August 26th, 2014 – Right now, a lot of people (and media) are asking for information on the “Islamic State”, the “Caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other things related to Jihadist activities in Syria and Iraq. That’s perfectly understandable. But while I am answering as many of these questions as I can, I think it is equally important that we (and by “we” I mean those of us who have followed events there since, let’s say, the days of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi) don’t forget that there are a whole lot ofquestions we can’t answer (even if these are not the questions we are usually asked).So in the interest of self-discipline, academic transparency and self-questioning, here is a brief list of the five most important things we (or I, at least) do not know about the Caliphate, butreally wish I knew:1.- How important is the role of al-Baghdadi?

He is obviously the poster guy of IS, but in what ways does he direct operations, how much power of command does he yield, and what is his relation to his deputies and field commanders, given that at least some of them are apparently former Ba’ath regime military men? How much initiative are commanders in the field allowed? Have rules been laid out of whether or not and if so how to execute people – and if so, before or after the first instances occurred? Mind you, I haven’t read a single article in which even three commanders of IS have been plausibly named. But understanding the extent of al-Baghdadi’s control and wether he is all micro or macro would be very helpful indeed.

2.- Is there a plan for expansion of the “Caliphate”?

And by that a mean: A real, tangible one, not the ideological version. In propaganda videos, all sorts of targets are being named: Samarra, Najaf, Baghdad in Iraq; Damascus, Mecca, Jerusalem on a more ideologically motivated level; Rome as a symbol. But that is not helpful in predicting the IS’s next moves. These will be determined by their reading of military conditions on the ground, or so I assume. So will they sit in Mosul and Raqqa and consolidate before their next move at a big city or town? Are they busy forging new alliances elsewhere in order to repeat what happened in Mosul? Are they clever enough not to try and take Baghdad – or stupid enough to play with that idea at this point? I can make assumptions, but they are based on my idea of IS, rather than facts.

3.- Does al-Baghdadi/IS want to strike in the West? 

The thing is: With al-Qaida, we always had a pretty good idea of what they thought was in their interest. With IS, we do not. With al-Qaida, we knew that – to a degree – we could rely on their words; they hardly ever struck in places they didn’t mention/threaten/warn before. With IS, we do not know. IS is not like al-Qaida. There is no reason to assume they follow the same lead here. Al-Baghdadi may in fact be plotting huge attacks in the West without ever mentioning any desire of that sort. Or the opposite may be true: He may be all about focusing on the region and not give a thought to striking anywhere in the West.

4.- Is there communication between IS and al-Qaida’s branches? 

Success is sexy. Aiman al-Sawahiri is not. Is it conceivable that one day we will wake up to a video message by the leadership of AQAP or AQIM or both pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi? Absolutely. Or so I believe. And that would be a game changer. Because the “Caliphate” as a state would suddenly become much more supranational/supra-state than it is. Such a move would spell the end f al-Qaida and likely be a rallying cry for many more recruits to come. It is, in a way, a very-bad-case-scenario. Right now, I can’t assess the likelihood of this happening. AQ and its branches haven’t been saying a whole lot about IS at all. So: Is there communication? Perhaps even negociations? I don’t know. I daresay no-one really does. Which means that this 3-a.m.-scenario lingers above our heads….

5.- How stable/instable are relations to allies and helpers? 

It is evident that IS could not have taken Mosul by itself. We have hints that the relation to former regimes cadres and Sunni Sheikhs in Iraq are at least instable. But that’s about it. We don’t know these parties’ calculations well enough to foresee how far these alliances may carry IS. And whether they can be brokered in other areas than the ones where they already exist. Is money a factor here? And if so, how convincing is it? And how much of it does IS have?

There are more questions, of course. Maybe some of you have strong opinions on one of these, maybe some of you have entirely different questions. In any case, I believe that admitting to what we don’t know will eventually help us more than pretending we have all the answers.

As always, I am looking forward to your comments!

Cheers, Y

bandannie got to this article via Syria Comment and it was posted by Juergen

Below is a retort from Syria Lover

96. SYRIALOVER said:

JUERGEN #87 I disagree with that exercise. It is not realistic or worthwhile to waste time and energy analysing ISIS like that.

I repeat, the only purpose of ISIS is to make their dic*s feel bigger (to quote Racan Alhoch after experiencing them)

That Der Spiegel journalist urgently needs to get real and read what is posted in #70 by Hamoudeh, “Fatwa Against ISIS by the Syrian Islamic Council”
http://freehalab.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/fatwa-against-isis-by-the-syrian-islamic-council/

Those guys know the reality, not the social media games that Der Speigal guy is excited by.

He needs to realise that ISIS members are dumb thrill seekers, not holy warriors (see article linked below*). Just an irrational and unstable killer cult, with no ability to plan, create or provide anything of substance.

Every ISIS member inside Syria who comes from elsewhere – including Iraq – has no future but displacement, imprisonment or death. They have lost the right to participate in any society anywhere.

And yes, ISIS-admiring fools and fantasists will attack the west if governments there don’t start seriously challenging and kicking ass inside the communities in their countries that are producing them.

The frequently feeble response, defensiveness and sulking of those communities and their representatives is starting to wear thin. If the President of Indonesia and the religious head of Saudi Arabia can denounce ISIS as an embarrassment and enemy no 1 of all Muslims why can’t Muslims in the west stand up and loudly say the same? (see #28.)

*http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/jamiebartlett/100014154/most-british-jihadis-are-dumb-thrill-seekers-not-holy-warriors-dont-glorify-them-with-prevent

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