2 older articles on the ISIS

Posted: July 27, 2014 in ISIS

ISIS, The Slow Insurgency — KOWcast, Vol. 1
David Betz
Kings of War | 16 June 2014

What to make of the recent explosion/implosion of Iraq over the last week? First Fallujah, then Mosul, Tikrit, and now Tal Afar have fallen to the forces of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq and Sham which has thus far blown away the better armed and more numerous Iraqi military forces in what looks, superficially at any rate, to be a sort of jihadist blitzkrieg. On current trajectory, the next sacking of Baghdad may not be far off. The interwebs are already afire with talk of who lost Iraq?, why the Iraqi army collapsed, and the degree to which this is a game changer or not a game changer at all. FWIW, I have found this backgrounder on ISIS by Alex Berger of the Institute for the Study of War ISIS Reports Reveal a Metrics -Driven Military Command (pdf), just about everything by Aaron Zellin, for e.g., The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has a Consumer Protection Office, and this International Crisis Group report Iraq: Falluja’s Faustian Bargain  (pdf), to be extremely helpful. Ultimately, though, it is profoundly difficult (for me at any rate) to get a ground and sound sense of what is going on. That’s why I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to speak in our first Kings of War posdcast (KOWcast) with Dr Victoria Fontan, currently Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Duhok University in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Victoria, as you will hear, has been kicking around Iraq in one capacity or another for over a decade now and is currently working on her second PhD with us in the War Studies Department (having turned to the dark side) researching ‘slow insurgency in Iraq’. She has been studying ISIS since 2010 and has done more and more intimate interviews with them than any other researcher I know.  Some key points which emerged from or struck me in the conversation:

1. The connection between the social movements that have been present and building in Sunni parts of Iraq for a long time and the popular support that has generated for ISIS. The sense of abandonment by the international community and of victimisation by the government is such that they have resorted to the lesser evil, which is ISIS. 

2. If one misses this point then it is rather easy to talk about a ‘jihadist spring’ (something I have done and am glad to be corrected) and to resort to seeing ISIS as an al-Qaeda/ISI offshoot–which, as Victoria suggests is plain wrong at this point. Al-Qaeda’s beef is with the West, and ISIS’s is with Shi’ites. There are paradigmatic differences between ISIS and AQ. In my view, in today’s Telegraph David Blair makes this mistake as well as the one above: ISIS moved too Far, too Fast: Al Qaeda’s Followers have Made this Mistake Before. Isn’t it more sensible to credit ISIS’s success to Iraq’s Sunnis being totally alienated from their own government and Iraq’s Shi’ite army being unwilling to fight outside of its own regions and neighbourhoods?

3. ISIS has not emerged from nowhere.  They were not ‘fading away’ before the onset of the Syrian civil war; rather, they were regrouping, cleaning up their house (imagine the rooftop discussion between Ali La Pointe and Ben M’Hidi in The Battle of Algiers when he declares that before they take the fight to the French they’re first going to sweep up the pipes and dope dealers in the Casbah). Up to July 2013, at least in Salaheddin province, ISIS’s attacks were paid for by the Turkish government, not private donors from the Gulf as is commonly mistaken. ISIS’s presence in Syria did not ‘just happen’; rather, it was orchestrated by Turkey, which then decided to back up the wrong horse–Nusra, in the Spring of 2013. This last aspect of Victoria’s strategic diagnosis is, in my view, the most worrisome.

What we are seeing is not ‘just’ a civil war but an incipient schismatic war with thick tentacles linking it abroad in a patently ominous manner–Iran manipulating one (on which Dexter Filkins’ New Yorker pieces on The Shadow Commander (Qassem Suleimani) and, more recently, The Crisis in Iraq are important reads), Turkey another, the Gulf States another one still, while the West having dropped the slimy thing a few years ago wrings its hands at the prospect of needs grasping it again. While speaking with Victoria the first thought of the near future of the Middle East which sprang to mind was one akin to the Balkan tragedy of the 1990s–only on a larger scale, with more money for weapons and willing suppliers, and with even less scope for external mitigation. But then it occurred the situation is probably worse than that, with a little perspective. I was reminded of this passage from Philip Windsor’s Strategic Thinking: An Introduction and Farewell which comes towards the end of a chapter the just war tradition where he ruminates on the import of Europe’s Thirty Years’ War:

It is perhaps permissible in a book of this kind (which does not purport to be a book of history) to select certain historical ‘moments’ as representative of a more complex historical process. The reformation was one such moment. It was not the cause of the Christian challenge to the authority of the universal church, but the outcome of developments within the church itself and of many years of social as well as intellectual change. It was not an event, but a complex and long, drawn-out process. Yet one might say that the Reformation epitomised the collapse of the ecumen and led to a new kind of conflict in which Christianity was at war with itself. That conflict came to a head in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which was one of the most brutal and horrifying in European history. It brought together many forms of power struggle, both economic and political, but it was also a war of religion, of Protestant against Catholic. It represented the politicisation of religion, which was nothing particularly new (the Protestant Henry of Navarre had already declared that Paris was well worth a mass), but it also represented a religious definition of politics. In those terms, it was a war about everything, which is no doubt why it was so difficult to conclude. And it was also a moral war. A war that is fought about the nature of God and of belief, about the eternal destination of one’s immortal soul, is obviously difficult to conclude in a compromise peace. The combatants cannot simply sign an agreement that God shall be a Catholic on Mondays and Wednesdays and a Protestant on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The war must be fought to an end or else terminated by sheer exhaustion–as ultimately it was. It is also a moral war in the sense that the moral nature of the cause is invoked to justify even the most brutal and ruthless means of destruction.

