How ISIS held on to power in Iraq through paperwork

ISIS brought a fastidious efficiency to running their regime in Syria and Iraq, a New York Times reporter reveals.
At the height of its power, ISIS controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria. The New York Times's Rukmini Callimachi said that it derived its influence as much from bureaucracy as from violence. (The Associated Press)

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ISIS maintained its grip on power not only through barbarism and brutality, but also painstaking bureaucracy, according to a New York Times journalist.

Rukmini Callimachi has been covering the militant group since the height of its power in 2014, when they controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Through her journeys in and out of Iraq, she collected 15,000 pages of documents, containing everything from ISIS-issued birth certificates and driver's licenses, to leases for land they had stolen. She has detailed her findings in the New York Times.

This fastidious approach allowed ISIS to oversee and demand payments from the people under their control. In fact, Callimachi said ISIS made more money from taxing agriculture than they did seizing oil wells.

In one instance, she found the paperwork relating to a 24-hour period in 2015.

"The total receipts that I tallied were $19 million dollars [US]," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. That figure came "from things like wheat sales, barley sales, flour sales," she added.

On left: A lease agreement between ISIS and a farmer. ISIS made more money from taxing agriculture than from seizing oil wells, said Callimachi, right. (Rukmini Callimachi/NYT; Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

ISIS was able to keep such a firm grip on power, she argued, because of its firm grasp of the mundane.

"Very simple things, like garbage collection, and just making sure the streets are clean, is actually quite important to people," she said.

The northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which was liberated from ISIS in 2017, is now incredibly dirty, she said.

"People are dumping trash everywhere and there is no plan, as far as I can tell, to try to address that."

Poor living conditions like these can become "grievances ... that groups like ISIS are then able to prey on," she explained.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar. 


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