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A boy with a Mexican flag, stained with paint to resemble blood, lies down in a chalk outline representing the body of a crime victim during a protest in Mexico CityReuters

A recent article on the website Salon.com drew a comparison between Mexican drug cartels and terror group Islamic State (Isis), which operates in Syria and Iraq, as they both behead people by the hundreds and gain control of large areas by instigating fear among populations.

According to the site, drug cartels such as Los Zetas and Sinaloa are the products of the US war on drugs "just as US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya fertilised the field for IS."

IS, which aims to overthrow the current governments in Iraq and Syria and establish an Islamic caliphate, has killed thousands of people since its insurgence started in summer 2014. The terrorists, who have also claimed responsibility for recent attacks in Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, are renowned for persecuting non-Muslims and non-Sunni and enslaving thousands of women from the Yazidi community.

Mexico's drug cartels systematically rape, kidnap, torture and execute people and fight against each other over the hegemony of Mexican territories and the control of drug trafficking. The problem of drug cartels in Mexico has once again caught the attention of the international community after thousands of Mexicans took to the streets to protest against violence and corruption following the abduction and alleged massacre of 43 students.

The students, from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College, disappeared from Iguala city, Guerrero State, after staging a protest against what they perceived was an unfair hiring process for teachers, which favoured urban applicants over rural ones. It is alleged they were abducted and handed over to the Guerrero Unidos drug cartel upon instruction from the then Iguala mayor, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, who feared the students' protest could disrupt an event being held by his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa.

IS urge attacks on US military
An IS militant in the city of Mosul, IraqReuters

IS and Mexico's cartels have similarities but a different ideology

Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, and author of a book on the cult of Santa Muerte, believes there are many parallels between IS and Mexican drug cartels, but not in terms of "larger objectives".

Speaking to IBTimes UK, he said: "IS is a radical religious organisation that seeks to establish a theocratic state or caliphate. In contrast, though the cartels employ religious elements in their operations, they are uber-capitalists motivated by hyper-profits. If they seek territory and government influence it's not to further any particular ideology beyond capitalism. Some cartels employ patron saints, such as Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde for purposes of supernatural protection and harm against rival syndicates and law enforcement."

According to Chesnut, the the four-decade-long US War on Drugs should be ended as it failed to achieve its aim.

"As the Salon piece shows, the billions of dollars invested, one hundred thousand lives lost since 2006 and arrest of high-profile kingpins has not made a significant difference. Marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines continue to flow north to the US at a steady pace while guns and cash continue their uninterrupted march south to Mexico," he said.

Referring to the recent protest in Mexico, Chesnut said the rallies will probably not result in current President Pena Nieto stepping down, but could have an impact on the next leader "who has the courage and resolve to put Mexico on a path to greater democracy and economic development, including an end to the bloody drug wars."

mexico missing students Ayotzinapa ya me canse
Demonstrators burn a picture of Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto.Reuters

War against cartels much simpler than war against IS

When asked to draw a comparison between the US war on drugs and the international community's fight against IS, Chesnut said that fight against the Islamist insurgents is more complex.

"The US and Mexican government's strategy for fighting drug cartels is much simpler than the campaign against IS. The strategy in Mexico has been to favour the most powerful cartel, Sinaloa, in its battle for dominance against its rivals.

"The war against IS is more complex with the US and its allies betting on Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq and supporting moderate Sunni elements, such as the Kurds and the Jordanian government. The great majority of Middle Easterners are Sunni, as is IS, so the US and its allies can't be perceived as going too far in their surreptitious support for regional Shia power Iran and its Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese proxies. Saudi Arabia, of course, is the regional Sunni power broker and a linchpin in the war against IS, even more so since the group seeks to overthrow the ruling monarchy."

battle for Tikrit Isis
Shi'ite fighters cover their ears as a rocket is launched during a clash with Islamic State militants in the town of al-AlamThaier al-Sudani/Reuters