The warning signs were there. The failure to properly act upon them led to the horrific rise of the world's most fearsome terrorist group. The Secret History of ISIS outlines the birth of the organization, their legacy of ghastly bloodshed across the world, and the steps not taken that might have averted their reign altogether.
The eventual founder of ISIS - Abu Musab al-Zarqaw - had been on the radar of the CIA prior to the invasion of Iraq. As detailed in the film, the agency urged the White House for permission to strike al-Zarqawi prior to the war, but they were refused. The ousting of Sadam Hussein left an opening through which al-Zarqawi was empowered to enter.
The film features interviews with the agents who sat on the inside of this power struggle, and they testify to their frustrations at the Bush administration for significantly altering the narrative of their well-researched findings.
The ISIS insurgency plagued the battlefield with a string of suicide bombings, mass killings, savage beheadings, and the capturing of key territories throughout Iraq. It set off a decade of conflict the led to unimaginable casualties and a world gripped in fear.
Helped by the insights of journalists, intelligence agents and former government officials including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, the filmmakers document the tensions between Osama bin Laden and al-Zarqawi, the barbaric means by which ISIS continued to fester, and the failures of two American presidents to properly heed the threats posed by the terrorist platform. These factors have allowed ISIS to transcend beyond an isolated regional cancer and to spread its influence across nearly 90 attacks around the world.
The film does not flinch when portraying the heinous crimes committed by ISIS during their campaign of carnage. For this reason, squeamish viewers may practice caution when viewing. But a clear portrait of these terrorist tactics and their unbearable costs is essential to understanding the nature of the enemy. Produced by the always exceptional Frontline series, The Secret History of ISIS is an important and well-informed recap of this seminal period.
Directed by: Michael Kirk