Is ISIS good at governing?

Mara Revkin writes: While civilians criticize ISIS’s heavy-handed rule, many admit that ISIS is governing more effectively than the Iraqi government did.

As one resident of Mosul said recently: “Everything is better under the Islamic State.” Another said: “I have not in 30 years seen Mosul this clean, its streets and markets this orderly. According to others, “There is no corruption in the society” and, “Services are satisfactory. We almost always have water and…we have [electricity] round the clock.”

If public opinion is in fact turning against ISIS, it is not necessarily because the quality of services has deteriorated. Rather, residents of Mosul are unhappy because the cost of those services — in terms of the taxes and fees that ISIS collects — has steadily increased over time. After initially providing some essential services for free, ISIS later began to impose heavy taxes and fees for water and electricity. Meanwhile, police were cracking down on violations of ISIS rules with corporal punishments and monetary fines.

Adding to that is the heavy collateral damage caused by airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas, which will only intensify as France and Russia retaliate for the recent attacks on their citizens. If ISIS begins to divert substantial resources away from governance in order to finance high-profile terrorist attacks and respond to the foreign interventions that such operations will likely provoke, civilians living under ISIS rule can expect their taxes and service fees to rise even more.

So although the overall quality of services provided by ISIS — including sanitation, utilities, security, and healthcare — may have remained relatively stable, from the perspective of civilians, life under ISIS rule is becoming more dangerous and costly over time. Civilians who normalized their reference points around ISIS’s relatively light-handed rule during the early days of control, when its first priority was to win the population’s trust and cooperation, now feel that ISIS is failing to live up to the expectations that it initially established. [Continue reading…]

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