Over the past year, a group known as ISIS has grabbed media attention around the world as it advanced across Syria and Iraq. This group has been characterized for the terror it has brought in its wake, leaving many thousands dead in two countries already rocked by years of war. But just what is this organization, and why should an Arcadia student care about these events?
There are currently many names being used for ISIS by both the media and the organization itself. At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the group identified itself as ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. More recently, Syria has been replaced by “The Levant”, another term for the area commonly known in Academia as the “Fertile Crescent.”
This change to ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, was made due to the groups’ advances into Iraq, which is considered to be part of the Levant. Today, the organization refers to itself as the Islamic State, denoting its stance that it is a sovereign nation. For the purpose of this article, the most popular name of the organization, ISIS, will be used.
While ISIS only gained garnered media attention after its advances into Iraq, the group itself dates back as far as the 1990s. While it had once attempted to be part of the Al-Qaida group of organizations, they eventually split for what appears to a have been political reasons. The group has existed under several names since then, participated in the 2003 war in Iraq and eventually came to prominence at the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Shortly thereafter, the organization’s name became ISIS.
More recently, it changed its name to ISIL to reflect its advance into Iraq in 2014. In January, ISIS took control of Fallujah, one of the largest cities in Iraq. In June, they took control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq.
Amid fears of genocide in Iraq and the potential fall of its government, the American military began airstrikes in an effort to push ISIS back. These strikes initially occurred around Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq to which thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority group allied with the Kurds, had fled, in an effort to avoid ISIS’s genocidal intent. This intent has not only been announced by the group itself, but has been shown numerous times since its advance into Iraq.
After taking Mosul, ISIS claimed to have executed 1,700 Iraqi prisoners of war who surrendered after the city fell. Ethnic Kurds, a group of culturally distinct people living in northern Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Southeast Turkey have been a target of ISIS since it began to take population centers. The organized Kurdish paramilitary forces, known as the Peshmerga, have been a key ally on the ground for the United States and the coalition.
In addition to American military forces, an international coalition has joined in the air campaign against ISIS. This has been followed by an increasing intensity of airstrikes against ISIS positions and vehicles. Currently, ISIS has laid siege to a Kurdish town on the Turkish border in Syria, called Kobani. This is one of many towns currently under siege by ISIS fighters. At the same time, the Peshmerga has been able to successfully fight back against ISIS, taking back many areas and resisting further advances.
So just why should an Arcadia student care about this? While these events are happening half a world away, their effect can be felt globally. One obvious reason has been the increased violence in Iraq, which makes travelling to the country that finally felt safe, a very dangerous proposition. Another important aspect is of course the massive numbers of people dying in this conflict. In only the past year, there have been 26,000 casualties in Iraq, 5,500 of which died. This is a very serious conflict and the impact that it can have on world politics, travel, and human suffering is immense.
Though there are great steps being taken around the world to end the violence, there is no end in sight. One can only hope that the destruction this conflict has brought in its wake will soon come to a close.