Examining the Causes of the Islamic State’s Resurgence in Iraq


Originally written for Tahrir Souri – Hasan Mustafa

You can also download the report here.


ISF = Iraqi Security Forces

ISI = Islamic State of Iraq

ISIS = Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham

JAN = Jabhat al-Nusra

JRTN = Jaish Rijal al-Tariq Naqshbandi (Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Way)

JSOC = Joint Special Operations Command

VBIED = Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (colloquially known as car-bombs)

Examining the Causes of the Islamic State’s Resurgence in Iraq

In 2011 an article in the New York Times confidently asserted that the Islamic State of Iraq was “unlikely to regain its prior strength,” in reference to its peak in the Sunni insurgency of 2006 [1]. Analysts who subscribed to such thinking are being forced to eat their own words today as the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) has surpassed its prior strength and is among the most powerful militant groups in the world. Indeed, ISIS now controls vast swathes of territory and runs a pseudo-state in north-eastern Syria and western Iraq.

On June 9th 2014, fighters belong to the ISIS launched an attack on Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. By midday June 10th, the ISIS was in control of much of Mosul as resistance from Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) seemingly melted away. Tikrit was also reportedly seized on June 11th. In addition to these prizes, the ISIS has seized control of the entirety of the Nineveh Governorate, large parts of the Anbar Governorate including Ramadi and the infamous city of Fallujah, as well as parts of the Salaheddin and the Kirkuk Governorates. Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there is no doubt that the Islamic State has made a stunning comeback in Iraq. In its nadir in 2010, the organization had dwindled to only 200 “hardcore” fighters [2]. A far cry from the situation today where ISIS is able to control territory and exercise effective denial of area against the ISF. The Islamic State’s meteoric rise is not without explanation as many competing factors have contributed to this reinvigoration. Most prominent among these factors is Sunni marginalization by the Iraqi government, the extreme incompetence of the Iraqi Security Forces and a major change in ISIS operational tactics.