A Caliphate Under Strain: The Documentary Evidence
by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi
Abstract: Internal Islamic State documents, including documents obtained by the author and published here for the first time, shed new light on how the Islamic State has come under strain as it is degraded by coalition air strikes and loses territory.
The internal records make clear these pressures have been felt in the group's military, financial, and administrative domains, forcing it to take measures to react and adapt. But while the so-called Caliphate has come under pressure, there is little prospect of any collapse anytime soon. Populations under Islamic State rule are accustomed to poor living standards, exacerbated by years of civil war, and will likely stomach further decreases in quality of life for the time being rather than rebel and risk a brutal crackdown.
Although the Islamic State's Raqqa Media Center depicts the Caliphate's subjects as well-contented, internal challenges are mounting.
In assessing the success of the strategies of the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State, a crucial question is how the Islamic State's statehood project is functioning on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Does it operate successfully as a self-proclaimed state that can endure? Or are there signs that the Islamic State is facing increasing internal challenges over time that may pose a risk of collapse from within? One may also posit that the reality lies somewhere between these two alternatives. The stakes are high. Since the Islamic State, unlike al-Qa'ida and its various regional affiliates, places such great emphasis on its image as state, the collapse of the project in Iraq and Syria may put the Islamic State's entire future as an international movement into doubt.
The approach of this paper is to rely not only on broader open-source data and collected testimony but also hundreds of internal Islamic State documents that have been compiled by this author over time. Many of these internal documents were first collected from the realms of social media, posted by sources of a variety of orientations both pro- and anti-Islamic State, such as personal accounts run by Islamic State members and supporters within the entity's territories, as well as media activist pages dedicated to coverage of a particular area under Islamic State control. Over time though, it appears that the Islamic State itself has sought to restrict the dissemination of unauthorized information, aiming to ensure that as much of the information as possible that is broadcasted within its territories and to the outside world comes solely through its official channels. Meanwhile, Islamic State crackdowns on perceived spies and unauthorized media activity may deter or prevent activist groups from obtaining documents. In these circumstances, this author has also sought to obtain internal documents from connections established through prior travel to northern Syria.
The Islamic State faces three key internal challenges: military power, financial resources, and administrative competence.
Some documents discussed in this paper are being published here for the first time and are attached at the end of this article.[a] Though the available documents can offer some very valuable insights into the internal workings of the Islamic State, it must be recognized that they cannot be thought to represent anything close to the majority of documents in circulation within Islamic State territory. It will therefore be up to the future liberators of remaining Islamic State territories—particularly key strongholds such as Mosul and Raqqa—to capture and archive documents for subsequent research, to gain a fuller understanding of Islamic State development over time.
Looking at the available evidence, three key internal challenges facing the Islamic State concern its military power, financial resources, and administrative competence. Of course, these problems do not exist in isolation but rather are interlinked. Once these challenges are examined, one must then ask what they mean for the future viability of the Islamic State's statehood project.
Looking at the broad military picture, it should be clear that the era of major, rapid advances for the Islamic State within Iraq and Syria has come to an end. The last series of significant gains for the Islamic State came in May 2015. That was when the Islamic State captured the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, which involved a mobilization within the Syrian holdings of the Islamic State to reinforce the fronts in Anbar and Salah al-Din provinces in Iraq, and a lightning advance through the Homs desert that saw the Islamic State take Sukhna and Palmyra from the Assad regime, in addition to a further push westward in north Aleppo countryside toward the important border town of Azaz, which once constituted an "emirate" back when the Islamic State called itself the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
The era of major, rapid Islamic State advances in Syria and Iraq has come to an end.
Even so, already around the spring of 2015, a sober assessment would have regarded the military situation for the Islamic State as one of stalemate; the Islamic State had lost all strongholds in the Iraqi provinces of Diyala and Babil as well as the town of Tikrit and had suffered considerable casualties in the failed campaign to take the Kurdish-held border town of Kobani in Syria.
