The Secret History Of ISIS: At the end of November 2017, it went almost unnoticed that the so-called Islamic State, the terror organization that captivated global attention, lost the last cities it controlled in the Middle East.
How did this group succeed, in a matter of months,to control at its peak a territory as big as the United Kingdom?
Let’s look at a map and trace the history of the global war against the Islamic State.
Syria and Iraq are located in the Middle East between two great rivals from an ethnic and religious point of view Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Arabia is part of the Arab world and is 87 percent Sunni while Iran is predominantly Persian and Shiite.
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein, who was Sunni, ruled the country since 1979.
In Syria, Bashar al-Assad, who like 13 percent of the population, is Alawite — a branch of Shia Islam — succeeded his father as president in 2000.
Finally, both countries have an ethnic Kurdish minority who are part of a population of about 35 million people spread over several states.
Looking at resources in the region, Iraq at the time had a third largest known oil reserves in the world.
7 main deposits of which 2 are currently being drilled.
Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraqi oil in 1972, so it can only be mined by national companies.
In 2003, the United States, under the pretext of its fight against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, formed an international coalition and overthrew the Iraqi government in three weeks.
They then put in place a provisional authority which was in charge of suppressing everything related to Saddam Hussein.
First, they banned the Baath Party which had 1.5 million members, and laid off 200,000 public sector employees.
They then dismantled the Iraqi Armed Forces and let go of more than 250,000 soldiers, mostly Sunnis.
This policy would destabilize the country and allow the emergence of rebel militias that would organize and quickly grow in power. In 2004, one such Sunni jihadist group pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and became al Qaeda in Iraq.
It was later based in Al Anbar province and essentially fought against the US coalition and the Shiites, sparking a civil war.
Later, the groups merged with five other militias and proclaimed themselves the Islamic State of Iraq.
In June 2009, the new Iraqi government auctioned away its oil deposits to multinationals.
At the same time, the US began the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, marking the end of the civil war there.
2011 would be marked by the Arab Spring with popular revolts rising up against leaders who’d mostly been in power for several decades.
Syria was not spared but the revolts were violently muted by the army, pushing some soldiers to defect and creating the Free Syrian Army.
They were quickly supported and armed, sometimes discreetly by the international community.
Fighting alongside the regular army was the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Guard Corps of the Islamic Revolution, a paramilitary organization based in Iran — both Shiites and allies of Bashar al-Assad.
The conflict would make the country unstable and allow the arrival of new Sunni jihadist and Salafist factions that quickly took over the revolution.
Among those was the Al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda.
In April 2013, the Islamic State in Iraq becomes the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, encompassing Al-Nusra.
But al-Qaeda refused to validate the new group, breaking the link between the organizations.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant decided to intervene alone in Syria.
In June, they would seize a good part of Raqqa at the expense of the Free Syrian Army.
The city became its political and military capital.
Faced with this threat, the Kurds of Syria would federate and create their own autonomous administration.
They also organized protection units: the YPG and its all-female branch the YP.
In Iraq, the second civil war breaks out with a revolt of Sunni tribes in Al-Anbar.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant rapidly gain territory.
During its offensive, the organization seized oil reserves and military equipment abandoned by the fleeing army.
In June, they captured Mosul, the second city of Iraq with 2 million inhabitants, which became its religious and intellectual capital.
However, they would be stopped in their march towards Kirkuk by the Peshmergas, the armed faction of the Kurds of Iraq.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant became the Islamic State and proclaimed a Caliphate on its territory.
Iran would react by militarily supporting Iraq and carrying out bombings.
The US creates a new international coalition, bringing together 69 countries.
This coalition would be responsible for supporting forces against the Islamic state and choking off its funding.
Around the world, jihadist rebel groups begin to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.
In the north of Syria, the Islamic State pushed the Kurds back to Kobane on the Turkish border.
But a few months later, with the support of the international coalition, the Kurds took over and pushed back the Islamic State to Lake Assad.
They then inflict a major defeat on the Islamic State by taking over the border towns of Tell Abyad, which was the major crossing point for smuggling oil, arms, and foreign fighters.
At the end of September, Russia intervened in support of Bashar al-Assad: a historical ally.
It must also defend its only naval base in the Mediterranean Sea, located in Tartus.
It would first attack rebels whose front al-Nusra then controlled 20-25% of the Syrian population.
At the same time, the Kurds announced they were joining forces with other rebel groups to form the Syrian Democratic Forces.
They tried to gain more ground by proclaiming the federal region of Rojava which made Turkey react.
Rather isolated from a diplomatic point of view, the Turks first restored ties with Russia and then launched operation Euphrates Shield.
This seized the last territories of the Islamic State along its border.
In Iraq, the Peshmerga who liberated Sinjar began to take over Mosul with the Iraqi army.
In February, Turkey reached its goal which was Al-Bab, and aimed to take over Manbij from the Kurds.
But the US and Russia would prevent it.
Turkey then officially withdrew from Syria and offered conquered land to the rebels of the Free Syrian Army.
With the Islamic State weakened and losing on all fronts, the Syrian Democratic Force enters Raqqa.
A month later, Mosul is completely liberated.
The Iraqi army and its allies quickly win back territory.
However, the Kurds of Iraq would organize a referendum for their independence, reviving ethnic tensions.
The Iraqi government then entered the fight and regained control of strategic areas including oil deposits and important borders.
Finally, a ceasefire would end this conflict.
Raqqa is now fully liberated, quickly followed by the last remaining towns and villages controlled by the Islamic State.
Today the Islamic State has no territory in the Middle East, but its reign isn’t without consequence.
In Iraq, a fragile peace seems to be holding at the moment.
The country must rebuild itself by finding a balance between its three major communities.
In Syria, the civil war that has so far killed more than 400,000 and displaced half its population is still not over.
Some areas are still controlled by rebel groups. Bashar al-Assad clings on to power and the Kurdish movement continues to be an important factor.
Finally, Iran and Russia seem to be diplomatically reinforced by this conflict.
While Saudi Arabia is now bogged down in another conflict in Yemen where it is fighting the Houthis — Shiite rebels who are backed by Iran.
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