By Michael Catrino
CCC Journalism Program

BLACKWOOD – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joby Warrick told a gathering April 11 at Camden County College that ISIS was formed because of the chaos that emerged during the American-Iraqi war.

An image announces the presentation. By Michael Catrino, CCC Journalism Program

The Washington Post reporter, who has written a book on the topic, described the founder of ISIS, Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, as not being a pious Muslim even though he pretended to be. “He was at his core a thuggish criminal, uneducated, a high school dropout, pathologically violent, a thug,” Warrick said.

Warrick described the development of ISIS this way:

Zarqawi and his supporters, including former Iraqi generals, destroyed international embassies and organizations to eradicate any form of western influence in Iraq and to incite conflict among the Sunnis and Shiites to create a civil war between the two sects. Zarqawi was killed in 2006 by an airstrike from the U.S. government, which had searched for him for three years.

As time passed and politics in the Middle East evolved, especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the new leader of Zarqawi’s group. Baghdadi was much more educated and organized than Zarqawi and took advantage of the political turmoil in Iraq because of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from the country in 2011.

The absence of the U.S. military reignited the Sunni and Shiite conflict in Iraq and the Shiites were oppressing the Sunnis. The Sunnis in Iraq welcomed Baghdadi and his organization because they were fellow Sunnis whom they believed could assist them in fighting the Shiites. ISIS officially declared themselves the Islamic State in Iraq.

Eventually, ISIS lost political control of Iraq and its members quickly went into hiding. At most, it now exists around the world in small regional cells. However, ISIS has a tremendous presence on the internet and continues to recruit people around the world via its social media propaganda to inflict terrorist attacks in its name, such as the attack in Barcelona in August 2017. It typically likes to recruit individuals who are socially isolated and convince them that dying for their cause is the highest calling for their life.

Currently, Warrick’s work includes tracking all of ISIS’s propaganda online and given the ebb and flow of its presence over the years, he has concluded that ISIS cannot fully be defeated.

“This is an organization that exists on a classic boom and busts cycle,” Warrick said. “The most you can hope for is to try to figure out how it gets to resurface and what we can do as a society and as a country is to keep it from coming back or coming back in a dangerous form.”

Amanda Otterstein, a junior at Camden County College, said she found the presentation to be extremely enlightening. “Coming from a very conservative political household, I had a very skewed idea of what ISIS was, what Jihad was,” Otterstein said. “It’s broadened my horizons and how I perceive the nightly news.”

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