The last development in particular meant that the YPG forces and its rebel auxiliary allies were able to advance with considerable ease toward the key border town of Tel Abyad in Raqqa province, which fell out of Islamic State hands in mid-June 2015.
Subsequently, the Islamic State has lost control of the industrial town of Baiji to the north of Tikrit, Ramadi, and Kubaysa in Anbar; the town of Sinjar in Ninawa province that constituted an important point in the most conventional Raqqa-Mosul route; the town of al-Shaddadi in Hasakah province; and Palmyra. While elsewhere it is true that the Islamic State still makes a gain at the local level from time to time, such as cutting off the Assad regime's supply route to Aleppo via the town of Khanaser, these Islamic State initiatives are usually reversed within a short period of time. Between January 2015 and mid-March 2016, IHS Jane's estimated that the Islamic State had lost 22 percent of its territory holdings in Syria and Iraq.
Thus, one cannot doubt that militarily, the overall trends have now gone against the Islamic State for almost a year. Despite the motto of remaining and expanding, an audio message released by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late December 2015 seemed to acknowledge the hardships the Islamic State was facing on account of the numerous forces arrayed against it. He predicted an increase in "seditions" and "tragedies" but asserted that this situation is that of "the victorious sect in every era." Even so, the desire to show an appearance of constant momentum is clear. To this end, the group's latest major initiative has involved the opening up of a front against rebels in the southern Syrian province of Deraa via a linked group known as Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk. LSY was recently reorganized under the leadership of a Saudi emir dispatched by the Islamic State even as it officially denies any Islamic State connection. Initial gains for LSY, cooperating with another jihadist group called Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya (HMI), seemed impressive with the capture of the localities of Tasil and Sahm al-Jowlan, while HMI took control of Sheikh Sa'ad, Adwan, and Jalin. But these advances have all been reversed as more rebel forces have become involved in the fight. Previous frontlines against LSY were mostly maintained by the southern Jaysh al-Fatah led by Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.
In the context of territorial losses, it is noteworthy that the Islamic State has tried to prevent and/or reverse enemy advances on multiple occasions through mobilization calls. These mobilization calls, which appear in the form of internal documents, have largely failed. Examples include a bid to stop the Assad regime, Iranian proxy militias, and Russian airpower from breaking the Islamic State's long-standing siege of Kweiris airbase to the east of Aleppo city; a mobilization call in southern Hasakah following the loss of al-Shaddadi; and a mobilization call to stop the fall of Palmyra.[b] These mobilization attempts suggest the Islamic State is experiencing manpower problems. This was reflected on a wider level when the Islamic State issued a general amnesty for deserters at the beginning of October 2015. The personnel shortages were also evidenced by an Islamic State document that emerged last year. Issued in Deir ez-Zor province in eastern Syria, the document indicates that a number of Islamic State members had been seeking false medical reports from doctors in order to avoid frontline duty.
Likely factors behind these manpower problems include high attrition rates in fights that ultimately yielded no success like Kobani and Baiji, a reduction in the foreign fighter flow through the loss of major border areas like Tel Abyad and tougher Turkish policies to prevent fighter influx, and reductions in benefits for Islamic State fighters, the last of which is linked to financial problems facing the group.
Although the Islamic State conveys in its propaganda the impression of a comprehensive, functioning state model, which might be reinforced by a superficial overview of the range of internal documents uncovered, one should not forget that the evidence points to the bulk of the Islamic State's financial resources going toward military upkeep, primarily in the form of providing fighters' salaries and benefits as well as maintaining bases. Using calculations from a sample budget from Deir ez-Zor province obtained and published by this author and other reporting, it can be estimated that roughly two-thirds of Islamic State expenditure has gone toward military upkeep.
