In this section, we will look at the roots, players, strategies, impact and victims of the Islamic State. How did this happen? What can be done? What are the prospects for peace? What effect will a generation of displaced, uneducated and traumatized children have on the global economy and political world stage now and in the years to come?
In February 2014, ISIS emerged as a more barbaric offshoot of Al Qaeda which considered the fledgling group’s ideas and practices too severe for its liking. The organization now referred to the Islamic State swept across northwestern Iraq, eventually expanding its territorial control by capitalizing on the instability of the civil war in Syria. Today, a protracted conflict wages on between IS and its allies, and their opponents, crippling the economy, infrastructure, social services, and cultural heritage of the region. Further complicating the crisis is the fact that many of the opponents, though united in their opposition to IS, are avowed enemies and rivals of one another.
Islamic State attracts Iraqi Sunnis who hold grievances against the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad as well as a variety of armed Syrian opposition groups. International fighters have joined the cause to help propagate a strict interpretation of Islam based on its founding principles from the 7th century, along with the guiding principle of tawhid, or monotheism (the oneness of god). The ostensible goal is to establish a 21st century Caliphate, in which an ultraconservative Islam becomes the law of the land. To this end, IS has zealously sought to eliminate those who do not follow their version of Islam, and to exact concessions (taxes) and services (slavery) from non-Islamic monotheists.
The threat and cost to surrounding countries is immense as is the pressure on the United States and other powers to resolve the conflict. Attempts to suppress the growth of the Islamic State have been occasionally successful, but the U.S. will not put more feet on the ground after its costly mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American policy of training troops, supplying funds and materials to allies, and relying on drone attacks has tempered but not halted the progress of IS. Secondary problems have further complicated the effort; refugees, including over 50% of the Syrian population, has turned a localized conflict into a truly global crisis that is forcing world leaders to respond.