It is well known how Islamic State (IS) managed to gain so much power in such a short time. The terrorist organisation exploited the destabilised Middle East in order to rustle up as much money as possible for its operations and to pay its fighters. But what is not so clear is how IS operated at its peak. What were its internal dynamics, its strategies and, most importantly, how did it manage to supersede al-Qaeda?

One person has tried to connect all the dots: Ahmed Hashim, associate professor of strategic studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. In his book Caliphate at War: Operational Realities and Innovations of the Islamic State, Hashim becomes the first scholar to attempt to describe the genesis of the caliphate. Hashim’s book is the result of years of work. It’s a detailed and valuable investigation, which provides interesting insights into how to avoid the conditions that led to the birth of Islamic State in the first place. Hashim analyses and explains what he considers to be the main mistakes that were committed during the last decades (some avoidable, others less so), but particularly those from 2011 onwards, when the caliphate increased its power and became the main terrorist group in the area. Flicking through the book’s pages, a legitimate yet tough question comes to mind: Could the caliphate have been stifled at birth? Hashim doesn't provide a direct answer, but he does offer the reader a number of options. Unfortunately, they are all very unsettling.

The Caliphate at War: Operational Realities and Innovations of the Islamic State
by Ahmed S. Hashim,
392 pp,
Oxford University Press.

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