Da’esh, Legitimacy, and the Rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

By: MAJ Eric East , US ARMY


In early July 2015, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Da'esh (also known as ISIS), issued an important order to his chieftains regarding Da'esh's grotesque prisoner execution videos.1 The explicit order quickly passed down throughout the organization's lowest levels: fighters must no longer release any footage of violent and graphic executions.2 This order was issued less because of the crimes being committed in the videos and more to ensure that Da'esh was being considerate of all Muslims and their children, especially those who might find the videos disturbing. It followed on the heels of a new Da'esh video release that showed a child of about 10 years beheading a captured Syrian officer and another child shooting a prisoner in the head at point-blank range.3 With so many radical insurgents under his command, it is a mystery to most Westerners how Baghdadi has managed to garner the respect of and establish such legitimacy as a leader among people who can behave so barbarically.

Explaining al-Baghdadi's Rise to Power

The CIA reports that Baghdadi has approximately 32,000 fighters under his command, while Kurdish forces that are engaging Da'esh on the ground give even larger numbers.4 What are the key factors behind Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's meteoric rise to power and the establishment of his legitimacy as leader among his followers? Insurgent groups such as Da'esh are not exempt from addressing issues like legitimacy of rule. To gain the attention of the international community and draw people to him, Baghdadi has focused on three interwoven strategies: Islamic legal precedence, territorial ownership, and the Ba'athist nexus.

First, Baghdadi uses his knowledge of Islamic legal precedence extensively to legitimize both his rule and the violence Da'esh commits against others. Through his reading of the Qur'an's texts, he has validated his ascension as the leader of all Muslims.5 Even conservative sects of Islam that adhere to a stricter interpretation of the Qur'an, such as the Salafists, believe there is merit in some of Baghdadi's rhetoric, although many have strong reservations about his timing and methods.6 Second, Baghdadi's legitimacy as caliph is closely tied to the importance of territory. Territorial control is a classic strategy of most traditional states or non-state armed groups for gaining and maintaining legitimacy. Baghdadi controls a large swath of land across Iraq and Syria, which allows him to do what he and his followers consider necessary to strengthen his legitimacy and Da'esh's role within the proclaimed state.

Finally, Baghdadi's connection with former Saddam Hussein loyalists and Ba'ath Party loyalists is an equally vital aspect of his and Da'esh's legitimacy. In 2015, investigative reporter Christoph Reuter brought to light Da'esh documents indicating that former Ba'athists have been instrumental in establishing Baghdadi's legitimacy.7 Reuter contends that the melding of these two groups resulted in one of the most tightly hierarchical and well-structured insurgent groups ever seen. Arguably, the former Ba'athists, with their skills, knowledge, and experience, comprise one of the most important cogs in the jihadist machine that is sweeping the Middle East.8 Ba'athists work behind the scenes running the organization's operations—implementing religious norms, establishing services, shaping culture, and handling military operations—which gives Baghdadi a physical manifestation of political legitimacy as he works to build a functioning state.9

Defining Insurgency and Legitimacy

This article defines Da'esh as an insurgency, but insurgency is an admittedly murky concept. For my purposes, an insurgency is a violent rebellion against a constituted authority (for example, a government recognized by the United Nations) where those taking part in the rebellion are not recognized as belligerents.10 Peter Thompson, in his book Armed Groups: The 21st Century Threat, characterizes armed groups as international actors that constrain or expand state policies, but alternately can threaten stability, challenge legitimacy, kill or injure citizens, and prevent states from achieving sought-after goals.11 While these definitions seem relatively accurate, Da'esh boasts thousands of fighters, a structured organizational model, and strict internal discipline, and therefore seems to be much more than a textbook insurgency.

Kalevi Holsti, in his book The State, War, and the State of War, describes a state or ruler's legitimacy in two different ways, based on whether it was established vertically or horizontally.12 Vertical legitimacy rests on institutionalized authority, consent of the governed, and loyalty to the political foundations of the state, such as a formal constitution. Where vertical legitimacy defines itself around formal structures like contracts, elections, political institutions, and public organizations, horizontal legitimacy is less formal and more reliant on customs and norms. It centers on the people, community, and a set of shared beliefs—the nature of the community being ruled.13 Baghdadi is not an internationally recognized leader, nor is his state a formally recognized entity. Nevertheless, both the leader and his proclaimed state rely on the same sources of legitimacy that UN-recognized bodies claim.

