When ISIS Ran City Hall

The New York Times has conducted an intensive investigation of files ISIS left behind in Iraq. What did it find? Among other things, that ISIS was self-financed, and its biggest income producer was not oil and gas, but tax revenue.

How did a group whose spectacles of violence galvanized the world against it hold onto so much land for so long? Part of the answer can be found in more than 15,000 pages of internal Islamic State documents I recovered during five trips to Iraq over more than a year. [More...]

The documents were pulled from the drawers of the desks behind which the militants once sat, from the shelves of their police stations, from the floors of their courts, from the lockers of their training camps and from the homes of their emirs, including this record detailing the jailing of a 14-year-old boy for goofing around during prayer.

The Times describes its efforts:

The New York Times worked with outside experts to verify their authenticity, and a team of journalists spent 15 months translating and analyzing them page by page.

Individually, each piece of paper documents a single, routine interaction: A land transfer between neighbors. The sale of a ton of wheat. A fine for improper dress.

But taken together, the documents in the trove reveal the inner workings of a complex system of government. They show that the group, if only for a finite amount of time, realized its dream: to establish its own state, a theocracy they considered a caliphate, run according to their strict interpretation of Islam.

The Times finds ISIS ran a well-oiled functioning state:

ISIS built a state of administrative efficiency that collected taxes and picked up the garbage. It ran a marriage office that oversaw medical examinations to ensure that couples could have children. It issued birth certificates — printed on Islamic State stationery — to babies born under the caliphate’s black flag. It even ran its own D.M.V.

The documents and interviews with dozens of people who lived under their rule show that the group at times offered better services and proved itself more capable than the government it had replaced.

How ISIS succeeded:

.... after seizing huge tracts of Iraq and Syria, the militants tried a different tactic. They built their state on the back of the one that existed before, absorbing the administrative know-how of its hundreds of government cadres. An examination of how the group governed reveals a pattern of collaboration between the militants and the civilians under their yoke.

One of the keys to their success was their diversified revenue stream. The group drew its income from so many strands of the economy that airstrikes alone were not enough to cripple it.

Taxes, not oil, were the key to its success:

Ledgers, receipt books and monthly budgets describe how the militants monetized every inch of territory they conquered, taxing every bushel of wheat, every liter of sheep’s milk and every watermelon sold at markets they controlled. From agriculture alone, they reaped hundreds of millions of dollars. Contrary to popular perception, the group was self-financed, not dependent on external donors.

More surprisingly, the documents provide further evidence that the tax revenue the Islamic State earned far outstripped income from oil sales. It was daily commerce and agriculture — not petroleum — that powered the economy of the caliphate.

The U.S. never understood ISIS. It found them merely to be savages, and embarked on a bombing campaign.

As a result, while the ISIS state did disintegrate after Mosul, "the blueprint remains for others to use."

ISIS is not dead, it's still fighting, using guerilla tactics to regroup. Other militant groups are learning from their playbook, trying to do the same. The article ends with a quote from Fawaz A. Gerges, author of “ISIS: A History.”

“The Islamic State’s capacity to govern is really as dangerous as their combatants."
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  • Display: Sort:
    It's said that (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Chuck0 on Thu Apr 05, 2018 at 05:42:34 PM EST
    Hitler made the trains run on time.

    Actually (4.00 / 1) (#2)
    by linea on Thu Apr 05, 2018 at 06:20:15 PM EST
    The trope is actually that Benito Mussolini made the trains run on time.

    It was meant to be (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Chuck0 on Thu Apr 05, 2018 at 07:11:39 PM EST
    a humorous aside. Not a history lesson. Zoom!

    In a (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by FlJoe on Thu Apr 05, 2018 at 07:17:02 PM EST
    sense Baghdadi is closer to the fascist dictators than to Bin Laden.

    Most Americans were led to believe, that ISIS was just an amped up version of Al Qaeda, when they are two different beasts.

    The press and the government, were extremely slow to pick up on that.


    Read the article this morning. (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Thu Apr 05, 2018 at 11:10:15 PM EST
    Very interesting. Why did US invade Iraq?  I forget. [Snk.]

    Local governments... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Sat Apr 07, 2018 at 03:28:25 PM EST
    ...can get really good compliance when they have beheading in the compliance enforcement tool kit.  IMHO, the benefit is not worth the cost.