Foreign Policy Blogs

The Day after ISIS in Iraq

(Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

 “ISIS is like a mushroom. It was able to grow here, in Iraq, because there is a fertile environment. It didn’t just come from nowhere.”

This is what an Iraqi activist told me, with an edge of anger and passion in her voice, when I was in Iraq late last year. She went on to explain that in her opinion ISIS could not be—and should not be—eradicated through bombs and fighting. Instead, Iraq desperately needed to embark on a national program of reconciliation and reform.

To be honest, this jarred. I had heard harrowing stories of the systematic cruelty ISIS meted out to the civilian population. I had seen the destruction it left in its wake, from flattened villages to burning oil fields that coated everything, including the faces of children, in a black film.

But her words were a vital reminder of the deep-seated nature of Iraq’s challenges, that atrocities had been committed by all sides, and the need to acknowledge and address the layers of grievance.

Over the last two weeks, the fierce battle to retake Mosul from ISIS has intensified. Over 140,000 civilians have fled their homes since the latest phase of the military operation began last October. So far the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, their international backers, and assorted militias have avoided mass civilian casualties. But as the army enters the dense residential areas of Mosul, families face impossible choices, as they are trapped between warring parties.

The media and political narrative about Iraq tends to be dominated by ISIS, but Iraq’s challenges do not begin and end with Mosul. Even before the current offensive, three million people had been uprooted from their homes. Across the country, there is a mosaic of displacement. Sectarian conflict and identity politics drive people from their homes just as ISIS does, and the experience of displacement can in turn reinforce sectarianism. There are communities unable to return home because they are perceived to be the ‘wrong’ sect, tribe or religion. There are people in need across the board, and this is why Oxfam is supporting people who have returned to or stayed in their homes, as well as those who have fled violence.

Whenever I travel to war zones, I ask our local staff about mixed marriages. It tends to be a good conversation starter and a good, if highly anecdotal, bellwether of inter-communal relations. One of Oxfam’s engineers told me that he was the result of a mixed Sunni-Shia marriage and his wife was Kurdish, but that mixed marriages were increasingly rare. Perhaps even more revealingly, he told me he could never work for the government, whether it was the Kurdish Regional Government, the central government in Baghdad or local authorities because he would always be considered to be ‘from the other side’.

One of the symptoms of this deep-seated sectarianism is the proliferation of local militia groups along communal lines. As young men return home, they are being enlisted by tribal leaders. I spoke to one such young man who was guarding a water plant that had been destroyed by ISIS and subsequently repaired by Oxfam. When I asked him why he had joined the militia, he shrugged as if it was obvious. “This is what we need to do to protect our home,” he said. One security consultant I met wryly described these young men as “Neighborhood Watch with guns”.

While these militias provide a source of employment, and in some instances a degree of protection, they may also put communities at risk and breed instability in the long term. A couple of women in their early twenties, from the same town, told me that when it came to jobs for young men, the choice boiled down to joining the local militia or the local police force—and the distinction between the two can be blurred.

The Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga and a range of militias have joined international backers like the U.S. and Britain in a marriage of convenience to counter ISIS. Once their common enemy is pushed back, there is a risk that the various Iraqi forces could clash amongst themselves or another dangerous group could emerge if underlying grievances in this oil-rich country are left to fester.

This is why it is crucial to plan beyond the short-term military strategy and, however difficult, work to create a new environment in which ISIS or its successor cannot mushroom.

Maya Mailer is Head of Humanitarian Policy and Campaigns at Oxfam. She recently returned from Iraq, where Oxfam has been supporting families who have fled ISIS since 2014 including as a result of the recent conflict in Mosul.

This blog was first published on and reappears here with kind permission. 

  • Hakimi Abdul Jabar

    I had only studied the duty to prevent and punish acts of terrorism and militancy for my Bachelor of Laws from 1997-1998 and here’s my gist :


    Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the Al-Ma’unah cult aimed to overthrow his government and set up an Islamic state.

    He says most of the 1,800 cult members nationwide also belong to the main opposition party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

    ISIS has hit another military base in Iraq, this time in the town of Heet about 100 miles from Baghdad and seized more military equipment and weapons.



    The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State (IS), and by its Arabic language acronym Daesh is known for the the Sinjar massacre etc.
    Shadid, Anthony (16 May 2010). “Iraqi Insurgent Group Names New Leaders”. The New York Times.

    This group has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and many individual countries. ISIL/ISIS is widely known for its videos of beheadings of both soldiers and civilians, including journalists and aid workers, and its destruction of cultural heritage sites. The United Nations holds ISIL/ISIS responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and UN has charged the group with ethnic cleansing on a “historic scale” in northern Iraq.…

    In 2014, American and Iraqi intelligence analysts said that the Islamist/Muslim Cleric Leader of ISIL/ISIS, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi has a doctorate for Islamic studies in Quranic studies, from Saddam University in Baghdad.
    “U.S. Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel”. The New York Times. 10 August 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
    “The Believer”. The Brookings Essay.

    According to a biography that circulated on extremist internet forums in July 2013, he obtained a BA, MA, and PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad.
    Chulov, Martin (6 July 2014). “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi emerges from shadows to rally Islamist followers”. The Guardian.
    “A biography of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”. Insite Blog on Terrorism & Extremism. SITE Intelligence Group. 12 August 2014.
    “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: Islamic State’s driving force”. BBC News. 31 July 2014.

    Mat Sabu, the AMANAH President has issued a media statement on ISIS and the congratulatory support it derives on the AMANAH Facebook page. Read Mat Sabu’s Media Statement dated 24th. June 2016 – Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, the accursed ISIS International Rapist-Terrorist’s Victory Is Supported by the Present Malaysian Prime Minister :

    The Islamist/Muslim Cleric led ISIS/ISIL wantonly kills men, women and children.

    Parti Amanah Negara
    June 24, 2016 ·



    Saya amat gusar dan bimbang dengan fahaman takfiri yang mula melanda negara kita secara hebat sekarang ini. Melabel mengkafirkan, menerakakan orang sudah menjadi trend di negara ini khususnya di media-media sosial.
    Saya berpesan kepada diri saya, pimpinan, penyokong AMANAH dan umat Islam dan bukan Islam supaya kita bertanggungjawab menjaga keamanan, keharmonian sesama masyarakat.
    Fahaman takfiri yang akhirnya menjadi pembunuhan sesama seperti sedang melanda Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Afganistan, Pakistan dan negara umat Islam lain, diharap tidak merebak ke negara ini.
    Kemenangan mengejut Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi di Iraq pernah dipuji oleh Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Najib Razak dan ia boleh mengundang kesan bahaya kepada umat manusia khasnya umat Islam.
    Harapan Baru
    Parti Amanah Negara
    24 JUN 2016

    24 JUN 2016

    Media statement

    Don’t get labeled different can be killed

    I’m extremely nervous and worried with the takfiri have plagued our country start in great right now. Labeled menerakakan mengkafirkan, people have become a trend in this country especially in the media-social media.

    I told to myself, leader, supporter and trusted Muslims and non Muslims so that we are responsible for keeping it safe, harmony among society.

    Split the takfiri finally to murder fellow like being hit Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslims countries, please don’t spread to the country.

    Victory Sudden Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Iraq praised by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and he can invite detect danger to humanity and of Muslims.

    New hope

    Mohamad Sabu
    The President
    Parti amanah negara

    June 24, 2016

  • Hakimi Abdul Jabar



    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).