Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, September 20th, 2018

ISIL – The Product of Social-Political Structure

The establishment of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group was not a sudden and spontaneous issue apart from social, cultural and political backgrounds. All political movements and militant parties are the product of social and political structure. The political upheaval in Iraq which created a rift between Shia and Sunni Muslims and the Arab Spring spread in Syria that also fueled sectarianism paved the ground for extremism and emergence of a radical group. The individuals recruited by the militant groups are born into poverty, radicalized in prison, and having low-levels of education and shallow theological knowledge of Islam.
Following the 2003 US attack in Iraq, which led to the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, sectarian violence broke out and it was changed into a suitable hunt for al-Qaeda militants.
In pursuit of this opportunity, a Jordanian man known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a street thug and former prisoner in Jordan, established al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 and had the blessing of Osama bin Laden to advance towards a total war against Shia Muslims. The mounting sectarian tensions allowed Zarqawi to gain followers and resources for his fanatical organization.
“Zarqawi himself was deeply sectarian, but also saw that provoking Sunni-Shia confrontation would work in his favor,” said Richard Atwood, New York director of the International Crisis Group, whose work focuses on al-Qaeda and ISIL. “He instigated attacks on Shia religious symbols, provoking a sectarian civil war.”
Al-Qaeda in Iraq merged with other groups in 2006 and adopted the name the Islamic State in Iraq while still maintaining tenuous ties to al-Qaeda leadership. According to the Wilson Center, on October 15, 2006, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who took over the group after Zarqawi’s death, announced the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as its leader.
By 2010, the vacuum between Shia and Sunni Muslims remained unfilled. As a result of political syndrome, anti-government protests erupted across the country in 2011. Security forces cracked down which further fueled the tension.
As ISIL wedged itself into the deepening furrows between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the group also focused its energies on provoking discord within sects. Demonstrating a savvy for identifying long-present tensions, it infiltrated Sunni tribal communities and turned sub-tribes or generations against each other through the selective backing and funding of groups, Atwood explained.
Where hopeful supporters saw potential for change during the 2011 Arab revolutions, ISIL saw a moment of violent disorder that could be leveraged for power. In late 2011, ISIL sent a trusted lieutenant, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, to set up a cell in Syria.
He established Jabhat al-Nusra, which would gain notoriety in the civil war for its military prowess and extensive use of suicide bombers. For years, al-Nusra hid its affiliation with ISIL and al-Qaeda. They received clandestine support in exchange for sharing its logistical and financial gains with Baghdadi. A study on Jabhat al-Nusra by the Brookings Institute found out that, in 2012, the group still received 50 percent from its funding from ISIL.
Revealing ISIL’s link to al-Nusra in 2013, Baghdadi urged Joulani to annex his group – the demand which was denied by Joulani and led to bloody struggle that killed thousands of fighters. Subsequently, ISIL built its own cell in Syria.
“After its split from al-Qaeda, ISIL moved more aggressively into the east and peeled off a lot of fighters from al-Nusra. It then moved aggressively against the rebels instead of attacking the regime,” Atwood is cited as saying.
It is believed that the emergence of the ISIL group and its ilk is strongly related to social, economic and political factors. Their ideology stems from radical environment i.e. seminaries and tribal structures which are filled with strong senses of hatred and intolerance. On the other hand, mercenary fighters are involved in conflicts for pocketing money regardless of ideology – economic issue plays its role here. Hence, ISIL was not formed overnight regardless of social, economic and political backgrounds.
For protecting their group from annihilation, a study by Carnegie Middle East Centre shows that ISIL has six major categories of income; Taxes and fees, natural resources, kidnapping, antiquities, foreign donations, looting, confiscations and fine.
In the years since 2014, ISIL’s annual revenue has declined significantly from up to $1.9b in 2014 to a maximum of $870m in 2016.

Even though the territorial and financial realms of ISIL are diminishing, this group is still able to pose threat to the region. ISIL is believed to have supporters among radicals, mainly those who live in tribal belts in Iraq and Syria and even in some war-stricken countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In brief, the role of ISIL group in destabilizing the region, despite losing ground in Iraq and Syria, should not be undervalued.