Logically, therefore, one could surmise that the most effective way to reduce costs amid financial crisis would be to cut back on salaries and benefits for fighters, though it should be noted that economic conditions for Islamic State fighters are not the same everywhere. For example, circumstances are much better in the north of Syria as opposed to the south. Here it should be noted there is still a degree of uncertainty as to the exact scales of salaries among Islamic State members and fighters, and how they may vary, if at all, by rank and region. While claims have routinely circulated of basic wages of $400 a month for local fighters and $800 a month for foreigners, the only reliable evidence so far comes from documents pointing to a scheme of a basic wage of $50 a month, with an additional $50 for each wife, $35 for each child, $50 for each sex slave, $35 for each child of a sex slave, $50 for each dependent parent, and $35 each for other dependents (see Item A).[c] There may also be other salary additions such as a daily food allowance, heating costs and bonuses for performing certain duties.
Some internal documents point to reductions in "perks" in recent months. The clearest example was a salary cut of 50 percent announced for all fighters in a Raqqa province document issued sometime in November-December 2015, pointing to the "exceptional circumstances" the Islamic State was going through as the justification.[d] In addition, a document (Item B) captured from the Islamic State in north Aleppo countryside, dated to October 2015 and signed by the deputy wali of Aleppo [Islamic State provincial governor] notifies the local emirs of a directive (no. 86) from the General Governing Committee,[e] which affirms that:
In view of the brothers' use of transport and vehicles belonging to the Dawla outside of operation times, which is causing an unjustified waste in the Bayt Mal al-Muslimeen [financial treasury], reaching the point of forbidden excess, it has therefore been decided to direct all brothers not to use vehicles affiliated with the Dawla in case of personal needs except by permission from one's emir, and in the event of contravention, an inquiry will be held—by God's permission—with those who infringe on the regulation.
In a similar vein, pointing to problems of electricity maintenance, a notification issued in the same month by the wali of Aleppo refers to another directive (Item C) from the General Governing Committee, with the decision:
to cut the service line of 24/24 electricity from all the houses of the mujahideen brothers in the wilaya and preserving it for the bases only, and that is in accordance with the regulations with the public services centre on account of the effect on the main transformers and realizing fairness between the soldiers of the Islamic State and the subjects of the Amir al-Mu'mineen, may God protect and cultivate him.
Besides cost-cutting measures, financial strain is also suggested by the Islamic State's devising of new methods for generating income. For example, when the Islamic State initially took over Mosul in June 2014, fees for repentance were imposed on former army and police personnel. In September 2015, new repentance fees were introduced for those who had worked in the electoral commission. Around the same time, students wishing to attend schools under the auspices of the Islamic State Diwan al-Ta'aleem were required to pay the costs for any printing of textbooks that had been issued as part of the new curriculum to begin in academic year 2015-2016.
More recently, another barometer of the financial strain on the Islamic State is that with the diminishing value of the Syrian pound, the circulation of the U.S. dollar has become ever more important. The manipulation of currency exchange rates has become another way the Islamic State generates income. Despite all the Islamic State propaganda about its new "gold dinar" currency, there is no evidence that this monetary unit is in real circulation.
The reasons for financial strain on the Islamic State overlap to a degree with the causes of problems of cohesion in the Islamic State's ranks, such as reduced border access to Turkey, tougher border policies, and coalition airstrikes. These strikes have most recently targeted Islamic State "cash storage" points and the oil industry.[f] In addition, since around August 2015, the Iraqi government has ceased to pay salaries of government workers living inside Islamic State territory on the grounds that the Islamic State was using these payments to generate income via taxation. The Iraqi government's suspicion appears to be confirmed by an Islamic State document from Anbar that recognizes the importance of delivery of Iraqi government-paid salaries. The document, dated July 2015, orders the removal of a confiscation order on the house of a certain Nafi' Hussein Ali, on the grounds that he is "cooperative in assisting and facilitating the delivery of salaries of those affiliated with the education administration in the wilaya." Finally, one may also tie financial strain to the lack of significant territorial gains for some time, as the lack of acquisition means fewer opportunities to generate income through confiscations—a strategy that seems to play an important role in Islamic State financing, based on the aforementioned leaked financial accounts from Deir ez-Zor province.
