ISIS Is More Than Just a ‘Terrorist Organization’

The group looks and acts more like a government with a military than a traditional terrorist group.

Shiite fighters in Iraq respond to a cleric's call to defend their country against the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
June 17, 2014, 10:25 a.m.

An ex­trem­ist mil­it­ant group has taken over num­ber of ma­jor Ir­aqi cit­ies at break­neck speed, but the threat it poses to Ir­aq and the world are un­like any ter­ror­ist threat we’ve seen be­fore.

The White House refers to the Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion. The group’s name, however, re­veals more about the nature of its as­pir­a­tions. To reach its goal of es­tab­lish­ing a ca­liphate in Ir­aq and Syr­ia, IS­IS has built it­self to re­semble a gov­ern­ment, com­plete with a mil­it­ary, a po­lice force, and pub­lic-works pro­jects.

Rather than us­ing tar­geted at­tacks to fur­ther spe­cif­ic goals, IS­IS is wa­ging full-out war on the Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment in a cam­paign to cap­ture ter­rit­ory, then gov­ern­ing those ter­rit­or­ies in an or­gan­ized fash­ion.

IS­IS is already lay­ing down new laws in Ir­aq. Last week, the group handed out a “Con­tract of the City” to res­id­ents of the north­ern Niniveh province, where Mo­sul, Ir­aq’s second-largest city, is loc­ated. The Wash­ing­ton Post trans­lated the con­tract’s 16 main points, in which IS­IS threatens to pun­ish thieves by am­pu­ta­tion, prom­ises to sen­tence non­be­liev­ers to death, and urges wo­men to stay in­doors un­less ab­so­lutely ne­ces­sary.

In The At­lantic, Aaron Zelin looks to the al-Raqqa state of Syr­ia for a hint of how IS­IS might gov­ern in Ir­aq. In al-Raqqa, where IS­IS has been in charge since 2013, the group provides poli­cing, many pub­lic works, re­li­gious edu­ca­tion, and health and wel­fare pro­grams.

IS­IS also has a strong pub­lic-re­la­tions arm that trum­pets the group’s suc­cesses and trawls for new re­cruits. It main­tains an act­ive pres­ence on Twit­ter and You­Tube — ap­par­ently a must for any ter­ror­ist in this day and age — and used so­cial me­dia to pub­li­cize claims of a 1,700-per­son mas­sacre in Tikrit over the week­end. Res­id­ents in Riy­adh, Saudi Ar­a­bia, a city far re­moved from the con­flicts in Ir­aq and Syr­ia, found pro­pa­ganda leaf­lets stuffed in­to their car door handles and wind­shields last month.

Just last week, a Twit­ter ac­count called “Sup­port­ers of the Is­lam­ic State” tweeted a car­toon of IS­IS fight­ers fly­ing the black ji­hadist flag on the road to the Ir­aqi cap­it­al. An ac­count named “IS­IS Me­dia Hub” retweeted the car­toon, shown be­low.

IS­IS even re­leases an­nu­al re­ports that de­tail the group’s tac­tics, ob­ject­ives, and pro­gress in its cam­paign to es­tab­lish an Is­lam­ic state. Alex Bil­ger of the In­sti­tute for the Study of War ex­amined the group’s second an­nu­al re­port, re­leased in March. The doc­u­ment is filled with more than 400 pages of de­tailed stat­ist­ics and tac­tic­al notes. Not­ing the group’s or­gan­ized op­er­at­ing struc­ture and soph­ist­ic­ated strategy, he con­cluded that IS­IS is “func­tion­ing as a mil­it­ary rather than as a ter­ror­ist net­work.”

And the re­port is not meant only for in­tern­al con­sump­tion. A well-de­signed cov­er and an in­fograph­ic that breaks down at­tack num­bers by type sug­gest that IS­IS wanted the doc­u­ment to see the light of day.

“This is not a ter­ror­ism prob­lem any­more. This is an army on the move in Ir­aq and Syr­ia, and they are tak­ing ter­rain,” Jes­sica Lewis, an IS­IS ex­pert at the In­sti­tute for the Study of War, told Time. “They have shad­ow gov­ern­ments in and around Bagh­dad, and they have an as­pir­a­tion­al goal to gov­ern.”

As IS­IS con­tin­ues to ex­pand its con­trol of Ir­aqi ter­rit­ory and make good on its prom­ise to erase the bound­ary between Ir­aq and Syr­ia, the war it is fight­ing against the Ir­aqi army is look­ing less like a battle between gov­ern­ment and ter­ror­ists and more like a clash between two mil­it­ar­ies with com­pet­ing vis­ions of how to rule their coun­try. IS­IS is in­deed a ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion, but with an un­pre­ced­en­ted em­phas­is on “or­gan­iz­a­tion.” To think of it as any­thing but the state that it as­pires to be is to mis­un­der­stand the threat it presents.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
7 REPUBLICANS ON STAGE
Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
2 days ago
THE LATEST

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.

Source:
×