By Providing Services, ISIS Gains Sway in Seized Areas ; Militants Bring Stability, but It Still Faces Pockets of Resistance from Tribes

By Hubbard, Ben | International New York Times, June 17, 2015 | Go to article overview

By Providing Services, ISIS Gains Sway in Seized Areas ; Militants Bring Stability, but It Still Faces Pockets of Resistance from Tribes


Hubbard, Ben, International New York Times


The jihadists' governing efforts, from inspecting food to offering perks to newlyweds, have brought a stability unavailable from national governments.

In northern Syria, the jihadists of the Islamic State have fixed power lines, dug sewage systems and painted sidewalks. In Raqqa, they search markets and slaughterhouses for expired food and sick animals. Farther south, in Deir al-Zour, they have imposed taxes on farmers and shopkeepers and fined men for wearing short beards.

The group runs regular buses across the border with Iraq to Mosul, where it publicly kills captives and trains children for guerrilla war. Last month, it reopened a luxury hotel in the city and offered three free nights to newlyweds, meals included.

A year after the Islamic State seized Mosul, and 10 months after the United States and its allies launched a campaign of airstrikes against it, the jihadist group continues to dig in, stitching itself deeper into the fabric of the communities it controls.

In vast swaths of Syria and Iraq with shattered ties to national governments, the jihadists have worked to fill the void, according to interviews with residents from areas in Syria and Iraq ruled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The group is offering reliable, if harsh, security; providing jobs in decimated economies; and projecting a rare sense of order in a region overwhelmed by conflict.

With no political solutions in sight for the wars that have allowed the group to thrive, little has prevented the jihadists from deepening their roots in ways that will make them even harder to dislodge.

"As a way of life, people got used to it," said a laborer from Raqqa who had earned good money painting the group's new offices in the city.

If you followed the rules, the jihadists left you alone, he said, though he wished life were more peaceful.

"It is not our life, all the violence and fighting and death," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, like others from areas run by the Islamic State, so as not to anger the jihadists. "But they got rid of the tyranny of the Arab rulers."

In the process, the Islamic State's administration has ballooned. The group has issued declarations banning dynamite fishing and Apple products, pressuring teachers to work in its schools, offering rewards for the killing of Jordanian fighter pilots and advising wounded residents not to travel to Turkey for prosthetic limbs because the Islamic State now makes them at home, according to jihadist documents compiled by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

The Islamic State's territory now stretches across hundreds of miles, from the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria into central Iraq, where it shares a volatile border with the Kurds in the north and approaches Baghdad in the south. Much of that area is sparsely populated desert, but the group has millions of people under its charge, as well as archaeological sites, a hydroelectric dam and oil fields that help finance its operations.

The Islamic State differs from jihadist groups like Al Qaeda in its drive to establish a Sunni Muslim state governed by an extreme version of Islam.

Its method of seizing territory seeks to lay the groundwork for this by prompting a "geographic cleansing," according to Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian expert on Islamist groups. Enemies, like government soldiers, the police and those who do not fit in, such as minorities or elites, flee or are killed. Those remaining are mostly Sunni Arabs who try to continue their lives with little disruption.

The Islamic State works to co-opt them through the "management of chaos," providing services otherwise lacking in wartime, Mr. Abu Hanieh said.

"People may not be with the organization's ideology, but the group has been able to give some stability, punish thieves and put in place a legal system," he said. "In general, the normal people want no more than that. …

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