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Crushing Enterprise & Raising Taxes Is Business As Usual For IS

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

According to local sources, although there really are goods on the market in Islamic State-controlled cities, prices are so high that only IS militants can afford to buy them. (file photo)

According to local sources, although there really are goods on the market in Islamic State-controlled cities, prices are so high that only IS militants can afford to buy them. (file photo)

Before Islamic State (IS) militants overran her hometown of Mosul in June 2014, Fahima Omar ran a hairdressing salon.

But IS gunmen made Omar close her business -- and lose her only source of income.

Salons like hers encouraged "debauchery," the militants said.

Omar is one of many business owners -- male and female -- who say IS has forced them to shut up shop and lose their livelihoods in the process.

The extremist group has also prevented those who refuse to join it from finding jobs, and has imposed heavy taxes on civilians.

"IS controls every detail of the economy," says Abu Mujahed, who fled with his family from IS-controlled Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. "Only their people or those who swear allegiance to them have a good life."

When they took over Deir al-Zor, IS gunmen systematically took control of the local economy, looting factories and confiscating properties, says Mujahed.

IS gunmen then moved in, taking over local business networks.

In Raqqa, the IS group's de facto capital, a group of traders loyal to the gunmen have imposed a stranglehold over the local economy, locals and activists say.

Together with the IS-controlled Syrian provinces of Deir al-Zor and Hasakeh, Raqqa has been described as a "breadbasket" for Syria. But it is now traders loyal to IS who control all transportation of agricultural goods from Raqqa to other areas controlled by the gunmen -- including places in Iraq.

And it is IS traders, not local merchants, who control the prices of goods in the markets, activists say.

"The traders are the masters now," says Hamoud al-Moussa of anti-IS activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. "They are the ones who decide on prices and people have to accept that and deal with it."

Women Can't Work

IS has inflicted particularly cruel persecution on businesswomen, forcing female-run businesses like Omar's hair salon to close and making it impossible for professional women to continue working.

Eye specialist Dr. Suham Mahmoud says she had to close her private clinic in Mosul after militants forced her to wear a burqa -- even while performing intricate eye operations.

After losing her income from her private clinic, Mahmoud also had to stop treating people at hospitals in Mosul because IS gunmen harassed her so badly she was unable to do her job.

Heavy Taxation Without Representation

As well as closing businesses and preventing people from making a living, IS has imposed heavy taxes on those living under its rule, locals, and activists say.

"Only the air people breathe is not taxed," says Abu Mujahed from Deir al-Zor, adding that the cost of utilities like water and electricity has soared under IS rule.

IS has boasted in its propaganda videos that the markets in cities under its control are full of goods.

But Syrians from Raqqa and Deir al-Zor tell RFE/RL that while there really are goods on the market, prices are so high that only IS militants can afford to buy them.

The sky-high prices -- the cost of basic foodstuffs in Deir al-Zor has shot up by as much as 1,000 percent, according to one resident -- coupled with the taxation and high unemployment mean local people are struggling to buy everyday items.

"You can find everything there, but people do not have enough income to be able to buy what they need," says Umm Ahmed, a woman from Raqqa. "We can only buy cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes. Meat and chicken are only for IS."

Leave Or Join

The dire economic situation, the closure of businesses, and the lack of employment are pushing some people to join IS out of desperation, local people report.

"Many young people are joining IS because this is the only way to get an income," says Abu Mutassem from the town of Al Raie near the Turkish border.

Activists say IS's economic persecution is a deliberate tactic to force people to capitulate and support the extremists.

"IS used every means to strangle people on the economic level hoping this will push them to join it," says al-Moussa of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.

The tactic is working well in areas that IS has controlled for a year or more -- and in cities that the militant group has taken over more recently.

In Palmyra, as many as 1,200 young men have joined IS since the extremists took over in May, according to local resident Nasser Mohammad.

"In Palmyra, people cannot find jobs," adds another resident, Abu Younis al-Tadmuri.

And in IS-controlled Iraq the only solution for some businesspeople has been to risk their lives to flee.

Deprived of her only source of income after the militants closed her hair salon, businesswoman Fahima Omar escaped from Mosul and now lives in Irbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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