Inside the Caliphate
Interviews with those who live under the militant rule suggest a grim reality.
In July of this year the Washington Post sent @sullivank and @CharlesOmmanney to Jordan to report this story. http://Wapo.st/isis-life .
The white vans come out at dinnertime, bringing hot meals to unmarried Islamic State fighters in the city of Hit in western Iraq.
A team of foreign women, who moved from Europe and throughout the Arab world to join the Islamic State, work in communal kitchens to cook the fighters’ dinners, which are delivered to homes confiscated from people who fled or were killed, according to the city’s former mayor.
The Islamic State has drawn tens of thousands of people from around the world by promising paradise in the Muslim homeland it has established on conquered territory in Syria and Iraq.
But in reality, the militants have created a brutal, two-tiered society, where daily life is starkly different for the occupiers and the occupied, according to interviews with more than three dozen people who are now living in, or have recently fled, the Islamic State.
Foreign fighters and their families are provided free housing, medical care, religious education and even a sort of militant meals-on-wheels service, according to those interviewed. The militants are paid salaries raised largely from taxes and fees levied on the millions of people they control, in an arc of land as big as the United Kingdom.
Those whose cities and towns are held by the Islamic State said they face not only the casual savagery of militants who behead their enemies and make sex slaves out of some minority women but also severe shortages of the basics of daily life.
Many residents have electricity for only an hour or two a day, and some homes go days without running water. Jobs are scarce, so many people can’t afford food prices that have tripled or more. Medical care is poor, most schools are closed, and bans on most travel outside the Islamic State are enforced at gunpoint.
Over the past two years, the militants have produced a torrent of startlingly sophisticated online propaganda that has helped persuade at least 20,000 foreign fighters, many with families, to come from as far away as Australia. The campaign, largely distributed on YouTube and social media, depicts a place filled with Ferris wheels and cotton candy, where local families cheerfully mingle with heavily armed foreigners.
But local people interviewed said their daily lives are filled with fear and deprivation in the Islamic State “caliphate,” governed by the militants’ extreme version of Islamic sharia law.“We went back to the Stone Age,” said Mohammad Ahmed, 43, a former Arab League worker from Deir al-sour a town near Raqqa, the militants’ self-proclaimed capital in northern Syria.
“We used to have a beautiful house with marble and ceramic floors,” said Ahmed, who fled his home in June and now lives alongside 20,000 other Syrians in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp. “All our lives, we had everything we needed. Then, when they came, we were cooking over a fire outside and washing our clothes in a bucket.”
Several of those interviewed said the Islamic State was actually less corrupt and provided more efficient government services, such as road construction and trash collection, than the previous Syrian and Iraqi governments. In Iraq, some said, the Sunni Islamic State militants treated them better than the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad. But none of those interviewed said they supported the militants, and all said efficient government did not excuse the group’s brutal and fanatical behavior.
“We hate them,” said Hikmat al-Gaoud, 41, the former mayor of Hit, who fled in April and now divides his time between Baghdad and Amman, Jordan.
The Islamic State came to power in the wake of years of fighting in Syria and Iraq that already had shattered many public institutions. But people interviewed said the Islamic State had made the damage worse, in ways that could be felt for decades to come — reversing gains in public education, ruining the medical infrastructure, establishing a justice system based on terror, and exposing a generation of children to gruesome and psychologically devastating violence.
For women, living in the Islamic State homeland often means being subjected to a virtual assembly-line system for providing brides to fighters, or sometimes being abducted and forced into unwanted marriages.
Many who were interviewed gave only their first name or declined to be identified at all, for their own safety and the security of their family members still living under Islamic State control. They were interviewed via Skype or telephone calls from Syria and Iraq, or in person in Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.
Those who spoke from inside areas controlled by the Islamic State did so at great peril, saying the militants closely monitor Internet access. They agreed to speak so that they could tell their story of life inside the Islamic State caliphate.Life in the ‘Islamic State’: Justice
Militant occupiers use beheadings and horror to control local people.
Nearly everyone interviewed said they had witnessed a beheading or another savage punishment. It is virtually impossible to independently verify these accounts, just as it is impossible to verify the claims in much of the propaganda material put out by the Islamic State. The militants almost never allow journalists or other observers inside their territory, and they have posted video of the beheadings of several they have captured.
