As we discussed at length late last month when we took an in-depth look at the Islamic State propaganda machine, the group makes a concerted effort to portray life in the “caliphate” as entirely different in character from the public’s perception of what life might be like under Sharia law.
In short, ISIS is keen on showing that every city under its control hasn’t been reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble where civilians are either under constant bombardment from the sky or else at the mercy of a gang of barbarians who would just as soon execute you as look at you. In any given month, for instance, you can expect around 40% of the propaganda that emanates from the group to focus on civilian life. Here’s a representative screengrab:
This is part and parcel of the group’s effort to make it appear as though “the state is doing well,” to quote Bakr al-Baghdadi’s most recent audio message to the world.
In the same vein, it’s equally if not far more important for the group to make an attractive marketing pitch to potential fighters. After all, waging jihad is in many cases a one way ticket to the afterlife and when the promise of 72 virgins upon martyrdom isn’t enough, the group needs to offer some perks for soldiers that are still alive. A set of “top secret” documents allegedly recovered by US commandos in a May raid has given the world some insight into how ISIS divides its “war spoils”. Even before Reuters began to analyze and release the documents, FT took a look at how Islamic State derives revenue outside of trafficking in stolen crude. What they found was an intricate taxation system (although we doubt it's as convoluted as the US tax code). While taxes now make up as much as half of the group's revenue, ISIS "first relied on confiscations for income, looting banks, military bases and the homes of Iraqi officials."
"In each wilaya, or province, Isis set up and continues to operate a so-called 'war spoils' office that calculates the dollar value of loot and pays a fifth of it to the militants who ran the raid," FT wrote earlier this month, adding that "non-military goods are sold at local 'loot markets' where Isis members are allowed to buy at half price."
So, there you go. In addition to receiving a salary and a constant stream of weapons courtesy of regional Sunni benefactors, and on top of being allowed to live in a perpetual state of dark, bacchanalian revelry, Islamic State soldiers also recieve 20% of the "loot" in captured territory and belong to a kind of militant Sam's Club which guarantees a 50% discount on a variety of fun items.
What kind of items you ask? Well, as the following helpful graphic shows, motorbikes can be had for under $100, while LCD TVs are available for just $72.
“You could buy anything: doors for a house, refrigerators, washing machines, cars, cows, furniture,” one shopkeeper who works near the market in Salihiyeh, a village on the Syrian-Iraqi border told FT. “All of that is pure profit [for ISIS]."
So that's a quick glipse at some of the perks of fighting for the preservation of the caliphate. For anyone considering life as a soldier in Bakr al-Baghdadi's army however, it's important to remember that there are some drawbacks. Like being pursued to the ends of the earth by a certain ornery KGB agent...