On top of this, all pledges of allegiance are made to al-Baghdadi directly, not the group itself, and, in the event of his death, they are not binding. Hence, all those currently fighting for or supporting Isis would have to re-pledge allegiance to the new candidate, and it is very unlikely that all those allegiant to al-Baghdadi would coalesce behind the one designated to replace him. As such, we can be fairly confident that, while Isis would survive al-Baghdadi’s death, it would do so with greatly depleted ranks.
It is important to recognise that, even if the top echelons of the Isis leadership were eradicated tomorrow and the group fragmented into several constituent parts, the crisis in Iraq and Syria would continue to on the path it is now. After all, just as when other jihadist groups have lost leaders in the past, the ideology that drives Isis would continue to exist. Its present adherents would not retract their belief system overnight. As is stressed in Quilliam’s recent report on Isis, an idea cannot be bombed into obscurity and, hence, the group and the goals that motivate it, would not simply evaporate.
Hence, al-Baghdadi’s death could only be a beginning to the end of the crisis in the Middle East – there is no military solution. It must only be the beginning of a wider political change.
By Charlie Winter
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