Heritage Foundation Middle East expert James Phillips sat down with Kelsey Harkness of Heritage’s Daily Signal to give some background on ISIS and the crisis in Iraq:

Daily Signal: First off, who and what is ISIS?

Phillips: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is an al-Qaeda offshoot that seeks to overthrow the governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and establish an Islamic state governed by a harsh and brutal interpretation of Islamic law. Its long-term goals are to launch a jihad (holy war) to drive Western influence out of the Middle East, destroy Israel and become the nucleus of a global Islamic empire.

It is composed of Sunni Muslims drawn to radical Islamist ideology. Most of its members are Iraqi and Syrian Arabs, although it has attracted a wide range of foreign militants, especially Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt.

D.S.: How long has ISIS been around and why are they just now on the move?

Phillips: The group initially was established in Iraq in 2004 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Palestinian Islamist extremist born in Jordan, who formerly was one of the estimated 25,000 foreign Muslims who flocked to Afghanistan after 1979 to fight the Soviets. He was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, although he did not formally join al-Qaeda until 2004 when he was recognized as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006 and his organization was decimated by a U.S.-led counterterrorism campaign. But the group made a comeback in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011, which took the pressure off it. Also, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s Shia-dominated government alienated Sunni Iraqis, driving many of them to see ISIS as the lesser evil.

D.S.: So what exactly is ISIS trying to accomplish?

Phillips: ISIS is a violent Islamist extremist group that is determined to impose its harsh totalitarian Islamist ideology on all Muslims, kill off apostates (defined as all Muslims that do not accept its brand of Islam), subjugate all non-Muslims and build a radical Islamic state that will launch an unending jihad until it has created a global Islamic empire. It is a revolutionary movement that uses terrorism to impose its will.

D.S.: What about these reports of ISIS beheading and crucifying their fellow Muslims?

Phillips: ISIS proudly videotapes and broadcasts its brutal treatment of its enemies and those who violate its radical interpretation of Islamic law. It has cited the Koran to justify beheading and crucifixion. Its victims reportedly are usually killed first before being strung up for display on a cross.

Want to know more? Read the rest of the questions and answers on the Daily Signal.

How do you think the Obama administration should respond to the situation in Iraq? Tell us in the comments.

Comments (7)

Charlene Johnson - June 20, 2014

We should be there to support those freedom loving Iraqis that we bolstered originally and promised support. But our President has weakened our military by replacing seasoned generals he didn’t like with generals he could control, thus weakening our leadership. Also by reducing our presence, reducing funding, and equipment needed to help the Iraqis defend themselves and our soldiers to safely defend themselves. President Obama has created a bloodbath for those poor people and an unsafe environment for our military.

Jerry Metcalf - June 20, 2014

WE can’t make the Iraq people want freedom, they have to fight for it themselves. The US should sell them war making equipment. Supply the Kurds first, they seem to want freedom most.

donna jaske - June 20, 2014

Our military should have immediately launched an air strike and drone strike in the terrorists when the ISIS started murdering innocents in Iraq. (Assuming we had intelligence to show where and whom to attack.) Also the U.S. should have forcefully talked with Maliki to force him to make his government include Sunni’s (even when in the US Democrats and Republicans can’t even play nice with each other). If he refuses to make his government inclusive, then the US should NOT help him any more.

Tom Downs - June 20, 2014

When both factions of this war hate Americans then we should not support either side. When they are killing each other they aren’t killing us. Stay out of this one.

William - June 20, 2014

We [USA] did our thing (even though it was the wrong thing, except to get rid of Sadam H). They are now fighting each other. Sooner or later they need to figure out how to deal with their own people. They do not want us there and we should no longer offer American lives to help them fight their own battles! Unless there is a genuine threat to US security, or via the United Nations group effort, we should get out of Iraq.

GEORGE A. WARREN - June 22, 2014

First of these ISIS are nothing but a group of THUGS who want to take over this regain for their own purpose. The people of Iraq do not need these THUGS. President Obama must call on United States Navy and Air Force, plus Iraq Military to put down ISIS gang of THUGS now.

Holly Chapo - June 22, 2014

Get the best intelligence available about who is where and what is going on. Provide air support via drones or bombers. Decimate ISIS’s supply lines coming from Syria. Get David Petraeus involved as he has firsthand knowledge of the situation in Iraq. Work with Al Maliki to strengthen his resolve. And kill every ISIS member we can find.

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