The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) appears to have the ambition of overtaking the Al-Qaeda umbrella organization it belongs to as the forerunner of international jihadism. The capture of Iraq’s second largest city Mosul indicates the intentions of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of creating a state based on Islam and its Sharia laws. Baghdadi might hope to be regarded the new Bin Laden. What is ISIS about and what are the consequences of its rise for the Syrian conflict?
ISIS stems from Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and is also known under its Arabic acronym DAASH, for Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham. As its original name suggests, ISIS used to limit its activities to Iraq first. With the start of the Syrian conflict, AQI transformed into ISIS by creating its Syrian offspring Jabhat al-Nusra. Possibly acknowledging the threat Baghdadi’s ISIS poses to Al-Qaeda leadership’s authority, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri demands ISIS to retreat to Iraq. Zawahiri states Jabhat al-Nusra is Al-Qaeda’s representative in Syria, ISIS in Iraq. But ISIS does not withdraw from Syria, thus challenging Zawahiri and Jabhat al-Nusra. This increases tensions already existing between the two Al-Qaeda offsprings in Syria, and media report on clashes between the organizations.
Globally, governments worry about ISIS, as it might train jihadi foreign fighters - including persons from Western countries - in Syria to strike in their home countries. Terrorist attacks inside Turkey and on the Jewish museum in Brussels are linked to ISIS foreign fighters. These concerns might provoke international actors to stress for a quick solution of the Syrian conflict. As most countries prove reluctant of getting involved in the civil war directly, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad might benefit most of ISIS’ rise; The international community might regard the Syrian regime as the best alternative to contain ISIS.
The video below shows the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels May 24, 2014, allegedly by an ISIS-affiliated returned foreign fighter.