The Impacts of ISIS on Iraq and Syria


Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a group that has attracted global attention due to its brutality and weaponry disposition that has made it triumph over armed forces (Cockburn 2015; Eddine 2015). The extremist group started as a simple rebellious group in Jordan, but later transformed into a global threat when it moved to Iraq and Syria after the US-led invasion in 2003 (Knight 2014; Berti & Osete 2015).

This paper is concerned with the detrimental effects that ISIS has brought to countries, including Iraq and Syria. It is imperative to begin with providing a brief background and the structure of ISIS before delving into the effects on Iraq and Syria.

The changing nature of violent non-state actors (VNSA)

In many parts of the world, VNSAs have been undergoing drastic transformations where they have been changing into complex and strong forces with financial resources and advanced weaponry (Idler & Forest 2015).

Moreover, VNSAs are changing their recruitment strategies and, therefore, becoming more appealing to many potential recruits. For instance, most VNSAs target the most marginalized people in the communities and give them perceived hopes of making their lives better. As a result, VNSAs are attracting more recruits than ever (Idler & Forest 2015).

With many people joining the VNSAs and the huge resource and weapon endowment, the groups are becoming threats to global stability and hazards to the leaderships in the countries where they are based.

Moreover, VNSAs are now taking advantage of loopholes in government leaderships and political administrations to create their own leadership structures. Countries that have weak administrative structures are thus becoming potential grounds for thriving and formation of VNSAs. It is worth noting that abduction, extortion, and illegal trades (which are the new trend of getting resources among VNSAs) are more likely to increase in countries with political crises and civil wars (Idler & Forest 2015). Lastly, VNSAs are using unifying factors such as ideological and religious beliefs to propagate their worldviews and recruit members (Littlewood 2016; Idler & Forest 2015).

Background information on ISIS

Foundation and development

Pundits assert that ISIS originated from the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ) (Lincoln 2014; Editors 2014; Sekulow 2014), which was a religious extremist group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi formed JTJ in 1999. The major reason for the formation of JTJ was fighting the leadership in Jordan, which was criticized for not addressing the issue facing Sunni Muslims, but rather worked against them (Knight 2014).

The US-led invasion is linked to the drastic transformation of JTJ, and the consequent birth of ISIS (Kumar 2015). It is worth noting that prior to the formation of ISIS the fundamental aim of most Al Qaeda affiliate groups was fighting local governments and leaderships.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi relocated from Jordan to Iraq where his group, the a-QI, got reinforcement from other Islamic militants. A-QI was determined to take over from the interim leadership set up a caliphate in Iraq while fighting collaborators and eliminating Shia Muslims (Cockburn 2015).

The change of name from JTJ to ISIS is believed to have been instigated in Camp Bucca, a US-based military prison, where many rebels were radicalized. The camp also hosted Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, who would later become the leader of ISIS (Knight 2014).

ISIS operated in Syria and Iraq making several attacks and abductions. The US and other countries fought the terrorist group but it experienced several rebirths and rejuvenations, including 2009, 2010, and 2011 revivals. The resurgences are linked to instabilities in the region, especially the civil war in Syria (al-Tamimi 2015).

However, the 2014 expansion significantly transformed the group to the global threat it is today (Hashim 2014). Cockburn (2015) suggested that the extreme revolution in ISIS happened in a period of approximately 100 days. The terrorist group combined religious extremism and military capability to defeat their rivals and consequently spread throughout Iraq and major cities of Syria, especially Aleppo. The victories, especially the capturing of Mosul, propelled the rapid rise in ISIS and weakening of Syrian and Iraqi forces and government. The leadership of ISIS was reported asserting that it was creating an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq where all who complied with its leadership would be treated as brothers (Cockburn 2015). More than one-third of the Syrian and Iraqi territories were under the group after the 100 days (Scharf 2016).

The non-state actors ISIS structure, network, and disposition

The structure and administrative functions are critical aspects of the existence and success of ISIS (al-Tamimi 2015). It is worth noting that the structural organization of ISI has developed and transformed since 2006 (Leggiero 2015).

