Jeb Bush’s claim that Islamic State ‘didn’t exist when my brother was president – By Glenn Kessler May 27 at 3:00 AM

 “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.” –Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), remarks during a business rountable in Portsmouth, N.H., May 20, 2015

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Our colleague Robert Costa recently wrote an interesting article about how Republican presidential hopefuls plan to frame questions about the situation in Iraq. “After more than a decade bearing the political burden of Iraq, Republicans are making a dogged effort to shed it by arguing that the Islamic State’s gruesome ascent is a symptom of Obama’s foreign policy, rather than a byproduct of the 2003 invasion they once championed,” he wrote.

Given the recent setbacks in Iraq for U.S.-backed forces, this might be an effective strategy. Former governor Bush, who was perceived to have stumbled by failing to quickly say the initial invasion was a mistake, tried this tactic in a recent appearance in New Hampshire. But does his history add up?

The Facts

Islamic State, also known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), certainly has become an important player in the Middle East, taking advantage of the civil war in Syria and the disarray in the Iraqi government to claim vast areas of both countries. In the past couple of years, the group’s activities have gathered attention in the United States; it was only a year and half ago that President Obama dismissed Islamic State as a “JV team.”

But that doesn’t mean it “didn’t exist,” as Bush put it, during President George W. Bush’s presidency. A quick check of Thomas A. Ricks’ 2009 book “The Gamble” finds a reference to a statement by Islamic State during a 2007 battle. Ricks described it as “a group affiliated with al-Qaeda.”

Indeed, to a large extent, the Islamic State of today is simply an outgrowth of al-Qaeda of Iraq. In 2007, the Times of London, quoting U.S. intelligence officials, described “a radical plan by Al-Qaeda to take over the Sunni heartland of Iraq and turn it into a militant Islamic state once American troops have withdrawn.”

The National Counterterrorism Center puts it this way: “Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and more recently the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was established in April 2004 by long-time Sunni extremist Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi.” The NCTC notes that Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006 and afterwards his successor announced the formation of the Islamic State.

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Blood Money – By Louise Shelley NOVEMBER 30, 2014

How ISIS Makes Bank

Damage at an oil refinery that was targeted by what activists said were U.S. strikes near the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, October 2, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

A key element of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been striking at the oil fields seized by the group to undermine its finances. But ISIS is a diversified criminal business, and oil is only one of its several revenue streams. U.S. officials ignore that fact at their own peril.

It is true that oil is ISIS’ key source of funding right now. The terrorist group has become the world’s richest precisely because it has seized some of the world’s most profitable oil fields in Iraq and Syria. Even with those fields operating below capacity due to a lack of technology and personnel, ISIS is estimated to be producing about 44,000 barrels a day in Syria and 4,000 barrels a day in Iraq. ISIS sells crude at a discount (around $20–$35 per barrel) to either truckers or middlemen. The crude gets to refiners at around $60 per barrel, which is still under market price. Smugglers pay about $5,000 in bribes at checkpoints to move the crude oil out of ISIS controlled territory. Even selling the oil at a discount via pre-invasion smuggling routes out of Iraq, ISIS can still expect over a million dollars in revenue each day.

And ISIS’ enemies are getting richer from the trade, too: Kurdish part-time smugglers who facilitate ISIS’ oil sales can earn up to $300,000 each month. A Kurdish newspaper recently published a list of people involved with ISIS, especially its oil operations. The list includes individuals with the last names of several Kurdish ruling families; a Toyota branch in Erbil, which sells ISIS trucks; a Politburo member and military leader; and oil refineries, among others. Some of those on the list were associated with oil smuggling under Saddam Hussein. Kurdish facilitators also provide goods to ISIS, including trucks, gas cylinders (for cooking and heating), gasoline, and other necessary commodities.

Oil is not ISIS’ only source of revenue. For example, when the group needed seed capital to recruit personnel and acquire military equipment to conquer the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq, some of it came from donors in the Gulf States, who had funded the antecedents of ISIS. More recently, ISIS funding has come from the usual terrorist businesses—smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, and robberies. In one reported case, a Swedish company paid $70,000 to rescue an employee who had been taken by ISIS. And before the American journalist James Foley was beheaded, ISIS fighters demanded an exorbitant sum for his freedom, which they did not receive.

Still more funding comes from the sale of counterfeit cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, cell phones, antiquities, and foreign passports. The trafficking of some of these commodities into Turkey from Syria has risen dramatically. For example, cigarette smuggling has increased, fuel smuggling is estimated to have tripled, and cell phone smuggling has risen fivefold. ISIS is also taxing black market antiquities at 20–50 percent, depending on the region and type of antiquity. Meanwhile, foreign fighters sell their passports for thousands of dollars in Turkey before entering Syria, where the proceeds help fund them and ISIS. These particular forms of illicit trade are attractive to terrorists because there is less competition, less regulation, and limited law enforcement in these markets compared to others, such as the arms and narcotics trades.

