Five Major Reasons Leading to ISIS Emergence

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saeid Jafari
Expert on Middle East Issues

1. Branching from Al-Qaeda

Without a doubt, the emergence of the ISIS terrorist group, which is currently calling itself the Islamic State, was closely related to an organization whose founding leader was slain a few years ago. In terms of its main core and theoretical background, the Islamic State is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, which has branched from the bigger organizations. Of course, followers of the new branch have shown a special penchant for high degrees of violence.

2. Questionable performance of Nouri Al-Maliki

Unlike his last years in power, when former Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, came to office succeeding his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, he had no good command over the situation in the country. Soon after his appointment as prime minister, Baathist elements who were still loyal to the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, were not happy with the changes in the country. This was natural because until quite recently, they saw themselves at the highest levels of power, but now they had been set aside and marginalized. In order to prevent their potential opposition from turning into real action, the United States decided to give them a share in the power game. Al Sahwa militia was made up of former Sunni soldiers who were promised to be paid in return for fighting the extremist forces of Al-Qaeda and protecting order in the new Iraq. According to the primary agreement, they were supposed to be recruited by the Iraq army after a while. Maliki, however, disbanded the militia once he consolidated his power. He disarmed them without even recruiting them for the Iraqi army. Maliki’s performance a year ago and in the face of protests from people in Fallujah was not responsible and he chose to use violence against Sunni protesters. As a result, those forces who had fought to protect the new order turned into critics of the situation because they had been dismissed from the political game. Of course, other inequalities under the government of Maliki further prompted them to turn from critics into the opposition. As a result, when the ISIS attacked Iraq, they gave them a warm welcome and considered ISIS forces as their saviors.

3. Failure of the Arab Spring

Soon after sentimental Egyptian youth along with simplistic political elite of the country poured into the streets to celebrate the ouster of the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, they did not know that they were paving the way for another coup d’état in history of their country. At that time it was quite possible to predict that after dialogue as well as peaceful change and transition to democracy hit a deadlock, the country would fall into the vortex of violence and radicalism. From that time, the more radical parts of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood became critical of the moderate figures of this group noting that if they had appeared firmer in the face of their opposites, they would not have been in prison. Basically, a review of historical events will reveal that any time that peaceful processes for change end in failure, that change will take place in a violent manner. The fall of the government of Morsi in Egypt caused people to lose hope in the possibility of a soft change and it was under those circumstances that the discourse advocated by radical groups gained more ground.

4. Developments in Syria

Most opposition groups in Syria believed that the country’s President Bashar Assad is nearing the end of his rule and Western countries along with regional Arab states and Turkey can speed up that process by lending their support to opposition forces fighting against the Syrian government. However, certain factors, which cannot be fully discussed here, changed the equation in Syria. Assad has remained in power and those political currents which had been equipped and armed by the Syrian opposition became bigger and more dangerous. The Al-Nusra Front and the ISIS were among the most important of those groups. Finally, those groups, which saw their jockeying ground becoming increasingly limited in Syria, turned to its eastern neighbor, Iraq. At that time, Iraq was a country that for a variety of reasons enjoyed enough potentials to be used by extremist groups for their activities.

5. Popularity of extremism theory in Arab Middle East

Whether we like it or not, the theory of extremism is very popular in the Arab Middle East. There are many reasons to explain this situation. They include a sense of humiliation among Arabs following the collapse of the Islamic civilization, especially in relation to developments between Arabs and Israel; inefficiency of political systems in this region; depriving people of their right to determine their own destiny in a peaceful manner; and a host of economic and other problems. To the above list should be added the failure of developments known as the Arab Spring. Through those developments the Arab nations made another attempt to determine their destiny in a peaceful manner, but their efforts failed. Therefore, a large part of the Arab society (or maybe a small part but with a high degree of influence on other parts) reached the conclusion that violence and brute force was the only way remained to change the status quo. That part also tried to bank on such theories as Salafism and a return to original religious tenets to define a new path for its moves.

Future outlook

Now that situation has ended up where it is right now, failure to adopt a logical strategy which would address the main causes that have led to this situation, can made conditions in the Middle East even worse. A study of regional history would reveal that the approach taken by the United States under the aegis of fighting against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq has not been able to weaken terrorist groups in the Middle East. On the opposite, it has increased the intensity and level of terrorist attacks in this region to an unprecedented manner. As said before, the current crisis in the Middle East is more a software problem rather than a hardware one and its resolution, as such, needs soft measures. Therefore, it seems that before taking any military action, a radical treatment should be administered for this crisis. Of course, the situation in the region is currently so critical that military measures may need to be considered alongside more radical solutions. Perhaps even the US President Barack Obama cannot be blamed for the current situation because his predecessor, George W. Bush was instrumental in creating the current situation. However, he cannot be totally exonerated of any blame as well. This is true because the incumbent US president has practically failed to come up with a solid strategy in relation to a crisis whose resolution calls for special attention and calculated strategies. This is a crisis which if not controlled, as put by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, can consume the entire world in its flames and lead to spillover of a more advanced form of radicalism into European countries and the United States.

Key Words: ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Nouri Al-Maliki, Arab Spring, Syria, Bashar Assad, Arab Middle East, Extremism, Barack Obama, Hassan Rouhani, Jafari

More By Saeid Jafari:

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*Challenges Facing Tehran-Ankara Ties: Will Davutoglu’s Dream Come True?:

*The Crisis in Iraq: Root Causes and Future Outlook:

Photo Credit: National Post

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