ISIS is a mobile, brutal military arm of al-Qaeda with growing influence over affairs in Iran, Syria and elsewhere. ISIS is the self-declared “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” Even though it is a relatively small, weak force, the group took the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Tal Abyad on Sunday. A bloodbath followed, according to a Jan. 13 McClatchy news article.
ISIS sent the rebel groups Ahrar al Sham and Nusra fleeing the area and publicly executed those who could not escape. Now the group faces both government attacks and rebel retaliation.The declining chance of alliances with rebel groups like the Islamic Front’s Ahrar al Sham and Nusra has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in a civil war with multiple fronts.
In Raqqa, ISIS executed Nusra’s top local commander and many captured prisoners as well. In addition, Nusra’s main base in Raqqa was destroyed.
In Tal Abyad, the Islamic Front was the target. More captured rebels were publicly executed. ISIS also burned the homes of Islamic Front members. This level of brutality is not new. Last week, a doctor with the Islamic Front was tortured and executed.
ISIS is also responsible for a sharp rise in suicide bombings against rival rebel groups. In all of 2012, only 13 bombings were attributed to the al-Qaeda militants. In the past ten days alone, ISIS caused about 16 suicide bombings in Syria.
ISIS had been forced to abandon its positions in the larger areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, but brought reinforcements into Raqqa. Those forces came in from the desert that runs along the border between Iraq and Syria. Most of that action happened on Sunday.
There is speculation that ISIS works with the Assad regime, but there is no proof of a relationship. It is not likely that ISIS will retake Aleppo or Idlib right away. There is more support for the idea that ISIS will stay in Raqqa and Tal Abyad to consolidate power.
The major problem for the militant wing of al-Qaeda is a growing call for retaliation from Syrian rebel groups. ISIS has cut the odds of making any new rebel alliances. According to a Jan. 12 New York Times article, the rebels are more focused on ending President Assad’s rule, not establishing the Islamic state of ISIS. ISIS, on the other hand, is more interested in establishing an islamic state.
In the end, it is unclear as to exactly what ISIS is doing. Is this group giving al-Qaeda’s leadership a road to rule over Syria or is it helping President Assad to retain control? Is the brutal enforcement of strict, deviant Islamic rules on the Syrian people a control tactic or is it a premature attempt to impose the Islamic state as envisioned by ISIS now?
Only time will tell, but if ISIS is not rounded up and ejected from Syria for good, there is little hope of an end to the bloody and incredible horror in Syria.