As we seek to assess the Islamic State’s ability to create a real and sustainable polity, meanwhile understanding it better, we first focused on the overall structure of the Islamic State and its Khilafah, which can usefully be seen as a wilayat system. Then, we started analysing the top leadership constituted by the Calif (Khalif, Khalifa), the Shura Council and the Sharia Council, what these institutions mean and entail in terms of legitimacy.
Here, after having rapidly explained our methodology, using Max Weber’s (1919) classical distinction, we shall focus on the monopoly of the legitimate means of violence, i.e. military, security and police. With the next post, we shall deal with the extraction of resources as well as with all the other administrative agencies. Of course, legitimacy here is understood within the framework of the Islamic State and its Khilafah. We are not concerned with a hypothetical universal legitimacy, which would be a completely different discussion.
The distinction between the means of violence on the one hand, the rest, on the other, should, however, not be overstated. If the monopoly of the legitimate means of violence is crucial – without it there is unrest and civil strife as the U.S. soon re-discovered in 2003 in Iraq, a tragic mistake as it gave birth to the current situation in Iraq and to the Islamic State, as well as poverty and deficit as taxes cannot be levied and as insecurity makes it impossible to do business – a state also cannot rule by violence alone. That would not only be too costly but also practically impossible, at least on long periods of time. Furthermore, we have fundamental interactions between both fields. For example, the proper operations of the military, which is part of the monopoly of violence, also depends upon civilian areas: e.g. for things as basic as food available, we would need to look at agriculture, as well as trade. Meanwhile, and logically, civilian activities are as dependent upon efficient means of violence, because security is crucial to all other activities, as interestingly underlined by a Syrian businessman who trades in the Islamic State (Ruth Sherlock, “Why business is booming under Islamic State one year on,”, The Telegraph, 8 June 2015).
Many unknowns remain to this date, including because we have to rely on open sources, and because the Islamic State is quite a close entity. Most certainly, time will contribute to answer these uncertainties as, on the one hand, knowledge will surface and multiple research effort will make sense of information, and, on the other, intelligence services, which have more information and resources, will let filter information either directly or through policies and actions at other governmental levels. An example of the information available to state intelligence agencies is the “four to seven terabytes of data” gathered in the U.S. Special Forces operation against Abu Sayyaf and available to U.S. agencies (Eric Schmitt, “A Raid on ISIS Yields a Trove of Intelligence“, New York Times, 8 June 2015).
Levels of governance, units and methodology
After the top leadership level we saw previously, we find a general or “central” level of governance, which would then be more or less reproduced at wilayat then qitahaat (district, sector) levels, as explained first by Caris and Reynolds (ISIS governance in Syria, ISW, July 2014) and also pointed out by the UK Islamic State investigative team (BBC, 3 September 2014).
This seems to be the general rule, however with three caveats.
Centralized direction and principles, decentralized execution
The centrality of the general level – for all activities, be they linked to violence or not – should neither be overestimated, nor underestimated. For example, in the case of the military, Michael Knights (“Isil’s political-military power in Iraq“, CTC Sentinel, August 27, 2014), underlines that the bombing campaign part of the 2012-2013 offensive answered to “al-Baghdadi’s formula of centralized control but decentralized execution, with his command cell setting the date of the attacks but the regional wilayat (provinces) commanders setting their level of participation according to local conditions.” Laurent Touchard, in his excellent and detailed study “”Organisation Tactique et Méthodes de Combat De l’Etat Islamique” (Conops, 20 May 2015: 4), find this still applies to current tactics.
If we assume that there is a logical design in the workings of the Islamic State, then it is thus likely that the same principle is used as much as possible across space and fields of activity.
Central level only: The case of the General Supervisory “Committee”
At least one administrative unit, the “general supervisory committee” [or commission]” (see specimen W, X, 4X, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents“), exists only at central level, and does not appear to be replicated at wilayat level.
