The many faces of ISIS

Daesh fighters pose for propaganda photo
Daesh’s cannon fodder is lured by the romanticized symbols of Abassid Sunnism put out on social media by the movement’s ultra-radical clerical wing (source: dpa)
  • Military defeat will tend to fracture ISIS into its four component elements
  • The hard core is composed of former officers and media-savvy religious extremists
  • Many officers will go underground and fight on; the clerics will take media operations abroad
  • Each part of ISIS must be combated using different methods

To gauge what Daesh (also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) will do after the death of its first “caliph,” and the loss of Mosul and Raqqa, we must first understand what it is.

Contrary to its popular media image, there is not one ISIS, and it is not concerned in the first place with destroying Christendom and Judaism. Since the very beginning of its existence, first as al-Qaeda in Iraq, then as the Islamic State in Iraq, then as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and finally as the Caliphate or the Islamic State, ISIS’s hard core has soared on two very different wings, both consisting largely of Iraqis. Call them ISIS One and ISIS Two. Grouped around this core, in Iraq and Syria, there were tens of thousands of mostly non-Iraqi volunteers. This is ISIS Three. Further afield, one can find scores of franchises in Asia and Africa that jumped on the ISIS bandwagon, each for its own reasons. Those are ISIS Four.

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