ISIS Transforming Into Functioning State That Uses Terror as Tool
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The Islamic State uses terror to force obedience and frighten enemies. It has seized territory, destroyed antiquities, slaughtered minorities, forced women into sexual slavery and turned children into killers.
But its officials are apparently resistant to bribes, and in that way, at least, it has outdone the corrupt Syrian and Iraqi governments it routed, residents and experts say.
“You can travel from Raqqa to Mosul and no one will dare to stop you even if you carry $1 million,” said Bilal, who lives in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and insisted out of fear on being identified only by his first name. “No one would dare to take even one dollar.”
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, initially functioned solely as a terrorist organization, if one more coldblooded even than Al Qaeda. Then it went on to seize land. But increasingly, as it holds that territory and builds capacity to govern, the group is transforming into a functioning state that uses extreme violence — terror — as a tool.
While no one is predicting that the Islamic State will become steward of an accountable, functioning state anytime soon, the group is putting in place the kinds of measures associated with governance: issuing identification cards for residents, promulgating fishing guidelines to preserve stocks, requiring that cars carry tool kits for emergencies.
That transition may demand that the West rethink its military-first approach to combating the group.
“I think that there is no question that the way to look at it is as a revolutionary state-building organization,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He is one of a small but growing group of experts who are challenging the conventional wisdom about the Islamic State: that its evil ensures its eventual destruction.
In a recent essay in Foreign Policy magazine — “What Should We Do if the Islamic State Wins?” — Mr. Walt argued that the Islamic State could indeed prevail in the face of a modest, American-led military campaign that has been going for almost a year and still left the group in control of large areas of Iraq and Syria.
He wrote, “an Islamic State victory would mean that the group retained power in the areas it now controls and successfully defied outside efforts to ‘degrade and destroy’ it.”
He added that now, after almost a year of American airstrikes on the group, it is becoming clear that “only a large-scale foreign intervention is likely to roll back and ultimately eliminate the Islamic State.”
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