Since Islamic State (IS) has lost nearly all of its territory in Iraq and been driven from its major urban redoubts in eastern Syria, many observers have predicted it will reinvent itself as a global terrorist organization. As such, it is said, the group will focus its energy on staging attacks on civilians rather than taking and holding territory. Robin Simcox is not so sure:
So long as IS wants to keep on fighting—and clearly, it does—it has little choice but to revert to guerrilla tactics. However, it would be a mistake to think of this as anything other than a temporary tactical pivot. The terrorist group’s overall strategy will not change. IS still aspires to hold territory, govern, and ultimately restore a caliphate—with an appointed caliph—ruled by sharia law. This is integral to the raison d’être of not just IS but Islamist groups generally.
The creation of a caliphate is a key tenet of Islamism. In 1938, Hassan el-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, stated that the Brotherhood believed “the caliphate is a symbol of Islamic Union and an indication of the bonds between the nations of Islam.” For that reason, he said, its “re-establishment [is] a top priority.” . . .
Beyond the political and theological motivations, IS has a host of practical reasons for seizing and holding land. Controlling large amounts of territory allows it to create safe havens from which to plan terrorist attacks outside its immediate sphere of influence—such as the IS-directed Paris attacks that killed 130 innocents and wounded hundreds more in November 2015.
Moreover, territorial control allows control over people—and not just those already living in the occupied area. The 2014 announcement of a caliphate led tens of thousands of Muslims to move there. And controlling more territory and people also means a larger cash flow—provided in the 2014-17 caliphate via taxation, extortion, and selling oil, antiquities, and the like. Therefore, Islamic State cannot . . . restrict itself to hit-and-run raids, car bombings, and trucks mowing down pedestrians. The need to govern is real.