Commentary by Ryan Caviston
In part three of our discussion on ISIS, we will examine the current state of ISIS.
As the U.S. and a coalition of both Western and Arab states begin a new airstrike campaign on ISIS targets in both Syria and Iraq, one must understand the sheer magnitude of ISIS’s rise to power.
With its origins in the Syrian Civil War, which we discussed last week, ISIS has utilized its position as a predominant military force to become a transnational terror network with a reasonably well-established “political” and taxation network. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, ISIS nets around $8 million a month in taxes levied on Arabs across Syria and Iraq. In addition, according to The Guardian, it has collected a reported $36 million in the sale of antiquities dating back over 8,000 years and an unknown sum of money from private donors. The financial security of ISIS alone makes it a sizable foe, with the ability to purchase any number of arms to be used against its enemies. On the other hand, ISIS also has had the ability to simply pick up American-made weapons abandoned by surrendering or deserting members of the Iraqi Army.
The ability of ISIS to easily cross the Iraqi-Syrian border has made its growth that much easier, while turning the hunt for ISIS fighters into a game of cat and mouse. The group seeks to create an Islamic Caliphate with borders expanding as far as Spain, where early Muslims led by Jebel Tariq entered in 732 CE, and possibly as far east as Indonesia. ISIS has capitalized on chaos. As mentioned last week, the political turmoil under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has created a situation in Iraq that has allowed ISIS to capitalize on dissent in the country. Former Ba’athists, including ranking members in Saddam Hussein’s army, and Sunnis, tired of a Shia-controlled government, have flocked to ISIS. Those who did not willingly join were either forced to or executed.
So, what are ISIS’s ultimate goals? We have already established that the ultimate goal is to establish a global caliphate. This caliphate includes much of what ISIS truly wants: territory, money and as many Muslims to rule as possible; I will explore this topic further in next week’s conclusion. ISIS also seeks something that many radical Muslims seek: revenge against the U.S.
The United States’ presence in Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War has continued to be a massive point of contention between radical Muslims and the West. Many radical Muslims see the United States military’s usage of Saudi Arabia as a staging point to engage Saddam Hussein as extremely offensive to their faith, since Saudi Arabia is noted as the keeper of the two holiest sites in Islam.
To sum it all up, we can understand ISIS’s goals to be quite simple: Islam, money, people, power. Unlike many of the conflicts throughout modern history, ISIS is perhaps one of the easiest to understand; however, how exactly we combat ISIS is a different challenge entirely.
In next week’s conclusion we will examine just how the world can combat ISIS, or for that matter, if it can even be defeated.