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Is the Islamic State going global?


For the past 15 days, the only Islamic State-related news the world was interested in was details of prospective anti-IS military operations in Iraq and Syria, especially how to field a ground force. Then the coordinated attacks in Paris on the night of Nov. 13 bitterly reminded the world that it had overlooked the question of how IS was going to defend itself.

The Islamic State is now in a position to decide to go global or stay regional, following the attacks in Paris.

In the Al-Monitor article of Oct. 26 titled “Is Russian intervention in Syria pushing ‘moderate jihadis’ toward Islamic State?” I looked for an answer to this crucial question. In that article, which cited experts and journalists who closely monitor the events, my basic conclusion was that two different schools of thought have emerged within IS: the “localist approach” that advocates consolidating domination of Syria and Iraq, and the “globalist approach” that favors expanding the war to the Middle East and the rest of the world to avoid being easily overrun by the enemy. The localist approach, which is generally adopted by the former Baathists and Arab nationalists of IS, emphasizes the historic and symbolic significance and geostrategic position of Raqqa and Mosul and the call for the coming war to be fought in and around these two towns. The globalist approach, generally popular with foreign militants called the “muhajiroun” who have joined IS in Iraq and Syria, calls attention to the unwarranted focus on an insignificant piece of land at Kobani in 2011 and the loss of some 2,200 fighters to capture that piece of land. Globalists demand that the same mistake will not be repeated.

These localist and globalist contradictions within IS, which were ignored previously because many felt that the group confined its war to Syria and Iraq, have become much more consequential following the Paris massacre. Is IS on the verge of a split between the two schools of thought?

M.O., a humanitarian worker who has been to Syria many times and who is an expert on Salafist movements, spoke to Al-Monitor in Istanbul (on condition of anonymity) and confirmed that there is such a fissure between localists and globalists within IS that is becoming increasingly perceptible. He felt the Paris attacks will add to this trend.

“But I don’t think IS will give up its focus on holding on to territory. The caliphate and the IS idea it announced in June 2014 is attracting many followers. If IS cannot hold on to the territory it controls, it can only become a landless, practically invisible entity like al-Qaeda,” he said. “That is why I don’t see the Paris attacks and other attacks that may follow as a major change of IS strategy



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