Opinion: What High School Students Should Know About ISIS/ISIL

by Harry Gill
Class of 2015

Who is ISIL?
Although it’s been in the news since January 2014, the details about ISIL’s activities remain a mystery to many high school students. Most Americans are familiar with images of the masked men with guns, patrolling the desert in their white trucks; but ISIL is more than a group of criminals and fanatics.

These terrorists, also known as ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, are organized, supplied and funded in very much the same way a real modern military is. They collect taxes and make money from exporting oil to unscrupulous buyers. They then use this money to buy weapons and ammunition from anyone who is willing to sell to terrorists.

The Islamic State originated in Iraq in 1999, though it was insignificant, closer to a gang of criminals than an army of terrorists. In 2006, following the American invasion of Iraq, the group merged with other Sunni militant groups, forming what became known as the “Islamic State of Iraq,” which was nothing more than an arm of Al-Qaeda that operated in Iraq.

In 2008 its extremely violent methods, including massacres of prisoners and suicide bombings of civilian targets, led to it becoming rejected by most of Al-Qaeda. In 2010, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was appointed the leader of the organization. Under his rule, and with the help of the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, the power of the Islamic State rapidly expanded. By 2013, the group was renamed as the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” or ISIL. ISIL is the current form of the Islamic State, and they have recently joined in alliances with other terrorist groups such as the Al-Nusra front in Syria and other remnant groups of Al-Qaeda. As of November 2014, ISIL controls an area of Iraq and Syria combined that is about the size of the state of Maine, where between twelve and twenty million people live. ISIL’s ultimate goal is to establish a caliphate, or a religiously governed state where Sharia law, or a strict interpretation of the Quran, is the law of the land, and anyone who disobeys or disagrees is subject to genocide.

What Do They Do and Why Are They A Problem?
Atrocities by ISIL are widespread and horrific. On June 12, 2014, they led around 1,500 Iraqi soldiers and personnel who had recently surrendered off a military base near the city of Tikrit, and massacred them in shallow trenches before burying them, according to the United Nations report of the incident, the reason being, that they were Shi’a Muslims. This was not their first, nor will it be their last atrocity.

Al Jazeera reports that 200-250 Syrian soldiers were stripped to their underwear and led into the desert before being shot after the battle for Tabqa Airbase in the Raqqa region of Syria. These are not isolated incidents of mass murder. Across Syria and Iraq, these terrorists have been committing acts of genocide against Christians, Jews, Shi’a Muslims, Yazidis and Kurds. ISIL’s war crimes don’t end at mass murder.

The Middle East Review of International Affairs has released pictures of Kurdish soldiers with distinct burns that could only be made by chemical weapons such as Chlorine gas, which have been outlawed worldwide since the end of the First World War. In addition to mass murder and the use of chemical weapons, ISIL also forces women of religious minorities into slavery, The United Nations believes more than 2,500 women, mostly captured when the Yazidi community around Mt. Sinjar was besieged by the terrorists, are currently being held by ISIL, or rewarded to successful ISIL leaders as wives.

What Is Being Done About It?
The Syrian National Army and the Iraqi Army, in addition to moderate rebel groups that have been fighting in the Syrian Civil War since 2011, such as the Free Syrian Army, have been fighting ISIL since January of 2013, when they started becoming a serious threat to the existence of Iraq and Syria.

Airstrikes from the United States and European countries are relatively infrequent and ineffective. The only soldiers on the ground that are putting up effective resistance against ISIL are the Kurdish defense forces, known as the YPG. With limited help from bombings by American planes, The YPG withstood the attack on the north Syrian city of Kobani by ISIL terrorists, who likely would have killed any resident of the city that hadn’t yet evacuated.

Western powers, such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, and other European countries are doing next to nothing in terms of actually destroying ISIL. Airstrikes are limited to small rockets launched from small planes, as well as tomahawk missiles that are targeting resources such as oil and weapons storages, rather than terrorists themselves.

ISIL has become one of the largest, if not the largest, terrorist group in the world. ISIL’s army strength is estimated at 30,000 men by the CIA and up to 50,000 men by the Syrian government, with up to 11,000 of them from other areas of the world, mostly from northern Africa, and even some from Europe and the United States. They have also captured significant amounts of armored vehicles and heavy weaponry from the Syrian and Iraqi armies, including heavy artillery and dozens of Syrian army tanks. In the face of a growing terrorist menace, the Iraqi government army has mostly collapsed and retreated, despite its vast superiority in numbers and technology. The Syrian National Army has fared little better, losing huge portions of the east of their country to other terrorist groups, like Al-Nusra, (a branch of Al-Qaeda operating in Syria), recently boosted in strength with help from ISIL.

Ultimately, if nothing more is done, the Iraqi government will fall, and ISIL will set up their own form of violent government, and likely recruit more soldiers to continue the fight in Syria. This would mean that all of the religious minorities that remained, the majority of whom are Shia Muslims, would be exterminated, as the radical form of Sunni Islam that ISIL follows does not recognize anyone but fellow Sunni extremists as worthy of life. Ultimately, while it may not effect most Americans lives directly, Allowing terrorist organizations to get more powerful every day is not only irresponsible but also unacceptable for humanitarian reasons, because as long as radical Islamic terrorists exist, there will always be a target group of people that they want to butcher and exterminate in the name of, as they see it, advancing their religion.

This article represents the researched views of the author.