The Roots of Baghdadi's Legitimacy as Caliph

Da'esh is no mere collection of radicals led by a random terrorist. It is a thoroughly Muslim group, prideful in its strict interpretation of the Qur'an and led by a man who has anointed himself through his interpretation of Islamic history and jurisprudence. Baghdadi has all of the necessary ideological and theological credentials to be the first caliph since the Ottoman Empire crumbled nearly 100 years ago. Journalist Graeme Wood points out that Baghdadi has not only territory to rule but also the will of the people behind him. Territorial control and Islamic legal precedence, however, are only pieces of the larger puzzle concerning Baghdadi's legitimacy.14

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Da'esh are entirely unique from past insurgent groups. They do not seek international legitimacy within the UN framework of nation-states. The opinions of kafirs (all non-believers) and apostates (any Muslims who do not agree with them) do not matter to them. How the international community labels Da'esh is also irrelevant, and this is precisely what makes countering the group's rhetoric so difficult: Baghdadi and Da'esh seek legitimacy from Allah and the ummah (the community of believers) alone. In Baghdadi's view, the group's course has been plotted and its legitimacy established strictly by following the Qur'an, and any person or governing body that diverges opposes not only Da'esh but Islam itself. Despite his indifference to the world's opinion, however, Baghdadi's behavior indicates that his legitimacy to current and prospective followers is one of his central concerns. Without a willing citizenry, his power base vanishes.15

The care Baghdadi puts into his image is apparent in something as seemingly minor as his name. Born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri,

Baghdadi, at the age of 39, took his now famous nom de guerre, a double homage to his faith and his native land. Abu Bakr was Muhammad's father-in-law and, after the Prophet's death, the first caliph. Baghdad was the capital of the grandest caliphate in early Islam, the Abbasid dynasty. The Abbasids swept to power in the eighth century using clever apocalyptic propaganda and clandestine networks to mobilize popular anger against the ruling regime in Damascus.16

The widespread lack of education in the area where Da'esh operates contributes to Baghdadi's carefully managed image. Where there is little education, religion is an influential weapon and one that Baghdadi does not hesitate to brandish whenever he can. His fundamentalist ideology adheres strictly to the words written in the Qur'an and stated by the Prophet Muhammad.

Baghdadi knows the environment he operates in. The largest common denominator across the Middle East is Islam. Through shari'a law and the Qur'an, Baghdadi offers his subjects justification for why he leads and why they should follow.

Islamic Shariah (divine law) recognises the legitimacy of the ruler as long as he gains power by one of three ways: choice, allegiance, or conquest (as in giving legitimacy to something that cannot be alleviated, not as in setting up laws that make conquest possible). ... If ... he issues rulings that coincide with Shariah, then his rulings must be followed, and if he goes against Shariah, he shall not be obeyed, and his ruling shall be protested according to the rules that govern disobedience in Shariah.17

His method for commanding respect is a multifaceted attack on his followers' sensibilities, calibrated to achieve maximum results. Backed by Islamic texts and scripture, he validates his rule, galvanizes and legitimizes his followers, shames them with the threat of hellfire to secure their pledge of baya'a (allegiance), levies protection taxes on Christians, and explicitly commands archaic punishments to scare people into obedience.18

Another angle Baghdadi uses to bolster his legitimacy is his family lineage. According to scripture, the caliph must be descended from the same tribe, the Qurayshi, as the Prophet, and Baghdadi is indeed Qurayshi.19 William McCants, a fellow at Brookings, explains,

The Islamic State's spokesman proclaimed the return of God's kingdom on earth, the caliphate, and Baghdadi reverted to his given name, preceded now with the ultimate title: Caliph Ibrahim. To justify this outsized claim, supporters circulated the genealogy of his tribe, which traced its lineage back to Muhammad's descendants. This was considered an important qualification, for some Islamic prophecies of the End Times say a man descended from the Prophet will one day rule as caliph—an office that hasn't existed since the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.20

To further draw on his followers' emotions, Baghdadi paraphrased a part of the speech the first caliph gave when he took power after Muhammad died: "I was appointed to rule you, but I am not the best among you. ... If you see me acting truly, then follow me. If you see me acting falsely, then advise and guide me. ... If I disobey God, then do not obey me."21

