Islamic State getting weaker, not bigger
BY EMMA JOHNSON
Do the recent terrorist attacks by Islamic State show that the reactionary group is getting stronger and becoming more attractive, particularly to Muslims around the world? Using this pretext, rulers from Paris to Washington, from Moscow to London have unleashed a witch hunt against working people of the Muslim faith and expanded and intensified bombings in the Middle East.
The reality is the opposite. Islamic State is a tiny sect that is getting weaker. Its victims are overwhelmingly Muslims. Hundreds of thousands who hate the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad have fled the country rather than fall under Islamic State rule.
IS extended the area it controlled in eastern Syria and swept into western Iraq in June 2014, as the Iraqi army fell apart and fled. Since then, IS has lost as much as one-third of its territory in Iraq, most recently the city of Sinjar.
After Kurdish forces halted Islamic State's advance at Kobani in Syria in January, it has lost key areas along the Syrian border with Turkey, including important transfer hubs for fighters and materials. In both countries Kurdish militias have been the strongest fighters pushing IS back.
Daily brutality, onerous taxation
An estimated 5-8 million people live in areas controlled by Islamic State. Residents who have fled, others living there and groups like Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which opposes both the Assad regime and Islamic State, have described the rule of the terrorist jihadi group.
Detailed regulation of personal life combined with brutal punishments for any violations amount to a daily reign of terror. Morality police patrol the streets.
Smoking and drinking are punished with flogging, theft by amputation of a hand. Men accused of adultery are thrown from a high building, women are stoned to death. Public executions are a daily occurrence.
Islamic State funds its military and bureaucracy through myriad taxes and fees and some $500 million from oil sales. "Only the air people breathe is not taxed," Abu Mujahed, who recently fled with his family from Islamic State-controlled Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria, told the Atlantic.
IS exacts tolls and traffic tickets; taxes income, crops and cattle; levies fines for smoking, drinking, wearing the wrong clothes and keeping a shop open during prayer hours. It collects car registration fees, utility payments and a cut of small business revenues.
Last year Islamic State issued an urgent appeal for "experts, professionals and specialists." As support for the reactionary groups has dwindled, money is drying up. Many construction projects have stopped because workers are not paid, there are frequent blackouts, and water is only available a couple days a week.
The National Hospital in Raqqa, paraded as the pride of health care in the caliphate, hardly functions now because many doctors have fled. There are shortages of medicine for chronic diseases. The cost of food in Deir al-Zor is up as much as 1,000 percent.
Pressure is increasing on families to deliver their sons as cannon fodder for Islamic State's military. The lure is permission to leave the area. Some youth, facing high unemployment and dwindling job openings, feel they have no choice but to sign up.
Half of Syria's prewar population is internally displaced or has fled the country's civil war. Virtually none have sought refuge in IS-controlled areas.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center in countries with mainly Muslim populations shows the vast majority have an unfavorable view of Islamic State. In Lebanon less than 1 percent view it favorably, in Jordan, 3 percent. After the terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, protests against Islamic State by Muslims took place in France until the government banned demonstrations.
The terror group is now seeking to set up shop in the Libyan city of Sirte, where there is no government. This isn't a sign of expansion or strength, but an attempt to compensate for losses in Iraq and Syria. Residents are forced to witness executions and lashings, but get no basic services. "No services, just punishment," said a resident who fled recently.