Last fall, btw brought you a story about President Obama’s address to the nation regarding a strategy to combat the Islamic State. A year later, the threat remains as strong as ever, as world leaders continue to struggle over the best way to defeat the militant extremist group.
What’s Going On Again?
Unlike conflicts that have clear sides, the situation in Iraq and Syria and dealing with ISIS is complicated. Here is a general background into the source of the problem and the main players.
In 2011, protesters from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were successful in removing repressive leaders from power. Inspired, the people of Syria demanded reforms from President Bashar al Asaad, but have been unsuccessful in their quest for change. Many small groups of armed rebels have emerged.
There are three main ethnic groups in this country. The Kurds in the north mostly want to be left alone but have been the most successful in fighting back against ISIS. The Sunni Muslims live in the West. Under Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government was Sunni controlled, but secular (non-religious). The Shiiite Muslims live in the southeastern part of the country and make up the majority population of the country.
While in Iraq, the U.S. supported the Shiites, but soldiers have often been attacked by religious extremists from both the Sunni and Shiite sides. As more and more soldiers have left Iraq, many Sunni’s (especially those who worked for Hussein) were shunned, many were unable to find work, and so many of them turned to extremist fundamental Islamic beliefs. Currently, the U.S. has not found an opposition group whose ideology it can support.
In this country, there are basically two wars going on. One is an extension of the conflict in Iraq against ISIS. The other is the ongoing Arab-Spring-influenced battle against the Syrian president and a resistance against Iranian influence. The number of rebel groups has grown, but rebel attacks against civilians make their actions no better than the oppressive government.
The members of the Islamic State wish to create a “caliphate,” a type of ancient Islamic government that would enforce very strict (and oppressive) Islamic laws as dictated by the Koran. The brutal acts of ISIS forces toward civilians have lead to the massive refugee crisis.
Challenges to Defeating ISIS
ISIS is well funded through oil revenue, taxes, threats and theft, and now controls the western part of Iraq in areas that border with Syria and Jordan. An international coalition against ISIS includes neighboring Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, the United States and key countries in the European Union (EU). Previous international efforts to defeat ISIS have been blocked by Russia and China because of those nations’ own oil interests in Syria.
Last year, the U.S. Congress authorized $500 million to fund a train-and-equip program in Syria. An effort was made to create, train, and support a rebel group in the region. The first group, originally made up of 54 fighters is down to a reported four or five. President Obama reportedly considers Syria to be, “a quagmire that defies American solutions.”