The interviews, conducted over several months, were arranged largely at random or through long-established contacts in the region. Although several activists were among those interviewed, The Washington Post did not rely on activist groups to provide interview subjects. At the Azraq camp, Post reporters reviewed records of arrivals and sought out those who had come recently from militant-controlled areas. Many of the interviews lasted two hours or longer.A young boy in the Azraq refugee camp in the Jordan desert,
where about 20,000 Syrians have taken shelter.
The militants control small farming communities and large urban areas, including Mosul, an Iraqi city with a population of more than 1 million people. The Islamic State’s policies differ somewhat in each area, so there is no single, uniform way of life; but in the interviews, consistent themes emerged about women, health, education, justice and the economy in the Islamic State.
Women must be fully veiled and can be whipped for leaving the house without a male-relative escort. Many simply stay at home for fear of being picked up on the street and forced to marry a foreign fighter.
Life in the ‘Islamic State’: Women
A life of forced marriages, young widows, abductions and fear.
Hospitals are usually reserved for foreign fighters and are staffed by doctors who have come from as far as Britain and Malaysia. Local people are forced to seek care in ill-equipped clinics, which have expired medications and poorly trained staff.
In some places, the Islamic State has shut down cellphone service and Internet access. Where it still exists, the militants try to control it closely. They have set up Internet cafes that have become centers for propaganda, where recruiters encourage young people around the world to leave their homes and come to the Islamic State. They have persuaded about 200 Americans — some still in their teens — in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and other U.S. cities to try to come to Syria. Most were arrested before reaching their destination, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.
Except for religious schools for the children of foreign fighters, schools are generally closed. Militants have confiscated college diplomas and burned them publicly.
Militants have closed most schools, banned “worthless” secular education and burned college diplomas.
“Life under Daesh is a nightmare each day,” said a female math teacher who lives in Mosul, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State.
“We have an unknown future,” she said, asking that her name not be used. “Maybe Daesh will kill us or maybe we will die in the war, or maybe after. What we are going through right now is a slow death.”
The militants have established checkpoints to prevent people from fleeing. But those interviewed said a growing network of smugglers is helping people get away, and they are entering Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and non-militant-controlled areas of Iraq in increasing numbers. U.N. officials said that 60 percent of refugees who have crossed the Syria-Jordan border recently were escaping areas controlled by the militants.
The Islamic State’s propaganda portrays the militants as liberators; one recent video showed armed fighters delivering sweets to a home for the elderly. But according to those interviewed, the majority of residents view the militants as a merciless occupying force, and they stay away from them as much as possible.
“Even if we see them in the streets or in the shops, there is no mingling,” said an activist who calls himself Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, a native of Raqqa who runs a social media site called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.
People in Raqqa, he said, “feel like strangers in their own city.”Life is bleak in the Azraq camp, but it is a welcome sanctuary for those fleeing the Islamic State militants.
Why people join and stay
The Islamic State has had some success recruiting local people. Those interviewed said many of their friends and neighbors in Syria and Iraq have chosen to join the Islamic State, becoming fighters, teachers or workers in their government offices.
Some do so because they believe in the militants’ goal of uniting the world under their extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
But most of the people who work for the Islamic State do so out of economic desperation, according to those interviewed. In places where the cost of food has skyrocketed and where many people are living on little more than bread and rice, some men have concluded that becoming an Islamic State warrior is the only way to provide for their family.Life in the ‘Islamic State’: Economy
The militants’ government is sometimes efficient, but locals face severe shortages of daily necessities.
“There is no work, so you have to join them in order to live,” said Yassin al-Jassem, 52, who fled his home near Raqqa in June. “So many local people have joined them. They were pushed into Daesh by hunger.”
Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence at King’s College in London, said that although foreign fighters have given the Islamic State a boost, “in the long term, they will turn out to be a burden.” He said that local tribes rose up against al-Qaeda in Iraq in the mid-2000s partly because that group was perceived as a foreign organization. He said people now under Islamic State control could do the same — especially in Iraq.
But those interviewed who had lived under the Islamic State said it has gone to great lengths to suppress any potential uprisings, killing anyone suspected of disloyalty.