Deficiencies in Administration
Despite the image of a comprehensive bureaucracy, questions exist as to the true level of competence in governing. It would appear that a particular problem for the Islamic State has been brain-drain, especially in the realm of medicine and health. Indeed, on multiple occasions, the Islamic State has issued ultimatums for medical staff at Mosul University and medical professionals more widely who have fled: if they do not return, then their property will be confiscated. Even so, these ultimatums do not seem to have stopped outflow of medical professionals. For example, a document (Item D) from January 2016 obtained from a pharmacist who fled from Mosul to the rebel-held area of Azaz in north Aleppo countryside shows that many doctors and pharmacists have been clearing out their clinics and shops by selling medicine and equipment to customers outside the Islamic State wilaya of Ninawa in order to raise money to flee Islamic State territory and minimize Islamic State confiscation of material upon fleeing. All of this has reduced potential revenue for the group.
In part, problems of medical brain-drain derive from the nature of Islamic State restrictions, such as the prohibition against dealings with pharmacies outside Islamic State territory, a ban on importing Iranian medical goods, the requirement to obtain licensing from the Islamic State's health department (the Diwan al-Siha), and an insistence on gender segregation in the treatment of women's health issues except out of absolute necessity and despite a shortage of female doctors. Furthermore, a notification from the deputywali of Aleppo in October 2015 (Item E) draws attention to directive no. 86 from the General Governing Committee, highlighting the observation of a "number of instances of unjustified and illegitimate attacks by some of the soldiers of the Dawla on members of the citizenry, and their arrogance against them in the name of the Dawla, especially those among them working in the public interests like doctors and pharmacists, as well as those working in the realm of services like electricity and water employees and others besides them." This fits in with the widespread perception of Islamic State fighters as a privileged class, many of whom (particularly the foreigners) treat the wider populace with contempt, which likely contributes to the brain-drain.
Other Islamic State documents obtained by this author point to shortcomings in agriculture and water usage. In June 2015, a general notification was issued by the agricultural department calling for the creation and conservation of reserve grain stocks on account of the "economic war" being waged by the coalition against the Islamic State. Further, directive no. 103 from the General Governing Committee in October 2015 (Item F) points to "the existence of a deficiency in the agricultural cadres in the [agricultural] centers, and the [Agriculture] Diwan's urgent need for the Diwan to be technocratic, as a service to the public interest." Finally, in relation to water, the anti-Islamic State activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently recently publicized a document from Raqqa in the name of the Services Department (Diwan al-Khidamat) calling for water to be cut off one day every three days as part of implementing a water conservation culture.
Remaining and Contracting
The evidence surveyed above indicates that there are significant internal challenges facing the Islamic State's statehood project, which prompts a larger question of whether these challenges might lead to a collapse of the Islamic State from within. The author's estimation is that such a prospect remains unlikely for the foreseeable future. On a more general level, the local populations in Iraq and Syria under Islamic State rule are accustomed to poor living standards, exacerbated by years of civil war, and can show resilience even with a decrease in quality of life as the Islamic State faces internal challenges. More specifically, one needs to avoid overstating and sensationalizing the scale of the internal challenges. For example, considering finances, it is certainly true that the Islamic State is experiencing diminishing returns in taxation (e.g. with the loss of Iraqi government-paid salaries for workers), confiscation opportunities, and oil revenues (although the petroleum industry's financial value has always been somewhat overstated in reporting[g]), but the group would be unlikely to reach a fatal tipping point unless access to the outside world were completely shut off. Even if access to the Turkish border ceased entirely, such a goal is impossible to achieve in reality.