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The Myth of the Caliphate The Political History of an Idea – By Nick Danforth November 2014

Abdulhamid II, who would become the last Ottoman Sultan and Caliph, as a prince in 1867.

Abdulhamid II, who would become one of the last Ottoman sultans and caliphs, as a prince in 1867. (W.&D. DOWNEY / Jebulon)

In 1924, Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk officially abolished the Ottoman caliphate. Today, most Western discussions of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the extremist group that has declared a caliphate across much of Iraq and Syria, begin by referencing this event as if it were a profound turning point in Islamic history. Some contemporary Islamists think of it this way, too: there’s a reason, for example, that Lion Cub, the Muslim Brotherhood’s children’s publication, once awarded the “Jewish” “traitor” Ataturk multiple first prizes in its “Know the Enemies of Your Religion” contest.Even if today’s Islamists reference the Ottomans, though, most of them are much more focused on trying to re-create earlier caliphates: the era of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, who ruled immediately after Muhammad’s death in the seventh century, for example, or the Abbasid caliphate, which existed in one form or another from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries (before being officially abolished by the Mongols). By conflating the nineteenth-century Ottoman royal family with these caliphs from a millennium ago or more, Western pundits and nostalgic Muslim thinkers alike have built up a narrative of the caliphate as an enduring institution, central to Islam and Islamic thought between the seventh and twentieth centuries. In fact, the caliphate is a political or religious idea whose relevance has waxed and waned according to circumstance.

The caliphate’s more recent history under the Ottomans shows why the institution might be better thought of as a political fantasy—a blank slate just as nebulous as the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—that contemporary Islamists are largely making up as they go along. (If it weren’t, ISIS could not so readily use the same term to describe their rogue and bloody statelet that Muslim British businessmen use to articulate the idea of an elected and democratic leader for the Islamic world.) What’s more, the story of the Ottoman caliphate also suggests that in trying to realize almost any version of this fantasy, contemporary Islamists may well confront the same contradictions that bedeviled the Ottomans a century ago.

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Republican ISIL fear-mongering amplifies extremists’ message, experts say – by Joshua Eaton October 30, 2014 5:00AM ET

Congressional candidates spread fear of ‘terrorist’ attacks in bid to gain voters’ support

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In one frame of the video, a masked fighter for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) brandishes a knife, with a beheaded American journalist just beyond view. In another, the Mosque of the Prophet Jonah disappears into a cloud of dust. A crowd of masked gunmen hold Kalashnikovs aloft. Dramatic music plays in the background.

But this isn’t a recruitment video for ISIL. It’s a campaign ad for Allen Weh, who is running against Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., in the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

Since Aug. 28, when President Barack Obama told reporters, “We don’t have a strategy yet” for Syria, ISIL has been a major topic in congressional races across the country. The extremist group controlling a large chunk of Iraq and Syria features in at least 17 campaign ads in 13 races, from New Hampshire to Arizona and Alaska. Most have been aired by Republican hopefuls facing Democratic incumbents.

“National security has emerged as one of the top issues in this election, and as with other issues, Americans are not confident in the competence of the Obama administration to keep them and their families safe,” Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said.

Poll numbers bear out that assessment, at least in part. In a Pew Research Center poll conducted in September, 75 percent of registered voters surveyed said that “terrorism” was “very important” for their vote in the congressional elections. Also last month, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 57 percent of Americans surveyed thought Obama has been too soft on ISIL.

Those numbers shot up quickly this fall as footage of ISIL fighters bheading Western journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff began circulating online. According to Alec Tyson, a senior researcher at Pew, ISIL has driven a shift in Americans’ views on how directly engaged the U.S. should be in world affairs.

Above, a campaign ad featuring ISIL video footage, released by the campaign of Allen Weh, U.S. Senate candidate from New Mexico. 

“Relatively high percentages [previously] thought the U.S. was too involved in the world, but ISIL has changed that,” said Tyson. “ISIL is changing the public’s view of how involved the U.S. needs to be in the world.”

Now some Republicans are going out of their way to tie their Democratic opponents to Obama, who many voters feel has mishandled the situation in Iraq and Syria. That has some comparing this election with the 2006 midterms, when George W. Bush’s unpopular foreign policy contributed to a Democratic wave that unseated Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate.

