Just what is ISIS/ISIL/IS?

August 25, 2014  
Categories: Musings
Tags: Terrorism

Is ISIS just another brutal AK- and scimitar-waving extremist group with a penchant for cruelty, torture and a penchant for forcible caprine sodomy? A lot of people are talking about ISIS (or ISIL or IS) on the news and in social media. First when they were involved in Syria, then when they were pushing through what might charitably be called ineffective resistance from the Iraqi Army, more so again when images of atrocities against the Yazidis and local Christians emerged and of course most recently when they beheaded American journalist James Foley. Not everyone has a general understanding of what ISIS is, or at least not more than that they’re the kinda sick fuckers who will take any excuse to throw a cruelty party (and not the good kind with bewbs, either). We figure’d we’d break it down Barney-style for ya, and the perfect person to do that was Groz.

Grunts: caprine

Mad Duo

Just what is ISIS/ISIL/IS?

by Groz

During the last few weeks, international news outlets have been flooded with acronyms such as ISIL, ISIS, and IS. These acronyms have been used interchangeably by various sources adding to the confusion. It seems more time has been spent arguing over the proper acronym for this group, rather than what ISIL/ISIS/IS actually is. First, let’s discuss what these acronyms actually mean before going into detail of why you need to know what this group is, what are their goals, and why they are so dangerous.

ISIL and ISIS mean essentially the same thing. ISIL stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, while ISIS means the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Sham refers to the area known as the Levant in Arabic. IS is simply the name this group began using once it established the Caliphate. So to simplify the acronym controversy, they all mean basically the same thing and are a result of rough translation to English, and of the group’s evolution. Use whatever name you wish, but focus on what the group is and not the semantics of what to call them. For the rest of this article we will refer to this group as IS.

What is ISIS - Abu Omar al-Shishani

Aegis LE Logo BBC (300x100)

Now that we have put the acronym controversy to rest let’s discuss the group itself. The Islamic State is a hard line Salafist Sunni Jihadist group composed of various ethnic groups and nationalities including Arabs, Europeans, Americans, and sub groups from the Caucasus such as Chechens. This organization views everyone that doesn’t adhere to their interpretation of Salafist Sunni Islam as kuffar, or infidels. Kaffir have three options: convert, pay jizyah (tax), or go under the sword (execution). IS literally gives “kaffir” these three options and has followed through by brutally slaying Shia Muslims (who they view as apostates), Christians and Yazidis as in the Sinjar Crisis.

The brutality I just mentioned includes beheading, crucifixion, and burying victims alive. This type of wholesale slaughter even drew Al Qaeda to question the validity of IS’s methods. IS’s goal is to expand their territory in Northern Syria and Iraq across the Middle East into North Africa and as far as Spain. The territory they control is referred to as a Caliphate.

So how did this group, vile even by Jihadi standards, establish a government in an area roughly the size of Belgium while fighting two conventional armies, including one trained by the US? The Islamic State started off as one of many jihadi groups in the Syria/Iraq area during the early phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Originally called JTJ (Jam’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad), IS was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and manned by local and foreign jihadis. This group originated in Jordan then shifted to fighting coalition forces (CF) in Iraq. Its goals were to take control of Iraq, destroy the Shia population and establish a Sharia government in the form of a Caliphate. Their tactics, techniques, and procedures included martyrdom (suicide) operations, small arms attacks, and IEDs.

JTJ became well known following the beheading of Nick Berg. This group then became known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, later referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq by the CF. As time went on their numbers swelled with foreign fighters. They would eventually become a shadow government in large parts of the al-Anbar province and elsewhere in Iraq. Iraqi rejection of AQI/ISI’s heavy-handed tactics, coupled with targeted strikes by the CF, would lead to AQI/ISI’s downfall.

What is ISIS - ISIL has tanks

The death knell for AQI/ISI was the killing of al-Zarqawi and the Sunni Awakening of the al-Anbar tribes in response to AQI’s “hard power” (i.e. “wanton brutality”) to control the population. Their influence plummeted and they became a non-player during the end stages of OIF/OND. It was during this time period that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would take over their leadership as Emir.

Following their failures in Iraq, ISI slowly regrouped and reformed utilizing lessons learned. The main lessons were: using only hard power results in a lack of local support, hit and run tactics result in not holding territory, propaganda must be utilized to shape the narrative, and soft power is the only way to solidify territory gained. These lessons learned, plus adaptation to their enemies’ tactics and utilization of seasoned commanders such as Chechens, would prove crucial during the Syrian Civil War.