This is because despite the fact that the Islamic State is officially at war with all of its neighbors, pragmatism in the war zone environment means that there is still a flow of people and goods and, therefore, cash in and out of Islamic State territory. For example, a document dated March 2016 obtained by this author (Item G) outlines how a driver from the Azaz area has been taking passengers into Islamic State-held territory via a crossing in the village of Dabiq. Generally speaking, those living in Islamic State territory must obtain a permit from the Diwan al-Hisba in whatever wilaya they live in if they wish to travel outside Islamic State territory for a limited period of time. But Syrians in particular who live outside Islamic State territory and wish to visit for business purposes in particular can come to Islamic State areas on a temporary basis without any real Islamic State bureaucratic hindrance, a prospect that is also made attractive by a relatively decent "security" environment to do business as compared to the more chaotic and dangerous rebel-held areas.
When it comes to commerce, directive no. 102 from the General Governing Committee from October 2015, obtained by the author (Item H), permits the export of "all agricultural and grain products except wheat, and the facilitating of their passing through the entry points of the Islamic State to the outside in order to encourage producers and make markets inclined to their production." This signals a clear desire by the Islamic State leadership to generate cash flow and revenue through expansion of its agriculture market with the outside world.
On a wider level, failings in administration do not necessarily point to prospects of a successful internal revolt. The internal security apparatus of the Islamic State—embodied in its Diwan al-Amn—has proven efficient in tracking down and killing those deemed to be spies, and open revolt, as exemplified in the Sha'itat tribal uprising in Deir ez-Zor province back in the summer of 2014, has been ruthlessly crushed. In Libya, as the Islamic State is developing administration in the Sirte area on the model of Islamic State bureaucracy in Iraq and Syria (from which some senior personnel have been dispatched to Libya[h]), there has been similar success in suppressing internal rebellion. In contrast, the "Distant Provinces Administration" of the Islamic State has had difficulty managing internal dissent within the Yemeni affiliates of the Islamic State,[i] which have struggled to compete with al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula and its front group Ansar al-Sharia.
Weakness and division among the Islamic State's enemies outweigh its own military deficiencies.
Militarily, there still remains some way to go before one can reasonably speak of a prospect of the defeat of the Islamic State. In considerable part, this is because of weakness and division among the Islamic State's enemies outweigh the group's own military deficiencies. For example, a key goal of the coalition in the more immediate term must be to expel the Islamic State from the remaining border areas with Turkey in north Aleppo countryside, and the main ground partners in this regard are either the Hawar-Kilis operations room backed with Turkish support and composed of a number of local Syrian rebel groups to the west of Islamic State holdings[j] or the Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) currently based around the Tishreen Dam to the southeast of the Islamic State stronghold of Manbij in eastern Aleppo.
A notable dilemma exists here. On the one hand, further acquisitions by the SDF along the border with Turkey are unacceptable in Ankara's eyes, and the SDF's ambitions of linking the Afrin canton to the west of Azaz with the Kobani and Jazira cantons entail removing the remaining rebel presence in north Aleppo countryside. On the other hand, it seems doubtful that the Hawar-Kilis operations room, like the Marea operations room[k] that preceded it, can control the entire remaining border area. Though it achieved a celebrated milestone in expelling the Islamic State from the border locality of al-Ra'i, the Islamic State quickly launched a counteroffensive and regained al-Ra'i and a number of other villages, reverting the situation back to a stalemate. Assuming the Hawar-Kilis operations room and SDF based around Tishreen Dam come into territorial contact, there will likely be conflict between the two sides, something that the Islamic State may exploit to regain ground. The regime may also attempt to move beyond Kweiris airbase and seize Islamic State-held Aleppo province strongholds like al-Bab, Deir Hafer, and Maskanah, potentially opening an active front against the Hawar-Kilis operations room at some point.
