By GARRETT FRAIRE
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been one of the largest and brutal terror groups in history. The group started as a small Al Qaeda branch in Iraq, grew to a huge army that terrorized the world. ISIS held large chunks of territory in Syria and Iraq allowing them launch terrorist attacks on countries all over the world.
The beginning of the Islamic State can be found by a Jihadist named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi was born in Jordan in 1966. His family was poor and he was known as a petty criminal. In 1989, Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan to help the Mujahideen fight the Soviets. In 1990, Zarqawi returned to Jordan and founded Jund al-sham, a local terrorist group. In 1992, Zarqawi was arrested by Jordanian authorities for the possession of explosives.
In 1999, Zarqawi was released from prison. Immediately after his release he revived Jund al-Sham and began plotting a bomb attack on a hotel. The plot was discovered by authorities and Zarqawi fled to Afghanistan in 2000. In Afghanistan he met with Osama Bin Laden and other al Qaeda members. Zarqawi received funds from Bin Laden to open his own Jihadist training camp. Zarqawi opened a training camp and trained fighters for his new group known as Jama’at.
During the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Zarqawi helped to resist the invasion. He was wounded during the fighting in late 2001 and proceeded to flee to Iran. Zarqawi moved to Iraq in 2002.
In early 2003, anticipating an American invasion, Zarqawi began establishing Jama’at fighters in Iraq. Once the Americans invaded in march 2003 Jama’at began to wage a violent insurgency against the Americans. In 2004, Jama’at became Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The goal of AQI was to expel the Americans and establish a Caliphate. AQI targeted both military and civilians in suicide bombings. AQI was known for their violent execution videos that displayed beheadings. AQI committed over 700 bombings in Iraq. AQI , composed of all Sunni fighters, targeted Shia Muslims in brutal attacks including mosque bombings. Shia Muslims were executed and tortured in AQI held areas. AQI held areas also implemented Islamic law. Many were executed by AQI, for simple reasons such as smoking, after violating strict Islamic law. Ironically, one of the biggest sins of Islam is killing another Muslim.
In February 2006, AQI bombed one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam- the Askari Mosque. The bombing enraged the Shia. Secraterian violence erupted between the Sunnis and Shia. Both Sunni and Shia militias carried out bombings, executions,and massacres. Most of the people killed during the violence were civilians. The violence lasted until 2008.
Zarqawi and AQI were huge enemies of the U.S. AQI was hunted profusely by U.S. special forces. In 2006 Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike. After his death Zarqawi’s followers changed AQI to the Islamic State. (IS)
The U.S. continued to hunt down IS so aggressively, the group began to crumble. The groups leadership became very unstable as the U.S. killed its leaders. With the crumbling leadership and under intense U.S. pressure, the group almost became non-existent after 2006. IS was struggling to operate in Iraq.
In 2011, the U.S. withdrew from Iraq leaving a weak Iraqi government in charge. IS, with the withdrawal of U.S. forces saw its chance for a comeback.
In January 2014, IS swept across Iraq catching the Iraqi military off guard. IS captured major cities such as Fallujah, Mosul, and Ramadi. The unprepared Iraqi military tried to surrender which resulted in the execution of 1,700 Iraqi soldiers at the hand of IS.
The Kurds in northern Iraq fared better and were able to fight off IS more effectively than the Iraqi military.
IS implemented harsh Islamic Law in the territory it had captured. Public executions were common. Iraqi citizens suffered immensely under IS. IS enslaved and committed genocide against the Yazidis, a small religious minority in Iraq. IS also released numerous graphic execution videos, spreading fear throughout the world.
The atrocities committed by IS made them a huge target for countries around the world. In August of 2014, the U.S. began conducting airstrikes against IS. U.S. special forces also began to arrive. The UK, Belgium, France, Australia, and many other nations sent special operation forces to Iraq to train the Iraqi military and combat IS.
By 2015, IS was no longer on the offensive as the group began to lose ground. IS found it hard to hold on to territory as many nations came bearing down on them.
In 2016, Iraqi forces recapture Fallujah. Over 300 Iraqi troops were killed and over 2,000 IS militants were killed during the battle. Iraqi troops begin to move on Mosul one of the last remaining IS strongholds.
By 2017, IS only had one finally stronghold in Mosul. Around 12,000 IS fighters held the city. IS was determined to hold onto Mosul until death. Fighting happened at extremely close quarters. Iraqi forces had to clear the city house by house. IS ambushed Iraq convoys on small tight streets. Fighting lasted 9 months. Over 1,000 Iraqi troops were killed along with two U.S. troops and between 7,000 and 10,000 IS fighters were killed.
The battle of Mosul marked the end of IS rule in Iraq. Although IS is still active and using various guerrilla tactics, IS holds no territory. The IS terror in Iraq took the lives of over 34,000 Iraqi troops, along with 57 U.S. troops, 43 Iranian troops, and over 1,000 Kurdish fighters. IS lost around 55,000 fighters throughout the course of the war. It is estimated that around 67,000 civilians were killed during both the fighting and under harsh IS rule.