Baghdadi uses Islam to reverse-engineer his own legitimacy by boosting the standing of his followers, a people largely uneducated and both economically and politically marginalized. In three separate speeches, he referred to scripture almost 40 times, expertly choosing ideas and phrases that would be most galvanizing for the people who were listening. Much in these speeches entails the need for Muslims to follow, fight, and expand Muslim lands. If the people follow Baghdadi, who is justified and of God, he told them, they gain legitimacy in the eyes of God. If they join Da'esh, they gain legitimacy. If they fight and kill the kafir and apostates, they gain legitimacy. As the self-legitimacy of his followers is bolstered, Baghdadi's standing as both their leader and the spokesman of God is bolstered as well, because he provides the vehicle for their rise. This type of community-unifying rhetoric exemplifies Holsti's horizontal axis of legitimacy, which rests on the people and their traditions rather than on formal institutions.22

For those individuals who do not fight or are skeptical about the new caliph's rule, Baghdadi uses their devotion to God to shame them into submission. According to one expert on the rise of Baghdadi, there is "a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance [to the Caliphate] is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a ‘death of disbelief.' " 23 Baghdadi uses this fear of dying apostate and going to hell in an all-encompassing way that works against both his followers and opponents. Their religious zeal is the linchpin. If the people Baghdadi is targeting were not so devout, this tactic would likely falter, but because of their devotion to Islam, he engages in a form of psychological warfare to garner legitimacy, and it is quite effective.

Baghdadi's harsh coercive tactics can carry over into the macabre. He uses brutal Qur'anic punishments both to prove how closely he follows the Prophet's teachings and to terrorize people into submission. Until Da'esh assumed its current form in 2010, many of these violent punishments, such as chopping hands off for stealing or crucifying apostates, were considered barbaric and outdated. Al Qaeda's leaders warned the lower tiers of their organization against using these harsh forms of punishment against fellow Muslims. Baghdadi, however, felt it was a way of legitimizing the new state he was founding as truly Islamic.24

Baghdadi takes advantage of poverty and lack of education to bolster his legitimacy among the populations under his control. The combination of these two elements makes the subjects of tyranny easier to manipulate. Many Muslims in prosperous countries live modern lives: men are monogamous, women drive cars and own property, and Muslim children attend coed schools and classes. In wealthy Western countries, religion has largely lost its social centrality. Western Iraq and eastern Syria, by contrast, are not modern. Much of the population still subsists on farming and animal husbandry as they have for centuries. This has led to poverty and literacy rates of approximately 19 percent and 80 percent, respectively.25 What Muslims in these countries do not lack, however, is closeness to God. The Prophet Muhammad is their foundation, not Facebook, Twitter, or other modern "excesses." Through the caliph, the poor become rich by a closer, more obedient relationship with the Prophet Muhammad.26

With faith as a Muslim's bedrock, what enemy can stand in the way of God, his proven caliph, and the momentum of thousands of other believers? More simply put: if God is for them, then who can stand against them? To a devout Sunni Muslim in Iraq or Syria, any opposition to Baghdadi and his interpretation of the Qur'an is likely to draw a large amount of hatred from the community. Hatred itself has a tendency to unite people for one cause. This is where Baghdadi gets especially dangerous with religion: his legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects leads to an unquestioning and unified following that is internally self-policing. As Holsti points out, "In ancient states (and even in some contemporary states), the mysteries of religion were used to manufacture loyalty and compliance among subjects. Resistance was sacrilege and punishable by death."27 As long as he keeps using Islamic jurisprudence as a tool to cow his followers, Baghdadi's horizontal legitimacy is in no danger of diminishing.

Territorial Ownership, Security, and Provision of Services

Military officers, analysts, and government think tanks are at odds over whether Da'esh is a legitimate state and whether Baghdadi is the legitimate leader of a state. Those arguing against the idea note that the United Nations does not recognize either, that the group claimed power illegally, and that Da'esh is accused of committing genocide against religious minorities in Iraq.28 Da'esh's control of territory across Syria and Iraq, however, is evidence enough to undermine arguments against Baghdadi's and Da'esh's legitimacy.

Holding territory provides Baghdadi with a lot more than simply the prestige of land ownership. With territory, he can implement many secondary, supporting initiatives that bolster his legitimacy among his followers. Most importantly, it allows him to provide security, law, government, and services at the grassroots level of society. As of 2016, Baghdadi controls roughly 78,000 square kilometers (30,000 square miles) of territory in Syria and Iraq.29 Within this large swath of land, Baghdadi invests heavily in the people, providing services and installing a responsive Islamic government. In one of his first addresses to the public after declaring himself Caliph, Baghdadi encouraged migration to the caliphate by calling for "people with military, administrative, and service expertise, and medical doctors and engineers of all different specializations."30 Clearly he wanted to make improvements to infrastructure, health care, government, and security.

