After Islamic State

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Written by Liz Morrow and Cerwyn Moore

On the 21st June, as a coalition of Kurdish and Shi’a militia and Sunni tribesmen made gains in the Old City in Western Mosul, fighters from Islamic State destroyed the distinctive Great Mosque of al-Nuri. Less than three years earlier, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – the self-declared leader of the Islamic State (IS) – had led prayers at the mosque, following the inception of the new Caliphate. The public display by al-Baghdadi at the al-Nuri mosque illustrated his intention to act as a Caliph. During the year after the July 2014 declaration, the Islamic State made numerous gains in Iraq and in parts of Syria. Islamic State (IS) – a militant Salafi movement that had morphed from its first inception – Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad – established itself as a state-building enterprise. Formed in 1999 by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad had pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, before participating in the Iraqi insurgency which followed the 2003 US-led invasion.

The destruction of the al-Nuri mosque, the subsequent suppression of IS activity in Mosul, and the pressure exerted on strongholds such as Raqqah in Syria, have led many commentators and journalists to comment on the fall of Islamic State. IS’s territorial losses have been compounded by the death of numerous senior members who operate its the political, military and religious infrastructure, thereby raising questions of who, or what, will fill this power vacuum. Assessing its significance, growth and decline must be undertaken through inter-disciplinary study.

Understanding the regional, ideological and post-conflict implications of the proto-state IS, also sheds light on the appeal of different form of militancy. After all, IS managed to attract a considerable number of foreign fighters and transnational activists – as part of a social movement – which became integrated into the state-building infrastructure. They included families, spanning different generations, as well as skilled volunteers and children.

Even though Islamic State has claimed numerous terror attacks in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and in Turkey and Russia it has combined war-fighting with state-building activities. The online presence of IS coupled with the sheer number of activists, and the range of activities IS engaged in – which included major engineering and educational programmes, religious and social governance, illicit trading on a large scale, and ethnic cleansing – produced an unusual problem for the international community. Volunteers came from different parts of the world, while the infrastructure of IS spanned vast swathes of the greatly weakened Syrian and Iraqi states.

CREST – the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats – has published the first in a series of reports that tackle the implications of the demise of the Islamic State.

These reports are based on a series of ‘After Islamic State’ workshops, held to address the potential implications of the demise of Islamic States’ territory in Syria and Iraq. The workshop series was convened by CREST Researcher Dr Cerwyn Moore and his team, based at the University of Birmingham. The workshops, which were co-sponsored with an ESRC IAA award secured by CREST Researcher Dr Elizabeth Morrow, brought together leading scholars and practitioners from around the globe. Researchers at the forefront of work on Iraq and Syria, on Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and on militant ideologies, contributed to the workshop series. Others from history, language-based area studies, political science and sociology – including researchers with expertise on the wider Middle East and North Africa, foreign fighters and post-conflict security – also contributed.

This report is the first in the series, After Islamic State: Workshop Report I, and is available to read, download and share: After Islamic State: Workshop Report I

It covers key questions concerning Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Syria, and highlights the underlying issues that contribute towards an environment where Islamist violence can thrive and threaten stability in these regions. It also includes a discussion of Ayman al-Zawahiri and how al-Qaeda has responded to the Islamic State group.

Some of this research is also published in the fourth issue of the quarterly magazine, CREST Security Review, which is available to read, download and share here.

You can read more about the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats, including Birmingham’s contribution, on its website at

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