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Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. (Reuters)
Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. (Reuters)

In northeast Syria, Islamic State builds a government Add to ...

Islamic State’s willingness to use former Assad employees displays a pragmatism residents and activists say has been vital to its success holding onto territory it has captured.

They have been helped by experts who have come from countries including in North Africa and Europe. The man Baghdadi appointed to run and develop Raqqa’s telecoms, for instance, is a Tunisian with a PhD in the subject who left Tunisia to join the group and serve “the state”.

Reflecting Islamic State’s assertion that it is a government - rather than simply a militant group that happens to govern - Baghdadi has also separated military operations from civilian administration, assigning fighters only as police and soldiers

Instead, Baghdadi has appointed civilian deputies called walis, an Islamic term describing an official similar to a minister, to manage institutions and develop their sectors.

Administrative regions are divided into waliyehs, or provinces, which sometimes align with existing divisions but, as with the case of the recently established al-Furat province, can span national boundaries.

Fighters and employees receive a salary from a department called the Muslim Financial House, which is something like a finance ministry and a bank that aims to reduce poverty.

Fighters receive housing - including in homes confiscated from local non-Sunnis or from government employees who fled the area - as well as about $400 to $600 per month, enough to pay for a basic lifestyle in Syria’s poor northeast.

One fighter said poor families were given money. A widow may receive $100 for herself and for each child she has, he said.

Prices are also kept low. Traders who manipulate prices are punished, warned and shut down if they are caught again.

The group has also imposed Islamic taxes on wealthy traders and families. “We are only implementing Islam, zakat is an Islamic tax imposed by God,” said a jihadi in Raqqa.

Analysts estimate that Islamic State also raises tens of millions of dollars by selling oil from the fields it controls in Syria and Iraq to Turkish and Iraqi businessmen and by collecting ransoms for hostages it has taken.

BAGHDADI CALLS THE SHOTS

At the heart of the Islamic State system is its leader, Baghdadi, who in June declared himself “caliph”, or ruler of all the world’s Muslims, after breaking with al Qaeda.

Residents, fighters and activists agree Baghdadi is now heavily involved in Raqqa’s administration, and has the final word on all decisions made by commanders and officials. Even the prices set for local goods go back to him, local sources say.

Residents say Baghdadi also approves beheadings and other executions and punishments for criminals convicted by the group’s Islamic courts.

On the battlefield, fighters describe him as a fierce and experienced commander.

The Syrian fighter said Baghdadi led major battles, such as one to retake a Syrian military base known as Division 17 in July, the first in a series of defeats the group dealt to Syrian government forces in Raqqa province.

”He does not leave the brothers. In the battle to retake Division 17 he was also slightly wounded but he is fine now,” the fighter said.

“He is always moving. He does not stay in one place. He moves between Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Mosul. He leads the battles.”

NEXT GENERATION JIHAD

Although pragmatism has been a key to the group’s success, ideology is also vital to the group’s rule.

By declaring the caliphate and setting up a “state”, Baghdadi aimed to attract foreign jihadis and experts from abroad. Supporters say thousands have responded.

At the same time, wealthy Islamists from across the world have sent money to Raqqa to support the caliphate, jihadis say.

According to sources in Raqqa, the group maintains three weapons factories mainly designed to develop missiles. Foreign scientists - including Muslims from China, fighters claim - are kept in a private location with bodyguards.

”Scientists and men with degrees are joining the State,” said one Arab jihadi.

The group has also invested heavily in the next generation by inducting children into their ideology. Primary, secondary and university programs now include more about Islam.

The group also accepts women who want to fight - they are trained about “the real Islam” and the reasons for fighting.

Islamic education groups are held in mosques for newly arrived fighters, who, according to militants in Raqqa, have flocked to Islamic State-controlled territory in even greater numbers since Baghdadi declared the “caliphate”.

”Every three days we receive at least 1,000 fighters. The guest houses are flooding with mujahideen. We are running out of places to receive them,” the Arab jihadi said.

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