Read a review by John Doyle.

Who Runs the Islamic State? See an interactive graphic from Frontline.

A year ago, few people had heard of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — the brutal jihadist group that President Obama calls a “network of death.” How did ISIS become a major force so quickly? And what does it mean for the U.S. and coalition forces to be back in Iraq, fighting a new war on terror?

The Rise of ISIS is a major, in-depth investigation of the brutal terrorist group’s ascent, from veteran journalist Martin Smith. It investigates the miscalculations and mistakes behind the rise of the ruthless jihadist group. “This documentary lays out, in chilling detail, the buildup of unheeded warnings, failures, and missed opportunities that allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to become ISIS,” says Smith, who was on the ground in Iraq when the U.S. began airstrikes this summer.

In The Rise of ISIS, Smith draws on comprehensive interviews with Iraqi politicians, American policymakers and military leaders (including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta) to explore and explain how ISIS developed into what one interviewee calls “the al-Qaeda that Osama bin Laden only dreamed of building.”

Along the way, Smith delivers a revelatory look at how ISIS grew out of the disaffection of Iraqi Sunnis who were sidelined and targeted by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after the American withdrawal. 

“By the time Americans left Iraq in 2011, al-Qaeda in Iraq had been almost completely destroyed,” Smith says. “But the ISIS of 2014 is reborn out of Sunni fears, and by the people the U.S. couldn’t manage to kill during the war — described to me as ‘a collection of killers very good at surviving’: the most battle-hardened al-Qaeda militants, a few embittered tribesmen, and some remnants of Saddam's Baathist military hoping to regain power.”

The Rise of ISIS traces how they gained strength in Syria, how they're funded, how they operate, and how, city by city, from Ramadi to Fallujah to Mosul, ISIS swept across Iraq — seizing territory, recording and broadcasting mass executions, and drawing recruits from an estimated 80 countries.

“[ISIS] became a movement by manipulation of the information space, and by playing on the fears of Sunnis, and by confronting the tribes,” says Gen. Dempsey.

“This is one of the first terrorist groups saying, ‘You know what? We're not going to hit and run, and we're never going to participate in politics as you know it. We actually want to kill everyone who disagrees with us,’” says counterterrorism expert Ali Soufan.

With ISIS continuing to take and hold territory in Iraq and Syria despite U.S. and coalition airstrikes, and President Obama’s foreign policy legacy hanging in the balance, The Rise of ISIS is the definitive account of how we reached this point.

The Rise of ISIS is a PBS production with Rain Media. The writer, producer and correspondent is Martin Smith. The co-producer is Linda Hirsch.

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Credits (Click to expand)

WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY

Martin Smith

 

CO-PRODUCED BY

Linda Hirsch

 

EDITOR

Jennifer Brooks

 

CORRESPONDENT

Martin Smith

 

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Scott Anger

 

REPORTER

Dan Sugarman

 

FIELD PRODUCER

Warzer Jaff

 

RESEARCHER

Ali Adeeb

 

SECOND CAMERA

Sachi Cunningham

 

ADDITIONAL REPORTING

Jim

Gilmore

 

ADDITIONAL EDITING

Colin Beattie

 

CAMERA

Mark Rublee

Jason Longo

 

SOUND

Jack Bromiley

Sam Kashefi

Steve Roseboom

Matthew Rybczynski

 

ONLINE EDITOR COLORIST

Jim

Ferguson

 

SOUND MIX

Jim

Sullivan

 

ORIGINAL MUSIC

John E. Low

 

LOCATION FIXERS, BAGHDAD

Wael al-Hafoth

Khalid al-Ansary

 

ASSISTANT EDITOR

Charles Farrell

 

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

Cole Frank

 

MAPS

Victoria Nece

 

PRODUCTION ACCOUNTANT

James

Cassidy

 

ADDITIONAL VOICE-OVER

Jeremiah Kissel

 

SPECIAL THANKS

Isra Abdulhadi

 

ARCHIVAL MATERIALS

Ali al-Mashhdani

AFP

AP

Archive

AP

Images

Axiom

Images

Big

Noise Films

CNN ImageSource

Corbis

Framepool

Holly

Pickett/The New York Times/Redux

Institute

for the Study of War

ITN Source

Getty

Images

Michael

Kamber/The New York Times/Redux

Long War Journal

Reuters Pictures

Sam

Dagher/The Wall Street Journal

UPI

Photo

Reuters Pictures

White

House Photo Office

 

FOR FRONTLINE

 

PRODUCTION MANAGER

Megan McGough Christian                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

 

ON-AIR PROMOTION

PRODUCER

Missy Frederick

 

ON-AIR PROMOTION EDITOR

Barry Clegg

 

ASSISTANT EDITORS

Eric

P. Gulliver

Lindsey Rundell

 

POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

Kenzie Audette

 

FOR WGBH OUTPOST

          DIRECTOR OF POST PRODUCTION

          Chris Fournelle

 

          SENIOR DIRECTOR

          PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY

          Tim Mangini

 

SERIES MUSIC

Mason Daring

Martin Brody

 

DIRECTOR OF AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT

Pamela Johnston

 

PUBLICITY ACCOUNT MANAGER

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DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT EDITOR

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SECRETARY

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EDITORIAL SECRETARY

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RECORDS MANAGER

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CONTENT MANAGER

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LEGAL

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Jay Fialkov

Janice Flood

 

CONTRACTS MANAGER

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UNIT MANAGER

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DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS

Tobee Phipps

 

DIGITAL RESEARCH ASSISTANT

Priyanka Boghani

 

DIGITAL ASSOCIATE PRODUCER  

Jason Breslow

 

DIGITAL VIDEO PRODUCER

Michelle Mizner

 

SENIOR DESIGNER

Evan Wexler

 

DIGITAL REPORTER

Sarah

Childress

 

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR FOR DIGITAL MEDIA

Sarah Moughty

 

POST COORDINATING PRODUCER

Robin

Parmelee

 

SERIES COORDINATING PRODUCER

Carla Borras

 

SPECIAL COUNSEL

Dale Cohen

 

SENIOR EDITORIAL CONSULTANT

Louis Wiley Jr.

 

SERIES SENIOR EDITOR

Andrew Metz

 

SERIES MANAGER

Jim Bracciale

 

DEPUTY EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

Raney Aronson-Rath

 

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

David Fanning

 

A FRONTLINE production with RAINmedia

 

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