Lina Khatib writes: The rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIS and ISIL, for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has signaled the start of a new jihadist era. The Islamic State has declared a long-term goal, which is to establish an Islamic state, or a caliphate, based on an extremist interpretation of sharia, making it more than just a terrorist organization despite its origins as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The Islamic State is a hybrid jihadist group. It has appropriated the radical Islamist ideology of al-Qaeda while implementing the centralized command model of the paramilitary Hezbollah and some tactics from the Taliban’s local governance structures.
Its strategy for survival and growth has relied on a number of components: pragmatism regarding the Syrian regime; the control and development of territories as a method of commanding local populations and attracting foreign fighters; the use of ideology and the media as tools to control populations, recruit fighters, and raise funds; and a centralized military strategy.
Since its expansion into Syria in 2013, the Sunni extremist group has been engaged in an existential battle with al-Qaeda. And, with all of its strategic tools, the Islamic State has presented itself as the “true” al-Qaeda, asserting that it is making al-Qaeda’s ideological goal of an Islamic state a concrete reality, which provides a cloak of authenticity that has appealed to donors and recruits.
But although ideology plays an important role in how the Islamic State operates, the organization’s strategic objectives are not driven by ideology but instead revolve around the acquisition of money, resources, and power. Establishing a caliphate in Iraq and Syria is therefore the beginning, not the end, for the group—the clue to the Islamic State’s long-term aims lies in its slogan, “lasting and expanding” (baqiya wa tatamaddad). However, this does not mean simply the indefinite geographical expansion of the caliphate’s physical boundaries, but also the expansion of its global influence in order to support the viability of the state project. [Continue reading…]