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 sharialaw. 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” councilsthat 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.
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