Is this the end of ISIS? Its physical territory is gone – and its leader
for almost a decade now dead. We killed ISIS leader al-Baghdadi. He’s dead. Dead as a doornail. But you know the story of the Hydra from Greek
mythology, right? Cut off one head and two grow back? Well, it’s a bit like that with ISIS. Foreign policy decisions made by the U.S.
and its allies, sectarian tensions and destabilized nations mean ISIS didn’t
appear out of nowhere. And that’s why we’re going to look at
how the death of Baghdadi may not mean the death of ISIS after all. ISIS traces its roots all the way back to
this: the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The United States and our allies have prevailed. We’re all pretty familiar with how the Iraq
War played out. It didn’t just leave behind a trail
of death, destruction and massive debt. The invasion and subsequent fall of Saddam
Hussein and his brutal regime opened a Pandora’s box in Iraq. You see, the American government didn’t
fully understand what would follow after the ruling Baath Party was removed from
power. It unleashed a lot of the sectarian tension
that had been suppressed during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Add to that, the U.S. dismantled the regime’s
massive army… What that meant was anyone associated with
the Baath Party, no matter how contingent, was stripped of the possibility of serving
in any public capacity and professional role. This disenfranchised public servants, not
just members of the military. So that sets the conditions for an insurgency
in the first place. The deeply sectarian insurgency opened the way for something that didn’t exist in Iraq before
the U.S. invasion. Al-Qaeda. Yes, that’s right. And despite what President Trump thinks Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. He was the founder and leader of ISIS. It was a man by the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who helped start what ISIS would eventually
become. Al-Zarqawi led Al-Qaeda in Iraq – or AQI and he wanted a war between Sunni and Shia
Muslims. And wanted to control territory in Iraq. In fact, these goals were a sharp departure
from Al Qaeda’s traditional leadership. Down the line, this would actually make ISIS
and Al Qaeda rivals. Stay with us, we’re going to explain all
that. The U.S. killed al-Zarqawi in 2006, but his goals didn’t die with him. Sectarian violence in Iraq exploded with thousands of civilians dying in attacks
by Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. After al-Zarqawi’s death, AQI’s new leader announced the creation
of ISI – the Islamic State of Iraq. It was eventually headed by the guy we saw
at the beginning: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The group took advantage of American troops
leaving Iraq in 2011, but also but also of deep anger felt by
minority Iraqi Sunnis toward the majority Shia-led government. You had widespread resentment in the Sunni
community for very understandable factors. And then you couple those that state with
what Zarqawi had created. And you see a situation in which the only
viable option for survival becomes accept these people with the weapons. This perfect storm helped ISI establish itself
in Iraq. And if you look at a map of Iraq’s neighbors,
you might know where they went next. So, the Iraq War partly planted the seeds
for ISIS and it grew to fruition with the destabilization
of Syria. Here’s how: In March 2011, protests against the regime
of President Bashar al-Assad spread across the country. Assad’s regime responded with violence – and
mass arrests. I think it’s important to understand that
the early protests in Syria were very anti-sectarian. But that didn’t last long. At the same time, early in the protest of
the regime while it was arresting these kind of pro-democracy activists, it was also releasing some of its Islamic
extremist that had sat in prison for for quite a long time. By early 2012, an armed opposition had emerged. Demonstrations had turned into a civil war
leaving a power vacuum in many parts of Syria. Enter: Al Qaeda from neighboring Iraq. They called their Syrian branch the Nusra
Front. It became one of the most powerful groups
opposing the regime. There was now an Al Qaeda branch in Iraq and
in Syria. But the Iraqi branch, led by Baghdadi, saw
an opportunity. In 2013, he rebranded his group as the Islamic
State in Iraq and Syria. ISIS. It went into open conflict with the Nusra
Front and eventually split with Al Qaeda. Al-Baghdadi officially announced the creation
of a caliphate – a self-styled Islamic State under his group’
control. Some 10 million people now lived in ISIS territories
across Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second city, Mosul. That was the peak of ISIS power. In 2014, the U.S. began launching aerial attacks
against the group. By July 2017, Iraqi forces backed by Iran
pushed ISIS out of Mosul. And a few months later, Syrian Kurdish fighters with American support
took over the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa. By 2019, ISIS had lost all of its territory. On October 26th of that year, Abu Bakr al
Baghdadi died during a U.S. attack in Syria. And since then, one main question has kept
popping up. So Baghdadi is dead So that means ISIS is over, right? Well, not necessarily Even if ISIS doesn’t come back as a physical
territory, it still has the capability to carry out attacks
in countries across the world. ISIS has gone back to kind its insurgent tactics
that it was using before it actually had territory. So it’s going back to kind of using suicide
bombings, attacking, herders forces attacking civilian
areas at times. Meanwhile, thousands of the group’s captured
fighters are being held with their families in camps
across Iraq and Syria. Few of their home countries have shown a willingness
to take them back, leaving them in limbo. The conditions that allow groups like ISIS
to grow haven’t really been addressed. Sectarianism, authoritarianism, foreign interference, power vacuums, high unemployment and a lack
of development – people in the region are still suffering from
all that. So we can’t erase the war on terror legacy. And I think one of the things that I would
love to see happen, but I have pretty pretty sure it’s never going
to would be for the American policy, foreign policy establishment and the governmental
apparatus here to address and regress some of what we have
created throughout the broader Middle East with our policies. Until these policies are resolved, cutting off the ISIS head is likely to lead
to the growth of others. Just like Hydra.