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Canada joins fight against ISIS – By Ben Kamisar – 10/07/14 11:06 PM EDT

Canada joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the White House said in a statement Tuesday night.

The country will provide fighter jets as well as refueling, intelligence and surveillance aircrafts to help support the international fight against ISIS. It will also send troops to “advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces.”

“With these deployments, Canada demonstrates its continued leadership and resolve in addressing the urgent and critical security challenges that threaten Canada, its people, and the broader international community,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. “Canadians and Americans have fought alongside each other in several major conflicts over the past century, and we are grateful for Canada’s further contribution against terrorism.”

The news comes as ISIS continues to make advances on the Syrian city of Kobani, located near the country’s border with Turkey. Joint Chiefs of Staff General martin Dempsey told ABC News that he’s “fearful that Kobani will fall.” There’s a fear that ISIS will move into Turkey if the group takes Kobani.

ISIS Goes to Asia – By Joseph Chinyong Liow SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

Extremism in the Middle East Isn’t Only Spreading West

A man prays in a mosque outside Kuala Lumpur. (Courtesy Reuters)

As the United States sought in recent weeks to assemble an international coalition to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State), it looked mostly to the Middle East and Europe, regions that it said face a direct threat from the militant Islamist group. But other parts of the world are just as anxious about ISIS — above all, Southeast Asia. The governments of that region have not publicized their concerns very loudly, but they are acutely aware that ISIS is a menace. Their top concern is that its extremist ideology will prove attractive to the region’s many Muslims, lure some of them to the Middle East to fight as part of the group, and ultimately be imported back to the region when these militants return home.There is a clear precedent for this scenario. During the 1980s, many young Muslims from Southeast Asia went to Pakistan to support the Afghan mujahideen’s so-called jihad against Soviet occupation. Many of these recruits subsequently stayed in the region, mingling with like-minded Muslims from all around and gaining exposure to al Qaeda’s militant ideology. Many eventually returned to Southeast Asia to form extremist groups of their own, including the notorious al Qaeda­–linked organization Jemaah Islamiyah that was responsible for several high-profile terrorist attacks in the region over the last 15 years. With evidence now surfacing of Southeast Asians among the ranks of ISIS casualties, it’s only natural that governments in the region are feeling a sense of déjà vu.

Obama condemns James Foley killing – By JENNIFER EPSTEIN and EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE | 8/20/14 1:12 PM EDT Updated: 8/20/14 4:11 PM EDT

President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the killing of American journalist James Foley by militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, saying that “the entire world is appalled” by the incident.Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at Aug 20, 2014 6.05 1

Speaking from Martha’s Vineyard, where he and his family are vacationing, Obama said he had spoken to Foley’s family earlier Wednesday and had conveyed that Americans “are all heartbroken at their loss and join them in honoring Jim.”

For a president who’s been trying to explain to this country and the rest of the world why he reluctantly went forward with air strikes in Iraq, Foley’s beheading became an important, high-profile reminder of what he’s trying to fight. Obama argued that the group is, as Foley’s mother put it earlier Wednesday, “just evil.”

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday,” Obama said. “ISIL has no ideology of value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

(Also on POLITICO: AP CEO: Foley murder a war crime)

Obama’s message Wednesday was the most extensive condemnation of ISIL since U.S. military activity began two weeks ago in an effort to protect Americans in Erbil and help the Yazidi population escape the advancing ISIL militants.

At the same time, the president has faced push-back from an American public — and many in his own White House — weary of war and deeply opposed to getting drawn back into Iraq. And while Obama has repeatedly rejected the idea of mission creep, he’s done so as he’s continued to escalate the presence of Americans and the use of American force.

Asked Monday about that danger, Obama pointed to the collaborative efforts between Kurdish and Iraqi forces that led to the retaking of the Mosul Dam, then dangled what’s clearly a huge “if,” given the last decade of divisions in Iraq. “If we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely,” Obama said.

Wednesday, though, Obama made no specific commitments toward any action, new or continued.

(Also on POLITICO: Grappling with the James Foley video)

Airstrikes have been ongoing in Iraq — 14 more since the video was released Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command announced shortly after Obama finished speaking, bringing the total to 84. Just Monday, the president announced the successful retaking of the Mosul Dam.

But the political and military problems that kept Obama from ultimately authorizing military action against Syria last year remain, with the added dilemma that the resistance there is that much weaker and ISIL has grown that much stronger.

Unlike the gassing of Syrian civilians last year, ISIL’s killing an American journalist — with another American held up under threat of being next in the same video — clearly galvanized the conversation for Obama, and, he urged, for everyone else.

“Let’s be clear about ISIL,” Obama said Wednesday. “They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’a, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion.

