ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror Paperback – February 17, 2015
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Wall Street Journal Top 10 Books on Terrorism
"Weiss and Hassan provide a detailed explanation of how the Islamic State “manages savagery” on the ground…this account of the Islamic State in Iraq is a valuable summation and the most serious book-length study of the Islamic State to be published so far." Source: New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"The first book to fully explain what ISIS is seeking and why they are such a threat to the world. An absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand the risk we all face from radical Islam." Author: Douglas E. Schoen, political analyst, author of Source: The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America’s Crisis of Leadership
"A . . . detailed and nuanced story." Author: James Traub Source: Wall Street Journal
"Weiss and Hassan have produced a detailed and readable book. Their informants include American and regional military officials and intelligence operatives, defected Syrian spies and diplomats, and – most fascinating of all – Syrians who work for Isis (these are divided into categories such as politickers, pragmatists, opportunists and fence-sitters). The authors provide useful insights into Isis governance – a combination of divide-and-rule, indoctrination and fear – and are well placed for the task. Hassan, an expert on tribal and jihadist dynamics, is from Syria’s east. Weiss reported from liberated al-Bab, outside Aleppo, before Isis took it over."—Robin Yassin-Kassab, author of The Road from Damascus, is writing (with Leila al-Shami) a book on the civil activists of the Syrian revolution Source: Guardian
“recounted in painstaking detail…the book presents a granular analysis of the IS’s organization, ideology, funding and recruitment.” Author: Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, author of The Road to Iraq: the Making of a Neoconservative War Source: In These Times
”ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, does a first-rate job of describing the Islamic State’s layers… in Syria and in Iraq.” Author: Paul Berman, author of A Tale of Two Utopias, Terror and Liberalism, Power and the Idealists, and the Flight of the Intellectuals Source: Tablet
“Concise, valuable, and a compelling read for anyone- general reader or specialist- interested in ISIS.” Author: Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi Source: Syria Comment
“Incredibly rich and valuable for the specialist and non-specialist alike…it is a rich and nuanced piece touching on all the points that the arrival of ISIS has raised in Syria and Iraq.” Author: Tam Hussein Source: The Huffington Post
About the Author
HASSAN HASSAN is an Associate Fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and a columnist for The National newspaper. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and the New York Times.
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Now for the flaws: the book's bias is much too obvious. From reading the book, you'd think most of the blame for the rise of an essentially extremist Sunni sect lies with a Shia regime (Iran) and a secular, non-Sunni one (Syria). Salafism-spreading "charities" from the Gulf only get a passing note, when talking about the proselytizing done on Kurds from Halabja. Gulf monarchies are hardly ever mentioned, and their support is seen as coming only from the Syrian diaspora living there. This is at least weird - you have Biden and Hillary Clinton on record talking about how angry they are at Qatar and Saudi Arabia for supporting extremists in Syria - see Patrick Cockburn's book on ISIS for that.
Robert Fisk wrote about the Lebanese Civil War that it had no good guys - they were all bad guys. It helps to keep that in mind when covering a civil war, and it helps your credibility if you don't have a special bias against one of the actors. The aforementioned Cockburn book did a much better job at explaining the missteps of both Sunni and Shia.
Also, the book is sometimes uneven; for example, the interesting quote of an al-Nusra guy via Christoph Reuter saying that "they just picked the cool name and with that they get money from the Gulf" doesn't get a too deep analysis; is it that you have gangs in Syria just picking whatever name suits them just to get funds? Who are the guys from the Gulf? Also, even if they've interviewed ISIS people, they don't seem to have reached anybody important (unlike Chulov, or Reuter with the Haji Bakr files). There's definitely more interesting stuff on ISIS available elsewhere, though this book gives a few pointers.
The book is filled with names of people and organizations which unless you are a Middle East specialist don't easily register with Americans. Most organizations are given a set of initials on first mention; after that they are referred to by those initials. As there is neither a table of these abbreviations nor an index, reading this can be a struggle. Because of this problem, I recommend the Kindle version with its search function over the paperback I read.
At least one general map of the region would have been very helpful in following the text. I chose not to carry around an atlas as I read this book.
And finally, I would have liked more information on the actual structure of the organization and how it operates. But, perhaps that is beyond our current state of knowledge. As it is, the book is very useful in dispelling the idea that ISIS is run by Jihadi John and his ilk--or least, so I hope.
