As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) attempts a comeback it continues to repeat the same mistakes that turned most of the country against it in the past. Part of its current Soldiers’ Harvest campaign is to gain and hold territory in Iraq. As a result it has moved into certain towns and cities and begun issuing warnings and orders to the population about what it will not accept based upon its interpretation of Islam. Recently it has banned wearing western clothing and listening to music. Another bad trend is its tendency to attack anyone that does not agree with it. These extremist ideas and tactics were exactly what the group did from 2004-2006, and which eventually led to groups like the Anbar Awakening and the Sons of Iraq being formed. These same missteps will likely cost it again, it is just a matter of time.
The Islamic State has been trying to ban practices it doesn’t believe in, and impose its rules upon places in Iraq that it is trying to take over. Mosul in Ninewa province is one of its main urban bases. There ISIS recently threatened people to stop listening to music or using DJ equipment claiming that it was unIslamic. Afterward several stores that sold CDs closed over fears that they might get shot at or bombed by the Islamists. Previously in the town of Jura in Salahaddin, the group passed out flyers telling people that men could not wear western clothes such as trousers, t-shirts and neckties, and that parents should not buy PlayStations for their children amongst other things. Afterward, a store that sold western clothes was blown up. This is a mainstay of ISIS. It has consistently tried to impose its extremist view of Islam upon areas that fall under its control. Before in Iraq it banned women from buying cucumbers claiming that those were “male” vegetables that only men could buy, demanded that sheep wear clothes because it was improper for them to walk around “naked,” banned the buying and selling of ice cream because it did not exist during the time of the Prophet, and bombed stores that sold make-up. Iraqis were not used to these types of regulations then and are no more willing to accept them now. These types of ideas are sure to turn people off of the Islamic State eventually just like they did in the past. It is just a matter of time.
Another problem with the Islamic State is that it does not accept anyone that does not agree with it. On January 8, 2014 for example, ISIS distributed leaflets in Fallujah threatening to blow up the home of anyone who opposed it. The group was trying to take advantage of the fighting in Anbar to claim that it was there to protect the Sunni population from the Shiite led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Its intimidating flyers however showed that it was jus as willing to kill Sunnis as Shiites that stood in its way. Again, these were the same things it did in the past, which turned so many people against it, and led tribes and other insurgent groups to eventually take up arms against them.
The Islamic State wants to create a new caliphate from Iraq to Syria, but its tactics will always undermine that goal. It can’t help but try to determine people’s everyday lives to create its Islamic society. It also cannot tolerate any dissent and has consistently fought and killed people it claims to be protecting or even other insurgent groups that it should be trying to ally with. It hasn’t learned from its previous setbacks in Iraq, and is repeating the same mistakes it made in the past by banning things like music and t-shirts, and threatening to attack people who don’t support it. The real question is whether the Iraqi government recognizes the Islamic State’s excesses and can use them to divide the populace from the organization. Baghdad tends to be blunt and brutal rather than using tact and skill these days when dealing with the insurgency and the population. It took huge setbacks for the Americans to recognize these issues in the past, and hopefully the Iraqi authorities will eventually do the same.
Awara, Omer, “Listening to music in Mosul is forbidden,” Bas News, 1/7/14
Radio Free Iraq, “Anbar Residents Await Anxiously As ‘Clan Revolutionaries’ Take On Al-Qaeda,” 1/9/14
Telegraph, “Al-Qa’eda in Iraq alienated by cucumber laws and brutality,” 8/11/08