The Iraq uprising and your investments: Is ISIS part of al-Qaeda?

Surbhi Jain - Author

Aug. 18 2020, Updated 6:27 a.m. ET

Is ISIS part of al-Qaeda?

No. ISIS isn’t part of al-Qaeda. In fact, both organizations differ officially and philosophically. Though both these groups espouse Sunni Islam, they don’t have the same purpose.

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About al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist and Takfiri organization founded by Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and several other militants in 1988–1989. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for global jihad and strict interpretation of Sharia law. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the United States, Russia, India, and various other countries. Al-Qaeda has carried out many attacks on non-Sunni Muslims, non-Muslims, and other targets it considers kafir (infidel).

Al-Qaeda versus ISIS

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  1. Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization, with sleeper cells, training camps, and terrorist attacks, while ISIS is currently more a private army and a rogue territory with its own infrastructure.
  2. Since the demise of Osama bin Laden, its founder and leader, al-Qaeda has become more conscious of avoiding acts of counter-productive brutality. On the other hand, ISIS advocates a religious philosophy so strict and uncompromising that it appears to be nihilistic.
  3. Al-Qaeda’s more seasoned leaders have learned that fighters must treat local Muslims gently and win their hearts and minds if they are to avoid generating local resistance. On the other hand, ISIS enforces strict Sharia codes and enacting cruel Sharia punishments, including public lashings, amputations, and executions—even crucifixions.

In simple terms, ISIS and Al-Qaeda have a similar end goal but significantly different perspectives on how to get there. Today, ISIS and al-Qaeda compete for influence over Islamist extremist groups around the world.

Is a merger in the cards?

However, quite recently, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that senior members of al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front, based in Boukamal, have traveled to the Iraqi frontier town of Rabia, where they pledged loyalty to ISIS. ISIS and the al-Nusra Front had previously clashed, going as far as battling and kill each other over territorial disputes.

The move creates massive quantitative and territorial gains for ISIS jihadis. It reflects the growing strength of ISIS as it opens the way for ISIS to control vast swathes of land on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. The newly formed alliance leads to ISIS’s further control of Syria’s Deir al-Zor province, which links Syria and Iraq.

The current conflicts and land grabs by ISIS in Iraq have already started impacting the global oil market. Read on to the next part of this series to learn how ETFs like the SPDR Energy Select Sector ETF (XLE), the Vanguard Energy Index Fund (VDE), and the iShares Dow Jones US Energy Sector Index Fund (IYE)—which are heavily invested in companies like Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX)—stand to gain or lose in the event of an oil price hike in Iraq.


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