[Marxism] Islamic State's citizens struggle

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 26 04:54:28 MST 2014

Washington Post, Dec. 26 2014
Islamic State's citizens struggle
By Liz Sly

GAZIANTEP, Turkey - The Islamic State's vaunted exercise in 
state-building appears to be crumbling as living conditions deteriorate 
across the territories under its control, exposing the shortcomings of a 
group that devotes most of its energies to fighting battles and 
enforcing strict rules.

Services are collapsing, prices are soaring, and medicines are scarce in 
towns and cities across the "caliphate" proclaimed in Iraq and Syria by 
the Islamic State, residents say, belying the group's boasts that it is 
delivering a model form of governance for Muslims.

Slick Islamic State videos depicting functioning government offices and 
the distribution of aid do not match the reality of growing deprivation 
and disorganized, erratic leadership, the residents say. A trumpeted 
Islamic State currency has not materialized, nor have the passports the 
group promised. Schools barely function, doctors are few, and disease is 
on the rise.

In the Iraqi city of Mosul, the water has become undrinkable because 
supplies of chlorine have dried up, said a journalist living there, who 
spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety. Hepatitis is 
spreading, and flour is becoming scarce, he said. "Life in the city is 
nearly dead, and it is as though we are living in a giant prison," he said.

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group's self-styled capital, water and 
electricity are available for no more than three or four hours a day, 
garbage piles up uncollected, and the city's poor scavenge for scraps on 
streets crowded with sellers hawking anything they can find, residents say.

Videos filmed in secret by an activist group show desperate women and 
children clamoring for handouts of food, while photographs posted on the 
Internet portray foreign militants eating lavish spreads, a disparity 
that is starting to stir resentment.

Much of the assistance that is being provided comes from Western aid 
agencies, which discreetly continue to help areas of Syria under Islamic 
State control. The United States funds health-care clinics and provides 
blankets, plastic sheeting and other items to help the neediest citizens 
weather the winter, a U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of 
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The government workers who help sustain what is left of the crumbling 
infrastructure, in Syrian as well as Iraqi cities, continue to be paid 
by the Syrian government, traveling each month to collect their salaries 
from offices in government- controlled areas.

"ISIS doesn't know how to do this stuff," said the U.S. official, using 
an acronym for the group. "When stuff breaks down, they get desperate. 
It doesn't have a whole lot of engineers and staff to run the cities, so 
things are breaking down."

There are also signs of falling morale among at least some of the 
fighters, whose expectations of quick and easy victories have been 
squashed by U.S.-led airstrikes. A notice distributed in Raqqa this 
month called on fighters who were shirking their duties to report to the 
front lines, and a new police force was created to go house to house to 
root them out.

There is no indication that the hardships are likely to lead to 
rebellion, at least not soon. Fear of draconian punishments and the 
absence of alternatives deter citizens from complaining too loudly, the 
residents said, in interviews conducted while they were on visits to 
neighboring Turkey or over the Internet.

But the deterioration is undermining at least one important aspect of 
the Islamic State's self-proclaimed identity - as a state, dedicated to 
reviving the 7th- century caliphate that once ruled the Muslim world. 
Governing is as central to that goal as the military conquests that 
occurred as Islamic State fighters swept through much of Syria and Iraq 
over the past year.

The group's momentum on the battlefield has been slowed by the U.S.-led 
air campaign, which has helped reverse or stall Islamic State offensives 
on numerous fronts, from the tiny town of Kobane in northern Syria to 
the farmland south of Baghdad.

That the group is also failing to deliver services in the areas it does 
control calls into question the sustainability of its larger ambition.

The Islamic State "is not this invincible monster that can control 
everything and defeat everyone," said an activist in the eastern Syrian 
city of Deir al-Zour, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to 
describe the ineffectual delivery of services there.

"The whole idea that it is well organized and an administrative entity 
is wrong. It is just an image."

