ISIL Marks Two Years
Jun. 29, 2016
The Islamic State militant group proclaimed itself a caliphate and claimed territory spanning Syria and Iraq exactly 2 years ago.
Recently, international military action has taken back some of the areas controlled by the group. But the threat it poses is still very real.
The predecessor to the Islamic State was an organization known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq. In 2011, civil war broke out in Syria and the group seized numerous towns in the country.
In 2014, it captured Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. That June, it began referring to itself as Islamic State, and proclaimed itself to be an independent caliphate.
The group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi demands that all Muslims swear allegiance to him. Tens of thousands of people from around the world, many of them young, have done just that and joined as fighters.
The group has maintained control through fear and violence, staging public executions of people who don't conform to its strict interpretation of Islam and killing foreign journalists. Such brutality has shocked the world.
In August 2014, the US-led military coalition that includes countries from Europe and the Middle East began air raids. Russia followed suit. Islamic State suffered setbacks.
The military operations have produced results. Earlier this year, the strategic city of Palmyra was recaptured from Islamic State, and just days ago Fallujah was as well.
However, members of the militant group, or people apparently influenced by it, have carried out terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East. The Islamic State group remains a global threat.
Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition fighting Islamic State militants, stressed that point to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"They will try to inspire through the internet these lone wolf types of attacks and you know any deranged individual who wants to commit a crime can suddenly fly the banner of ISIL and get an international headline. And they recognize this and they're trying to inspire it," McGurk said.
He said the US-led coalition and local troops are making it harder for the militants to organize and finance their activities.
He told committee members that Islamic State fighters are panicking on the battlefield. He said foreign recruits want to go back home.
"We're beginning to totally isolate their presence in Raqqa and Mosul and I believe we're setting the conditions in place to get them out of both of those cities," McGurk said.
ISIL Fights Back With Chemical Weapons
Islamic State militants are fighting back hard against coalition forces, even using chemical weapons.
The frontline base of Iraqi troops lies about 80 kilometers south of Mosul.
The Iraqi forces have deployed a number of armored vehicles at the base. They are gearing up for a battle to recapture the strategic city.
"We expect that we'd be able to completely recapture Mosul sometime between late this year and the first few months of next year," says Najim A. Al-Jobori, Ninevah operations commander.
But Kurdish soldiers who are fighting alongside the Iraqi forces aren't that optimistic. One of the reasons is the militants attack with chemical weapons.
These attacks, which have reached near the base, have increased since March. But there aren't enough masks to protect the soldiers from the poisonous gas. There are only 15 masks for 1,000 soldiers.
A hospital located near the command headquarters has been treating growing numbers of soldiers who are complaining about the symptoms of mustard gas and other chemicals.
After a mustard gas attack, blisters will develop on the skin. If the gas is inhaled, it will result in trouble breathing, and the lives of the victims would be in danger.
"The more the Islamic State militants are driven into a corner, the more likely they are to use chemical weapons, which have been banned by the international community," said Zariani Ismail, a Kurdish commander.
But it's not only the soldiers who are a target of such attacks.
Zainab Akbar Salim, 29, lives in a village near the front line. In March, a rocket carrying a chemical weapon landed right in front of her house.
Her 2-year-old daughter, Fatima, was playing outside the house. She suffered burns all over her body and had trouble breathing.
"My daughter's face and body were rapidly turning to black," says Samir Wais Hussein, Fatima's father.
Zainab's skin also developed blisters and for a while she was totally blind.
"I thought my daughter and I were going to die in a couple of days," Zainab says.
Zainab received medical treatment at a hospital in neighboring Turkey, and her condition gradually improved.
Before she went back to Iraq, she bought some clothes for her daughter. But right after that, she was told that her daughter had died.
"I have been forcing myself to live on in this house, but I am afraid to go even to the front porch. This whole thing is still painful to me," Zainab says.
About 7,000 people in the area have complained about the effects of chemical weapons. Small children have less resistance, and they are more likely to die.
Concern has been growing that Islamic State militants, with their backs against the wall, will use chemical weapons without regard for what other people think.
Koichiro Tanaka of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, joined anchor Sho Beppu in the studio.
