To understand the recent advances and gains by the Islamic State (IS, formerly Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS) in both Iraq and Syria and to explore future prospects, we need to go back to the origins of Al-Qaeda in Syria and Lebanon between 2000 and 2013. After 9/11 and 2003, both the Syrian and Iranian regimes saw and used Al-Qaeda as a ‘potential ally’ in their conflict with the United States but, simultaneously, viewed it as a dangerous enemy. But Damascus and Teheran were not the only capitals that used Al-Qaeda franchises as a political instrument to advance strategic interests.
After the eruption of the Syrian revolution, Riyadh, Ankara and Doha entered into this dangerous ‘geostrategic game’ with disastrous consequences for Syria, the Middle East and beyond. In this study of Hivos and Maalouma, Fidaa Itani, an expert on Al-Qaeda in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, traces the roots, emergence and possible future development of Al-Qaeda offshoots in Syria by putting them into the regional perspective of post-2003 Iraq and post-2011 Syria. For this study, Itani conducted field research inside Syria throughout 2013. He completed this special bulletin before recent developments in Iraq and Syria.