'They have no expertise'

It is in Raqqa, the first major city to fall under Islamic State control 
more than a year ago and the cradle of its governance experiment, that 
the discrepancy is perhaps most conspicuous. A Raqqa businessman who 
traveled to Mosul recently said the Iraqi city is in far better shape 
than his own city in Syria, where people are being driven away by the 
specter of hunger and devastating government bombing raids that have 
killed mostly civilians.

The bombardments have played a big role in straining the infrastructure. 
U.S. airstrikes, aimed at Islamic State targets, have also contributed, 
forcing the group to abandon many of its government buildings. American 
attacks on the small, makeshift oil refineries that many citizens relied 
on for income have deepened the deprivation, leaving many people without 
income and sending prices soaring.

Whether the Islamic State's administration was ever as capable as it has 
been portrayed appears to be in doubt, Syrians say. Those who could 
afford to flee areas controlled by the group have done so, 
disproportionately including the professionals and technocrats whose 
skills are needed to run government services.

Syrians say the Islamic State's administration is overseen by a network 
of shadowy emirs or princes. Lower-level positions are occupied by 
Syrians or foreigners who often lack administrative or technical skills.

"ISIS has become too big to control itself," said a Syrian aid worker 
who regularly interacts with Islamic State officials and who spoke on 
the condition of anonymity in order not to compromise his dealings with 
the group. He finds them willing and cooperative, "but they're not 
smart, and they're not capable. They have no expertise."

For most citizens, the main interaction with the Islamic State is with 
its ubiquitous police and security agencies, including the notorious 
Hesbah, which patrols the streets in quest of those transgressing the 
group's harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Those rules continue to be rigidly enforced. Shopkeepers shut their 
stores five times a day for prayer. Smokers have quit for fear of the 
obligatory three-day jail sentence for a first offense - and a month for 
a second. Public executions for theft, blasphemy and dissent are on the 
rise. A new punishment, for homosexuality, in which the accused is 
thrown off a tall building, has been implemented twice in recent weeks.

To some, better than Assad

Meanwhile, crime has plunged, and for many residents the order is a 
welcome alternative to the lawlessness that prevailed when more moderate 
Syrian rebels were in charge. Syrians who lived for decades under the 
regime of President Bashar al-Assad are accustomed to obeying orders, 
and many have adapted to the new rules, said a government employee in 
the former tax department who collects his salary from the government, 
even though he is no longer working.

"Daesh are not as cruel as the regime was," he said, using an Arabic 
name for the militants. With the Islamic State in charge, "if you don't 
do anything wrong - according to their standards, not ours - they will 
not bother you."

The strict enforcement of rules sometimes undermines efforts to deliver 
services, however. When electricity workers raced to repair cables 
damaged by government shelling in the town of Deir al-Zour, the Islamic 
State detained and lashed them for violating a prohibition on working 
during prayer time, said the Deir al-Zour activist.

Everyone on the staff of one of the city's four functioning field 
hospitals was detained as they held a meeting because three of them were 

There is no indication that the Islamic State's income, estimated at $12 
million a month, is suffering. Syrians continue to sign up because there 
are no other jobs available, residents say.

Islamic State functionaries also continue to exact payments, going door 
to door to collect taxes from shopkeepers and fees for electricity and 

"If the regime did not supply telecoms and salaries, I don't think ISIS 
could survive," said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst with the Abu 
Dhabi-based Delma Institute. "It charges people for things the regime is 
providing. But it's not viable as a state."

Tensions are emerging between the local populace and the foreign 
fighters, estimated by U.S. officials and analysts to number around 
15,000, or about half of the total fighting force. Foreigners get paid 
in dollars, while Syrian recruits, known as munasir, or helpers, are 
paid in Syrian pounds.

Islamic State fighters are treated in their own secretly located field 
hospitals, while civilians are forced to rely on the collapsing private 
hospitals, said Abu Mohammed, an activist with Raqqa Is Being 
Slaughtered Silently, a group that works to draw attention to conditions 
under the Islamic State. He uses a nickname to protect his safety.

"People are fed up with them and would like to get rid of them," he 
said. "But they don't have the ability."

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