According to the three specimen available, this committee issues notifications, warnings and prohibitions to all other administrative units, on very diverse pragmatic topics, from the ban of GPS and Apple device, to prohibitions of goods coming from Iran. Until 28 May 2015, it would have issued 1385 such “orders” .
Furthermore, the contents of the specimen give us the list of all the Islamic State’s administrative divisions: “to all the wilayats and diwans” (specimen 4X and W), “to all the wilayats, diwans, committees and central joints in the Islamic State” (specimen X). Hence we do not have only diwans, but also “committees”, as well as “central joints” that need ideally to be identified to fully understand the structure and process of the Islamic State.
A diwan is defined as:
“Central administration of Islamic state or specific branch of government, typically headed by a vizier. States typically had chancellery, financial, and military diwans, with separate diwans for pious foundations, fiefs, taxes, alms, customs, and administration.” (Oxford Dictionary of Islam).
Considering the recipients stated in the Central Supervisory Committee’s documents, we may assume that the Central Supervisory Committee is either above all other divisions, or acting as a central administrative transversal unit.
If one such committee exists at central level only, then we have to consider that others may also operate at central level only, while the fact that some may be operating at lower levels only may also not be excluded.
The administrative structure as indication of integration within the Khilafah
According to what we saw in “Structure and Wilayat“, the existence or not of various administrative structures in a specific wilayat is an indicator of its degree of integration within the Islamic State: i.e. what is true for, say wilayat al-Raqqah (one of the most advanced administratively), may not be fully true for others, e.g wilayat al-Fallujah.
Here, we shall thus work from the ideal-type point of view of a fully integrated wilayat.
Meanwhile, the central level we can establish now, most probably corresponds to a specific phase in the building of the Islamic State and its Khilafah, and may evolve with time and conditions, and involve a learning curve.
Keeping in mind the above, we shall use notably the specimen presented in Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents“, while also comparing them to prior knowledge, as stated in the Summer 2014 documents, to try reconstituting both the central and wilayat levels. Indeed, if we observe the specimen gathered by Al-Tamimi, we notice two types of official documents: those that are issued at central level start with Islamic State followed by the name of the issuing administration, while those that are issued at wilayat level insert the name of the specific wilayat between Islamic State and the name of the issuing agency. Assuming this principle is true for all administrative divisions, then a document at one level will help fill blanks at another.
Two deputies for a Calif?
Barrett (Nov. 2014), using The Telegraph (9 July 2015), mentioned two deputies to the Calif, one for Syria – Abu Ali al Anbari (aka Abu Ali Qurdash al Turkmani, Abu Jasim al Iraqi, Abu Umar Qurdash), also possibly member of the Shura council and leading the military council or/and the security council – and one for Iraq – Abu Muslim al Turkmani (aka Fadil Ahmad Abdallah al Hayyali) (Barrett: 28, 29).
Assuming this was initially correct, we do not know if this structure with two deputies, one for Iraq, one for Syria remains. It does not seem to be coherent with the will of the Islamic State to erase the division between both countries, inherited from the post-WWI dismantlement of the Ottoman empire, as shown by the 29 June 2014 psyops video “The end of the Sykes-Picot line”, and by the related creation of wilayat al-Furat across the Iraq-Syria border.
Furthermore, it does not fit anymore the situation, where so many wilayats have been added to those existing in Mesopotamia (see map in “Structure and Wilayat” and map below), including notably the rising importance of Libya, as shown by the current near complete capture of Sirte (e.g. Jamie Dettmer, “Islamic State Grows Stronger in Libya“, VOA, 12 June 2015 – note however the fluidity of the situation, the Islamic State having allegedly lost Derna on 14 June to other Islamic groups, see “5:15 P.M. Libyan Islamists claim to oust ISIS from city in northwest” ME Update, Haaretz, 14 June 2015). Who would then be the deputy in charge of the other non-Mesopotamian wilayats? We may thus validly wonder if this structure with two deputies is not truly outdated, adapted to ISIS/ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), but not anymore to a unified Islamic State with its Khilafah.
