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ISIS: A Year of Crime and Conquest

The notorious Islamic State group (ISIS) became infamous on an international scale when it rampaged across Northern Iraq in early June 2014. A year ago. Since that time it has continued its bloody sectarian conquests and massacres.

Good propaganda – and/or conspiracy theories – often have a semblance of truth or half-truth to them which, in turn, gives them some believability and/or credence, not to mention popularity. ISIS is therefore presently enjoying a propaganda field day. And for good reason.

Almost a year after the Iraqi Army around Mosul fragmented at the first sign of trouble, Iraqi Security Forces in Ramadi, the provincial capital city of the Anbar Province, also fled an ISIS offensive which succeeded in taking that city (which is a mere 60 miles from Baghdad) this May.  An entire year after their dramatic takeover of Mosul and rampage across North Iraq ISIS have suffered only minor tactical setbacks–namely in the Iraqi city of Tikrit and the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani.

The recent fall of Ramadi coupled with ISIS’s takeover of the ancient Roman ruins of Palmyra in Syria almost a year after the fall of Mosul breathes new life into their extraordinary propagandistic claims and, in a way, compensates for recent minor tactical setbacks.

This is alarming and very discouraging. One had long hoped that Iraq’s Anbar and Nineveh Provinces would have been retaken by now. Alas ISIS has proven it can still mount substantial offensives and the Iraqi military remains in disarray. The remnants of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad clearly does not have the ability to retake the vast swaths of Syrian territory held by ISIS (now about half the country!). Syria’s Kurds will likely continue to be a thorn in the side for ISIS but it is doubtful they can single-handedly defeat ISIS and dismantle the Syrian wing of its Great Britain-sized terrorist polity. Similarly while the Iraqi Kurds have stopped ISIS from overrunning its territory and terrorizing the inhabitants on it they are unwilling about single-handedly attempting to push ISIS out of Mosul – which is situated to their west.

So we see an entire year after ISIS grabbed the world’s attention with its vicious blitzkrieg across Iraq that it still remains entrenched in place. The Americans have been launching frequent air strikes against its group since last August in Iraq, when they appeared poised to threaten Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital city Erbil, as well as in northeastern Syria since last September. It has established a coalition of Arab and European states to join its anti-ISIS air campaign. But alas, air power against such an irregular group which uses non-conventional guerrilla tactics has its fundamental limits. Bar a few supporting air strikes for Kurdish groups repelling the group in Northern Iraq and Northeastern Syria (the best example being the routine aerial bombing of ISIS forces besieging Kobani in their manic attempt to eradicate that shining symbol of Kurdish defiance and resilience) the air campaign has at best hindered ISIS and slowed down their vicious jihadi juggernaut. But it is far from halting it altogether.

As we mark the one year anniversary of ISIS’s rampage through Iraq and its ongoing atrocities against the Iraqi people there are plenty of grounds for retrospective debate and evaluation. Especially in regards to ISIS’s origins and who is, or what circumstances are, responsible for its dramatic and bloody rise. Arguments and theories range from former U.S. President George W Bush bearing the brunt of the responsibility for invading Iraq back in 2003 to the ongoing war in Syria simply providing these formerly ragtag jihadis the momentum and the ideal opportunity to make their collective dreams of establishing a so-called caliphate a tangible reality. Which is what ISIS has achieved. Not only in Iraq and Syria, but their successes and ability to hold such vast swaths of territory for so long despite having so many enemies has inspired similar Islamist groups elsewhere who have pledged allegiance to the group. From Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to even Nigeria, where the notorious Boko Haram have sought to emulate the group’s successes as well as their infamously grisly videoed atrocities (one disturbing aspect of the ISIS phenomenon is the way notorious terrorist groups try to outdo each other when it comes to their various heinous crimes against humanity), the ISIS model is being followed by aspiring and existing jihadi terror gangs. This is a disturbing trend and it will likely continue unless ISIS suffers a decisive defeat–something which has yet to happen.

While what to do about ISIS and that groups origins can be debated at length one thing is clear: ISIS, unfortunately, is not going away any time soon.