Andreas Krieg writes: ISIS’s (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham) partial seizure of Mosul might be the most significant success for global jihadism since 9/11. Within a matter of hours ISIS has been able to demonstrate why they are such a feared and capable fighting force across the Levant. In a highly cohesive and well-coordinated operation this transnational organization of mujahedeen was able to rout Iraqi security forces from Iraq’s second biggest city, capturing arms, equipment, money and control of a vital part of Iraqi infrastructure. What has started as a local phenomenon during the Anbar Awakening in 2004 has grown into a potent contender of state authority in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Yet, unlike other Islamist organizations in the region, ISIS lacks one crucial ingredient of power: popular legitimacy. Bearing that in mind, what are the implications of yesterday’s operational success for the achievement of ISIS’s strategic objectives?
As an ideological offspring of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), ISIS ascribes to similar transnational jihadist. However, unlike Al Qaeda as a global franchise, ISIS has a regional strategic focus: removing the artificially drawn borders of the Levant and creating a new Sharia-based transnational Islamic State. Disavowing AQ-leader Al Zawahiri’s demand not to declare political Islamist entities, ISIS’s self-declared Emir Al-Baghdadi has been on the forefront of an initiative which initially aimed at creating an Islamist State in Iraq. Later, with the Syrian Civil War unraveling, Al Baghdadi broadened his initiative to the Levant as a whole. Ironically, those jihadists sent by Assad over the border to prop up the Islamic State of Iraq in the mid-2000s, were now returning to Syria in 2011. Al Baghdadi now commanded a fighting force that was able to stage more than just sporadic terrorist attacks. Years of high-intensity war fighting and ideological indoctrination had transformed the Islamic State from a local terrorist organization into a highly capable transnationally operating militia comprised largely of foreign mujahedeen. ISIS has become the primary centre of attraction for those foreign fighters in the region who are eager to actually convert the often utopian concept of the Islamist caliphate into reality. In its areas of responsibility in Western Iraq and Northern Syria, ISIS has already started to monopolize religious, political and law-enforcement authority. The strategic vision of a de facto Islamist state has taken shape; a state based on ISIS’s interpretation of Sharia, a state centred on Al Baghdadi’s sole authority as the Emir, a state where non-allegiance with ISIS equals treason, a state where religious authority is held by ISIS, a state where all spoils and financial resources belong to ISIS’s treasury. So what does yesterday’s seizure of Mosul mean for the organization? [Continue reading…]