It should be remembered that Baghdadi is concerned with services, amenities, security, laws, and the general welfare of the people because he holds the territory they live in. Without land, there would be no citizens, and there would be no concern for their welfare. Without land and the people who live on it, there would be no need for security and no reason to impose a government. Without land and people, in other words, there is no legitimacy. Journalist Graeme Wood asserts, "Control of territory is an essential precondition for [Da'esh's] authority in the eyes of its supporters. ... Where it holds power, the state collects taxes, regulates prices, operates courts, and administers services ranging from health care and education to telecommunications."31

Sources such as Vice News and CNN's Jürgen Todenhöfer (the first Western journalist to visit Da'esh and report from Raqqa, Syria) indicate that the group has indeed improved upon the standards of living in its area of control.32 While many Western critics may argue against this conclusion, Baghdadi has given the people living under him a sense of predictability, with standards and rules to live by. People know what to expect. Under Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the former prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, there was little or no predictability to government actions or the availability of services, especially for marginalized Sunnis. Hence, even if some residents of Raqqa and Mosul disagree with some of Da'esh's questionable actions, Sunni Muslims, at least, have also experienced many positive outcomes. According to a book on Da'esh by Arab journalist Abel Bari Atwan, Da'esh government operations are in place at both high and low levels. This includes a Shari'a Council that sets penalties, local shari'a courts, and a shari'a police force that is charged with protecting the virtues of Islamic law.33

Both civilians and police can bring complaints before the courts, which handle all judicial issues, religious and civil. Citizens in rural areas where the central government has been largely absent find these courts very useful. Shari'a courts process cases efficiently and relatively fairly, and their justice is said to be impartial.34 In the Iraqi and Syrian territories under Da'esh's control, where, historically, corruption has run rampant, even those in positions of authority are now subject to the same punishments as the civilian population. Additionally, polls conducted in Raqqa and Mosul indicate a consensus that crime is virtually non-existent, largely because of the deterrence posed by extreme methods of punishment. Societal stability and a general lack of crime lend credence to a ruler's claims of legitimacy.35

Security and governance have improved since Baghdadi took over Da'esh, but education, job opportunities, and even modernist ideals like equality are also on the rise. According to Bari Atwan's interviews with non-extremist residents in Mosul, there is a renewed focus on youth education in the city. Baghdadi's Education Councils oversee the majority of the religious curriculum. Most sciences are now offered, although those that don't fit with Islam, such as evolutionary biology, are cast aside. What is more, though schoolteachers once went months without pay, they now receive monthly salaries.36

Western media vilify Da'esh for practices that promote inequality, but shockingly, reports indicate that Baghdadi has become slightly more "progressive." In a break from many traditional Middle Eastern societies, in which women have very limited access to education or the societal roles enjoyed by their male counterparts, Baghdadi has opened all-female schools and universities for regular attendance.37 Whether his administration creates civilian-sector jobs for newly educated women remains a question, but Da'esh has established an all-female shari'a police brigade called al-Khansa to go along with the all-male Hizbeh police force.38

Baghdadi's investment in the people of this territory boosts his legitimacy as a ruler not only at the community and state level, but also to some outsiders, for whom Da'esh and Baghdadi could appear to be a legitimate option for regional governance. Security, stability, services, education, and ethnic representation are highly enticing opportunities in an area of the Middle East where these basic elements of civil life have long been scarce. Baghdadi's hold on this territory allows him to operate freely within it, including taking the necessary steps to normalize his and his organization's legitimacy for current and future followers. Based on the provision of basic services, increased social stability, and the imposition of the rule of law—however severe, Baghdadi is a strong candidate for placement on Holsti's horizontal axis of legitimation, while his ability to hold territory and the military might he wields place him on the vertical axis as well.39

The Baghdadi-Ba'athist Nexus

One other way that Da'esh's leader has been able to establish his legitimacy within the territories under his control is what can be called the "Baghdadi-Ba'athist Nexus." Until the beginning of 2015, little was known about the inner workings and structure of Baghdadi's organization, but intelligence sources indicate that he maintains a tight relationship with the people working under him, many of whom are former bureaucrats and officials of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Party. These government professionals were turned out of office and ostracized by the Coalition Provisional Authority after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.40 Baghdadi met many of his Ba'athist followers while he was incarcerated at the US-run prison in Iraq called Camp Bucca.41 The prisoners laid the groundwork for the Islamic State as it is today—an organization that is extremely hierarchical and highly disciplined across its lines.