The current leader of ISIS is Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi who, as previously mentioned, was a prisoner in Camp Bucca. Abu Muslim Al-Turkmani and Abu Ali Al-Anbari deputize Baghdadi in Iraq and Syria respectively. The two seconds-in-command, a council of advisors, and shura constitute the Al-Imara, which is the executive branch of ISIS (Leggiero 2015).

Below the two deputies are sub-state governors in both countries who are tasked to give directions on the execution of Al-Baghdadi’s orders. On the other hand, the shura council is a system of checks-and-balances regarding the execution of orders and interpretation of Islamic law. It is worth noting that although the shura council reports to Al-Baghdadi, it can criticize the leadership and is said to have the power to ouster Al-Baghdadi in cases where he works in contrary to ISIS’s religious standards (Leggiero 2015). The declared caliphate is headed by a centralized administrative structure with institutions similar to government ministries.

Having Mosul as its stronghold base and a de facto capital in Syria, ISIS has a strong membership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Moreover, ISIS recruits members from other parts of the world, especially the youth from the West (Blaker 2015). Furthermore, the group smuggles its militants to other countries, especially as refugees.

Moreover, online radicalization and recruitment have drastically increased membership from other parts of the world (Abi-Habib & Nissenbaum 2016). It is worth noting that ISIS influences many lone terrorists and suicide bombers throughout the world.

Although a huge funding of ISIS comes from oil, it is reported that its sympathizers, including business people and politicians provide a considerable financial assistance (Kumar 2015). Moreover, even though most of the weapons were captured from Syrian and Iraqi forces, ISIS has connections from Europe, Russia, and other regions from where it gets weapons (Kumar 2015).

ISIS and the global rise of non-state actors

ISIS has realized unexpected victories over the Iraqi and Syrian forces and consequently defied the political boundaries between the two countries to create an Islamic caliphate. The challenging of conventional state authorities by ISIS has influenced the explosion of VNSA through the world (Zaman 2015).

For instance, it is reported that ISIS has inspired the rising of VNSAs in the MENA region and the Asia Pacific to countries, including Indonesia (Fisher 2014; Zaman 2015). The VNSAs are using ideologies and tactics that are similar to those used by ISIS, including either religious fanaticisms or political worldviews (Al-Ali 2016; Cockburn 2015).

As a result, global stability and political administrations in many countries are under threats due to the high insurgency of ISIS-influenced VNSAs (Fisher 2014).

Impact study

Impacts on Iraq

As the home and the birthplace of ISIS, Iran has witnessed the adverse effects of the terrorist group since its inception (Khan & Estrada 2015; World Bank 2015). First, more attacks on civilians have been witnessed from ISIS than from any other terrorist group. The ISIS attacks are more ruthless and inhumane, especially to Shia Muslims and other minority groups living in Iraq (Hashim 2014; Blaker 2015).

Constant attacks, bombing, extortions, and torture, have resulted in many Iraqis fleeing their residence and consequently more IDPs and refugees than ever before have been seen in Iraq (Editors 2014; Kelly 2014).

Moreover, attacks from ISIS and confrontations between the group and armed forces have resulted in destructions of material goods, infrastructural systems, and historical and cultural property (Davis 2016; Eddine 2015).

ISIS propaganda has also made the people in Iraq live in fear and suspicion. Tensions among members of communities are heightened, especially with the anti-Shiite attitudes and rhetoric from ISIS and their sympathizers (Al-Ali 2016; Blaker 2015; Cockburn 2015).

Impacts on the economic factors

It is imperative to note that the economy of any country highly depends on political stability. As such, any instabilities in sociopolitical spheres result in economic disintegrations. The Iraqi economy has been the victim of the war for a long time in history. The ISIS insurgency made the predicament worse. Many sectors of the economy have been adversely affected since 2006 (Cockburn 2015; Eddine 2015).

First, the crisis in Iraq has pushed away foreign investment. It is highly unlikely that international firms would spread their portfolio in war tone countries. Moreover, the ISIS leadership is anti-west and, therefore, they are more likely to attack business owned by foreigners. In addition, ISIS has banned the sale and use of certain products from foreign countries in Iraq, especially under the caliphate.