Besides these problems facing the coalition in north Aleppo countryside, serious questions remain over retaking the two key Islamic State strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul, which can be viewed as the de factoSyrian and Iraqi capitals of the Islamic State, respectively. Here, one can only logically expect much more vigorous Islamic State defenses against potential assaults, likely involving the elite Jaysh al-Khilafa/Jaysh Dabiq, which has already taken on a role of entrenching the defenses around Raqqa in the wake of the loss of Tel Abyad and much of the northern Raqqa countryside.
Moreover, in the case of Raqqa in particular, there are no viable ground partners to retake the city. The main candidate for consideration so far has been Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa (The Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade) based in the northern Raqqa locality of Ayn Issa, but it is of questionable military effectiveness, remains dependent on the YPG for survival,[l] and recently had to dissolve its tribal army project dedicated to fighting the Islamic State. Otherwise, the only other potential contender for Raqqa may well be the Assad regime, depending on how it assesses its future moves in tandem with Russia following the retaking of Palmyra.
In short, the documentary evidence confirms the current coalition approach has brought about significant losses for the Islamic State and put it under pressure on multiple fronts, but any predictions of the Islamic State's collapse are premature.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.
[a] The travels in northern Syria involved a visit to the Azaz area in north Aleppo countryside in December 2014. Considering the area's strategic importance on the border with Turkey and its current status as a de facto safe zone despite being a frontline region in the fight against the Islamic State, Azaz has served as a useful hub for establishing connections inside and outside of Islamic State territory to obtain documents. In addition, the author has a contact in Hasakah province who has helped find documents left behind by the Islamic State as it has lost ground to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition. Though it is not possible to verify the exclusive documents featured in this paper by sending them to Islamic State members and officials to check their authenticity, the documents bear Islamic State stamps, formats and language use consistent with prior observed specimens, and there are no reasonable grounds to dismiss them as spurious. In contrast, known forgeries are poorly crafted and can be readily identified according to political motives on the part of the forgers. For instance, a recurring forgery motif in Iraq features Islamic State orders for a scorched earth policy and the committing of atrocities in order for Iraqi forces to be accused of war crimes. See Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Guide to Islamic State Document Hoaxes," Jihad Intel, December 24, 2015.
[b] The existence of this mobilization call was ascertained by the author from a refugee from Palmyra who had fled to the Azaz area in the north Aleppo countryside and had a copy of the document, though the person refused to hand it over/allow it to be photographed.
[c] Over the course of February-April 2016, the author also spoke with three members of the Islamic State-linked LSY on the subject of salaries, all of whom affirmed an identical scheme of $50 per month as a basic starting salary with an additional $50 if one has a wife and $35 for each child. In terms of further specifics, one clarified that the additional $35 per child does not apply for the male child who is over 15 years of age and able to carry a weapon. Another said that if one performs ribat [frontline duty] and is not married, there can be bonuses. The third interviewee said that there is no difference in salary scheme between an emir and an ordinary member.
[d] One should be careful about extrapolating from this document. Economic circumstances are not the same for all Islamic State fighters everywhere, and it may be that in Raqqa province in particular the fighters constitute a particularly heavy financial burden, leading to the reduction in payments after tallying the various requirements. Conversely, one of the LSY members said he had not heard of a salary reduction. Al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (cont.)," Specimen 12Q.
[e] The General Governing Committee has the authority to issue general directives to Islamic State wilayas[provinces] and government departments [diwans].
[f] The oil fields themselves are controlled by the Islamic State and any investment in them requires allegiance to the Islamic State Caliph, whereas no such allegiance is required for someone to purchase oil from these fields and then refine or sell the oil inside or outside of Islamic State territory. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Principles in the Administration of the Islamic State: Full text and translation," Guardian, December 7, 2015.
[g] For example, see Erika Solomon, Guy Chazan, and Sam Jones, "ISIS Inc: How oil fuels the jihadi terrorists," Financial Times, October 14, 2015. The report estimates a daily revenue of $1.5 million from oil based on ranges given for number of barrels of oil produced per day (34,000-40,000) and price per barrel ($20-45). However, no documentary evidence is given to support these statistics. Documents that do exist with respect to this field put the price per barrel estimate into doubt. These documents show oil sold per barrel at prices well below $20. See, for instance, al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents," Specimens 5T and 5U, as well as al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (cont.)," Specimens 13Z, 14A, and 14B.
