June 28, 2014

Life in the Islamic State in Iraq and [Greater] Syria

The Islamic State in Iraq and [Greater] Syria (ISIS) is not a new phenomenon that just burst on the scene two weeks ago as they seized the northern Iraqi city of Mosul (al-Mawsil). ISIS has already been governing a wide swath of territory in neighboring Syria, most notably in al-Raqqah governorate. To see what life will be like in the newly-seized areas of Iraq, one need only look at how the group governs al-Raqqah. It is not pretty - watch this CNN video about ISIS's takeover of the city of al-Raqqah.

There is no reason to believe that life in the areas seized in Iraq will be any different. Reports coming out of Mosul indicate a process of imposing strict Islamic rule almost identical to that which we saw in al-Raqqah months ago. Alcohol, smoking, music - all prohibited. Violations of the new laws are severely punished according to Islamic law. One of the first institutions to be established in Mosul was the Higher Islamic Court. This is reminiscent of what Afghanistan became under the Taliban from 1996 until the government was removed by the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance in 2001.

ISIS has set up the Islamic State to have subordinate provinces* closely following the current governorate structure in Syria and Iraq - a few have been renamed. A new country is being created as the rest of the world is encouraging the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to form a more inclusive structure. Unfortunately, the Sunnis now in the ISIS area are not in position to participate.

Life under ISIS will eventually wear thin on the Sunni Iraqis. These independent tribal groups want to maintain their way of life. At some point, I assess they will tire of the draconian Sharia'-based life which ISIS wishes to impose. That is when we may see a second "Anbar Awakening" and a refutation of ISIS by the tribal leaders. It was the original Anbar Awakening in 2007 and 2008 that helped defeat al-Qa'idah in Iraq (also known as the Islamic State in Iraq), forerunner of ISIS.

ISIS may be good at taking territory, generating support among the Sunnis who have been poorly treated by the Shi'a government in Baghdad, and expelling the Shi'a-dominated Iraqi Army from Sunni areas. However, they have had problems governing in western Iraq.

LATE ADDENDUM (added without comment - I think it speaks for itself):

* The translation of the words for "state" present a semantic problem - there are two words used by ISIS. Dawlah and wilayat. The first is a state in the larger, national sense, like State of Kuwait or State of Israel. The second is more like a component of a larger entity, more akin to the U.S. states of California, Oregon, etc. To distinguish, I am going to use province for wilayat.