Militarily, we may argue that there are, as far as Mesopotamia is concerned, two distinct theatres of operations, with two distinct situations and enemies. Yet, this is also a very “modern-state, usual international order way” to perceive the battlefield. Shouldn’t we rather wonder if the Islamic State perceives such a neat division in terms of military situation for each country that it might lead it to also conceptualize somehow two theatres of operations. In that case, the logic, which of course would need to be confirmed by evidence, would be indeed to see a division of a sort, but then at military command level, and not for the rest of the administration, best organised according to the structure of wilayat and diwans.
Alternatively, notably considering the tribal as well as sectarian character of the overall region, we may wonder if, from the point of view of the Islamic State, another approach would not be more pertinent strategically and efficient tactically. Such perspective could mix a global vision of all wilayats – indeed the Khilafah – each wilayat, and the ideological objectives of the Islamic State, as well as the possible use of the Russian psyops technic of “Reflexive Control” (see “the Making of the Crusaders” and our series on the Islamic State Psyops).
In the absence of direct evidence, it is very important, indeed crucial, to make sure we do not reproduce unwillingly our own perception and project it wrongly on the Islamic State. Thus, we need to allow for the possibility of a military strategy that is NOT designed according to the two countries solely, but differently, according to the ends, ways, and means of the Islamic State.
Military, Security and Police
A military and security “councils” mystery?
The first batch of analyses detailing the governance structure of the Islamic State (see our previous “The Calif and Legitimacy” for detailed references) all mentioned a military council and a security council.
Some analyses, notably Anjarini (Alakhbar, 10 July 2014) and then the BBC using the UK Islamic State investigation team’s work (3 Sept 2014), located the military and the security council on a par with the Shura and Sharia councils we detailed previously, with no mention of any other central administration. On the other hand, Barrett (Ibid.), also underlining the importance of the military and security council, appeared to put these one step lower in the hierarchy, with other central administrations.
The problem we are potentially encountering here is one of translation, which was made without trying to understand the real political meaning of terms: what is meant exactly by “council” in the framework of an Islamic State or Khilafah in general, of this Islamic State and Khilafah in particular. Are we here speaking about a diwan, or are we dealing with another type of council such as the Shura Council, transliterated as Majlis Shura by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (see Specimen 1E, “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents“) and as we hypothesised previously?
The consequences may be crucial in terms of legitimacy as well as overall tendency of the Islamic State and Khilafah: if military and intelligence/security were as important as Shura and Sharia, then it would strongly influence the essence of the Islamic State in a warrior-like direction, which would re-emphasise the latter component, already strongly present (see Worlds War and Ultimate War). This hypothesis appears, however, unlikely, because it would seem to depart from the means and ends of a Khilafah (see “The Correct Methodology to Establish Khilafah“, Khilafah.com, 21 May 2015), even though fighting and war are very much intertwined with the essence of the current Islamic State and its Khilafah (see Worlds War and Ultimate War). We should nevertheless not forget that Khilafah.com most probably struggles for its own version of a Khilafah (see details in “The Calif and Legitimacy“), and thus we cannot be certain of its analysis. Scholars specialised in early Islamic texts and how they are used and applied by the current Islamic State would need to be consulted on that matter to better assert the likelihood to see the military and security councils on a par with the shura and sharia councils.
The importance of war and of security for the Islamic State needs not being reflected by whole administrative bodies being given a different political treatment. It may simply be reflected, as we saw above and shall detail further below, by individuals, notably leaders, belonging to two different bodies, diwans (military or security “councils”) and majlis (Shura council).
Thus, here, following Barrett, we shall consider that the military and security councils of the early analyses are diwans, which would also appear to be logical considering the overall structure of the Islamic State, as emerges from Al-Tamimi’s archive.
