While the looming threat of terrorism continues to haunt the West and its allies, the degrading and dehumanizing toll the Islamic State has taken on vast swaths of the Middle East is something that we never saw at this scale with Al-Qaeda.
With Al-Qaeda came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, killing almost 3,000 people. Thousands more died as the United States invaded the wrong country under false pretenses and took out a leader who, despite his many crimes, brought stability to the region. The leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has accused self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of “sedition” threatening war with IS. It is worth mentioning that Baghdadi was a member of Al-Qaeda until he was kicked out in 2010. Even though the organizations seem alike, the similarities end there.
Perhaps the primary difference between the organizations is that IS is self-financing, having raised upwards of $ 4 million a day from wheat, oil refineries, taxes, ransoms and donations. Al-Qaeda focused on terrorizing, not seizing territory, and therefore was never able to extract capital the way IS has.
During the 10 years after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, the world’s No. 1 terrorist and leader of al-Qaeda, made videos detailing his plans for future attacks and his anger at Western leaders. IS doesn’t announce future plans, but instead takes responsibility for attacks soon after they happen. The organization documents destruction, people burned alive, beheadings of journalists and mass executions of Syrian Christians along with other proclaimed infidels. Their social media presence is miles ahead of al-Qaeda, posting videos and accessing Twitter and other elements of social media. It seems that Baghdadi wants to return the Middle East to the seventh century by using everything at his disposal in the 21st.
With IS, we see a fundamentalist organization that not only wants to control the future but seeks to demolish and obliterate the past. Its destruction of mosques and other Muslim holy sites has become rampant. It has destroyed artifacts from antiquity including ancient manuscripts and statues once preserved in the Mosul Library.
U.S. forces pulled out of Iraq in 2011 when many, including secretary of defense Leon Panetta, advised that it was important to have a presence in the region. President Obama’s refusal to immediately arm the rebels and to wait until IS took over parts of Northern Iraq was widely thought of as a mistake by many.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint concrete reasons for how IS became so powerful, some have attributed its rise to Syria’s demise. Many believe that the instability within Syria created a window of opportunity for IS.
As the Republican presidential candidates choose to further politicize the situation in the Middle East, the common consensus will be that withdrawing from Iraq allowed for the rise of this terrorist organization. IS was able to seize U.S. weapons from five Iraqi military divisions at a time when only half of the Iraqi government was considered reliable.
Ever since the start of the Iraq war the U.S. has lost 4,475 soldiers. It would be a shame if we lost one more. So much for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]