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1.4. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Last updated: January 2021

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a successor of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni resistance movement against US-occupation after 2003. It is a Salafi jihadist militant group, designated by the UN and internationally sanctioned as a terrorist organisation, whose goal is the establishment and expansion of a caliphate. ISIL is strongly rooted in a strictly conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam, with a literal reading of the Quran and the Sharia as penal system, and a complete rejection of any other interpretation of Islam, like Shia or Sufi. Takfirism is ISIL’s ideological basis for their attitudes and actions towards other Muslims, for example in order to eliminate political opponents or others not conforming with their rigid interpretation of Islam. In its campaign to ‘purify’ its territory according to its takfir doctrines, ISIL targeted Shia, as well as ethnic and religious minorities such as Christians, Yazidi, Shabaks, Kaka’i, and Kurds [Targeting, 2.1, 2.2; Security situation 2019, 1.1.2].

ISIL controlled significant territory in Iraq but was declared militarily defeated in December 2017. The military campaign to eliminate ISIL has significantly reduced the group’s operational capabilities and ISIL has not held territory in Iraq since its military defeat, however, it continues to operate as a more traditional insurgent group with the number of areas with active ISIL attack cells nearly doubling since the end of 2018. ISIL has gained more freedom to operate during 2020 and has sought to establish itself in places where conventional military operations have been challenging, such as valleys, mountains and deserts across northern and central Iraq. During the reference period (January 2019 – 31 July 2020), it had recorded activity in Anbar, Ninewa, Erbil, Baghdad Belts, Diyala, Kirkuk and Salah al-Din. As of May 2020, there are an estimate of 1 300 ISIL combatants active in Iraq and around 12 700 support operatives and supporters [Security situation 2020, 1.2.5]. The activities of ISIL in Iraq reportedly include occasional mass casualty attacks, small arms attacks, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, suicide vest attacks and other types of bombings, and attacks on villages, including those inhabited by religious and ethnic minorities.

In regions under its control ISIL introduced its own judicial system based on a strict interpretation of the Sharia. Penalisation under this judicial system also resulted in severe human rights violations [Targeting, 2.1, 2.2; Security situation 2019, 1.3.2,; Security situation 2020, 1.2.5].

ISIL is held responsible for a wide range of human rights violations, inter alia:
■  forced displacements
■  forced conversions
■  abductions
  systematic and widespread killing of those not in conformity with their ideology
  sexual violence, including sexual slavery
■  human trafficking
  penalisation under ISIL’s parallel justice system