Beppu: Let's analyze the past 2 years of Islamic State militant group's movements. This is a map that shows how they gained first the territory, but according to the US Department of Defense, how they lost their territories. How do you see this map?
Tanaka: Well I think that when they say ISIS is now losing their territories you can tell. But at the same time, you have to look at where they still have control, and the purple region is the stronghold where ISIS has the strongest presence and influence. And apart from that we have to look at this part of the region, where quite recently ISIS has still been able to gain more ground. They're becoming stronger than ever in certain locations. I think we have to take that into calculation, and consider whether they are actually losing or still winning.
Beppu: The place that you pointed out, the place that they are gaining the territory, is next to Turkey.
Tanaka: Right, and that is significant for their activities. And it's very crucial for them to hold this part of the country. Otherwise if they lose this, they're going to be totally isolated from other supply lines.
Beppu: You talked about Turkey. For the incident that took place at the airport, which they don't know who is behind this attack, but we've seen other attacks that we do know that was carried on by Islamic State militant groups. But Turkey might have had an image that it's a country that is far from its neighboring country, Syria. But it doesn't seem so, at least no longer.
Tanaka: One lesson that the Turks may have to understand here is that once you get yourselves involved in a civil war right next to your doorsteps, you're going to get burned. That is the kind of thing that is happening. And now that ISIL may have turned their forces into Turkey, or may have conducted some kind of attack through their clients inside Turkey, that is a significant development that never happened before, maybe for the past year, but still it's a very significant development that we have to look into.
Beppu: They might have lost some territory in this part of the world, but if you see what's happening in Libya in Northern Africa, if you see what's happening in Yemen, in the Arabian peninsula, wouldn't it be fair to understand that their influence or their activities are spreading outside this territory?
Tanaka: Yes. It doesn't necessarily mean that people who have been conducting their fights here are in Syria and Iraq are now moving towards that part of the world. It's more likely that the would-be foreign fighters inside Syria and Iraq are now changing, shifting their activities to their home countries. And that they're influenced by the activities of ISIL itself, and that they now claim to be part of ISIL back at home. So the ideology and the method, or all these kinds of hatred against the others, are influenced by the existence of ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Beppu: We've recently also seen the attack in Florida in the United States. Well, we do know what happened in Paris and Brussels last year. How do you think the danger in the Western countries?
Tanaka: Unfortunately it is very difficult to detect, and also to avert a terrorist attack which is conducted by so-called lone-wolf terrorists, or homegrown terrorists, in that respect. So I think we have to be at least aware that there are groups or individuals who are now trying to target some kind of society, community, that they consider is worth attacking. And that is not only confined to Europe, the United States, it could be other locations in Asia, or maybe in Japan as well.
Beppu: Now, after that 2 years, how do you think that things will develop will develop in the coming year or two years. Do you think this militant group will spread or will they group towards a path to dimi9nish their power?
Tanaka: Maybe they might lose more territory in Syria and Iraq, although it's highly unlikely that they'll be eliminated from that part of the world. The issue that I really want to focus on here is what happened to the so-called caliph Baghdadi, the so-called leader of the caliphate. No one is raising the question of what he's doing and what kind of role he's playing today. If he's eliminated from the scene, then this is not a caliphate as they claim it. This is only a group that's sort of a terrorist movement and terrorist ideology that has very little to do with Islamic teaching and other Islamic history. So I think we have to look into what's happening with the so-called leadership ISIL, Islamic State, and then see what's going to happen from there. We do know there have been attacks targeting Baghdadi, by American forces and also by drones. That might have had some influence on what is happening today. But people are not talking about him, and that is sort of a mystery to me.
Beppu: There are people who have been pointing out from the very beginning that the Islamic State militant group is just the remnants of the regime of Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Or it's version two of the regime. So do you think that kind of aspect can be more highlighted as time goes on?
Tanaka: It's possible. That is the reason that I'm saying we have to look into what's happening to Baghdadi himself, what has happened to him. Otherwise we might be blinded by the rhetoric that is coming out from ISIL or the Islamic State. So we have to be very careful from here, again.