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Obama authorizes ‘targeted airstrikes’ in Iraq to counter militants – By Jim Sciutto, Catherine E. Shoichet and Barbara Starr, CNN updated 10:57 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014

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Washington (CNN) — U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday that he’s authorized “targeted airstrikes” in Iraq to protect American personnel and help Iraqi forces.

“We do whatever is necessary to protect our people,” Obama said. “We support our allies when they’re in danger.”

A key concern for U.S. officials: dozens of American consular staff and military advisers working with the Iraqi military in Irbil, the largest city in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Obama said Thursday he’d directed the military to take targeted strikes against Islamist militants “should they move towards the city.”

Rapid developments on the ground, where a humanitarian crisis is emerging with minority groups facing possible slaughter by Sunni Muslim extremists, have set the stage for an increasingly dire situation.

Thousands of families from the Yazidi minority are reportedly trapped in the mountains without food, water or medical care after fleeing the rampaging fighters of the Islamic State, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.

Throngs of refugees, many of them Iraqi Christians, are on the run — their largest city, Qaraqosh, now occupied by fighters who gave them an ultimatum, “Convert to Islam or die.”

Obama also said he’d authorized targeted airstrikes “if necessary” to help Iraqi forces protect civilians trapped on the mountain.

“When we face a situation like we do on that mountain with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help, in this case a request from the Iraqi government, and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said. “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

ISIL shows increasing strength and structure, takes war where al Qaeda couldn’t – By Rowan Scarborough Sunday, July 6, 2014

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The al Qaeda offshoot terrorist group conquering parts of Iraq is gaining strength thanks to prisoner releases and its social media magnetism for foreign fighter recruits.

As its ranks grow, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sometimes called the Islamic State, has become the first terrorist organization to plan and execute a two-front land war, presenting yet another challenge to the United States in its long war against Islamic extremists.

SEE ALSO: Gitmo detainees seek religious freedoms, cite Hobby Lobby ruling

Last week, ISIL showed it could capture towns and territory in Syria and Iraqat once. Al Qaeda and its franchises have not accomplished such a feat.

ISIL has demonstrated that it is an organized hierarchical army that launches campaigns based on brutal tactics, clear objectives and a time table.

“They’ve been able to project a lot of force projection capabilities into two countries simultaneously, which has been unprecedented for a single group,” said Patrick Johnston, a counterinsurgency analyst at the Rand Corp.

He said al Qaeda central, based in Pakistan, has projected power via franchises in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.

“But here we have a single group that is able to fight a two-front war, and you can’t do that without manpower and resources to run an organization doing complex operations,” he said.

ISIL’s growing prowess does not bode well for the underperforming Iraqi Security Forces. Its ranks fled in large numbers as ISIL’s fighters invaded fromSyria, hooked up with old “Qaeda in Iraq” terrorists and proceeded to capture city after city, from Mosul to Tikrit on Baghdad’s doorstep. There were reports of ISIL militants emptying Mosul prisons of thousands of potential recruits.


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ISIS Risks Everything to Declare a Caliphate – J.M. Berger WORLD NEWS 06.29.14

After months of gaining territory, weapons, and cash, ISIS is putting its global credibility on the line in a play that could backfire spectacularly.

On Sunday morning, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or ISIL, if you must) pronounced the reformation of the caliphate—the historical Islamic state that once stretched over much of the modern-day Muslim world—with ISIS emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the man in charge.

It’s arguably the boldest move yet by the group, which renamed itself simply The Islamic State. But if ISIS isn’t careful, this could be the moment when all of its gains in Iraq and Syria are squandered; when would-be allies are alienated; and when the group’s critics within the jihadi community were proven right all along.

In the statement—released in Arabic, English, German, French, and Russian—ISIS claimed that it had fulfilled all the legal requirements for the caliphate and that all existing jihadi groups and indeed all Muslims around the world were religiously obligated to swear loyalty to the new Caliph Ibrahim (using the name provided by ISIS in the course of proving that Baghdadi has the required lineage for the title).

Prior to this pronouncement, my assessment was that there was almost no way ISIS could exit June in worse shape than it entered the month, and that still holds. But July is beginning to look like an open question. ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, had made a bold move to seize territory in Iraq that had resulted in tremendous gains in both equipment and money. Even if it lost all of the territory it gained in June, it would still retain many of those spoils, with new clout, status and physical assets to compete with the other jihadi groups operating in Syria and near the Iraq border.

The declaration of the caliphate is a massive gamble that puts many of these gains at risk, although the potential benefits are also substantial. Here’s a quick rundown of the moving parts: