ISIS and the Syrian Conflict

Hannah Scott, Brad Dabdoub, Jen Kelso

What's Going On in Syria?

Spring 2011: The current Syrian civil war begins with protests against government corruption and human rights abuses as part of the Arab Spring.
Summer 2011: By that summer, military force had been deployed against the protestors, but large-scale demonstrations continued, even as al-Assad's forces grew increasingly violent.
By 2012, the conflict had escalated into a civil war as a variety of rebel groups took action against the Syrian government's military forces.
Now, estimates of the death toll vary, but indicate that at least 100,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the conflict (probably many more), and almost 9 million have become refugees or internally displaced.
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Who is ISIS?

ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is an extremist Sunni Islam group dedicated to the creation of a caliphate in the region of the world known as the Levant, which includes Syria and Iraq. In the wake of the Syrian civil war, ISIS has gained much influence and power, and currently is holding territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

So, What Does the Syrian Conflict Have to do with ISIS?

Sunni Recruits: The majority of Syrian Muslims identify as Sunni, while al-Assad and his government are Shia. Because of this, Sunni Muslims have been targeted in the civil war, and many of the opposition forces are Sunni Muslim groups. ISIS also identifies as Sunni, so has been able to find recruits from other rebel groups.
Syrian Chaos: the chaos of ongoing violence has allowed ISIS to capture and hold territory.
Gulf State Funding: ISIS, while not a Syrian rebel group, identifies as Sunni, and in this way has been able to get donations from nations with Sunni majorities--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar.

The Major Players in Syria Right Now

What is ISIS Doing Now in Syria?

In the midst of the civil war, ISIS is holding territory in the northeastern part of Syria, including the cities Raqqa (declared the seat of the new caliphate) and Aleppo. They are also currently engaged in a battle with the Kurds for the border town of Kobane. In most cities ISIS occupies, it institutes its harsh version of Islamic law, with armed patrol guards to ensure civilians' compliance. A Raqqa inhabitant called Abu Saif (name changed for his safety), though against ISIS and their actions in his city, said that ISIS "deserves credit" for their work--according to him, since entering Raqqa, ISIS really has created an organized state.

"With the departments they've established, they really have created a state..." - Abu Saif, 2014

Syria Right Now

The fighting in Syria is continuing between Assad's forces, ISIS and other powerful extremist groups, and the Free Syrian Army and partner Syrian rebel groups. In September 2014, the U.S. and a few other nations began using airstrikes in ISIS-controlled areas of Syria in attempts to dislodge their hold on Syrian territory. At the moment, as previously mentioned, Syrian border town Kobane is caught in the middle of a battle for control between ISIS and Kurdish forces. In the meantime, violent clashes continue all over the country.

So What's Next?

Both the Syrian Civil War & the rise of ISIS are issues with global consequences, and many other countries have already gotten involved -- from accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons, to supporting either the Syrian government or rebel groups, to initiating airstrikes aimed at weakening ISIS. Next steps seem to be uncertain on all sides.