The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

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ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), is a Sunni jihadist group with a particularly violent ideology that calls itself a caliphate and claims religious authority over all Muslims. It was inspired by al Qaida but later publicly expelled from it. RAND terrorism experts have analyzed the group's financing, management, and organization; its savvy use of social media for recruitment and fundraising; and the instability that spawned the group as a regional problem in the Middle East.

  • The Grand al-Nuri Mosque where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new caliphate in July 2014 is seen in ruins after it was retaken by Iraqi forces from Islamic State militants, June 30, 2017, photo by Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive If Baghdadi Is Dead?

    Jun 30, 2017

    If and when self-declared Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed, it will have little effect on the threat posed by the Islamic State to global security. The far more important objective is to continue dismantling the organization as a whole, including its affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

  • An Iraqi flag is seen amid destroyed buildings in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 23, 2017, photo by Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

    Report

    How to Achieve Stability in Iraq After ISIS

    Jul 24, 2017

    After major combat operations against ISIS in Mosul, recovery and stability will require redoubled efforts by Iraqis and the international community. How well humanitarian, security, and other needs are addressed will affect the immediate stabilization of Iraq, including whether civilians can return home.

Explore The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

  • News Release

    Coalition Against the Islamic State Must Degrade the Group's Finances and Leadership

    Even before 2012, much was known about how the Islamic State financed and organized itself, established territorial control, and responded to airpower. That knowledge offers new insights into the group's weaknesses and guidance for combating it.

    Sep 28, 2015

  • Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant carry their weapons during a parade at the Syrian town of Tel Abyad January 2, 2014

    Report

    Coalition Against the Islamic State Must Degrade the Group's Finances and Leadership

    Even before 2012, much was known about how the Islamic State financed and organized itself, established territorial control, and responded to airpower. That knowledge offers new insights into the group's weaknesses and guidance for combating it.

    Sep 28, 2015

  • Members of the Kurdish peshmerga forces detain a man suspected of having links to the Islamic State, on the outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015

    Commentary

    Any Review of Syria and Iraq Strategy Needs Realistic Reappraisal

    Since the American-led coalition bombing campaign began a year ago, ISIS has suffered some military setbacks and lost territory, but it also has been able to capture several more key cities in Iraq and Syria, and, despite the bombing, continues to attract a large number of foreign fighters.

    Sep 28, 2015

  • News Release

    U.S. Faces Gap Between Objectives and Reality in Syria and Iraq

    There is a substantial gap between American national objectives and a realistic appreciation of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. These objectives need to be based on frank appraisals of the situation, even if those assessments defy Americans' sense of progress.

    Sep 24, 2015

  • Iraqi volunteers fix weapons for the Hashid Shaabi militia at a shop on the outskirts of Basra, June 16, 2015

    Report

    The United States Faces a Gap Between Objectives and Reality in Syria and Iraq

    There is a large gap between U.S. objectives and a realistic appreciation of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Frank appraisals of the situation in the region must inform U.S. objectives, even if such assessments defy Americans' sense of progress.

    Sep 24, 2015

  • Iraqi soldiers fire at paper targets during the opening of the Anbar Operation Center's shooting range in Ramadi, Iraq, September 10, 2011

    Commentary

    Vietnam Teaches Us That Iraq Needs More Than U.S. Combat Advisers

    There are issues that must be examined, understood, and planned for if the United States does not wish to have U.S. advisers left to the cruelties of the Islamic State.

    Sep 14, 2015

  • A chlorine-tinged cloud of smoke rises from a bomb detonated by Iraqi army and Shi'ite fighters in the town of al-Alam in Salahuddin province, March 10, 2015

    Commentary

    ISIS Plus Chemical Weapons Does Not Equal Apocalypse

    The renewed use of chemical weapons on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria is a dangerous regional phenomenon, not an imminent global threat.

    Sep 11, 2015

  • Testimony

    An Assessment of the Counter-ISIL Campaign: One Year after Mosul: Addendum

    Document submitted August 24, 2015 as an addendum to testimony presented before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on June 24, 2015.

    Aug 27, 2015

  • Afghan officials in Pakistan August 13, 2015 discussing reviving suspended peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, days after Taliban attacks killed dozens of people in Kabul

    Commentary

    Afghanistan, Choose Your Enemies Wisely

    The Taliban's new leadership may be the last decent opportunity for a political solution to the conflict. Without a solution, the Islamic State could make Afghanistan the next Iraq or Syria.