Second, local investors have been negatively affected by the ISIS insurgency. As mentioned earlier, the group gets a portion of its funding from extortions, fines, and taxes. The taxes and fines are oftentimes so high that they act as deterrents to investment. It is reported that almost every aspect of the economy under ISIS is highly taxed (Paraszczuk 2015). In addition, all business that ISIS militant deem as immoral as closed.

A case was reported where a local entrepreneur was forced to close her salon on the ground that her type of business promoted debauchery (Paraszczuk 2015). Of the decision was based on religious extremism and fanaticism, which are the key drivers of ISIS. Moreover, the extremist ideologies have led to harassment of women entrepreneurs where they are discouraged from running any type of business (Paraszczuk 2015).

Third, the economy in Iraq has been affected due to interference in trade. It is worth noting that trade is facilitated by many factors such as infrastructure. As a result, alternative trade routes have been created and consequently affecting Iraqi economy. ISIS causes distractions in many trade routes while destroying infrastructure (World Bank 2015). It is imperative to note that the adverse effects more profound in international trade between Iraq and other countries. For instance, the 2014 drastic spread of ISIS resulted in huge drops in trade flows. While the imports to Iraq fell by approximately 45%, the imports dropped by 25% (World Bank 2015).

Fourth, tourism in Iraq has faced huge challenges resulting from ISIS crisis. Traditionally, Iraq has been the destination for many tourists, especially religious visitors (Raj & Griffin 2015). However, the killing of tourists, especially the Shiite pilgrims, by ISIS has resulted in drastic reduction in the number of tourists (Arango 2016).

Fifth, unemployment level among Iraqis has soared. The closure of businesses and the dropping investments have resulted in massive job losses. It is argued that destroying jobs and creating unemployment is a tactic employed by ISIS to make recruitment. Many Iraqis are reported to have joined ISIS because of unemployment and the consequent desperation (Paraszczuk 2015).

Impacts on civil society

The civil society in Iraq has been affected in numerous ways. First, Iraqi women have received gender-based discrimination in almost all aspects of their lives. For instance, women have received threats and attacks, which are geared to discouraging them from involving themselves in any form of employment and entrepreneurship (Niqash-Ammar 2016). Moreover, gender-based sexual violence against women has been propagated by ISIS where reports of rape have been made (Al-Ali 2016; Davis 2016). The extremist group has made it difficult for the victims to seek medication and treatment through mocking those who report and giving deterrent instructions to doctors (Davis 2016; Al-Ali 2016).

Second, the young people and children in Iraq have been subjected to threatening and horrible situations. Many of the youth and children are forcefully recruited into the militia. Children are radicalized and trained to adhere to the extremisms ideologies (Al-Ali 2016).

Third, the minority societies, including Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and Turkomans are faced by harsh treatments, killing, abductions, and other inhumane conditions (Hanish 2015). For instance, reports have been made of ISIS beheading Christian children for not renouncing their faith and joining Islam. The ill treatment of the minority societies has resulted in displacements of Iraqi and cities such as Mosul losing their cultural diversities. The displaced persons are forced to live under deplorable conditions where sanitation, healthcare, education systems, and other social amenities are not available (Hanish 2015).

ISIS training and recruitment rate

To strengthen and expand the Islamic caliphate, ISIS drastically increased the rates of training and recruitment of new militants. It is reported that by 2012, 85 training camps were established in Syria (Roggio & Weiss 2015). It is imperative to note that many training grounds in Syria have been attacked by coalition airstrikes. Nevertheless, it is not established whether they are destroyed. Moreover, there are high chances that some training camps remain unknown to other people apart from the ISIS. As such, the post-2014 era may be witnessing higher rates of training in Syria (Gates & Podder 2015).

Gates and Podder (2015) suggest that it is quite a task to get direct evident of local recruitment. As such, data on the rate of recruitment of Syrians rely heavily on indirect evidence.