Baghdadi delegates some decision making and command authority to his Ba'athist followers, which takes the administrative burden off of him and the operational cadres of Da'esh; ensures against stove-piped leadership; and allows his closest functionaries to feel empowered—something very important in many Middle Eastern cultures. Through this decentralized structure and shared responsibility, Baghdadi ensures that Da'esh will maintain legitimacy even if he is killed. The effect this has on the organization is significant: legitimacy no longer stops with the titular leader but includes the group's upper echelons of leadership, which in turn boosts resolve, output, and organizational sustainment. By building his team and entrusting Da'esh's future to it, Baghdadi has ensured that Da'esh manifests itself outwardly through the Ba'athist leaders' successes.42

According to American and Iraqi intelligence analysts,

Baghdadi delegates authority to his cabinet, or shura council, which includes ministers of war, finance, religious affairs and others. The Islamic State's leadership under Mr. Baghdadi has drawn mainly from two pools: veterans of Al Qaeda in Iraq who survived the insurgency against American forces with battle-tested militant skills, and former Ba'athist officers under Saddam Hussein with expertise in organization, intelligence, and international security. It is a merger of these two skill sets that has made the organization such a potent force, the officials say. … "Baghdadi is to a certain extent a religious figurehead designed to grant an aura of religious legitimacy and respectability to the group's operations, while the real power brokers are a core of former military and intelligence officials."constant. Its vertical and horizontal dimensions are critical components of a state's strength, but that strength may wax and wane" depending on numerous factors.45 Rooted as it is in the towns and cities Da'esh controls, tackling Baghdadi's societal, cultural, and Islamic legitimacy is harder than retaking ground. Undermining his standing cannot be done through air power and air strikes alone; it must be done with ground troops. Whether local forces are up to the challenge is debatable. Until the international community makes the conscious decision to take back Baghdadi's territory (and fully embrace everything encompassed in that decision), resolve within Da'esh will not weaken. Baghdadi and his followers also know the United States is reluctant to undertake the kinds of stability operations that will be imperative should Da'esh be defeated. This only increases Baghdadi's strength and allure.

Land is important to Baghdadi. If his opponents are going to take away the legitimacy Baghdadi has already established, it is imperative to take away the thing he covets most—his real estate. Within the bounds of Da'esh's territory, he has the ability to do many things that will help normalize his command and legitimacy in the eyes of his followers, the population he controls, and the outside world: project military strength, accrue more of it, secure the people under him, maintain a command structure, and do the things necessary to bolster social welfare at the local level, such as provide services. Without a caliphate, the self-proclaimed caliph is merely a low-level, power-hungry jihadist, and Da'esh is just a rebel faction unknown to the international community. ²

About the Author(s):

MAJ Eric East currently serves as a foreign area officer in the US Army.

