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Islamic State Changed Syria and Iraq in 2014

FILE - Islamic State fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province in June 30, 2014.
FILE - Islamic State fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province in June 30, 2014.
Islamic State Changed Syria and Iraq in 2014
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The actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have angered people in many countries. The group enslaved people and executed hostages. They put videos of some of the executions on the Internet.

Militants who were members of al-Qaida in Iraq helped create ISIS.

Michael Stephens is a director of the Royal United Services Institute, a research group. He says the fast rise of ISIS in 2014 surprised many observers.

“It was very clear that there were problems building up in Iraq at the end of 2013, but everybody was distracted by Syria. When ISIS actually did hit in Iraq, it changed the game completely.”

The group’s first major victory happened in early January, when it seized the Iraqi town of Fallujah. Sajjan Gohel is the director of international security for the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a group that studies terrorism.

“When Fallujah fell, that should have been a wake-up call. We’ve sleepwalked into this problem and have got in very late in the game.”

In June, ISIS took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Iraqi soldiers fled. ISIS seized the weapons they left behind and about $400 million. The terrorist group then began calling itself the Islamic State and seized large areas of northern Syria and Iraq. Sajjan Gohel says some people in those areas welcomed the group.

“They restored land taken by the Assad regime to the, to the tribes-people. They allowed them to run their businesses. They married into families. So they enhanced their position locally.”

While some people supported the group’s actions, many opposed the decisions of Iraq’s Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He was accused of poor treatment of Sunnis, which some believed caused attacks against the government. International leaders strongly pressured him to resign. He did so in August.

That is the sound of emergency food being dropped on Sinjar Mountain. The United States and its allies helped Iraqi forces feed and then rescue tens of thousands of minority Yazidis who were trapped on the mountain when the Islamic State took control of large parts of the area. Hundreds of Yazidis had already been killed and thousands captured and forced into slavery.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces then began fighting the Islamic State. And the United States began air strikes against Islamic State positions in Iraq, and later in Syria. The U.S. was joined by Britain, Gulf Arab states and even Iran. The Islamic State answered the counter-attacks by beheading several Western hostages and showing videos of the killings. Sajjan Gohel says the Islamic State caused countries that rarely cooperate to work together.

“ISIS has united the international community, where you have partners that have often had very terse relationships, such as Iran and the United States, also the Gulf Arab countries that have never got involved in the battle against extremists in the past in a meaningful way.”

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continue to attack opposition rebel forces in Syria. The Free Syrian Army is now fighting both government and Islamist forces. The group has asked Western countries for help. But at this point, they have not given the rebels the weapons they have asked for. Michael Stephens says that may soon change.

“I think next year what you will see is a more expressed commitment from the Americans as they realize more and more is needed in order to stop both Iraq and Syria sort of collapsing into nothingness.”

As the threat from the Islamic State grows, experts say international leaders will face increasing pressure to fight the terror group both from the air and on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by Correspondent Henry Ridgwell in London. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

building up n. idiom an increase in something that occurs as time passes (also “build up”)

distracted adj. unable to think about or pay attention to something; unable to concentrate

changed the game idiom when a newly-introduced element or factor changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way; also “game-changer”

sleepwalked v. idiom to perform acts without being fully aware

late in the game idiom (also “late in the day”) far along in a project or activity; too late in a project or activity for action, decisions to be made

enhanced adj. to increase or improve (something)

terse adj. brief and direct in a way that may seem rude or unfriendly

expressed adj. describing something that you are thinking or feeling

Were you also surprised by the fast rise of the Islamic State? Has the group affected your life or the lives of your friends or family members? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.