During that conflict IS would conquer and control Northern Syria. However, the Syrian Civil War would not be obstacle-free for IS. They would come to blows with AQ affiliates after trying to take control of another AQ group in Syria against the orders of Ayman al-Zawahiri. This war with AQ would not destroy IS, but actually strengthen it as it showed that AQ could not dictate to IS’s Emir Abu Bakr.

In the video below you’ll see Chechen, Dagestani and Ingush fighters pledge their allegiance to IS. You’ll need to go about 2 minutes in to skip past the melodramatic intro.

Eventually AQ would relent in its attacks on IS, further forging IS’s image as the true power in the region. After a period of consolidation in Syria, IS surged across the Iraqi border, taking key cities in al-Anbar province in early 2014. In Spring/Summer 2014, Iraqi Security Forces would desert en masse as IS opened up a northern front and advanced to within 40 miles of Baghdad. By creating a government in the areas they control, IS utilized lessons in soft power learned years before in Iraq.

What is ISIS - the hopeful ISIS map

IS used that soft power to fill the void left by both the Assad and Maliki governments. By providing services like price and food inspections, charity, and a justice system (Sharia), IS has become an actual government in their areas of control. With the help of an extremely successful propaganda department, IS has pushed their message using websites, social media posts, and other media to entice even Muslims in Western countries to join their ranks. With these successes, IS has become the most well-funded terror organization in the world with estimated assets of $2 Billion (US Dollars).

This financial situation is in part due to meticulous record keeping including annual reports and taking control of oil, electrical plants, and gold taken from banks. With 2Bil in assets and vast amounts of captured equipment from Syrian and Iraqi depots, IS has the funding and weapons to maintain control of the territory it has acquired as well as expand even further. They have already enjoyed battlefield successes few people expected.

What is ISIS - Abu Omar al-Baghdadi-Caliph Ibrahim

The Mad Duo says they miss the old, hot ISIS they wanted to see naked, but that’s just not the reality anymore. Their zeal, equipment and organization combined by a call by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now known as Caliph Ibrahim fro all who follow their interpretation  of Islam to join the Caliphate, IS has become a nightmare scenario. They have no semblance of restraint and an utter lack of decency.These animals are vile, sadistic and a danger to be reckoned with.

More to follow.

If you want to do some more research on IS, check out this documentary from VICE. Make sure to keep a constant eye on Long War Journal, they’re a great resource.


About the Author: Sean “Groz” Burke is a former Assault Section Leader in the Marine Corps infantry with combat deployments to assorted sunny Middle Eastern and African locations. During his tenure as a gyrene many doors were kicked, gates blown and people’s days excessively ruined. During these deployments Sean often instructed the use of foreign weapon systems, helped his command understand the armament capabilities of the enemy and was his unit’s resident “terp wrangler.” He attended numerous PME schools, including Sensitive Site Exploitation and the Iraqi Arabic and Culture Course. After departing the Marine Corps Sean graduated Temple University with a degree in history and is now (no shit) a high school teacher. When not teaching he continues to compulsively study foreign weapon systems, world affairs and foreign policy. Groz is one of the biggest geardos the Mad Duo knows (which is really saying something) with a mastery of the English language even Karl Childers might envy. He is a wealth of information regarding all things Cordura, Steel and COMBLOC.



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About the Author

The Mad Duo are the most renowned, scholarly, door-kickingest action figures since...well, ever. They, their wretched minions and other abject flunkies are an improbable (and awesome) tale unto themselves. Read more about them here.


  1. TheDudeAbides

    What’s the use. They are all funded by either Saudi Arabia, UN or U.S.

  2. Uncommon Sense

    What are the odds that the detainees our Commander in Douchebaggery ordered released from Gitmo went on to help form/shape the leadership in charge of ISIS?

    • Soda

      Zero. The Afghan Taliban have absolutely nothing to do with ISIL. Not only that, the current leadership of ISIL has been in place since Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed in April 2010. Nothing about ISIL is new (except the current operational activity), including the frequent name changes since they formed in the late-90’s: JTJ (90’s-2004) -> AQI (2004-2006) -> MSC (2006) -> ISI (2006-2013) -> ISIL/ISIS (2013-2014) -> IS (2014-present).

      • Uncommon Sense

        I see. Thank you for the summarization.

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