You can read more of Victoria’s perspectives on her own blog–in particular ‘ISIS, The Slow Insurgency‘.

http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2014/06/isis-the-slow-insurgency-kowcast-vol-1/

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Has a Consumer Protection Office
A guide to how the militant group overrunning Iraq wins hearts and minds
Aaron Zelin
The Atlantic | Jun 13 2014

No sooner had it seized the Iraqi city of Mosul and surrounding villages, than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began outlining how it would govern its dawla (state). On Thursday, the Sunni militant group released a wathiqat al-madina (charter of the city) to Moslawis. Many residents of the largely Sunni city may have initially welcomed the “liberation” from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated regime, which they had major grievances with, but they might have sobered up after reading the jihadists’ interpretation of sharia law. Those who steal will have their hands chopped off. Islam’s five daily prayers must be performed on time. Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are forbidden. Carrying weapons and non-ISIS flags is illegal. All shrines and graves will be destroyed, since they are considered polytheistic. Women must dress modestly (a euphemism for the full-body niqab).

The rules highlight the harsh realities of life in ISIS territory. But what’s often overlooked is that the group also has a soft-power governing strategy that includes social services, religious lectures, and da’wa (proselytizing) to local populations, including parts of the northwestern Iraqi province of Anbar, which it seized this past winter. In its charter for Mosul, ISIS notes that Sunnis who worked in the Maliki government’s institutions and security apparatus can atone for their actions and ward off imprisonment or execution. ISIS has already allowed sahwa members (participants in Sunni “Awakening” councils that the U.S. stood up during its troop “surge” against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), ISIS’s forerunner, a decade ago) to repent in Babil and Diyala provinces.

The best way to get a sense of ISIS’s blueprint for state-building is to look at how it has ruled al-Raqqa governorate and other territory in neighboring Syria. The group’s first move is often to set up billboards around town that emphasize the importance of jihad, sharia, women’s purity, and other pietistic themes. It reaches out to local notables and tribal leaders as well to blunt the kind of backlash that greeted AQI and its harsh interpretation of sharia during the sahwa movement last decade.

clip_image001
Women walk past an ISIS billboard that carries a verse from Koran urging women to wear a hijab, in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa. (Stringer/Reuters)

The group also has a surprisingly sophisticated bureaucracy, which typically includes an Islamic court system and a roving police force. In the Syrian town of Manbij, for example, ISIS officials cut off the hands of four robbers. In Raqqa, they forced shops to close for selling poor products in the suq (market) as well as regular supermarkets and kebab stands—a move that was likely the work of its Consumer Protection Authority office. ISIS has also whipped individuals for insulting their neighbors, confiscated and destroyed counterfeit medicine, and on multiple occasions summarily executed and crucified individuals for apostasy. Members have burned cartons of cigarettes and destroyed shrines and graves, including the famous Uways al-Qarani shrine in Raqqa.

Beyond these judicial measures, ISIS also invests in public works. In April, for instance, it completed a new suq in al-Raqqa for locals to exchange goods. Additionally, the group runs an electricity office that monitors electricity-use levels, installs new power lines, and hosts workshops on how to repair old ones. The militants fix potholes, bus people between the territories they control, rehabilitate blighted medians to make roads more aesthetically pleasing, and operate a post office and zakat (almsgiving) office (which the group claims has helped farmers with their harvests). Most importantly for Syrians and Iraqis downriver, ISIS has continued operating the Tishrin dam (renaming it al-Faruq) on the Euphrates River. Through all of these offices and departments, ISIS is able to offer a semblance of stability in unstable and marginalized areas, even if many locals do not like its ideological program.

That’s not to say this ideological project isn’t an integral part of ISIS’s social services. Its media outlet al-I’tisam sets up stalls to distribute DVDs of the videos it posts online. In a number of ISIS-held locales, a da’wa truck drives around broadcasting information about the group’s belief system. Moreover, ISIS has established a number of religious schools for children, including ones for girls where they can memorize the Koran and receive certificates if successful, while also holding “fun days” for kids replete with ice cream and inflatable slides. For their older counterparts, ISIS has established training sessions for new imams and preachers. Schedules for prayers and Koran lessons are posted at mosques. In a more worrisome development, ISIS runs training camps for “cub scouts” and houses these recruits in the group’s facilities.

clip_image002
Men in the Syrian province of Raqqa pray outside their shops beside ISIS flags. (Stringer/Reuters)

The militants have also developed health and welfare programs. ISIS helps run bread factories and provides fruits and vegetables to many families, passing the goods out personally. In Raqqa, ISIS has established a food kitchen to feed the needy and an Office for Orphans to help pair them with families. The Taliban may be paranoid and skeptical about vaccination campaigns, but ISIS conducts polio-vaccination campaigns to try and arrest the disease’s spread.

While the governance and social services that ISIS provides shouldn’t overshadow the repression and deadly violence it carries out, they do illustrate that the group runs a sophisticated and well-organized operation. The $425 million (almost half a billion!) that ISIS seized from Mosul’s central bank this week won’t only aid the militants on the region’s battlefields. It will also help underwrite the group’s campaign to win hearts and minds. And that will make it even more difficult to dislodge the nascent proto-state from Syria and Iraq.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/the-isis-guide-to-building-an-islamic-state/372769/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s