The Islamic State organization: "Daesh" - Volume 2

02 December, 2018

Recently published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, The Islamic State organization: "Daesh" in two volumes. Azmi Bishara’s first volume entitled A General Framework and Practical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon, presents a comprehensive study of the “Daesh” phenomenon and develops a general framework for the research project. The second volume, Formation, Rhetoric and Practice, deals with aspects of ISIL’s formation, development, expansion, mindset and the life of communities under its control. It is a research collection supervised by Dr. Bishara, the most recent of which addresses the issue of the rarely studied "Kurdish Jihadism"; and the dispute between Al-Nusra Front and Daesh, whereby the offshoot attempts to overpower the parent organization.

The book (575 pp.) consists of 8 chapters divided into 3 sections. The first section the Establishment of the Islamic State Organization, its Roots and Local Context: the Case of Iraq, consists of 3 chapters.

Two Pathways to Daesh

In chapter 1, Two pathways to "Daesh": the Kurdish Jihadism and Al-Zarqawi, Haider Said addresses the two methods used by Jihadist movements to access Iraq; the Kurdish Jihadists and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whereby the key role of the former remains unclear. Said suggests that the growth of Kurdish Jihadism differed structurally from the growth of Jihadism in Iraq and the Arab part of it; the Brotherhood organizations in Kurdistan played a key role in the development of the Kurdish political Islam currents. As the Kurdish Brotherhood remained connected to the Iraqi central leadership, they underwent a huge ordeal -after its cessation in 1971- to rebuild a Kurdish Islamic political organization. They developed an Islamist approach toward the Kurdish issue; so as to engage in the Kurdish armed movement, given Kurdistan’s jihadist experience in Afghanistan.

The Salafi movement in Kurdistan was one of utmost importance for its Arab counterpart as Kurdistan became a magnet for jihadists throughout Iraq. Understanding the severity of what was happening seems challenging, that is up until the US invasion of Iraq; along with the reverse migration of Jihadists from Kurdistan to Baghdad. Eventually, this dynamic would come together under Al-Zarqawi’s Organization; which served as a critical bridge to shaping and positioning the post-2003 Iraqi jihadist organizations.

The Rise of the ISIL

In chapter 2, the rise of the "Islamic State" organization in Iraq: backgrounds and practices, Nerouz Satik presents a historical background along with political and social factors that contributed to ISIL restoring its sources of power; and enabled it to control the vast geographical areas of Iraq. Two key factors here are the failure of the US military project to build national government institutions in Iraq and the Iraqi government approach to practice political exclusion and discriminatory policies among Iraqi citizens.

Satik also studies ISIL’s composition, working mechanisms, policies, strategies and institutions running its internal affairs; along with its practices and behavior towards the local Iraqi communities and state institutions. He concludes that geopolitical groundwork was a prime mover for Al-Qaeda’s central leadership. Daesh adopted a new approach based on the priority to confront Iranian influence and expansion in the region; as well as combating the Safavid project after the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq. Satik believes that the sectarian Sunni-Shite basis is the driving force behind ISIL’s behaviour — and a force it uses to attract individual militants.

Towards the Abyss

Haider Said describes in the third chapter, on the Road to the fall of Mosul, the context in which Mosul fell into the hands of Daesh, demonstrating the state’s failure in practicing ethnic pluralism. He argues that the radical organizations are inseparable from the political environment they thrive in; being a product of a political situation with structural imbalances. These organizations lack any force of their own; they are not ideological configurations and hold no ideological value beyond their socio-political context.

Said explains the crisis of the political system, through the majoritarian tendency ­­that reproduced the exclusive authoritarian trend, which coincided with the Arab revolutions in general, and the Syrian revolution in particular. The involvement of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in the Syrian war seems to be its first international move. This is an attempt to reinforce its regional standing and restore its local influence as the political crisis in Iraq persists.

The Syrian Situation

The second section, the Islamic State Organization’s Formation, Contexts and Structure: a Syrian Case, consists of 3 chapters. In chapter 4, The Islamic State Organization in Syria: The Rise and Environment, Hamza Al-Mustafa investigates the emergence of the organization in Syria in relation to the Al Qaeda experience in Iraq. He looks at the organization’s developments, transformations and ramifications in Syria, focusing on the dispute between Al-Nusra front and the Islamic State, which led to the offshoot group turning on its parent organization. It established a new and different jihadist experience, not only in its method of “savagery”, but in its merging of the tenets of jihadist thought and nationalist rhetoric, and the pursuit of establishing a government within a specific space.

