Why ISIS Shouldn’t Be ​Branded Terrorists



Yesterday I posted about Kenneth Pollack’s valuable Iraq Military Situation Report that appeared June 14 on the website of the Brookings Institution where he’s a  senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy . He explains the gains of the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (or Syria, or the Levant) have been relatively easy because they were in primarily Sunni territories. But now, with ISIS stalled outside Baghdad, between Shia resistance increased on its own territory and help from Iran and the United States, he foresees a stalemate leading to a war of attrition.

Among other insights in the report that may be new to you as they were me was that Sunni militants, as exemplified by Isis, as a subhead of his report reads, “are Militias First and Foremost, Terrorists only a Distant Second.”

Here as well, Prime Minister Maliki and his apologists like to refer to the Sunni militants as terrorists. Too often, so too do American officials. Without getting into arcane and useless debates about what constitutes a “terrorist,” as a practical matter it is a mistake to think of these groups as being principally a bunch of terrorists.

Why exactly?

The problem there is that that implies that what these guys mostly want to do is to blow up buildings or planes elsewhere around the world, and particularly American buildings and planes.

​​… Somewhere down the road, they probably will begin to mount terrorist attacks against other countries from their secure areas in Iraq and Syria.

Then, what’s motivating them​​?

They are looking to conquer territory.

​Yes, conquering is still a thing. Ye olde Islamic Caliphate. Furthermore, Pollack writes:

​… this is a traditional ethno-sectarian militia waging [a] civil war. (They are also not an insurgency.) ​…  They will do so using guerrilla tactics or conventional tactics.

​In fact

Their entire advance south over the past week has been a conventional, motorized light-infantry offensive; not a terrorist campaign, not a guerrilla warfare campaign.

​Why is it crucial to make clear that they’re not primarily terrorists? Pollack:

That is important because defining the Sunni militants as terrorists implies that they need to be attacked immediately and directly by the United States. Seeing them [as] a sectarian militia waging a civil war, puts the emphasis on where it needs to be: finding an integrated political-military solution to the internal Iraqi problems that sparked the civil war. And that is a set of problems that is unlikely to be solved by immediate, direct American attacks on the Sunni militants.

Indeed, he writes:

. . . such attacks could easily make the situation worse.



  • OccidentalJihadist

    So ISIS consists of state-building fundamentalist Sunnis who behead Shi`is and Christians and blow up churches. But let’s be careful not to label them “terrorists?” Really, I fail to follow your logic. Let’s just be honest: ISIS is transmogrifying from a non-state to a state brand of terrorism. How about that?

  • Paul S

    They executed 1700 shiite prisoners in cold blood. Not terrorists?

    • Whereisthejustice1

      They killed 12 sunni clerks in Mousul , Not even Shias
      these reporters have to pay there over due tution fees and will write anything.
      Shame on them , I wonder how they can sleep at night.

      • FHTEX

        Our reporters and so-called Middle East experts are mostly prostitutes for the Bilderbergers. who are now almost laughable (e.g., Ben Rhodes) in their incompetence!

  • al Jarban

    Seems like the author is aiding and abetting terrorism. Tolerance of the unspeakable behaviors of ISIS should not be tolerated. Wrong is wrong, and evil is evil, Mister! Even if your masters helped fund, arm and train them, it doesn’t make them right.


  • teevee

    Ah I get it, if they don’t attack Israel or us then they are good guys. Who gives hoot about the thousands of Syrians or Iraqis? They are not quite white enough for you, no? Shame on you Russ, shame on you.

  • Ron Chandler

    Real armies don’t ride around in 2WD pickups with machine guns in cages welded in. They need 4WD ATVs. These guys have a few stolen Hummers, also useless (no armor).
    Work it out. They had a whole new fleet BEFORE they hit the bank in Mosul. Financed not by local money, as would a militia. Saudi and Turkey back them; possibly others closer to your backyard.
    ISIS are terrorists-for-hire.
    The arguments here are transparent rot, designed to forestall their destruction.
    You are showing your hand for nothing: Syria’s Mig-23s, Mig 29s and Hind helicopters are already destroying ISIS in Tal Afar. al-Maliki pays for fuel and ammo. US warmongery or no, ISIS are doomed.

    • EW

      They’ve regularly blown up civilians with car bombs in Shia areas. That’s pure terrorism.

  • omgamuslim

    There is only one rule.
    Persons or groups actively opposing US imperial dispensation especially the imposition of the zionist state amongst an unwilling population in a country without the the consent of the inhabitants are to be termed terrorists.
    There is a corollary.
    By extension any active opposition to unsavoury rulers as in Syria, Egypt, Ukraine .. may also be characterised as being terroristic.