ISIS or ISIL or IS? Does it matter? | Charles Duelfer

ISIS or ISIL or IS? Does it matter?

The President gave his speech on strategy towards ISIL…except everyone calls it ISIS in the West. ISIL is Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and ISIS is Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or al Shams, which is roughly the same territory as Syria. And the group calls itself the Islamic State or IS. What gives?

The dogged retention by the President of the term ISIL may be related to the legal powers he wishes to employ. Broadly, the force he wants to bring to bear derives from counter terrorism authorities that single out Al Qaeda as the objective. It seems ISIL is linked legally if not genetically to Al Qaeda or politically to Al Qaeda. We have a well-established legal and intelligence structure in place to kill Al Qaeda targets and the President has been making great use of it.

However, ISIS (I will use the popular term) is clearly not Al Qaeda. Because we are playing catch-up with this threat, our thinking and legal authorities have not been revised to accommodate something that is radically different than Al Qaeda. Is ISIS a terrorist organization? They want to be a state. Of course, this is the last thing we want (hence our aversion to accepting their name—Islamic State, IS). Maybe they think they can eventually be accepted as the PLO eventually transitioned from a terrorist group to a state with acknowledged legitimacy. Seems dubious now, but many never dreamed Yasser Arafat would be welcomed at the White House.

ISIS is exploiting some key voids. One is geographic. The territory of Syria is up for grabs. In a different way, the territory of Iraq is up for grabs.

A second void is that the US is not structured legally or bureaucratically to kill ISIS. We have a well-oiled machine for tracking and killing Al Qaeda, but ISIS…not even close. Moreover, no one wants to take the lead. President Obama reacted because it was no longer avoidable given the brutal videos that ricocheted around the planet. But so far, the local governments have priorities that are not congruent with ours. Iraqis all have different objectives. The new government is not going to be any better than the last. The Kurds, whom the President called out separately in his speech in tacit recognition of their long held goal of being an independent state, are fighting only for their own piece of territory. And Syria, well, we either go full bore in standing up a rebel group or accept that the Russians and Iranians were right and Bashar al Assad is more in our interests because he is only killing his own people, not threatening the US.

None of these things are yet addressed in the current strategy. This will be a mess for the rest of the current administration.

This entry was posted in Intelligence, Iran, Iraq, ISIL, ISIS, Russia, Sunni, Terrorism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ISIS or ISIL or IS? Does it matter?



    United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 (2015) has determined that IS constitutes “a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security.”

    Before the Council meeting on Thursday, Russian UN envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters that one of the main objectives of the new resolution is to “circle IS as a separate, most vital terrorist threat.”

    “Formerly… the Security Council’s documents referred to IS as one of Al Qaeda’s divisions,” he said. “Now the document offers expanded criteria of listing, which makes it possible to impose limitations on any individuals or corporates smudged by relations with IS.”

    The modus operandi of terrorists has now gone technological with the latest social chat application. As defined under UNGA Res 49/60 (9 December 1994) “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public…” are now being planned using social chat applications such as WhatsApp.

    Terrorists and terrorist groups exploit the Internet and social media not only to commit terrorist acts, but also to facilitate a wide range of terrorist activities, including incitement, radicalization, recruitment, training, planning, collection of information, communications, preparation, and financing.

    In its work to address the abuse of information and communications technologies (ICT) by terrorists and terrorist groups, the Counter-Terrorism Committee is guided by several Security Council resolutions.

    Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) calls on all Member States to find ways to intensify and accelerate the exchange of operational information concerning the use of ICT by terrorist groups and to suppress terrorist recruitment.

    Security Council resolution 1624 (2005) calls for necessary and appropriate measures in accordance with Member States’ obligations under international law to prohibit by law incitement to commit a terrorist act and prevent such conduct. The resolution also recognizes the importance, in an increasingly globalized world, of cooperative action by Member States aimed at preventing terrorists from exploiting sophisticated technology, communications, and resources to incite support for criminal acts.

    Malaysian terrorists & militants joining the “jihadist” movement in Syria today are openly boasting about their exploits, posting selfies and videos on Facebook and YouTube.

    At least four of them are openly sharing their photographs and experiences on social media.

    They are believed to have been recruited by the ruthless Jabhat al-Nusra or Al Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda offshoot and Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) operatives behind decapitations and murders in Syria and Lebanon.

    As reported by The Straits Times on 27th June 2014, they have been flaunting their exploits on social media and the UNSCR 1624 (2005) is aimed at preventing terrorists from exploiting sophisticated technology, communications, and resources to incite support for criminal acts. The apparent use of ICT by terrorist-members of an United Nations designated terrorist group clearly invokes the operation of UNSCR 1373 (2001).

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