Monday, 13 June 2016

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror - Michael Weiss, Hassan Hassan

Title: ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
Author: Michael Weiss, Hassan Hassan
ISBN: 978-1-6824-5029-1
Publisher: Regan Arts Publishing
Year: 2016
Pages: 411
Photos/Maps: 0

As the war against terror expands beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria, it is increasingly more important to understand not only the nature of the conflict that the world is facing, but also the history of the organizations that comprise our adversaries. Too often we perceive the fundamental Islamacists as a solid entity when in fact they are comprised of not only multiple facets, often with tenuous (at best) alliances, but also varying priorities and goals. It is in this aspect that the author’s book carries its greatest benefit. Weiss and Hassan do not suggest means of combatting the varying organizations that make up ISIL but they do provide invaluable analysis of its history, development and composition.

It is a very convoluted and complex path that ISIS has taken; with many actors and influences. The authors have done a noteworthy job of tracing this route and providing the depth and breadth of scrutiny in order for the reader to grasp the history and goals of this organizations. One of the key takeaways is the sheer number of players engaged in this fight. Additionally, their ability to quickly morph and adjust their operating procedures to meet the changing battlespace is striking. It is interesting; however, that one of their strengths also represents one of their greatest weaknesses; that of building a Caliphate.

When Al-Qaeda and ISIS were operating as asymmetric terror groups within the societies that they wished to control, it was very difficult for the governments to directly challenge them due to the fluidity and flexibility of their modus operendi. However, these groups were also hampered by this approach due to the fact that they remained on the periphery of rule. By establishing a caliphate with its fixed responsibilities and tasks, they were able to more formally impose their brand of theocratic rule upon the population. However, this in turn, meant that they no longer could rely upon the camouflage of the population and were now much easier to engage.

This book does not limit itself to a study solely of the Army of ISIS but incorporates the broader scope of the regional and international influences and goals. Players such as Syria, destabilized by internal revolution from a number of fronts, is suggested as clandestinely supporting ISIS operations within its borders in order to garner international sympathy and support. Iran is shown to be vigorously expanding its regional influence and control through its active and ‘passive’ support to not only the incumbent Iraq government but also the Syrian regime. A myriad of others such as the Free Syrian Army, Al-Nusra, Russia, the US, the Kurds and the Iraqi government all play host to the mosaic of individual interests at play.

The book is, for the most part, well balanced. The authors show their bias at times in their criticism of the role that Assad, the Syrian leader. While his activities are without question, brutal, they must be seen in light of his efforts to retain power within a ‘real politique’ context. The book reads very well and does an admirable job at unraveling the Gordian Knot of ISIS and the region. It is worth reading in order to gain a better appreciation of the nature of the region, the adversaries and the goals within this conflict.

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