Moreover, ISIS has faced some challenges recruiting Syrians and, therefore, the rates of recruiting foreigners are considerably higher. Most Syrians, especially rebels, have considered ISIS as an oppressive and cruel group and has changed the course of the revolution in a negative way. As such, ISIS is only popular among former criminal and Syrians who are destitute (Eddine 2015). Moreover, the recruitment among locals is increased by propagating the ideologies that some communities have been excluded by local administrative structures. In addition, anti-Shiite attitudes among some Syrian Muslims have considerably increased the rates of recruitments among local.

Impacts on neighboring countries

Impacts on Syria

The group’s successes in Syria are fueled by internal instabilities, especially the civil war that began in 2011. With more than 50,000 militants operating in Syria, ISIS’s effects on the country are apparent (Kumar 2015). Firsts, abduction, killing, and attacks on civilians are common in Syria. This resulted in mass movements of Syrians as IDPs and as refugees. IDPs and refugees are subjected to harsh experiences where most of them die on their journeys.

Second, ISIS has worsened the civil unrest in Syria. The fighting against rebels by the Syrian armies and their allies is more delicate and extremely complicated having more civilian casualties.

Third, the economy of Syria is almost collapsing. ISIS has made investment and trade so difficult in Syria. Moreover, the Syrian government has lost many resources, including raided weaponry.

Fourth, ISIS has negatively affected cultural and religious diversity in Syria. The extremist group has attacked minority groups and the Shia Islam making them flee. Those who remain are either subjected to harsh treatment or forced to join ISIS.

Fifth, ISIS has tortured even the most vulnerable in the Syrian communities. Women are subjected to gender-based violence or slaughtered while children are killed or forced to become militants and propaganda tools at very young age (Pickles 2015; Wyke 2015).

Lastly, ISIS is responsible for immense destructions of cultural property. For instance, old cities such as Aleppo and Damascus are destroyed by regular confrontations between Syrian forces and ISIS and the common bombing (Arimatsu & Choudhury 2015).

Impacts on the new generation education under ISIS

Apart from making education in Syria considerably inaccessible and expensive, ISIS has drastically changed education programs and curricular. Education is now used as a radicalizing tool where jihadist ideologies are propagated. Subjects such as music are banned since they are considered to propagate debauchery (O’Keeffe & Pasztor 2016).

Moreover, most educational centers only admit male students. Where female learners access education, they are not allowed to go certain levels (post-puberty). According to the ISIS ideologies, girls should only be taught to be good wives and not waste time in schools (Berti & Osete 2015).

Lastly, the conventional classrooms are no longer commonly used. Boys who access education are taught in private buildings (O’Keeffe & Pasztor 2016).


The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is probably the most ruthless and the strongest religious extremist group in the world. The group is based in the Middle East, along the border between Iraq and Syria. In fact, the group has made the borderline obsolete, declaring an Islamic caliphate that occupies some region of Syria and some parts of Iraq.

ISIS operates in the region with ultimate impunity attacking, terrorizing, abducting, beheading, and taxing civilians.

ISIS originates from al-Qaeda affiliated group that was based in Jordan that moved to Iraq with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The group has transformed and evolved over time to become a considerably strong threat to regional and global stability. It is apparent that regional instabilities, especially the civil war in 2011, have facilitated the development of ISIS.

In 2014, ISIS realized tremendous growth and had many victories against the Syrian and Iraqi forces. As a result, ISIS captured major cities such as Mosul and critical oil-rich land in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, the group took a lot of weapon from the forces and, therefore, it is one of the strongest group.

With strong military equipment and trained and committed militants, ISIS has left trails of effects on Syria and Iraq. Deaths, displacements of people, maiming and injuries, sexual violence, and abductions are some of the adverse effects that are apparent in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, economic devastations are evident in many parts of Syria and Iraq. Properties worth billions of dollars have been destroyed while investment and trade are made nearly impossible. In addition, ISIS has influenced the education system where the curriculum in learning centers under the declared caliphate has been changed to propagate jihadist ideologies. Furthermore, education for girls beyond certain levels has been curtailed while boys get educated in nonconventional rooms.

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