Often translated as "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria", الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام is more accurately called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Arabic acronym DAESH, or simply Islamic State (IS). These acronyms all describe a radical and violent Islamist group led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Founded in 1999, the group grew as part of al-Qaeda in Iraq until-- if you can believe it-- they became too radical for the larger organization. The group has spread across swaths of Iraq and Syria, declaring conquered territory a caliphate and grotesquely executing opposition. Among the murdered are Americans James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller.
Throughout its growth, the group's goal has remained the same: the creation of a hardline Sunni Islamic State. As it holds territory, ISIL endeavors to create a violent but functioning state-- cleaning streets and cracking down on corruption.
Why is this important?
Obvious international security risks are the first set of concerns. Lt. General James Terry commands the American "Iraq First" strategy, which entails stabilizing Iraq before sweeping Syria. President Obama's State of the Union assertion that "American leadership... is stopping [ISIL's] advance" seems to be correct, but carefully worded; ISIL's conquering momentum has stalled but its core strongholds have not shrunk.
Pundits often point to ISIL as important indication of shocking new trends in Islam. It is not. However, ISIL is a disconcerting power in Wahhabism, the simplistic, violent, Saudi-funded creed. In other words, ISIL is increasing the power of one very dangerous part within Islamic extremism.
One more thing...
In the recent first GOP primary debate, Scott Walker seemed to conflate the Iran nuclear deal with the spread of ISIL. The statement was grossly misleading. Iran, in fact, continues to fight ISIL and back Shia militias that are doing so-- and is tacitly coordinating forces with the United States.