The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State -DER SPIEGEL (Updated)

Based on the files of Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi (also known as Haji Bakr), a colonel in the intelligence service under Saddam Hussein, this article examines the institutional structure and strategy behind the Islamic State. It is a little on the sensationalist side, and it really only covers the internal security side of the political equation, but it is one of the most detailed descriptions of the IS’ internal workings to emerge so far. It is also interesting because it paints IS as a rational and calculating organization. This is a different picture than we are used to seeing in the press, which has emphasized the group’s fanaticism. It is worth considering that IS may be both rational and irrational at the same time. The group’s strategies and tactics may be entirely rational though its goals uncompromising and fanatical. The fanatical violence may also help with the implementation of rational goals and strategies by mobilizing support among those who sympathize and intimidating/terrorizing the opposition. The mix, in all likelihood is complex. We will not know more until we have a better understanding of the politics among the group’s elite -which is not really addressed in the article.

Here is a follow up article from the blog “War on the Rocks” providing a fairly detailed discussion of IS’s strategy and tactics during its initial period of growth. While has some elements in common with the Der Spiegel article, it downplays the role of ex-Bath’ists arguing that much of the planning and expertise behind the IS emerged from Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist Salafi movements.

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