The Caliphate at War

The Ideological, Organisational and Military Innovations of Islamic State

February 2018 9781849046435 392pp


ISIS’s astonishing and unexpected military victories in 2014 and 2015 redrew the geopolitical map of the Middle East. Media attention focused on the organisation’s savage treatment of its enemies and its ability to attract foreign fighters, but as this dispassionate book demonstrates it also made important innovations in strategy, ideology and governance.

Ahmed S. Hashim argues that by focusing their ideology first and foremost on extreme anti-Shia sectarianism — rather than on Western ‘infidels’ — ISIS’ founders were able to present themselves as the saviours of what they saw as the embattled Sunni ‘nation’ in Iraq. This enabled them to win the support of Sunni communities.

Moreover, ISIS’ stunning ability to take major cities was a result of its innovative tactics. It sowed terror in advance of its attacks by using targeted assassinations to kill key city leaders, and its decentralised regional command structure facilitated an unusual degree of coordination between small assault units. At the same time the organisation made a serious effort to engage in state-building and population control.

By going beyond the often starkly unpleasant current affairs of the Islamic State, The Caliphate at War undertakes an essential investigation into the successes of the group, to better understand how the movement has survived, thrived, and reshaped the Middle East.


‘Pulling together speeches, other documents, and first-hand journalistic accounts, Hashim describes in detail the genesis of the group in Iraq … assembl[ing] interesting statistics on how they governed.’ — The New York Review of Books

‘This is a powerful account of the unique circumstances that bred and nurtured ISIS. Using primary sources and deep personal experience, Ahmed S. Hashim has brilliantly explained the ideology, organisation, war-fighting, and state-building enterprises of ISIS. I believe his book will become the definitive source on the ISIS group’s creation, evolution, and the Iraqi experience and personalities that differentiate it from other jihadist groups.’ — Michael W. S. Ryan, Senior Fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and author of Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle against America

‘Ahmed Hashim continues to produce timely and profound insights on the landscapes of global terror. The Caliphate at War is essential reading on the genesis, structure and operations of ISIS, the most violent and destructive of all the contemporary jihadist movements.’ — Ali Allawi, author, The Occupation of Iraq and Minister of Trade, Defence and Finance, Iraq, 2003-2006

‘Ahmed Hashim has written a detailed and coherent account of the origins of the Islamic State and the reasons for its rise and fall. This is an excellent book for anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of the divisions in Iraqi society and why they will continue to foster such movements, even following the demise of the Caliphate.’ — Richard Barrett CMG OBE, former Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)


Ahmed S. Hashim is Professor of War Studies, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, and Australian War College, Center for Future Defence and National Security, Canberra, ACT.

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