Names: Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
Goal: to establish an Islamic caliphate across the region
Leader: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
# of People: Unknown
Religion: Sunni Islam
ISIS was formed in April 2013. It grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Although AQI disavowed ISIS, it remains one of the main jihadist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. The “S” at the end of the acronym stems from the Arabic word “al-Sham” which can mean “Levant,” “Syria,” or “Damascus.” It is believed to refer to the Levant region in this context.
The group started out solely in Iraq. When Zarqawi, leader of AQI, was killed, the group rebranded as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). As the civil war in Syria worsened, the ISI would declare a merger with the Nusra Front to form the ISIS. Nusra commanders and al Qaeda would reject this declaration.
In Syria, the group has seen considerable military success. It has attacked its rivals and taken over territory to include Raqqa, a provincial capital.
In Iraq, the group took control of Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul. It is now headed toward Baghdad, spawning an increase of security and military support from both the US and Iran.
The partial or complete take over of cities across Syria and Iraq almost creates an entirely new country controlled by ISIS. State authority and governmental forces have evaporated in these controlled areas. In these areas, the ISIS imposes Sharia law. Boys and girls are separate at school, women must wear the niqab (full veil) in public, music is banned and the fast is enforced during Ramadan. Justice is often extremely brutal.
Much of its success is due to the group working with tribal leaders when they take over an area instead of raising its own black flag over the city. It organizes social welfare programs and recreational programs in order to garner public Sunni support. The price for the programs and money is the local enforcement of Sharia law.
Al Jazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/isil-eminent-threat-iraq-syria-20146101543970327.html
NY Times. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/11/world/middleeast/isis-control-map.html?_r=0