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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Evolution in Islamic State Administration: The Documentary Evidence.

The Evolution in Islamic State Administration: The Documentary Evidence. (MEF). by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi.
Perspectives on Terrorism

This paper traces the development in Islamic State administration from the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 until the present day. The paper draws on rare primary sources to explain the growing sophistication in the group's governance structures. The current bureaucratic system has reached a level of complexity and professionalism that probably makes the Islamic State sustainable, even under containment, provided it maintains control of its strongholds.


Since the 1980s, jihadist groups have attempted to govern their territories and provide services to locals. Some proclaimed state entities, most often in the form of an Islamic 'emirate': a localized entity that is supposed to be subordinate to the Caliphate.[1] This paper examines the governance structures of the largest jihadi state-building project to date: the Islamic State (IS).

For such an entity to function and survive, administration will be a key part of its order. This has been a prominent theme in the Islamic State's own propaganda and one which came to the forefront during the ISIS era.

Studying the IS administration is important for two main reasons. For one, Islamic State is a prominent case of the general phenomenon of rebel governance, a topic that remains underexplored in the social science literature and that may hold clues to why some insurgent groups perform better than others. For another, this inquiry can shed important light on the organizational structure and long-term viability of the Islamic State, issues that have direct implications for the policy debate about how the international community should deal with IS.[2]

The existing literature has provided descriptive snapshots of the IS administration, but lacks a thorough analysis of its evolution over time.[3]
This paper therefore traces the evolution of the administration through its many prior incarnations, beginning with

  • Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Jamaat al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad (1999), 
  • followed by al-Qa'ida in Iraq (Tanzim Qa'idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn: AQI, 2004), 
  • the Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen (2006), 
  • the Islamic State of Iraq (Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiya- ISI, 2006 post-Zarqawi), 
  • the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa al-Sham- ISIS: 2013) 
  • and finally the Islamic State (IS: 2014 till present). 
  • In the course of this evolution, one goes from a mere group (jamaat) through to an Islamic emirate in ISI, and finally an entity that is now claiming to be the Caliphate.

This article attempts to answer these questions by relying on primary IS source documents, and mainly those not released in an official capacity by IS' media wings. These are documents that have been released online by pro or anti-IS activists, or sent to this author in a private capacity. Non-officially-released IS documents are useful because they can shed more critical light on the nature of IS administration.

The main limitation here is that the total number of documents unearthed thus far is still likely to be only a small fraction of the total number of administrative documents issued by IS in its various state departments, and ever more granular analysis will have to be reserved for future years, particularly if IS is driven out of its key strongholds and outside forces can seize caches of documents for research.

The article is structured chronologically, starting with the first official claim to statehood by ISI in 2006 and continuing right through to the present day. I make two arguments: first, the documentary evidence represents a growing sophistication over time, and second, the current model seems sustainable and resistant to internal collapse if IS control of its strongholds is allowed to continue.

In this regard, I dissent from the assessment of Jamie Hansen-Lewis and Jacob Shapiro that "from an economic perspective, Daesh [IS] is extremely unlikely to be sustainable."[4] This is not to portray IS as having a model economy, but rather to say IS can probably sustain control over its territories because the quality of life there was low to begin with. Read the full story here.

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