Iraq War 15 years on: Rise and fall of ISIL

World Today

It’s the 15th anniversary of the Iraq invasion and war. Thousands of lives were lost, while millions were displaced. And in the end, no weapons of mass destruction found, as first claimed by the U.S. The conflict also led to the rise of extremist groups, including ISIL.

CGTN’s Jack Barton reports.

ISIL emerged from the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq, which in turn grew out of the sectarian conflict that followed the U.S. led invasion in 2003.

In 2014, the jihadist group made headlines worldwide as it captured large swathes of Iraq and Syria, carrying out regular atrocities including beheadings and the mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers.

“No one could accept what was happening, all the Iraqis could not accept, Sunnis or Shiites even other sects would not accept, but because of the bad mismanagement of the crisis as well as the security and military who didn’t do their constitutional job, that’s why there was a collapse,” said Ahmed al-Sharify, a strategic studies analyst.

Later that year, the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood in a mosque in recently captured Mosul where he announced the creation of an Islamic State caliphate that pushed as far west as Aleppo in Syria.

Two months later, a U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes targeting the group in Iraq, expanding the bombing campaign into Syria the following month. ISIL lost some territory.

But more than 8,000 airstrikes over 12 months failed to dislodge the extremist group from it strongholds. All the while ISIL expanded into other countries including Libya, while carrying out attacks abroad from France and Egypt to the United States.

In 2016, the tide finally began to turn in Iraq, with the country’s Special Forces recapturing key cities like Tikrit and Fallujah. The final battle for ISIL’s stronghold Mosul was the world’s largest military operation since the U.S. led invasion.

ISIL brought unimaginable misery, but the fight against them also brought a degree of unity to a country divided along religious lines.

The challenge now is to build on the unity forged in the fight against the extremist group.