Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Sunni extremist group, while renowned for the mayhem it has inflicted, has set clear goals for carving out and governing a caliphate, an Islamic religious state, that spans Sunni-dominated sections of Iraq and Syria. It has published voluminously, even issuing annual reports, to document its progress in achieving its goals.

Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who spent time in an American detention facility, the group has shown itself to be unrelentingly violent and purist in pursuing its religious objectives, but coldly pragmatic in forming alliances and gaining and ceding territory. In discussing its strategy, Mr. Fishman has described the group as “a governmental amoeba, constantly shifting its zone of control across Iraq’s western expanses” as its forces redeploy.

In 2007 the group published a pamphlet laying out its vision for Iraq. It cited trends in globalization as well as the Quran in challenging modern notions of statehood as having absolute control over territory. Mr. Fishman referred to the document as the “Federalist Papers” for what is now ISIS.

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