“Islamic State expands its ‘state,'” by Samia Nakhoul, Reuters, May 22, 2015:
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Almost a year after Islamic State’s shock capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, the black flags of the jihadis have been raised over Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province to the west of Baghdad, seat of Iraq’s increasingly theoretical central government.
Nobody talks of Mosul or recapturing it from Islamic State. It is a forgotten city. Now it is all about the fall of Ramadi, the neighboring ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in central Syria and beyond – the Libyan city of Sirte, hometown of former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
To the eyes of many in the region, the real strategic loss behind the IS seizure of two Sunni cities in Iraq and Syria in a week is the evaporation of any Sunni alternative to the jihadis.
Although many leaders dismissed IS as vainglorious when it declared its cross-border caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq last summer, in its cohesion and purpose it is now seen by some – particularly Iraq’s minority Sunnis – as more of a state than the Iraqi government it is fighting.
“Simply put, the Islamic State is, or is on the verge of becoming, what it claims to be: a state,” wrote David Kilcullen who was a key player in the US 2007-08 Iraq troop ‘surge’ and a close observer of the rise of Islamic State.
He argues that unless Washington and its allies urgently change their counter-terrorism strategy the threat will only get worse. A coalition including the United States has been engaged in air strikes against Islamic State last summer, yet the group’s advance has continued.
“ISIS fights like a state… It fields more than 25,000 fighters, including a hard core of ex-Baathist professionals and Qaeda veterans. It has a hierarchical unit organization and rank structure, populated by former regular officers of Saddam Hussein’s military,” added Kilcullen in the Australian Quarterly Essay.
The Islamic State already has the foundations of a state.
It controls territory that includes major cities and covers a third each of Iraq and Syria; it has its own military and security force, a self-proclaimed administration that runs daily life – schools, government offices, utilities, hospitals, taxation and a judiciary system that follows sharia law.
Its resources are vast, including oilfields, refineries and agricultural land. It operates more like a regular army with a recruiting network, training camps and a propaganda machine.
In videos released by IS, its fighters and leader Abu Baqr al-Baghdadi confidently predict “the liberation of Anbar is the start of the liberation of Baghdad and Kerbala from the rawafed” – a derogatory term Sunni jihadis use to describe Shi’ites they condemn as infidels and idolaters….