By Liz Sly
Isis’s vaunted exercise in state-building appears to be crumbling, as living conditions deteriorate across the territories under its control, exposing the shortcomings of a group that devotes most of its energies to fighting battles and enforcing strict rules.
Residents say services are collapsing, prices are soaring and medicines are scarce in towns and cities across the “caliphate” that Isis proclaimed in Iraq and Syria, belying the group’s boasts that it is delivering a model form of governance for Muslims.
Slick videos depicting functioning governing offices and the distribution of aid fail to match the reality of growing deprivation and disorganised, erratic leadership, the residents say. A trumpeted Isis currency has not materialised, nor have the passports the group promised. Schools barely function, doctors are few and disease is on the rise.
In the Iraqi city of Mosul, the water has become undrinkable because supplies of chlorine have dried up, according to a journalist living there, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Hepatitis was spreading and flour for bread was becoming increasingly scarce, he said. “Life in the city is nearly dead, and it is as though we are living in a giant prison,” he said.
In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s self-styled capital, water and electricity are available for no more than three or four hours a day, rubbish piles up uncollected and the city’s poor scavenge for scraps on streets crowded with people hawking anything they can find to sell, residents say.
Videos filmed in secret by an activist group show desperate women and children clamouring for handouts of food, while photographs posted on the internet portray foreign jihadists eating lavish spreads, a disparity that is starting to stir resentment.
Much of the assistance that is being provided comes from Western aid agencies, who discreetly continue to help areas of Syria under Isis control. The US funds healthcare clinics and provides blankets, plastic sheeting and other items to enable the neediest citizens to weather the winter, according to US officials.
The government workers who help sustain what is left of the crumbling infrastructure, in Syrian as well as Iraqi cities, continue to be paid by the Syrian government, travelling each month to collect their pay from offices in government-controlled areas.
“Isis doesn’t know how to do this stuff,” the US official said. “When stuff breaks down they get desperate. It doesn’t have a whole lot of engineers and staff to run the cities, so things are breaking down.”