[h] The most senior known case is that of Abu al-Mughira al-Qahtani, who was killed in an airstrike in November 2015.
[i] The affair was publicized in a series of documents leaked by AQAP supporters over the course of December 2015-February 2016, highlighting protestations by a number of officials and fighters against the conduct of the overall wali of Yemen appointed by al-Baghdadi. However, the central leadership rejected the complaints and ordered the protestors to operate under the wali's leadership. When this order was rejected despite the dissenters' affirmation of continuing allegiance to the Islamic State, the Distant Provinces Administration issued a notice ordering the expulsion of perceived ringleaders and those who wished to continue in their dissent. While it is not possible to tell how many exactly persisted in their dissent and how many returned to the fold, it is clear the affair has hindered the Islamic State's ability to compete with AQAP. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Dissent in the Islamic State's Yemen Affiliates: Documents, Translation & Analysis," aymennjawad.org, February 29, 2016; Asa Fitch and Saleh al-Batati, "ISIS Fails to Gain Much Traction in Yemen," Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2016.
[j] Hawar-Kilis is a village on the border with Turkey to the east of Azaz. The main factions involved in the operations room are Faylaq al-Sham, Liwa al-Hamza, Liwa al-Mu'atasim, Division 99, Division 51, and Sultan Murad. Personal interview, media activist based in Azaz, March 2015.
[k] The Marea operations room, named for the town of Marea in north Aleppo countryside, was the previous U.S.- and Turkish-backed plan to take the fight to the Islamic State. It de facto ceased to exist in the face of the regime's success in cutting off the route between Aleppo city and the Turkish border by breaking the sieges of the Shi'a villages of Nubl and Zahara', together with Afrin SDF advances to the west of Azaz that most notably took the town of Tel Ref'at. Key components of the Marea operations room included the Shami Front, Faylaq al-Sham, Kata'ib al-Safwa, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Division 16, Suqur al-Ghab, al-Fawj al-Awal and Jaysh al-Mujahideen. However, the operations room was disorganized, and the leader Yaser Abd al-Raheem therefore resigned in January 2016 in the weeks preceding the regime and SDF advances. "Marea operations room: its aims and achievements," El-Dorar, December 16, 2015; "Resignation of the leader of the 'Marea' operations room in protest at the 'absence of coordinated operation,'" Orient News, January 2, 2016.
[l] The brigade was formed in 2012 and participated in the capture of Raqqa. It joined Jabhat al-Nusra in a bid to protect itself from the Islamic State in late 2013. It was expelled from the city in January 2014 and split from Jabhat al-Nusra, which officially announced the end of relations in April 2014. Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa sought protection with the YPG in the Kobani area and ever since has been formally allied to it. Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa has experienced tensions with the YPG, but the group has more recently adopted a more conciliatory tone toward the YPG, which saved it from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State. See Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa: History, Analysis & Interview," Syria Comment, September 14, 2015; personal interview, Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa spokesman, December 2015; and for the more recent conciliatory tone, Sardar Mlla Drwish, "Raqqa brigade continues to raise the flag of the Syrian revolution," Al-Monitor, March 18, 2016.
 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents," Specimens 11Q and 12F, aymennjawad.org, January 27, 2015; personal interview, Omar Fawaz, a former pro-Islamic State media activist based in Mosul who published some Islamic State documents and texts, March 2016.
 Al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents," Specimen 5V.
 "The Dawla organization seizes Khanaser, south of Aleppo," Al Jazeera, February 23, 2016.
 "The regime recovers Khanaser in the face of the route to Aleppo being cut off," alsouria.net, February 25, 2016.
