After Winning Territory, Can ISIS Win Hearts And Minds?

With its ruthless brand of extremism, the Islamic State is at risk of alienating the local population in the Iraqi territory it controls.
Posted at 1:42 PM, Jul 14, 2014

​The Islamic State — the group formally known as ISIS — now controls huge parts of western Iraq.

Question now is — can the group manage to govern it? (Via YouTube /العراقي الاسطورة)

A militant group with a de-facto government wouldn’t be unheard of. Hamas runs the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah arguably controls parts of Lebanon. (Via Google

The Islamic State hopes to do the same with its newly-acquired territory in Iraq. Already the group has imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law — banning smoking and alcohol and requiring women wear the full veil. (Via ITN

And they’ve cracked down on anyone who disobeys — boasting of their beheadings, floggings and public executions on social media. (Via Twitter / AbuUmar8246, Twitter / @Salafi_Jihadi)

One Iraqi told GlobalPost: anyone caught smoking has his finger cut off, and they whip people with cables for watching the World Cup.”

That brutality, so far, has helped the insurgents bully the locals into submission. But it could also be the group’s undoing.

See, there’s a precedent for this. As a contributor for CNN writes: “Recent history shows the plan sows the seeds of its own defeat, ultimately creating more enemies and closing off any possibility that the population will embrace the group's rule.”

Think back to Iraq in 2006 when the same group  — known then as Al Qaeda in Iraq — had control of Anbar province. (Via U.S. Army)   

Their ruthless tactics drew condemnation even from Al-Qaeda’s leadership. Fellow Sunnis turned against the militants in what was dubbed “the Sunni Awakening.” (Via CBS

Then, U.S. troops, with the help of Sunni tribes, were able to drive out the jihadists in the 2006 surge. (Via U.S. Department of Defense

History would suggest the Islamic State might again meet the same fate if it continues to alienate the local population.  

But consider the reports of the Islamic State opening religious schools, providing food and fuel to residents and offering services like trash pick up and mail delivery. (Via Twitter / AbuUmar8246, Twitter / @MujaahidalHafy

This model of governance is reminiscent of another Islamic group we’re all familiar with. (Via bluurgh

As a correspondent for the BBC says, the Islamic State appears to have pulled straight from the Taliban’s playbook: This is exactly how the Taliban started out in Afghanistan in 1994, gradually increasing their territory until the 9/11 attacks on the US provoked the campaign that drove them from power in 2001.”

For now, the group is capitalizing on a shared enemy — the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Many Mosul residents say they prefer the Islamic State to a government, they say, discriminates against Sunnis.

Although the group's extremist views have alienated some, an analyst for TheBoston Globe says the group has gotten one thing right. "It has created a clear—and to some, compelling—idea of citizenship and state-building in a region almost completely bereft of either."