Although Al-Mustafa believes that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 is a pivotal moment for the jihad activity in the Levant, he shifts his focus to the circumstances of the Arab revolutions in 2011, especially in Syria and Libya. This facilitated the establishment of armed jihadist experiences, which share the same goal of overthrowing regimes with revolutionary forces but have completely conflicting motivations behind this goal.

Expansion and Spread

In the fifth chapter, The Islamic State Organization in Syria: The Expansion and Spread, Hamza Al-Mustafa also observes the geographical spread and expansion of ISIL in Syria from its rise on 9 April 2013 until its fall in Raqqa in late 2017; based on spatial and temporal data. He outlines the first phase extending from the establishment of the organization until the take-off of the major confrontation with the Syrian opposition factions in early 2014. He looks at ISIL’s expansion strategies in specific areas such as Raqqa, the Aleppo countryside and the Latakia mountains. He then follows the expansion of ISIL in Syria in the 2014-2017 period, focusing on the turning points in 2014; most notably the fall of Mosul in June. At that point, ISIL had exploited the moral and military momentum obtained in Iraq to expand in Syria and recover most of the territories it had lost, primarily Deir al-Zour, during the first military confrontation with the Syrian factions. This set the stage for establishing a foothold in a new area in the vicinity of Damascus, Qalamoun, the eastern countryside of Homs and Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Structure and funding

In chapter 6, The Islamic State Organization in Syria: The Structure and Funding Sources, Tariq Al-Ali attempts to outline, as authentically as possible, the structure, power, political project and military strategy that led to ISIL’s abrupt expansion. These factors enabled the organization to impose itself upon the other actors in Syria and Iraq before slowly shrinking upon the intervention of the international coalition.

Al-Ali employs two approaches: the first is to understand ISIL ideology and identify the overall political objectives that lie explicitly and implicitly in its rhetoric and actions. The second is to investigate the impact of its military deployment in a specific timeframe, and how it managed to employ its own elements of strength and intellectual authority in pursuing its political objectives. Al-Ali also presents the key funding sources for the organization — and other jihadi movements — in Syria, which it used to manage its battles and hold the local communities hostage.

The Structure of Rhetoric

The Islamic State Organization: The Discourse and the Regional and National contexts, is the third section consisting of two chapters. In the seventh chapter, “Daesh”: The Discursive Structure: Between engaging in the Local-National Dimension and the Global-Islamic Dimension, Haider Said studies the organization’s infrastructure through an analytical review of its self-produced literature; independent from the jihadist school of thought. He looks at the organization’s ideological texts, as well as its political and ideological visions and perceptions; while setting aside those arbitrary perceptions that had been attributed to it. This literature reflects a continuation of the perceptions that emerged alongside the rise of the Islamic State Organization in Iraq by the end of 2006; reflecting a shift from the global jihadist discourse to the pursuit of a caliphate.

Saeed Khattab compares the rhetoric of ISIL to the galaxy, which includes a center and periphery; as its neither unified nor congruent, but instead sometimes disparate. While the organization’s primary ideological literature is what shaped its rhetoric; other secondary ideological aspects (i.e. confronting the west, tyranny and oppressors, critique of democracy, etc.) were not overlooked but Instead, pushed to the periphery. This secondary ideology is foreign to ISIL’s self-produced ideology, in what Khattab describes as ideological borrowing. This contributed to securing a timeless character for ISIL; fusing its rhetoric between nationalist rooted localism and universal Islamist-ism.

Regional and International Contexts.

In the eighth chapter, Regional and International Contexts of the Rise and Decline of the "Islamic State Organization", Marwan Kabalan addresses a number of regional and international contexts and events that have shaped the organization’s characteristics and orientations, and aided in developing counter-mechanisms against its existence. Kabalan notices that upon looking into the rise of ISIL, a sequence of three regional contexts stands out: the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; the Arab Spring and the systematic repression adopted by the authoritarian regimes in the face of the revolutionary masses; as seen in the Syrian case in particular.

The rise of ISIL as a regional and international security threat prompted the US to create an international counter-terrorism mechanism, known as the Global Coalition Against Daesh, which included more than 60 countries. Along with the US and its allies, other international forces like Russia and regional ones like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia also joined the coalition.

This international war on terrorism has led to previous alliances being re-drawn; producing a new pattern of US relations under the presidency of Barack Obama. This manifested in estrangement from Turkey, rapprochement with Iran, and a conditional alliance with Saudi Arabia.

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