, Volume 90, Number 6

Gareth Stansfield

The fall of Mosul in June of 2014 was followed in July by the establishment of a self-proclaimed Caliphate by the Islamic State of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Since then, the Islamic State has continued to expand its operations, persistently pushing into Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq and Syria, nearly defeating the Kurds of Iraq, and moving against the Kurds of Syria, in Kobani, as well as army units of the Syrian state. By doing so, it has maintained an astonishingly high tempo of operations and has shown itself capable, agile and resilient. It has also proved itself to be adept at utilizing social media outlets, and in pursuing brutal tactics against civilians and prisoners that have been aimed at shocking adversaries—potential or actual—and observers both in the region and beyond. The rise of the Islamic State poses a challenge not only to the security of Iraq and Syria, but to the state system of the Middle East. Western powers have been drawn into a conflict in a limited fashion—through air strikes and advising ground forces; the UK, while engaging slightly later than other countries against the Islamic State, has followed this pattern, though targeting Islamic State forces solely in Iraq. This article considers the nature and scale of the threat posed by the Islamic State, and assesses three possible areas of further policy engagement that the UK may, or may have to, follow.

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