philippine military claimed that there was no evidence of any operational link between AS and ISIS. [220]

In a November 2014 speech, Baghdadi appeared to accept a number of pledges of allegiance by referring to new “soldiers of the Islamic State” in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. [221] These groups included the Egyptian Islamic militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which changed its name to the Sinai Province after the speech. [222] In March 2015, Baghdadi’s acceptance of Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram drew global attention because Boko Haram was already highly active before ISIS gained prominence. [223]

Other Islamist militant groups have declared allegiance but have not been publicly recognized by ISIS. In a 2014 issue of Dabiq published after Baghdadi had formally accepted a number of pledges but left out others, an ISIS representative claimed that some of the neglected groups would not be accepted until they maintained a direct line of communication to Baghdadi and until Baghdadi appointed or formally recognized the group’s leadership. Others speculated that Baghdadi may have been discriminating against non-Arab groups, such as the Bangasmoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the Philippines, which was among the groups that declared allegiance but were not formally accepted. [224][225]

Support for ISIS has proven to be a divisive issue for some groups, with some members or leaders announcing allegiance to Baghdadi while others maintain their own group’s independence or uphold previous pledges of allegiance. In particular, some groups that work with or have pledged allegiance to AQ are hesitant to break their pledges, as many Islamist militants consider such a break as a significant betrayal that reflects poorly on credibility. [226] For example, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced support for ISIS and offered advice to the group in a statement made on its website in August 2014. [227] In November of that year, however, AQAP declared Baghdadi’s caliphate illegitimate and refuted him after he claimed that Yemen was a part of his Islamic State, although it is likely that not all AQAP members support the decision to stand against ISIS. [228]

Some groups with ties to the Taliban are also hesitant to affiliate with ISIS, although the Taliban’s own relationship with ISIS has become more complex in 2015. [229] Reports of ISIS activity in Afghanistan began in January 2015, when rumors started to circulate in the country regarding Taliban fighters defecting from their organization to claim allegiance to ISIS. Some Afghanis, including Taliban members, denied that any group had declared support for ISIS. [230] In May 2015, Afghan officials announced that ISIS-trained forces were now fighting alongside the Taliban against the government in some parts of the country. [231] At the same time, however, other Afghani police officials claimed that ISIS and the Taliban were at war with each other, so the situation on the ground appears fractured and unclear. [232]

It is also becoming clear that former Baathists have been providing critical assistance to ISIS’s operations in Iraq. The majority of Baath party support seems to be coming from members of the Men of the Army of the Naqshbandia Order (JRTN), which was formed in December 2006, following Saddam Hussein’s death. [233] Former Hussein regime official and leader of the JRTN, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, may be a key commander of ISIS forces. It is evident that ISIS’s success in capturing Iraqi cities has been largely dependent on the military expertise and local connections affiliated with the Baathists; without help from members of JRTN, many experts believe that ISIS would not be nearly as effective. [234] However, cooperation between ISIS and the Baathists will almost certainly be short lived; ISIS’s goal of creating a Caliphate is most likely opposed by the Baathists, who are nationalists and have likely supported ISIS only because of its anti-al-Maliki stance. There have been reports that ISIS has killed Baathists in Mosul in order to consolidate its authority and discourage sects that could feasibly negotiate with the government or oppose their vision for a Caliphate. [235]

Community Relationships

Zarqawi’s Reign: October 2002-June 2006
Initially, many Sunnis were sympathetic to AQI and its goal of driving American forces from Iraq and preventing a Shiite government takeover. However, AQI’s use of suicide bombings, willingness to target Iraqis and popular Sunni leaders, and intentional incitement of sectarian violence began to alienate some Iraqis, including Sunnis and other jihadi groups. [236]

AQI maintained a strong media presence, posting violent “martyrdom” and execution videos alongside sophisticated graphics and messages from Zarqawi. [237] [238]

Decline: June 2006-December 2011

AQI communicated both from its “ministry of information” and from the media production branch, Al-Furqan Media. [239] Regardless, public support for the group remained low. [240]

Expansion under Baghdadi: January 2012-Present
ISIS uses multiple languages to recruit and spread its message. [241] The group produces sophisticated recruitment videos and an online magazine in English and other European languages, named “Dabiq” after a town in Syria where, according to a prophecy attributed to Muhammad, Muslims will defeat Rome before moving on to take Constantinople. [242] [243] Dabiq includes battlefield updates, administrative information, and articles on the establishment of the Caliphate and its religious foundations. It encourages emigration to the territory controlled by ISIS and global support for the organization. [244]

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