IL Newswire

Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in Discussions to Form Alliance

"Protesters carry Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest... in Idlib province, Syria, March 11, 2016." Courtesy of  Newsweek . KHALIL ASHAWI/REUTERS

"Protesters carry Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest... in Idlib province, Syria, March 11, 2016." Courtesy of Newsweek. KHALIL ASHAWI/REUTERS

The future of the Islamic State (ISIL) is becoming ever more precarious in both Iraq and Syria, two countries of which the group had previously controlled significant portions. In Iraq, ISIL retains a small but solid stance in the city of Mosul, but faces staunch opposition from "an alliance of Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militias and a U.S.-led international coalition" in the area. Similarly, both ISIL and former ally Al-Qaeda face a non-aligned but equally threatening opposition in the Syrian forces, backed by Russia, as well as US and Kurdish groups.

In 2014, when ISIL's self-proclaimed caliphate was at the height of its territorial reach, the group formally severed ties with Al-Qaeda, of which ISIL had been the working branch in Iraq until that point. While both groups have extremely conservative Sunni Muslim affiliations, Al Qaeda has openly criticized ISIL for using "brutal methods" to achieve its goals, such as beheading, burning, and drowning victims. Such measures seem to be one of the reasons the groups have remained separate for several years. Despite its controversial actions, ISIL immediately gained huge traction throughout Iraq and Syria when it split from Al-Qaeda, proving itself capable of succeeding without ties to its long-standing parent organization. 

However, intense opposition has hurt both groups in the subsequent years. ISIL is backed into a concentrated fight in Mosul, unleashing chemical weapons attacks against Iraqi troops in a desperate effort to slow their advances on ISIL territory. It is unknown how long ISIL can even sustain attacks of this type, and it seems that some of its chemical stockpile have been destroyed already, according to a video produced by the ISIL-opposition group, the Popular Mobilization Units. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda's decision to support anti-regime rebels in Syria has not achieved significant results, particularly because the group has encountered much resistance from the Syrian military.

Now, both groups are in talks to renew their alliance in an attempt to stem the territorial losses they've suffered in both Iraq and Syria. According to Newsweek, an alliance would not likely accomplish a complete turnaround for the groups, but it could "result in even further delay for hopes of peace in Syria and could have deadly global consequences." The article states that although ISIL is almost completely defeated in Iraq, it still can claim several thousands of supporters and active members elsewhere, such as regions in Africa and Asia. Additionally, Al-Qaeda still enjoys significant support throughout both of those continents, and consequently an alliance between the two groups may unite supporters outside of Iraq and Syria and form a much larger movement. 

As of now, talks between the two militant groups have not yielded any official agreement, but it is wise to remain wary of their success in doing so. So far, opposition forces have been successful in fighting the two groups separately, but it is unknown if that could change with a formal alliance.