B1 Intermediate US 1034 Folder Collection
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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has taken over about a third of Iraq. They're
called ISIS for short, but it's easier to understand what they are if you know them
by their old name, al-Qaeda in Iraq. They were a key part of the insurgency after America's
2003 invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. And at the time, they had a lot of support from
the country's minority Sunnis. They held a lot of territory because Sunnis were furious,
both at the Americans who had kicked Saddam Hussein out of power, and the Shias who had
taken over the government. But al-Qaeda in Iraq had big ambitions. They didn't just want
to kick America out. They wanted to set up an Islamic state. So they banned music, and
they banned smoking. Women couldn't show their hair and they began beheading civilians who
disobeyed their rules. Starting in 2006, their brutality lost them the support of Iraqi Sunnis,
who partnered with US forces to help push al-Qaeda in Iraq out of the country. America
takes a lot of credit for this. We call it the surge. We're very proud of it and we should
be, but the big thing we did in the surge was we helped the Sunnis, Sons of Iraq, as
they called themselves, rise up against al-Qaeda in Iraq's savage theocratic rule. So al-Qaeda
in Iraq was defeated, but they weren't destroyed. They were driven out of much of the territory
they used to control, and then they began rebuilding. In particular, they became heavily
involved in the fighting in Syria. They were trying to overthrow the Shiite Assad regime.
Their tactics in Syria were so brutal and their ambitions were so grand that al-Qaeda
itself actually cut ties with them. Al-Qaeda thought al-Qaeda in Iraq was bad for the al-Qaeda
brand. After their split with al-Qaeda in February 2014, they renamed themselves ISIS
and they began setting up extortion rackets from Syria. They took over part of the oil
industry. They sold electricity back to the Syrian government that they were fighting. Meanwhile
in Iraq, Prime Minister Malaki had been ruling on sectarian lines. Maliki is a Shiite and
he was empowering Shias. He was violently breaking up Sunni protests. He was arresting
Sunni politicians. So the minority Sunni population began to hate him and fear him. So ISIS returned
to Iraq and they began selling themselves as the Sunni champion against Maliki. And
they gradually grew strong -- strong enough to challenge the Iraqi government in the country's
second-largest city, Mosul. So when 800 ISIS soldiers challenged 30,000 Iraqi army troops
in the mostly-Sunni city, the Iraqi troops, most of them, they put down their arms and
ran. This was a group that was largely Sunni. They simply refused to fight and die for a
Shiite government that they didn't think cared for them. That ultimately is where ISIS's
real power comes from. They get weapons and they get money from the territory they control
and they have skilled fighters, but they're facing a government that's widely unpopular
among Sunnis. Only a tiny percentage of Sunnis actively support ISIS's goals, but at least
for now they appear willing to let ISIS operate in their territory freely because they see
it as an alternative to a Shiite government they despise. But ISIS wants do to much more
than that. They want to set up a new state that reaches up into both Iraq and Syria,
one that governs according to a medieval interpretation of Islamic law. And so Iraq's Sunni population
is caught between two terrible forces: A Shia majority that violently represses them to
hold on to political power, and a theocratic militia that will kill them
if they step too far into modernity.
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A brief history of ISIS

1034 Folder Collection
Jui-Yuan Wang published on November 21, 2015
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