ISIS Inside The Army of Terror is mostly a chronological history of the Islamic state with occasional flashes forward to make comparisons between the past and present. It starts off with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who started the group just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Although Zarqawi was a Jordanian he found Iraqis who were willing to follow him due to Saddam Hussein’s Faith Campaign in the 1990s which allowed for the growth of Salafism in the country, and Sunni resentment over the loss of their power in the new Iraq. That brings up the role of Baathists in the organization which was a hot topic amongst researchers in the 2010s. Weiss and Hassan note that there were a number of former regime members in the top echelons in the group and asks whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s rise to the top of the group was due to his ties to Baathists. In the end it argues that the 2007 Surge and Awakening/Sahwa wiped out most of the group’s leadership that allowed Iraqis to rise through the ranks thus allowing former Baathists to take on more prominent roles.
One thing it gets wrong, which was true for most of the books of its time was falling for the misinformation campaign IS launched about Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Weiss and Hassan write that Abu Ayub al-Masri succeeded Zarqawi after his death in 2006 and claimed that Omar al-Baghdadi may have been a front man. They also believed that Masri was closer to Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri than Zarqawi and therefore was not committed to the war versus Iraq’s Shiite like the former leader. IS spread this story that Omar al-Baghdadi might not be a real person and if he was, he was just a figurehead and not the real leader of the group at the time to mislead the Iraqis and Americans about what happened after Zarqawi was killed. Omar al-Baghdad was the legitimate emir of the organization and helped rebuild it after the Surge and Awakening, something that the book documents when it discusses how IS went after the tribes that had turned on it with a carrot and stick approach, while not giving Omar al-Baghdadi credit for the strategy. This misinformation about Masri and Baghdadi was repeated by many other authors who had releases in the 2014-15 period when there was a boom in books on the group after it declared its caliphate.
Another issue with Weiss and Hassan was on how IS became such a phenomenon and brought in followers from around the world. They mention a researcher who argued that the Islamic State had a revolutionary appeal like communist and socialist groups had in the 1960s and 70s. Other ideas were that it promised a true Islamic life, exploited the Sunni-Shiite divide and offered a sense of adventure. The authors didn’t emphasize the utopian vision of the caliphate enough nor had much depth to its use of the Internet that spread its message internationally far beyond any previous jihadist group.
On the other hand, it has a deft portrayal of the Islamic State’s governance which it emphasized to its fans. Yes it provided services and gave a sense of stability to war zones when it first took over. At the same time it came with a huge dose of repression. It enforced sharia law, it made women cover themselves, it extensively used torture, it banned popular habits like cigarette smoking, and carried out public punishments and executions to scare and intimidate the populations it ruled. The book doesn’t try to make it is as if IS made the trains run on time. It focuses upon the system of oppression the group created to maintain its rule.
ISIS Inside The Army of Terror stands out amongst its contemporaries. This is the revised and updated version which includes new chapters that brought the story of the group up to 2015. Many other books released at this time went off into other subjects like the international jihadist movement to give context that might have been motivated by their knowledge of Al Qaeda more than the Islamic State. This release maintains its focus upon IS and shows that Weiss and Hassan put in the work to find out as much about their topic as they could. Yes, it has some flaws, but most of its main points have proven true, and it provides an extensive history of the group.
Musings On Iraq blog
Top international reviews
ISIS is REMARKABLY SOPHISTICATED.
-ISIS IS TRYING TO BUILD A NEW ORDER ON THE TOP.
-ISIS TRYING TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA EXTENSIVELY TO ATTRACT FOREIGN VOLUNTEERS.
-DETAIL ABOUT THE HISTORY OF ISIS
-HOW ISIS IS MANAGING SAVEGERY?
-DETAILED AND RESEARCHED BOOK
-HOW RADICAL ISLAM CAN AFFECT US IN THE LONG TERM?
THIS BOOK COVERS THIS AND MORE
With newly added material and breaking news THIS BOOK IS WORTH A READ—(I HAD THE EALIER EDITION BUT I HAVE BOUGHT THE RECENT AND UPDATED EDITION AGAIN BECAUSE IT COVERS THE FOLLOWING-
Interview with a former ISIS spymaster
—Why ISIS is targeting Europe and the US
—What Russia wants in Syria
—Revelations on the brutal ideology of ISIS
We need to learn what they are trying to do and how they go about it. This is an educational book.