After seeking doctors, lawyers, and engineers, The Islamic State - expanding on its desire to launch a gold-backed currency - is reported to have opened its first bank in the Iraqi city of Mosul and delivered a budget for its 'territory'. All this is being done, according to Al Jazeera, in an effort to move beyond its image of a terrorist organisation and consolidate its aim of becoming a legitimate state (perhaps stop beheading western media?)
"A strategy to make concrete decisions and actions to create a nation state is in place," notes one professor, pointing out the 'legitimacy' of the Taliban government in Afghanistan as an example of ISIS' roadmap.
But as one Mosul trader explains, "compared to past rulers, ISIS is a lot easier to deal with. Just don’t piss them off and they leave you alone."
“Isis is dependent on its ability to seize territory and resources to continue funding its existing areas,” Sajad Jiyad, an independent researcher in Iraq says. “Its expansion is sometimes operated through affiliates who use the Isis brand but are in effect local mercenaries. It is as if Isis is financing itself partly through a pyramid scheme, and this has begun to falter.”
Basic services function poorly, but fear prevents anyone from speaking out. “Electricity, fuel, medicine, water are in low supply but people are surviving,” he says.
But as Al Jazeera reports, ISIS is seeking increased legitimacy as its own nation state...
Can you imagine opening the financial pages of your local news website and reading about the latest financial news from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant? Well, if ISIL is to be believed, that is exactly what the group envisages happening.
Reports that the group has opened its first bank in the Iraqi city of Mosul and delivered a budget for the territory that it controls are difficult to confirm, but a Mosul religious leader speaking to Al-Araby Al Jadeed website says that is exactly what they have done. And it shouldn't surprise you.
ISIL is desperate to move beyond its image of a terrorist organisation and consolidate its aim of becoming a legitimate state. The budget is reportedly around $2bn with a $250m surplus. It includes salaries for its fighters and the kinds of civil services it provides in territories in Iraq and Syria: things like construction, waste management and education.
It seems that the group's thinking is to act like a nation state to become a nation state.
For Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of Middle Eastern History at Qatar University, history may provide a reason for ISIL's budget.
"Look at Afghanistan and the Taliban government there. They made similar moves, issuing budgets which helped legitimise them. Of course, Afghanistan was a recognised state with borders. ISIL doesn't have those borders and the state is split between Iraq and Syria," he said.
"However we can say that with this and other actions, including the propaganda videos that they release, a strategy to make concrete decisions and actions to create a nation state is in place."
The message, according to Professor Zweiri, seems to be clear: "I think ISIL is developing a message to sympathisers outside of Iraq and Syria. That it can provide jobs and lives for people wishing to move to the terroritories it controls and that's always been an ISIL aim, to get Muslims to move to the Islamic State. What must be questioned is whether they have the knowledge and ability to deliver what they have promised."
If they have set up a bank that will require banking experts and we know from former recruits that ISIL fighters have come from backgrounds that could provide that kind of knowledge.
But, as The FT reports, on the streets of Mosul, the picture is mixed...
At first glance, Iraq’s second city of Mosul looks like a model of success for its new rulers from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), the world’s most feared jihadi group. Well-swept thoroughfares bustle with cars, the electricity hums and the cafés are crowded.
But in the back alleys, litter fills the streets. The lights stay on, but only because locals rigged up generators themselves. And under the blare of café televisions, old men grumble about life under Isis’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
Isis supporters have tolerated everything from public stonings and beheadings to daily air strikes by the US-led coalition. But without an economy that gives people a chance to make a living, many say Isis has little more to offer than the authorities they replaced.
“Compared to past rulers, Isis is a lot easier to deal with. Just don’t piss them off and they leave you alone,” says Mohammed, a trader from Mosul. “If they could only maintain services — then people would support them until the last second.”
On that critical measure, locals say, Isis is losing its lustre: to traverse the ostensibly unified “caliphate,” a traveller needs three different currencies; aid groups provide medicine to much of the area; and salaries are often actually paid by Iraq and Syria — governments with which Isis is at war.
Perhaps, despite their best efforts to legitimize themselves, the following sums up reality best...
"In the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor they may be functioning something like a state, but there’s nowhere in Iraq where they’re operating anything like a state,” says Kirk Sowell, president of Uticensis Risk Services. “They’re operating like something between a mafia, an insurgency and a terror group. Maybe they thought six months ago they were going to function as a state. But they don’t have the personnel or manpower.”
* * *
Doesn't sound so different from many other more developed nations... As ISIS follows the path of the most developed nations and implements price controls...
Isis has tried to shape itself as a just ruler by setting prices on everything from bread to caesarean sections, which go for about $84. But locals routinely ignore the caps, Bassem says, because such prices are impossible to maintain given the skyrocketing costs of fuel and transportation. “Isis doesn’t study the market, it doesn’t calculate costs . . . these price caps are just comical.”
As a conservative Salafi Muslim, he was sympathetic to Isis’s ideology when they first took over, but was quickly disillusioned as economic conditions worsened. “I may be a Salafi, but I’m not an idiot,” he jokes.
Bassem’s hospital works round the price caps by charging patients for everything from the electricity to drugs. “When they [Isis] are not there, we charge a higher price,” he says. “Locals understand. The prices are not always what Isis says, because they can’t be.”
* * *