Isis, a year of the caliphate: Six things Google still can't tell us about the group

The questions we don't really have a definitive answer to – but maybe we can make a guess

Danny Romero
Saturday 27 June 2015 15:16
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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes head of ISI, at lowest ebb of Islamist militancy in Iraq, which sees last U.S. combat brigade depart.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes head of ISI, at lowest ebb of Islamist militancy in Iraq, which sees last U.S. combat brigade depart.

Despite Isis’ rapid expansion across the Middle East in the past year and its finely-tuned propaganda machine boasting of victories and brutal assaults, there is still a lot we cannot know for sure about the terror group.

A simple Google search on a variety of questions about the jihadist movement will come back with a raft of answers - the majority of which contradict each other.

Here are the questions we don't really have a definitive answer to (but maybe we can make a guess):

How many Isis fighters are there?

In September 2014 the a CIA told CNN that it was estimated Isis could “muster” between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria, superseding previous estimates by up to 20,000.

However, Al Jazeera reported that the the British-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the figure much higher, estimating 80,000 to 100,000 fighters in total (50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq) In August last year.

By November 2014, Kurdish officials estimated up to a 200,000-strong fighting force, according to RT.com.

In December last year, the Chief of Russia’s general staff, General Valery Gerasimov, estimated that Isis formations comprise of up to 70,000 gunmen of various nationalities.

Where does Isis’s money come from?

According to The Economist, American officials estimate that Isis makes $2 million a day from oil, and that unlike other terrorist organisations, it is largely self-financed. The same article says the group made $20m from ransoms paid to them in 2014.

CNN explains that the oil comes from refineries and wells that Isis controls in northern Iraq and Syria, producing 44,000 barrels a day in Syria and 4,000 in Iraq. Isis also raided Iraqi banks in June 2014, where militants stole an estimated $500 million. CNN also points to looted treasures and artefacts, and taxes – or extortion – in areas under its control as other means of income.

Despite claims of a self-financing model, President Obama’s former top adviser Gary Samore in an article for The Independent, said Isis has significant leverage over wealthy terror backers and enablers.

Why have they won so many victories?

CNN’s Tim Lister explains why Isis is so successful, using the key captures of Ramadi and Palmyra to highlight the group’s “formidable” military tactics. Utilising “shock and awe” techniques on small, manageable targets, and using diversionary techniques, Isis is said to be introducing a “new style of warfare”. While fighters are entrenched throughout the region, the harder it will be to get them out, and Iraqi Secyurty forces cannot do it alone.

The Daily Beast highlights the importance of Iraqi politics in the strength of Isis. Before the fall of Ramadi, Baghdad’s ruling Shia class feared empowering the city’s Sunni majority more than it did Isis, according to one Iraqi general, thus providing minimal resistance to the jihadis.

The Iraqi army cannot defeat Isis because it is a weak fighting force with no discipline, with an Iraqi analyst calling it “corrupt and untrained” in an interview with Vox.

Syria’s President Assad is hesitant in directly attacking Isis because, unlike other rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front, Isis has not made a direct threat to Damascus and is an asset to the regime, according to one senior Syrian businessman quoted by Time. He says that the Assad regime is “pragmatic” in its approach to Isis, maintaining business relationships with the group.

What are Isis's long term aims?

Shortly after al-Baghdadi’s speech in June last year, MailOnline published a map shared by Isis supporters showing a five-year goal in which they plan to expand their caliphate throughout the Middle East, North Africa and parts of western Asia as well as parts of Europe. It claimed that Isis plans to have Spain under its control by 2020.

Further to a geographical caliphate, Baghdadi called for all of the world's Muslims to follow him, as reported by The Guardian.

Other news outlets such as the Observer.com have said that they seek world domination and to establish an Islamic Society.

What are Isis’ recruitment methods?

It has been widely reported, such as in this Time article, that Isis is using social media, such as Twitter and Tumblr, to recruit both men and women.

According to The Guardian, some Isis fighters were first recruited while working as migrant labourers , with militants paying their families up to $30,000 to relocate to Aleppo.

Isis has a $2 billion budget, according to CNN, and uses that to produce videos that recruit teenagers online using “sexy bearded jihadists” displayed as potential husbands for female would-be recruits along with promises of education and more.

Isis also recruits former militants from different organisations and converts members of rival groups to fight for their cause, Bustle reported.

How much does ISIS pay its fighters?

Buzzfeed claims Isis pays its members close to $400 a month.

However, an article on Business Insider says it pays its members $150 a day.

Iraqinews.com says that Baghdadi dedicates a “grant” to all Isis members who wish to marry, including a house, furnishings and a $1,200 monthly salary.

King Abdullah II of Jordan says that the salary of a foreign fighter is $1,000 a month, NBC News reported.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Isis had to cut salaries by 75 per cent for fighters in Mosul due to Coalition air strikes shrinking their oil revenue, according to Business Insider.

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