Main articles: Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, and Mujahideen Shura Council (Iraq)
The UN headquarters building in Baghdad after the Canal Hotel bombing, on 22 August 2003
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Jordanian Salafi jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his militant group Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, achieved notoriety in the early stages of the Iraqi insurgency for their suicide attacks on Shia Islamic mosques, civilians, Iraqi government institutions and Italian soldiers partaking in the US-led 'Multi-National Force'. Al-Zarqawi's group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in October 2004, changing its name to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين, "Organisation of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia"), also known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Attacks by the group on civilians, Iraqi government and security forces, foreign diplomats and soldiers, and American convoys continued with roughly the same intensity. In a letter to al-Zarqawi in July 2005, al-Qaeda's then deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War. The plan included expelling US forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority as a caliphate, spreading the conflict to Iraq's secular neighbours, and clashing with Israel, which the letter says "was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity".
In January 2006, AQI joined with several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups under an umbrella organisation called the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC). According to Brian Fishman, this was little more than a media exercise and an attempt to give the group a more Iraqi flavour, and perhaps to distance al-Qaeda from some of al-Zarqawi's tactical errors, more notably the 2005 bombings by AQI of three hotels in Amman. On 7 June 2006, a US airstrike killed al-Zarqawi, who was succeeded as leader of the group by the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
On 12 October 2006, the MSC united with three smaller groups and six Sunni Islamic tribes to form the "Mutayibeen Coalition". It swore by Allah "to rid Sunnis from the oppression of the rejectionists (Shi'ite Muslims) and the crusader occupiers ... to restore rights even at the price of our own lives ... to make Allah's word supreme in the world, and to restore the glory of Islam". A day later, the MSC declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), comprising Iraq's six mostly Sunni Arab governorates. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was announced as its emir, and al-Masri was given the title of Minister of War within the ISI's ten-member cabinet.
As Islamic State of Iraq, 2006–13
Main article: Islamic State of Iraq
US Marines in Ramadi, May 2006. The Islamic State of Iraq had declared the city to be its capital.
According to a study compiled by United States intelligence agencies in early 2007, the ISI planned to seize power in the central and western areas of Iraq and turn it into a Sunni caliphate. The group built in strength and at its height enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad, claiming Baqubah as a capital city.
The Iraq War troop surge of 2007 supplied the United States military with more manpower for operations targeting the group, resulting in dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed.
Between July and October 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq was reported to have lost its secure military bases in Al Anbar province and the Baghdad area. During 2008, a series of US and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out AQI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens, such as the Diyala and Al Anbar governorates, to the area of the northern city of Mosul.
By 2008, the ISI was describing itself as being in a state of "extraordinary crisis". Its violent attempts to govern territory led to a backlash from Sunni Arab Iraqis and other insurgent groups and a temporary decline in the group, which was attributable to a number of factors, notably the Anbar Awakening.
In late 2009, the commander of US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, stated that the ISI "has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens". On 18 April 2010, the ISI's two top leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid near Tikrit. In a press conference in June 2010, General Odierno reported that 80% of the ISI's top 42 leaders, including recruiters and financiers, had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large. He said that they had been cut off from al-Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan.
On 16 May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi replenished the group's leadership, many of whom had been killed or captured, by appointing former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had served during Saddam Hussein's rule. These men, nearly all of whom had spent time imprisoned by the US military at Camp Bucca, came to make up about one third of Baghdadi's top 25 commanders, including Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi, Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, and Abu Muslim al-Turkmani. One of them, a former colonel called Samir al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, became the overall military commander in charge of overseeing the group's operations. Al-Khlifawi was instrumental in doing the ground work that led to the growth of ISIL.
In July 2012, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to former strongholds from which US troops and the Sons of Iraq had driven them in 2007 and 2008. He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls, aimed at freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons. Violence in Iraq had begun to escalate in June 2012, primarily with AQI's car bomb attacks, and by July 2013, monthly fatalities exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008.
Syrian Civil War
In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarisation of the conflict. In August, al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organisation there. Led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammad al-Julani, this group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. In January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl as-Sham—Jabhat al-Nusra—more commonly known as the al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra grew rapidly into a capable fighting force, with popular support among Syrians opposed to the Assad government.