The military “diwan” certainly leads the military operations of the Islamic State. According to Barrett (Ibid: 31), back in July 2014, it would have been led by Abu Ahmad al Alwani (Waleed Jasem Mohammed al Alwani) or by Abu Muhanad al Sweidawi (Adnan Latif Hamid al Sweidawi aka Abu Ayman al Iraqi), the latter also a member of the Shura council.
The Military Diwan would include a Chief of Staff (Barrett: 32) or Military Commander (US Treasury, 24 Sept 2014), who might be Georgian Omar al Shishani (Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili) (Ibid.).
It would then be subdivided, always according to Barrett (Ibid.: 33) – but without hardly any mention of sources – into Supplies, Families of dead fighters, Explosives and their deployment, Suicide and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks, Movement of fighters and Foreign fighters. We may wonder if the last two are not a single “department” as the US treasury source mentions a leader in charge of financing, recruiting fighters abroad and facilitating their movement to the Islamic State.
To this, we may probably add a “Military/Training Camps’ Administration”, according to Al-Tamimi’s Specimen 1A from February 2015, which would exist at both wilayat (at least in some of them) and central level. Considering the content of the message of the specimen, this administration may also be in charge of local recruitment for the army.
We also find mention of an Islamic Military Police in Al-Tamimi’s “Specimen 4I: Statement to the Ninawa Province Tribes”. We do not know if it responds hierarchically to the Military Diwan, or to a Sharia body or to another administration. We shall keep it here, waiting for further evidence.
The overall structure of the Islamic state Military Diwan, at central level, according to the sources considered here would look as displayed on the following figure.
We may assume, but we only have evidence through above mentioned specimen 1A, thus for Training camps, that all these subdivisions at central levels also exist at wilayat and probably at qitahaat level. Alternatively, their local subdivisions may rather follow the tactical organisation of the Islamic State military units, as established by Touchard (Ibid: 9), and translated in the graphic below. Meanwhile, Touchard (Ibid: 11-12) mentions the existence of a Qawat al-Muhaam al-Khaasa or “special forces” and of other specialised units that would depend of “divisions” at the level of the wilayat but would be, for the operations, attached to local or tactical command units. We do not know if they have also a more central level of command.
Regarding the administrative operations of the military diwan, it is crucial to mention the way fighters are paid, as this is a vital element for the conduct of war (the moral of soldier and their obedience), besides the values that will make an individual is willing to die for something (see for more on this dimension, the part on war and death in “Foreign Fighters’ Complexes). This payment would be constituted of two parts, a salary and ghanīmah, i.e. war bounty seized on the enemy (Encyclopedia Britannica – e.g. “Advice for the soldiers of the Islamic State, Dabiq 6: 6-7, 14). The salary, according to the excellent documentary, “Daesh, Etat islamique (EI) : d’où proviennent les milliards des nouveaux barbares” (Daesh, the Islamic State: the origin of the billions of the new barbars, M6 channel, 14 June 2015 – watch in replay), using RFI journalist David Thomson investigation, would be, per month: 50 USD, plus 50 USD per wife (limited to 4), plus 50 USD per slave, plus 35 USD per child. The journalist also mentions a prime, that reached 2000 USD when Mosul was taken, and we may assume it corresponds to the ghanīmah.
Security “Council” or Diwan al-Amn al-Aam?
According to early estimates, the Security (and most probably Intelligence) “council” would gather intelligence, notably domestically, eliminate dissidence and rivals, i.e. act as the “domestic” or internal intelligence and police agency (Barrett: 31).
Using the same reasoning as for the military diwan, we may wonder if this council is not, in fact, the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam (translated by Al Tamimi as “Public Security Department”) found in Al Tamimi archives, specimen 1E. In this document, the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam set the amount of the reward decided by the Shura Council (Majlis Shura) “for all who kill a Jordanian pilot or wound him such as to prevent him from flying or working within the Crusader alliance that targets the Muslims in the Islamic State” at “100 gold dinars”. It can be infered from the rest of the document that the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam will be responsible for verifying the reward is justified and paying it.