 Columb Strack, "Islamic State loses 22 per cent of its territory," IHS Jane's, March 15, 2016.
 Purported audiotape of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, "So Wait, We Too are Waiting with You," released on Islamic State social media accounts, December 26, 2015.
 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk appoints a new leader," aymennjawad.org, March 14, 2016.
 Maysara al-Zo'abi, "The revolutionaries seize the locality of Tasil in west Deraa countryside," All4Syria, April 8, 2016.
 Maysara al-Zo'abi, "Military factions form an operations room to pursue Da'esh members in Deraa," All4Syria, March 24, 2016.
 Sam Heller and Avi Ascher-Shapiro, "Rebels Ignored the Islamic State in South Syria, and It's Come Back to Haunt Them," VICE News, April 6, 2016.
 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "The Archivist: 'Go Forth, Lightly and Heavily Armed:' New Mobilization Calls by the Islamic State in Aleppo Province," Jihadology, October 30, 2015.
 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (cont.)," Specimen 13W, aymennjawad.org, January 11, 2016.
 Al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents," Specimen 9I.
 Ibid., Specimen 8A.
 On the difficulties of the Baiji front, see: "Extremists in Mosul Come Up With New Ways To Ensure Iraqi Followers 'Pure of Heart,'" Niqash, November 12, 2015.
 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "The Archivist: Unseen Islamic State Financial Accounts from Deir az-Zor Province," Jihadology, October 5, 2015.
 Sam Jones and Erika Solomon, "ISIS Inc: Jihadis fund war machine but squeeze 'citizens,'" Financial Times, December 15, 2015.
 S.B., "Where Islamic State gets its money," Economist, January 4, 2015.
 Yaroslav Trofimov, "In Islamic State Stronghold of Raqqa, Foreign Fighters Dominate," Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2015.
 Jones and Solomon, Item A.
 Item B.
 Ibid., Item C.
 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "Repentance: Financial Income for the Islamic State," aymennjawad.org, September 28, 2015.
 "Extremists Release New School Textbooks, Curriculum in Mosul," Niqash, October 29, 2015.
 Suleiman al-Khalidi, "Syrian pound falls below 500 per dollar," Reuters, March 24, 2016.
 Stephen Kalin, "Islamic State rigs currency rates in Mosul to prop up finances," Reuters, February 22, 2016.
 "Feb. 13: Coalition airstrike destroys Daesh bulk cash storage and tax collection HQ near Mosul," CJTF Operation Inherent Resolve, YouTube, February 18, 2016.
 "Widespread humanitarian crisis after the Iraqi government's decision to cut off the salaries of employees in the 'Dawla' organization's areas," al-Quds al-Arabi, February 12, 2016.
 Al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (cont.)," Specimen 14G.
 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "The Archivist: Critical Analysis of the Islamic State's Health Department," Jihadology, August 27, 2015.
 Item D.
 Al-Tamimi, "The Archivist: Critical Analysis of the Islamic State's Health Department."
 Item E.
 Lauren Williams, "In IS-ruled Raqqa, new class divide creates tensions with Syrians," Middle East Eye, July 10, 2015.
 Al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents," Specimen 4V.
 Item F.
 Al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (cont.)," Specimen 14C.
 Item G.
 Al-Tamimi, "Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents," Specimen 12B.
 Item H.
 Shelly Kittleson, "Tribal massacre victims forced to negotiate with IS," Al-Monitor, July 22, 2015.
 Hugh Naylor, "Turkish-backed rebels in Syria make major gains against Islamic State," Washington Post, April 8, 2016.
 "IS replaced 'Wilayah Raqqa' units with 'Jaysh Khilafa' units; fortification of the city continues," Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, June 24, 2015.
 "After the escalation of disagreement with the 'Kurdish units, Liwa 'Thuwar al-Raqqa' dissolves 'The Tribes Army,'" alsouria.net, January 4, 2016.