As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, 2013–14
Main articles: Timeline of ISIL-related events (2013) and Timeline of ISIL-related events (2014)
On 8 April 2013, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that the al-Nusra Front had been established, financed, and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq, and that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham". Al-Julani issued a statement denying the merger, and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it. In June 2013, Al Jazeera reported that it had obtained a letter written by al-Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, addressed to both leaders, in which he ruled against the merger, and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them to put an end to tensions. That same month, al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting al-Zawahiri's ruling and declaring that the merger was going ahead.
Meanwhile, the ISIL campaign to free imprisoned ISIL members culminated in simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons in July 2013, freeing more than 500 prisoners, many of them veterans of the Iraqi insurgency. In October 2013, al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of ISIL, putting al-Nusra Front in charge of jihadist efforts in Syria, but al-Baghdadi contested al-Zawahiri's ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence, and his group continued to operate in Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIL.
According to journalist Sarah Birke, there are "significant differences" between al-Nusra Front and ISIL. While al-Nusra actively calls for the overthrow of the Assad government, ISIL "tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory". ISIL is "far more ruthless" in building an Islamic state, "carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately". While al-Nusra has a "large contingent of foreign fighters", it is seen as a home-grown group by many Syrians; by contrast, ISIL fighters have been described as "foreign 'occupiers'" by many Syrian refugees. It has a strong presence in central and northern Syria, where it has instituted sharia in a number of towns. ISIL controls the four towns of Atmeh, al-Bab, Azaz and Jarablus on the Turkish border. Foreign fighters in Syria include Russian-speaking jihadists who were part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA). In November 2013, the JMA's Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi; the group then split between those who followed al-Shishani in joining ISIL and those who continued to operate independently in the JMA under new leadership.
In January 2014, rebels affiliated with the Islamic Front and the US-trained Free Syrian Army launched an offensive against ISIL militants in and around the city of Aleppo. In May 2014, Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered the al-Nusra Front to stop its attacks on its rival ISIL.[not in citation given] In June 2014, after continued fighting between the two groups, al-Nusra's branch in the Syrian town of Al-Bukamal pledged allegiance to ISIL. In mid-June 2014, ISIL captured the Trabil crossing on the Jordan–Iraq border, the only border crossing between the two countries. ISIL has received some public support in Jordan, albeit limited, partly owing to state repression there. ISIL has undertaken a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia, where tribes in the north are linked to those in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
As Islamic State, 2014–present
Main articles: Timeline of ISIL-related events (2014), Timeline of ISIL-related events (2015), and Timeline of ISIL-related events (2016)
See also: ISIL beheading incidents, American-led intervention in Syria, American-led intervention in Iraq (2014–present), Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, Iranian intervention in Iraq (2014–present), Military intervention against ISIL, Northern Iraq offensive (June 2014), and Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War
On 29 June 2014, the organisation proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin, Caliph Ibrahim—was named its caliph, and the group renamed itself ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah (الدولة الإسلامية, "Islamic State" (IS)). As a "Caliphate", it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. The concept of it being a caliphate and the name "Islamic State" have been rejected by governments and Muslim leaders worldwide.
In June and July 2014, Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved troops to their borders with Iraq, after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, strategic crossing points that then came under the control of ISIL, or tribes that supported ISIL. There was speculation that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had ordered a withdrawal of troops from the Iraq–Saudi crossings in order "to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia and bring the threat of ISIS over-running its borders as well".
In July 2014, ISIL recruited more than 6,300 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, some of whom were thought to have previously fought for the Free Syrian Army. On 23 July 2014, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Totoni Hapilon and some masked men swore loyalty to al-Baghdadi in a video, giving ISIL a presence in the Philippines. In September 2014, the group began kidnapping people for ransoming, in the name of ISIL.
Yazidi refugees and American aid workers on Mount Sinjar in August 2014
On 3 August 2014, ISIL captured the cities of Zumar, Sinjar, and Wana in northern Iraq. Thousands of Yazidis fled up Mount Sinjar, fearful of the approaching hostile ISIL militants. The stranded Yazidis' need for food and water, the threat of genocide to them and to others announced by ISIL, along with the desire to protect US citizens in Iraq and support Iraq in its fight against ISIL, were all reasons given for the 2014 American intervention in Iraq on 7 August and an aerial bombing campaign in Iraq which started on 8 August.