The identity between the security council and the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam is the hypothesis that we shall retain here.
By July 2014, the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam would have been led by Abu Ali al Anbari (UK investigation team/BBC, Anjarini, Ibid.)
We may assume that we are here dealing with the same administration as the one depicted in Christoph Reuter’s article (Der Spiegel, 18 April 2015) and set up by Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi aka Haji Bakr. The detail of the structure at wilayat and qitahaat levels, but not at central one, can be examined on Der Spiegel graphics, which Reuters’ article asserts to be representative of what is happening on the ground, according to recent interviews.
Two interesting points stand out in this organisation. First, we see that the wilayat and qitahaat levels are not exactly similar, which confirms what we pointed out above in the case of the General Supervisory “Committee”, i.e. that the general ideal-type according to which each level reproduces the preceding one in a top-down fashion should be taken with caution.
Second, we see how Sharia judges are embedded within the very organization at both wilayat and qitahaat levels, while, at qitahaat level, the diwan is also responsible for some training of the sharia judges (the wording is too unclear to understand exactly which training the judges undergo: “head of the security base and trainer of the Sharia judges in court and security questions relating to the local secret service”).
If the Sharia judges are part, for their selection for example, of another diwan or administrative system, as suggested by March and Revkin (“Caliphate of Law”, Foreign Affairs, 15 April 2015), then the fact judges would be embedded within the Security Diwan, if also reproduced in other diwans, could show the preeminence of Sharia law, even in the conduct of the affairs of diwans. everything being equal, it reminds us of the Political Commissar embedded within all administrations in past Communist systems.
Meanwhile, the training of Sharia Judges by the Security Diwan, could mean a certain involvement of security in Sharia matters at court level, in terms of administrative power and in terms of content. Sharia Law would thus walk hand in hand with security in this Khilafah. We may also imagine that the training might imply a modicum of protection for security personnel through the creation of trainer/trainee links.
These strong links between Sharia judges and security directly contribute to the legitimacy of this part of the monopoly of the means of violence, within the framework of the Islamic State and its Khilafah.
The picture of the legitimate means of violence of the Islamic State would not be complete if we were not including the Diwan al-Hisba, which has been detailed and explained by Al Tamimi in his “Aspects of Islamic State (IS) Administration in Ninawa Province: Part III” (23 January 2015).
As Al-Tamimi states, this diwan “has IS’ “Islamic police” under its wing and is responsible for the enforcement of public morality.”
Here, what we may see is a potentially violent way to enforce legitimacy, and to create norms (the content of the norms themselves being defined elsewhere). A norm is “a standard of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity” (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998). Norms are an instrument of social control as, notably over the long period, they are a way to ensure order without use of violence.
With the Diwan al-Hisba and its actions, which enforce standards of behaviour, we somehow witness the incarnation and embodiment of processes of which we are usually unaware, but which exist in any society, of course with contents that vary according to societies. The Diwan al-Hisba’s actions are a specific explicitation of usually implicit phenomena. It is the novelty of the society that is being thus engineered in and by the Islamic State and its Khilafah that requests such a heavy use of violence, because previous norms are hunted, parts of previous socialization are extirpated from individuals and new norms are enforced, in a short time (most of the time, the historical construction and imposition of norms are done over the long period (e.g. Bull and Watson, 1984; Gerrit Gong, 1984). We are faced with a phenomenon that could be similar, everything being equal, to the attempts at creating new societies, for example by the Khmer Rouge, or, to take least extreme comparisons, by any revolutionary system.
With the next post we shall turn to the remaining state structure of the Islamic State and its Khilafah.
Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.
Featured image: From Dabiq 7, p. 20 “Islam is the religion of the sword, not pacifism”.
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