    Aug 24, 2015

  • A U.S. Army sergeant assists Iraqi army soldiers as they practice Military Operations in Urban Terrain procedures at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq

    Commentary

    Training Foreign Military Forces: Quality vs Quantity

    The American model for large-scale development of partner nation armies is failing. The push for numbers and the attendant dilution of training is at odds with building a cohesive army with the will to stand and fight, predicated upon an unproven assumption that a “large footprint” is itself a decisive strategy.

    Jul 15, 2015

  • U.S. soldiers rush a building during a platoon live-fire demonstration for Iraqi army trainees and officers on Camp Taji, Iraq, Feb. 5, 2015

    Commentary

    An Authorization for the Fight Against the Islamic State

    The U.S. military is conducting some 2,000 airstrikes a month against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria but progress is slow and the terrorist group has expanded far beyond those two countries. Congress needs now more than ever to take up the issue of authorizing the use of military force.

    Jul 9, 2015

  • Flowers at the beachside of the Imperial Marhaba resort, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia, June 28, 2015

    Commentary

    After Attacks in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait, West Must Do More to Fight Surge of Terrorist Attacks

    The bloody terrorist attacks that left more than 50 people dead in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait are just the latest warnings that ISIS is turning its deadly campaign into a global enterprise. Stopping it will require an equally broad-based campaign.

    Jun 29, 2015

  • Iraqi soldiers perform physical training with 82nd Airborne

    Testimony

    An Assessment of the Counter-ISIL Campaign: One Year After Mosul

    ISIL's continuing strength demonstrates that adjustments to the current U.S. approach to counter it are necessary. The best strategy is to defeat and destroy ISIL through a partnered approach. But partnering with the Iraqi government presents a difficult challenge.

    Jun 24, 2015

  • Sunni tribal fighters stand guard near a school used as a shelter for displaced people in the city of Ramadi, April 11, 2015

    Commentary

    The Enemy You Know and the Ally You Don't

    Arming Iraq's Sunni militias to fight the Islamic State may seem like a quick fix, but newly declassified documents suggest it might only add fuel to the fire.

    Jun 23, 2015

  • A Tunisian holds up a flag during celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of Tunisia's revolution, Tunis, January 14, 2015

    Commentary

    Tunisia in the Crosshairs

    The open-ended nature of the Islamic State group's threat against Tunisair suggests that it intends to target Tunisia for the long haul. The United States should counter the threats with steadfast and sustained cooperation and assistance.

    Jun 22, 2015

  • An Afghan border policeman escorts a detained suspected Taliban fighter near Walli Was in Paktika province near the border with Pakistan November 5, 2012

    Commentary

    Expanding the Caliphate

    ISIS in South Asia, which it calls the Islamic State of Khorasan, is larger than most recognize, boasting between several hundred and several thousand fighters. But for now, it is closer to a loose affiliate than a direct arm of the organization.

    Jun 12, 2015

  • Smoke rises after what activists said were clashes with Islamic State fighters in Soran Azaz, Aleppo countryside June 1, 2015

    Commentary

    Islamic State's Global Expansion

    The radical Islamist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is now expanding in roughly a dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia by exploiting local grievances, doling out money, and leveraging its battlefield successes.

    Jun 4, 2015

  • Multimedia

    RAND Experts Discuss Iran’s Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation

    Alireza Nader, senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation, discusses his study, “Iran's Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation?” with Khorshied Samad, RAND senior media relations officer and Lisa Sodders, RAND media relations officer.

    Jun 2, 2015

  • Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) allied with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, preparing to attack Tikrit March 26, 2015

    Report

    Could U.S.-Iran Cooperation Help Combat ISIL?

    Limited tactical cooperation between the United States and Iran may be possible in weakening ISIL even if the two nations don't share long-term interests. U.S. and Iranian military forces are fighting the same enemy in Iraq, and U.S. air power seems to complement Iran's on-the-ground presence.

    Jun 1, 2015

  • Iraqi security forces during a patrol, looking for Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, April 9, 2015

    Commentary

    Iraq Is Bankrolling ISIL

    Iraq continues to fund ISIL by continuing salaries to the many Iraqi government employees who live in ISIL-controlled territory. That fact is a reminder of how poorly the country has been governed.

    May 26, 2015