The roots of ISIS

How did ISIS conquer northern Iraq? It is April 2013. Sunni Muslims in the northern Iraqi town of Hawija take to the streets in protest. They are fed up with the lack of jobs, with feeling marginalised, with being branded “terrorists” by the largely Shia government in Baghdad. After weeks of peaceful protests, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki mobilizes the army to shut the demonstration down. Troops reportedly open fire on the protestors killing 40 people and then block ambulances from taking the wounded to hospital. Soldiers are also killed. 

In the wake of these deadly clashes, described by some news outlets as ‘a massacre’, Sunni tribes in the Al-Hawija district transfer their support to ISIS. This is the moment the Iraqi government loses credibility. In the months that follow, ISIS seizes control of northern Iraq, including Mosul. Many Sunnis line the streets and welcome them. They give their ‘bayat’ (oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader. 

Some commentators speculate that without Hawija, the ISIS caliphate would not have been possible.

ISIS feeds on the decay of post-invasion Iraq, drawing strength from the disenfranchised and dispossessed. Many of those who flocked to its banner in the summer of 2014 were young men living hopeless lives. ISIS gave them a monthly salary, which is more than their government gave them. In a country crippled by sanctions, poverty and unemployment, it is easy to see why ISIS was able to gain a foothold. This is not an excuse but maybe an explanation. 

A different path for would-be terrorists

As a result of the ISIS incursion, ordinary decent Sunnis in their thousands now languish in IDP camps across northern Iraq. In Debaga Camp in Mahkmur, we set up a hot food kitchen which fed thousands of displaced Sunnis. We have an ongoing commitment to a football project in Harsham Camp in Erbil. With your support, we aim to resurface the pitch this summer so that the children there (mostly Sunni) can continue to enjoy The Beautiful Game. The football coach we employ, Dastan, had this to say:

“The football project at Harsham is an opportunity for the children to enjoy themselves. It keeps them away from bad things such as radicalization. They have a lot of energy which needs to be released in a positive way. Keeping busy with sport and making friends is such a benefit for them. When they come here in the afternoon they play and play and play, then they get tired and go home and sleep.”

This week an ISIS cell was apprehended in Hawija. As before, the group is preying on the vulnerable. The boys we are helping in Harsham Camp would be prime targets if it were not for the other path we have offered them. One of the boys, Mohannad Hasam, has even received an invitation to join Aljazeera Football Club in the UAE. With your support, we will continue to provide a positive alternative to the many destructive influences that swirl around this region. Perhaps that is the best way to defeat ISIS.

Please help and make a donation 

Thanks for reading. To support our football project for displaced Sunnis, or any of our other projects, please make a donation via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Alternatively, you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. American supporters wishing to make a donation can do so here.