ISIS Militants Tap Into 'Certain Rage' In Young Men

It's been another bloody week in Iraq, where the Sunni insurgent group known as ISIS consolidated its control in the north and west of the country. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Mideast correspondent Deborah Amos about the group's ultimate goals and its appeal.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Another bloody week in Iraq. The Sunni insurgent group known as ISIS consolidated its control in the north and west of the country. Today, there are reports that ISIS has taken control of another border crossing with Syria, allowing the group to transport heavy weapons into the country. On Thursday, the President said that he would send up to 300 military advisors to assist the Iraqi government. But he stood by his earlier decision not to send American troops.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There's no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States.

RATH: ISIS has been operating for years in Iraq's war-torn neighbor, Syria. NPR's Middle East correspondent, Deborah Amos, has been reporting on this group in Syria and now in Iraq. She joins us from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. Hi, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hi.

RATH: Deb, ISIS is large, its soldiers are well trained and equipped, and its mission is clearly appealing to some too. Can you explain what ISIS is tapping into in both Iraq and Syria?

AMOS: I think it does tap into a certain rage. We have a generation of young men who are angry about lack of opportunities, about oppression, about lack of education. And so ISIS appeals to them as an empowerment, if you will. And in particular, we saw that as young men from around the world, including Europe and the United States, join this group. They are adept at social media. They are able to appeal to young men on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube. And so they have become very good at recruiting.

RATH: You've done a lot of reporting about the war in Syria, and as we mentioned, ISIS has its roots there. What are some ways in which it bears the stamp of that conflict?

AMOS: ISIS actually has its roots in Iraq. And when the chaos began in Syria, the group moved to Syria where they filled a vacuum. And they were able to build their strength in Syria. It would be wrong to think that they came as a swarm across the border from Syria into Iraq. But what they were able to do here is have rolling recruitments as it moves from Sunni dominated city to Sunni dominated city in the north.

RATH: The Assad regime tolerated ISIS's influence in big swathes of eastern Syria. How does the group's offensive in Iraq and the focus that's drawn from the U.S. change the Assad Regime's calculus?

AMOS: So far, it has not. The Assad regime appeared to leave ISIS alone and go after the more moderate rebels that were fighting. The idea was that you would have a stark choice - the West - between the secular Assad regime and fundamentalist terrorists who were pouring in from across the world. So only in the past couple of days has the Syrian Air Force hit ISIS for the first time. And it was a pretty light tap. Here you have the entire army, essentially, dropped tools and run when these guys came to town.

RATH: You're in the Kurdish city of Erbil. Kurdistan has remained an island of stability in this. What do the Kurds gain or lose from this conflict?

AMOS: They gain everything, Arun. That's what's been so ironic and interesting to watch here. The Kurdish part of Iraq is semi-autonomous. However, there are disputed territories outside Kurdistan. For example, the city of Kirkuk - their fighters, called the Peshmerga, are much more cohesive than the Iraqi army. They were able to seize Kirkuk. And I just saw an interview today with a Kurdish official that said, oh, not only will we keep Kirkuk, but we're going to keep the oil fields in Kirkuk. So we are seeing something historical here in Kurdistan. They are reaping the benefits of the fracturing of Iraq, and it is hard to imagine that they will go back to the status quo that existed before Mosul fell to the Sunni militants.

RATH: NPR Middle East correspondent, Deborah Amos, is in the northern city of Erbil. Thank you, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you.

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