Marriage of Convenience: Misconceptions of ISIS’s Conception

Two hands displaying different flags shake hands surrounded by interrogative text. Illustration by Míceal Munroe-Allsup.

Growing up in Kurdistan, Iraq, I never thought I would be sitting in an American classroom where I would be learning about the part of the world I call home. Nevertheless, the experience has been immensely valuable and informative, but it also has its challenges. The first challenge is to be academic and intellectual when I am emotionally invested in the issues discussed in the classroom. The second challenge is to address misunderstandings and run the risk of being misunderstood when sharing opinions that do not fall into the Lewis & Clark norm. In this article, I aim to respond to an incident in one of my International Affairs classes, which shows a bigger problem in the lack of understanding of Islamic terrorism and the extent of the unintended consequences of Western intervention.   

There seem to be widespread misconceptions about the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) in the Western world. The West continues to view ISIS as a barbaric group of savages who used the American withdrawal from Iraq to their advantage to invade large parts of two failed states: Syria and Iraq. While there is no doubt that ISIS’s actions have been among the most barbaric and gruesome in our modern history, they control a very powerful and calculated organization which should be understood and discussed to prevent the growth of future radical groups.

The beginning of ISIS has been under much debate. Several articles by the Washington Post, the New York Post and the Guardian suggest that ISIS’s history goes back to 2004 in Bucca Camp. At this camp, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and other incarcerated ISIS commanders started the early networking phase of the group in the infamous Bucca Camp run by American troops in Iraq. This suggests that ISIS’s growth started during the invasion of Iraq and not after it, as believed by many people. To create a group of that level of organization, several years of work and planning was certainly put to use.

Following the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Bashar Al-Assad’s reassertion of control of many Syrian territories previously held by ISIS, the group has been effectively crippled. Yet, it remains a danger as it has the potential to become something more gruesome and more advanced, similarly to how Al Qaeda developed into the more gruesome and advanced ISIS. To understand the dangers of this group, it is important to take a look at its components, which in turn gives us an insider look at ISIS’s motivations.

ISIS certainly includes some fantasy searchers and bloodthirsty maniacs from all around the world, but the majority of its members have been Islamic radicals and previous Ba’athist party members who were the leading force in Iraq for almost five decades. This unlikely alliance of convenience formed in Camp Bucca in southern Iraq as both groups were put in terrorism containment groups. However, the two have been natural enemies for many years as the Ba’athist regime has led many crackdowns on Islamic radicals. Thus, the relationship between the two can be described as a marriage of convenience.

ISIS and the Ba’athists found a sense of unity when both were fueled with the desire of revenge on the U.S. They found each other complimentary as the Ba’athists found purpose and total devotion in the extremists and the extremists found organization and discipline in the Ba’athists. This was a perfect combination to create a deadly and barbaric yet a planned and strong organization.

Prison camps such as Bucca Camp and Abu Ghraib have been the center of extremist news and propaganda for jihad. In fact, these camps have increased the amount of terror in some cases rather than decrease it as many of the people imprisoned were innocent and had no association with the more extreme and radical groups. While the U.S. invasion of Iraq had many positive outcomes such as more protection for the Kurds and Shias and the removal of the Iraqi dictator: Saddam Hussein. It also had some mistakes such as the prison camps which have essentially failed in containing terrorism as they focused on containing individuals rather than the ideology. Perhaps a different approach than prison camps should be taken in the future to eliminate terrorists from a given society.

My belief behind this article is to support global and intellectual conversation both in our classrooms and in our daily lives. This way, we could truly make our college a place where different perspectives and ideas meet each other.

Written by Abdulrahman al Rayyis.

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