Faten Humayda, 70, a grandmother who fled her town near Raqqa in May and now lives in the Azraq camp, said the violence increases local anger at the militants, but it also creates suspicion among local people. It is harder for any kind of resistance movement to form when people think their friends and neighbors might be informants for the militants.
“They have turned us against each other,” she said.
Ahmed, who fled his town near Raqqa in June, said some of the Arab fighters would try to mix with the local population, but the Europeans and other non-Arabs never did. He said that although the Islamic State militants claimed they were there to create a better life for Muslims, they seemed mainly focused on battles with other rebel groups and government forces.
“They were always very aggressive, and they seemed angry,” he said. “They are there to fight, not to govern.”
Interviewed in his baking-hot metal hut in the Azraq camp, Jassem recalled that while he was living under Islamic State control, his 2-year-old grandson developed a brain tumor. Doctors wanted $800 to remove it.
Jassem, a farm hand, hadn’t worked since Islamic State militants took over his home town. He was desperate, so in late May he went to the militants to beg for his grandson’s life, and they offered him a choice.
“They said to me, ‘If you give us your son to fight with us, we will pay for your grandson’s treatment,’ ” he said.
The idea of one of his sons becoming an Islamic State fighter turned his stomach, and the thought of losing his grandson broke his heart. So Jassem took his family and escaped in the back of a smuggler’s truck. He said his son is now asking Jordanian authorities for medical help for the little boy.
“I am never going back to Syria,” Jassem said, looking out from his 12-by-18-foot hut at the bleak expanse of empty Jordan desert. “It’s not my Syria anymore.”
Confronting the ‘Caliphate’: These stories are part of an occasional series about the militant group Islamic State and its violent collision with the United States and others intent on halting the group’s rapid rise.
Kevin Sullivan reported from Washington, London and Jordan. Souad Mekhennet in Morocco and Berlin; Loveday Morris, Erin Cunningham and Mustafa Salim in Iraq; Karla Adam in London; and Taylor Luck in Jordan contributed to this report. Photos by Charles Ommanney. Design by Danielle Rindler. Some Photos by Charles Ommanney
Publisher adamfoxie*blog Int.:One question is fair to asks as one reads this live story and is the part of people choosing to live in these camps. Camps that curtail their freedom but at the same time it gives them some living conditions in which they don’t have to starve. If you are a believer and you have to live with little food, no freedom and horrid conditions you do it because you are looking to a wonderful life after you die. This does not make sense to people that wont believe precisely because of that. All religions offer you a life that no one as ever lived and come back to show you. Even a prophet or a Mesiath, they don’t give you a clear picture. Even the bible says tha you look at things ‘ hrough an obscure mirror now but then you will see things clear.’ That is true! After you die if you remain dead that is it! and if they had it right you will also know.
Coming back to the camps and people economics and the money spent on the west to control this violent group that clearly believes in destroying the world as we know it. Being that everyone there is not there because they buy everything this people are selling, Why do countries have to force people into such levels of pressure by the economics of poverty when it would be so much cheaper to make a more fair world in which we can destroy poverty altogether. But this capitalist world believes that what I have is mine and I don’t want you to have anything unless you die getting it. ”This is a club and you need to belong.” What happens when the doors to that club and the windows and most of the inhabitants are blown to kingdom come? There has to be a level of fairness and fairness does not mean equality in wealth but equality in a way that offers everyone a free education and ways to make their own mark on the world that mark not being a violent one. We have already learnt there is no system in this world in everyone shares everything(communism) or in which the government can supply everything in an equity way (socialism). Some will always be rich and some wont be. But to have the majority of the people in poverty in resenting the top 1 or 2% is not the sway . It is not sustainable. We can teach those that don’t want o share that is for everyone own interests,particularly themselves to share something in which it make the bottom up their level through free education and fairness in which they keep the money they earn.
Some wonder what is the answer to avoid killings in schools and where kids and young adults meet in the U.S.? One of the ways to eliminate some of it might be to make the schools a more decent and accessible way to be and learn. To make life fairer. Would that hurt those that want to have more than anybody else? Yes they have to have less but not by much when it guarantees that they will keep what they have.