Tom Mulcair: “While ISIS has renamed itself several times since 2004 … it is literally the same insurgent group that U.S. forces have been battling for over a decade.”
By: Dana Wagner on
Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition and NDP MP for Outremont, in a speech dated October 3, 2014
They have different names, leaders, goals, allegiances, and enemies. It is misleading to call al-Qaeda in Iraq (2004) and Islamic State (2014) “literally” the same organization.FactsCan Score: Misleading
In a speech titled “Tom Mulcair responds to Prime Minister Harper on Iraq,” the NDP leader criticized the government on Canada’s allied air campaign against the militant group Islamic State. In particular, Mulcair questioned the success of a short combat mission, which the government capped at six months. He warned that Canadians are facing a “quagmire.”
Mulcair reasoned: “The United States has been in this conflict for over 10 years. It has been fighting ISIS under one name or another for over 10 years. While ISIS has renamed itself several times since 2004—al Qaeda in Iraq, the Mujahideen Shura Council and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in Syria—it is literally the same insurgent group that U.S. forces have been battling for over a decade.”
What is the history of the group, and does it matter?
Calling Islamic State “literally” the same group the US has been at war with since 2004 suggests that the same threat has been around for 10 years. But if it’s a new group, there may be a new threat too.
Here’s the backstory for the past decade:
2004: Al-Qaeda in Iraq emerged in 2004 under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian insurgent who swore allegiance to Osama Bin Laden.
2006: Zarqawi died in 2006, and his successor renamed the group the Islamic State in Iraq, which was steadily weakened in following years by US-led forces then at war against Iraqi insurgents.
2010-2013: Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took charge in 2010. He remains in power and, unlike Zarqawi, recognizes no higher organization or leadership but God. Baghdadi rebuilt the weakened group, and helped start an offshoot group fighting in Syria called al-Nusra Front. He next merged his forces fighting in Iraq and Syria, calling them the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But the merger caused a splinter of ISIL from al-Qaeda (and its affiliate al-Nusra Front), and a reshuffling of fighters followed.
2014: Today, ISIL, renamed Islamic State, is in open conflict with al-Nusra Front in Syria, among its other enemies.
One way to compare the groups over this period is by comparing fundamental characteristics like leadership, goals, allegiances, and principal enemies. To be called the same group, Islamic State of 2014 and al-Qaeda in Iraq of 2004, should, to a reasonable degree, share these fundamentals in common. Do they?
|AQI (2004)||IS (2014)|
|Leadership||Abu Musab al-Zarqawi||Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi|
|Goals||To defeat the US-led coalition and set off a sectarian conflict, leading in future to establishing an Islamic state||To establish and maintain an Islamic state, a caliphate, in Iraq and greater Syria|
|Allegiances||Osama bin Laden (al-Qaeda)||No higher organizational or individual allegiance (al-Qaeda’s current head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, disavowed Islamic State in the spring of 2014, “essentially firing it for failing to follow his orders,” as one expert put it).|
|Principal enemies||US-led coalition; Iraqi national army||US-led coalition (air); Iraqi and Syrian national armies; al-Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate); Kurdish Peshmerga|
There are some significant differences.
At least one analysis, this from Stanford University, treats Islamic State as the same group formerly named al-Qaeda in Iraq, naming the founding date of Islamic State as 2002 (under the original name of Tawhid al-Jihad and renamed al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004).
However, while the Stanford analysis uses 2002 as a founding date for Islamic State, it also calls al-Qaeda in Iraq a “predecessor.” So does another analyst for the Brookings Institution. In that report, author Charles Lister wrote that throughout a 15-year period since 1999 (his founding date), “IS and its various predecessors have undergone a significant process of operational and organizational learning.” According to Lister, while its roots go back more than a decade, “IS has evolved considerably since then, transforming from a small and loosely structured body with broad international ambitions to a vast organization focused on governing as an Islamic state.”
Based on these observations, Islamic State has undergone enough fundamental shifts that it is misleading to call it the same organization today as its predecessor of 2004. Similar, yes. But not literally the same.