It’s often forgotten that the Islamic State is more than just a terrorist organization. The group sells itself as a statehood and a government that promises new opportunities for the Muslims of the world. But this statehood project is now in severe distress, as signs of weaknesses are starting to emerge.
Many ISIS fighters have received pay cuts, and others have quit the organization and fled. Meanwhile, poor maintenance has caused many ISIS services to fail. As for its lucrative smuggling and oil businesses, those too have been weakened. As a result, ISIS has been forced to place heavier taxes on the citizens in areas that it controls.
Still, ISIS is doing everything it can to appear as a looming threat. It is conducting deadly foreign attacks and is looking for new affiliates throughout the world. Many suspect that ISIS could look for partners in places like Libya, where it faces little opposition.
The promise of a statehood and revolution is one way that ISIS distances itself from other terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda. This promise of a new state for Muslims is a strong reason that many people throughout the world have made the decision to join ISIS. Indeed, the call to join the group is ongoing, and it can be heard both on social media and within jihadist groups.
But now these promises are starting to look weak. Residents in areas controlled by ISIS have been fleeing, causing ISIS to lose out on critical taxes. Additionally, the intensifying barrage of airstrikes it can do little to prevent is putting immense strain on the group. Many Sunni Muslims have said that ISIS acts more like an organized criminal syndicate than the “Defender of Islam”.
Making matters worse for ISIS is that there is even corruption within the group. Many ISIS jihadists are being bribed by residents to allow them to flee the areas. In essence, ISIS might be taking over some land in Syria, but it doesn’t have anyone to exercise authority over.
One teacher who last month fled to Turkey from the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour said, “So many people are migrating. ISIS wants to build a new society, but they’ll end up all alone.”
ISIS also recognizes its need for skilled professionals in order to maintain any infrastructure and institutions that even remotely resemble a real state.
An appeal in the ISIS magazine Dabiq read, “The caliphate is in more need than ever before for experts, professionals and specialists who can help contribute to strengthening its structure and tending to the needs of their Muslim brothers.”
But without enough specialists, ISIS has to pay others. They need help running oil equipment, fixing electrical networks and providing appropriate medical care.
A pharmacist from eastern Syria said, “They don’t have professionals, so they have to pay people to do things.”
Additionally, many ISIS members are placed into positions that they are not suited to be in. For instance, in one town the head of medical services was previously a construction worker. At a major ISIS oil field, the leader was previously a date merchant. And the group has even been hiring midwives to serve as doctors.
So while ISIS is continuing to try to put on a brave face and appear as threatening as possible, it seems that the movement is starting to fall apart. ISIS just doesn’t have the infrastructure or the expertise to run a successful modern state. That puts the entire movement into question.