The Shape Of Extremist Ambitions In Iraq And Beyond Deborah Amos, author of Eclipse of the Sunnis, talks about the extremist vision for establishing a new Sunni caliphate, as well as what it might look like if a group like ISIS managed to do so.

The Shape Of Extremist Ambitions In Iraq And Beyond

The Shape Of Extremist Ambitions In Iraq And Beyond

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NPR's Deborah Amos, author of Eclipse of the Sunnis, talks to Melissa Block about the extremist vision for establishing a new Sunni caliphate, as well as what it might look like if a group like ISIS managed to do so.


That's NPR's Leila Fadel speaking to us from Erbil in Iraq.


ISIS has made clear its intention to establish what it calls an Islamic caliphate across much of the Mideast. The last Islamist caliphate ended after World War I, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Now ISIS is talking about something new shaped by extremist Sunni Muslim ideology.

For more on what that would look like, we're joined by NPR's Deborah Amos, she's in northern Iraq. And Deborah, when ISIS says they intend to form a caliphate, what do they mean by that? How broad is their goal?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: When you look at their ideology, they are talking about a much bigger area than they control now. They are talking about reestablishing Islamic rule across the Middle East. It is alarming to rulers in this part of the world who know exactly what they're talking about. And they've been able to set up some forms of governance in Syria. This is where we can see how they intend to govern.

They have been in control of the Syrian town, the provincial capital of Raqqa, for more than a year. This is a town of about a million people. And there they have set up city councils, they issue reports, they have a health department, a sanitation department, they have also cooperated with international aid organizations in southern Turkey as they bring over aid. They have also participated in a polio vaccination campaign, so there's some very practical things.

The other thing that's interesting about ISIS is they are very aware of local discontents and they go straight to addressing some of those concerns as soon as they come into town. The point is to prove that they are not just a fighting force but a governing force. And I think in the coming days, we will see exactly how that rule will be carried out in Mosul.

BLOCK: Now along with all those things that you mentioned, Deborah, they've also imposed a code of Sharia Law - rigid, strict, Sharia Islamic Law - which includes the banning of music, the banning of cigarettes, lots of restrictions on women who are not supposed to leave the house unless it's absolutely necessary, and when they do, they have to be covered up. What else can you tell us about the strictures that they're imposing?

AMOS: We saw this also in Syria, they are the same rules and they efficiently carry them out. People are punished for smoking in the streets, which stops them from doing it. No alcohol, no drugs, people are supposed to go to the mosques five times a day, and particularly, they do crack down on women.

When they first came to Raqqa in Syria, they let that one go, but as time went on, they got stricter and stricter. They've already set this as a rule in Iraq, in Mosul, a city of about 2 million people saying that women have to be covered. Whether the Iraqis will like that or not is not altogether clear, but the men with the guns tend to make the rules.

BLOCK: Apparently the ISIS militants when they overtook Mosul also seized the central bank there and got about half a billion dollars out of that. What more do you know about that?

AMOS: Well, I had that confirmed by a security analyst in Dubai. And ISIS has claimed that they took the money - a half a billion dollars - which makes them the richest insurgent terrorist group ever.

BLOCK: ISIS was able to take over these cities in Iraq with very little resistance, in part because the Iraqi army fled. But I wonder, too, whether they've been able to exploit Sunni resentment toward the Shiite government, and that helped them as well.

AMOS: It's a very important question, Melissa, and they absolutely were able to do so. I don't think if there was a vote, that the people of Mosul would vote for a caliphate there. But what they wanted was to send a message to the government in Baghdad to say that we choose this group over the government of Iraq. That is how deep the disaffection goes.

So what you have is two things happening in Mosul at the same time. You have a takeover by a militant group, but you have an uprising by an angry Sunni population who no longer trusts the Iraqi government to rule in their town.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Deborah Amos in Erbil, Iraq. Deborah, thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you, Melissa.

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