  1. Editor's note: In this essay, the author prefers to use the Arabic name Da'esh for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria rather than the English acronym ISIS. go back up
  2. Flora Drury, "ISIS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Bans Extremist Group from Releasing Any More Graphic Execution Videos to ‘Spare the Feelings of Fellow Muslims and Their Children'," Daily Mail, 18 July 2015:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3166230/Isis-head-Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi-bans-extremist-group-releasing-graphic-execution-videos-spare-feelings-fellow-Muslims-children.html go back up
  3. Ibid. go back up
  4. Patrick Cockburn, "War with ISIS: Islamic Militants Have Army of 200,000, Claims Senior Kurdish Leader," Independent, 15 November 2014: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/war-with-isis-islamic-militants-have-army-of-200000-claims-kurdish-leader-9863418.html go back up
  5. See "This is the Promise of Allah," Daesh's declaration from 2014: https://ia902505.us.archive.org/28/items/poa_25984/EN.pdf go back up
  6. Graeme Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants," The Atlantic, March 2015: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/ go back up
  7. Christopher Reuter, "Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State," Der Spiegel, 18 April 2015: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamic-state-files-show-structure-of-islamist-terror-group-a-1029274.html go back up
  8. Ibid. go back up
  9. Ibid. go back up
  10. This is based on the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. "insurgency." go back up
  11. Peter Thompson, Armed Groups: The 21st Century Threat (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 5–8. go back up
  12. Kalevi Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996). go back up
  13. Ibid., 87–90. go back up
  14. Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants." go back up
  15. Bernard Haykel and William McCants, "The Islamic State: Understanding Its Ideology and Theology," interview by Michael Cromartie at the May 2015 Faith Angle Forum in South Beach, Florida: http://eppc.org/publications/bernard-haykel-and-william-mccants-at-the-may-2015-faith-angle-forum/ ; William McCants, "‘The Believer': How an Introvert with a Passion for Religion and Soccer Became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Leader of the Islamic State," Brookings, 1 September 2015: http://www.brookings.edu/research/essays/2015/thebeliever ; Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants." go back up
  16. McCants, "‘The Believer.'" go back up
  17. Motaz al-Khateeb, "Daesh's Intellectual Origins: From Jurisprudence to Reality," Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, 18 January 2015: http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/dossiers/decipheringdaeshoriginsimpactandfuture/2014/12/2014123981882756.html go back up
  18. Ibid. go back up
  19. Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants." go back up
  20. McCants, "‘The Believer.'" go back up
  21. Ibid. go back up
  22. "In New Audio Speech, Islamic State (ISIS) Leader Al-Baghdadi Issues Call to Arms to All Muslims," MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor, 14 May 2015: http://www.memrijttm.org/in-new-audio-speech-islamic-state-isis-leader-al-baghdadi-issues-call-to-arms-to-all-muslims.html. go back up
  23. Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants." go back up
  24. McCants, "‘The Believer.'" go back up
  25. "Iraq Poverty Rate to Reach 30%," WAAR Media, 20 April 2015: http://waarmedia.com/english/iraq-poverty-rate-to-reach-30/ ; "Iraq," US Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book, accessed 12 October 2015: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/iz.html go back up
  26. Matthew Timmerman, "Poverty and Conflict in the Middle East," Atlantic Council, 31 July 2014: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/poverty-and-conflict-in-the-middle-east go back up
  27. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War, 91. go back up
  28. This is based on the author's discussions with other military professionals and graduate school instructors. go back up
  29. This area is about the size of the Czech Republic or a little less than the area of the US state of South Carolina. (These numbers do not account for the areas under Da'esh control in Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.) Total population estimates for the areas of Syria and Iraq under recent Da'esh's control range widely, from 5.25 million to 10 million. About two-thirds of this population is in Iraq. go back up
  30. Musa Cerantonio, comment on Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants." go back up
  31. Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants." go back up
  32. Jürgen Todenhöfer, "Rare Access to ISIS Territory in Syria and Iraq," interview by Frederick Pleitgen, CNN, video, 22 December 2014: http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2014/12/22/exclusive-rare-access-to-isis-territory-in-syria-and-iraq/ ; "The Islamic State," Vice News, 26 December 2014: https://news.vice.com/video/the-islamic-state-full-length go back up
  33. Malise Ruthven, "Inside the Islamic State," review of Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, by Abdel Bari Atwan, New York Review of Books, 9 July 2015:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/07/09/inside-islamic-state/ go back up
  34. No one knows what is said behind closed doors; however, coercion has played a large part in Iraq's culture up until now and may continue to do so even under Da'esh. go back up
  35. Ruthven, "Inside the Islamic State." go back up
  36. Abdel Bari Atwan, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate (London: Saqi Books, 2015). go back up
  37. Ibid. go back up
  38. Sarah Birke, "How ISIS Rules," New York Review of Books, 5 February 2015: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/02/05/how-isis-rules/ go back up
  39. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War; Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants." go back up
  40. Denise Natali, "The Islamic State's Baathist Roots," Al-Monitor, 24 April 2015: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/04/baathists-behind-the-islamic-state.html ; Reuter, "Secret Files." go back up
  41. Terrence McCoy, "How the Islamic State Evolved in an American Prison," Washington Post, 4 November 2014:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/04/how-an-american-prison-helped-ignite-the-islamic-state/ go back up
  42. Reuter, "Secret Files." go back up
  43. Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard, "ISIS Leader Takes Steps to Ensure Group's Survival," New York Times, 20 July 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/world/middleeast/isis-strategies-include-lines-of-succession-and-deadly-ring-tones.html?_r=0 go back up
  44. Haykel and McCants, "The Islamic State." go back up
  45. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War, 90. go back up
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