The capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, by Jihadi insurgents on Monday highlighted not only the chaos blighting Saddam’s former state, but gave many in the West their first glimpse of the new face of Jihadism in the region – the ISIS.
The abbreviation stands for "The Islamic State of Iraq in Syria", an al-Qaeda inspired group led by an Iraqi called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The movement is also known as "The Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant" (ISIL).
The Sunni group, originally called the ISI, was born out of al-Qaeda opposition to western forces in the early years of the Iraq War, and was responsible for some of the most brutal atrocities in that conflict.
More recently, members of the movement spread into Syria as the civil war across the border escalated, with a member of the ISI founding Jabhat al-Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian offshoot of the ISI that became the main Islamist opposition to the Assad regime.
Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq In Syria (ISIS) marching in Raqqa, Syria
Despite initially receiving funding from the ISI, al-Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Baghdadi’s group split in 2013, with divisions appearing over the ISI’s increasing brutality.
In April last year, al-Baghdadi’s officially expanded the ISI’s reach into Syria, renaming his organisation the ISIS. However, al-Baghdadi and the group’s modus operandi proved so hardline that the ISIS was publically disavowed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the de factor leader of what remains of al-Qaida.
The split diminished the ISIS’s influence in Syria, though the group still controls swathes of land straddling the two countries, from Aleppo to Fallujah, and is regularly involved in attacks on other rebel groups in the Syrian conflict.
However al-Baghdadi appears to have turned his attention back to his homeland, leading to the stunning occupation of Mosul and Tikrit earlier this week. The group currently rests just 95 miles north of the capital Baghdad.
The ISIS’s goals are to create an Islamic state stretching from Egypt to Iraq, with the immediate introduction of Sharia law in conquered territory, including beheadings and amputations. It carries out the process of securing territory though ruthless sectarian attacks. Once an area has been captured, the black and white flag of the ISIS flies aloft.