Ever since ISIS took over the city of Raqqa in eastern Syria, claiming it as the capital of its self-declared Islamic caliphate, the group has reorganized the city and the province around it.
Residents tell Syria Deeply that ISIS has divided the province and assigned responsibilities to its local leaders, in a systematic bureaucracy of religious rule. Those leaders are then given the authority to make rulings and laws, overseeing all affairs in their areas.
For example, Tabqa city has a new ISIS-instated legal court, says Abu Mazen, 38, who decided to stay in his hometown under its new leadership.
“We have ISIS-led administrative offices, educational departments, Islamic guidance and Dawa offices, tax collecting offices … telephone, electricity and water departments,” he said.
“All these departments and offices are independent in their course of action from the other areas of Raqqa,” he added.
ISIS itself says it has divided Raqqa into sectors and localities in order “to facilitate the administrating of each area … run and managed by specialized and highly qualified people,” according to Abu Qais, one of the group’s local leaders.
He added that ISIS has built out what it considers to be “all the required institutions, offices, departments and sections to be just like any other country in the world.” To press the point to a global audience, ISIS announced last week that it would mint its own currency, in the form of gold, silver and copper coins.
Omar, a 32-year-old resident of Raqqa, has watched the ISIS system take shape. He spoke to Syria Deeply about the new ruling order, sharing what he has seen of its organization and operations.
ISIS is now working to manifest and enhance its control over broad areas of Syria, the same way they did in Raqqa city. They have divided and distributed authority with precision; they assign job positions among their officials and emirs in Raqqa in a manner that makes it easy for them to rule and apply their own laws, making sure nothing slips out of their hands and that no rebellious act against them could come to life.
At the top, the leadership structure falls under a general emir, or prince, in charge of the whole province of Raqqa and its countryside. The current emir is Awad al-Makhlaf, also known as Abu Hamza. He used to be the emir of the western sector in Raqqa, then he was assigned to be the ruler of Raqqa entirely after the [death] of the previous general emir, Abu Lukman.
Awad al-Makhlaf is originally from Al Mayadin in Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria. He was a prisoner in Syria’s Sednaya prison until he was released in 2011 at the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Previously, before the uprising, he used to be an Arabic teacher in a Syrian public school. Later on he participated in many battles against the regime before he joined ISIS when they appeared in Syria last year.
Al-Makhlaf is considered to be one of the most important leaders supporting [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi, and is within his close circle. Under Makhlaf there are other emirs and security officials who have their own jobs and responsibilities in their areas.
In order to manage Raqqa province ISIS has divided it into sectors, and each sector into towns and villages. The division of Raqqa province goes as follows:
In the eastern sector the most significant area in it is Madan city, run by Aamer al-Rafedien, a Syrian man from Madan. In the northern sector the most significant area in it is Tal Abiad run by Khalaf al-Hallous, a Syrian man from Tal Abiad. There are other towns in the northern countryside, such as Sallouk and Aien Eissa, but Tal Abiad is considered to be the central town in the northern sector.
In the western sector the most important area is Tabqa city, run by Abu Huraita al-Jazrawi, a Saudi man. He took over the ruling after the death of the previous Syrian prince, known as Abu Sara, in the recent battles in Ain al-Arab (also known as Kobani). There are other towns like al-Mansoura and Hunaida village, but Tabqa is considered to be the central town in the western sector. And the western sector is considered to be the most crucial sector in this division of Raqqa because it has the Euphrates dam, the Baath dam, Euphrates Lake and all of the oil wells, which are the most important source of income for ISIS in Raqqa. For each sector they assigned an emir, and then for each town and each village they assigned other [lower-level] emirs. The [local emirs] follow the emir of the sector, who in turns follows the general emir, the leader of what they call “al-Raqqa State,” its new name under ISIS rule.