When the Islamic State’s long-time spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani announced the establishment of a caliphate with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as its leader six years ago, there was a valuable debate about the true character of the group and its objectives. At the dawn of its caliphate, the Islamic State’s global pretensions were limited to being the premier destination for foreign “travellers,” but we now understand that the caliphate was more than a destination: it was to be the foundation for a more rigorous transmission of global jihad.
The killing of Abu Bakr, the collapse of its political project, and loss of all territorial control in the last year affords us an opportunity to reassess the Islamic State movement. This time the task will be more difficult than understanding an insurgency that successfully consolidated power over parts of majority Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria; today its underground insurgency is also the flagship of a political enterprise consisting of formal and aspiring a”liates dotting the Middle East, Africa and Asia while coordinating and inspiring terror operations abroad. We argue that the Islamic State is evolving as a global adhocratic insurgency that champions and exports both its brand and a core set of ideological (aqeeda) and strategic principles (manhaj) that have remained largely constant throughout its history, and which it exports across its transnational enterprise.