ISIS is transforming into a functioning state that uses terror as a tool

“You can travel from Raqqa to Mosul and no one will dare to stop you even if you carry $1 million,” said Bilal, who lives in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and insisted out of fear on being identified only by his first name. “No one would dare to take even one dollar.”

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, initially functioned solely as a terrorist organization, if one more coldblooded even than Al Qaeda. Then it went on to seize land. But increasingly, as it holds that territory and builds capacity to govern, the group is transforming into a functioning state that uses extreme violence — terror — as a tool. That distinction is proving to be more than a matter of perspective for those who live under the Islamic State, which has provided relative stability in a region troubled by war and chaos while filling a vacuum left by failing and corrupt governments that also employed violence — arrest, torture and detention…

John E. McLaughlin, who was deputy director of the C.I.A. from 2000 to 2004, said he was recently at a dinner party in Washington at the home of an Australian diplomat when the discussion turned to the threat of the Islamic State.

“It suddenly just occurred to me, if you add everything up, that these guys could win,” he said. It was a controversial notion, he explained, because the group’s graphic brutality, which it showcases to the world in gory videos released through social media, has fed a sense that its demise is inevitable because it is so evil.

“Evil isn’t always defeated,” he said.