What do recent gains in Syria mean for the Islamic State?

Despite being ousted recently from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, Iraq, the Islamic State made important new gains this weekend in Syria, taking control of an area near Damascus. Part of what is driving the extremist group's success is the growing role of former officials from Saddam Hussein's military who are now playing a key role within ISIS. Liz Sly, the Beirut bureau chief for The Washington Post, joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Beirut, Lebanon, to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Iran, of course, is working alongside the United States in the fight against ISIS. Despite being ousted recently from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, the extremist group made important new gains this weekend in Syria, taking control of an area near Damascus.

    Part of what is driving ISIS' success is the growing role of former officials from Saddam Hussein's military, members of the once dominant Baathist Party. They are now playing a key role within ISIS.

    Liz Sly of The Washington Post wrote about this, joins us now via Skype from Beirut, Lebanon.

    So, first of all, how are they involved? Where are they involved? And what roles do they play?

  • LIZ SLY, The Washington Post:

    Well, really, they're involved at every level of the senior leadership. Most of the senior leadership are former Baathists. They are officers in the army.

    The senior leaders of ISIS served in Saddam Hussein's army. They lost their jobs after the de-Baathification law in 2003. They went through various permutations of insurgency. Maybe they left the insurgency. Maybe they went back. But, in the past few years, we have seen an aggressive attempt by the current leader of ISIS to recruit them into the ranks of ISIS. And, really, the organization is run and controlled by Iraqis.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, there were two big rounds of de-Baathification, when we essentially took Baathist Party out of any roles in government, one in 2003 by the U.S. government, and again in 2011 by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister.

    So what did that do? And how did that contribute to those leadership positions in ISIS being filled by these former Baathists?

  • LIZ SLY:

    Well, the de-Baathification of 2003, I think the consequences of that already are quite well known.

    I think people know, you know, that about 400,000 Iraqis who were serving in the army lost their jobs. They were sent home. They were not eligible for future employment. They kept their guns, but they weren't allowed to join in the military again. And that created a ready pool of recruits for all the different insurgent groups.

    The second round in 2011 is less well known. After the Americans left, Maliki started to fire even some of the ones that they had tried to rehabilitate, realizing that it wasn't such a good idea to have these guys out there without jobs, without contributing to society.

    And it meant it was really very easy for those guys to just go and sign up with ISIS, because they felt they had no — no other choice but to fight for their future, because they didn't have another future.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Liz Sly of The Washington Post joining us via Skype from Beirut, thanks so much.

  • LIZ SLY:

    Thank you.