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IWP future, current, and past students participate in the ISIS Crisis simulation

“I’ve written policy essays throughout my academic career; ISIS Crisis actually offers students and interns the opportunity to put their strategies into practice.”
– IWP Intern Lucy Mathews, Team Kurds

On Saturday, November 19, 2022, Professor Aaron A. Danis held his annual ISIS Crisis exercise, which is a graded exercise in the Violent Non-State Actors in Today’s Security Environment (IWP 683) course. This pol-mil wargame simulates the political and military events in and around Iraq during the summer and fall of 2014. Each game turn represents approximately one month of time, and the players usually complete four intense turns in the time allotted. This year, eight students, three interns, and one alumnus were assigned to one of six teams: the United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Republic of Iraq (state actors), and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Sunni Tribal Opposition, and the Kurdish Regional Government (non-state actors).

Special ISIS cupcakes - Beware!
Beware of ISIS bearing tasty cupcakes; nothing is free…

“Preparing and implementing an effective strategy is the goal of this simulation,” stated Prof. Danis. “Teams are laying the groundwork for long-term success while battling an enemy bent on destroying them.”  When the game starts in July 2014, ISIS is in the driver’s seat, and the embattled Iraqi government needs to fight them while building a broad-based government and leveraging the tools of potential allies.

ISIS Crisis forced me to use a limited array of tools of statecraft to achieve my non-state actor’s goals which meant that creativity and originality were important,” stated graduate student Parker Sears in his role as ISIS’ military commander. “This experience was valuable, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in international affairs.”

Game map closeup in which ISIS propaganda exploits civilian casualties
Game map closeup in which ISIS propaganda exploits civilian casualties.

“Attempting to make a move as the Sunni tribes without angering another actor was an eye-opening challenge,” stated IWP intern Jake Whitson of the Team Sunni Tribes.

All the teams have strengths and weaknesses, even the United States, as was seen by its lethal use of airpower against ISIS in the game, only to have some strikes cause civilian casualties that boomeranged.  ISIS even faked civilian casualties for anti-Coalition propaganda purposes by posing its own dead fighters as dead civilians in Mosul (see photo above). In real-world terms, such an event has the potential to restrict future U.S. military options, as it relies on the permission of the host nation to act.

Prof. Danis offers his course every fall semester if students are interested in enrolling.

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Participants in 2022 ISIS Crisis simulation
It’s all smiles for the class photo after the crisis has passed.