At a time when it still controlled large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) released a video entitled “Structure of the Caliphate,” which detailed the structure of administration and the geographic organization of its state project. In that video, IS claimed the existence of 35 wilayas (“provinces”): 19 inside Syria and Iraq, and 16 elsewhere.
Today, the number of wilayas claimed in propaganda appears to have reduced dramatically in number. For example, IS propaganda portrays Syria and Iraq as consisting of just two provinces: a Wilayat al-Sham and Wilayat al-Iraq respectively, with each province consisting of a number of regions. In Libya, three provinces seem to have been similarly condensed: there now appears to be just one province in the country that covers three regions. Other wilayas still exist as they were when they were first announced in 2014 and 2015: West Africa, Sinai, Algeria, Khorasan (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and Yemen, which still exists as multiple provinces for now. Meanwhile, two areas where IS has been claiming military operations have now been elevated to the status of provinces: Somalia and East Asia.
These apparent shifts reflect in part the overall collapse of IS as a state project, which was previously its central claim to fame, and the evolution of a global IS insurgency. In places where IS propaganda displays a seemingly simplified provincial structure, the common thread is that they were areas in which IS once exercised significant control of territory with regular photo series and videos advertising governance implementation.