Rukmini Callimachi @rcallimachi Correspondent for The New York Times, covering ISIS. NBC contributor. Previously, seven years in West Africa. Ex-AP bureau chief. Ex-refugee. Apr. 06, 2018

1. Guys, ready for another Tweetstorm? I wanted to share with you how the ISIS documents we recovered in Iraq help answer the question of how a group, which revolted the world with its spectacles of violence, held on to so much territory for for so long? 

2. At least once a week, I get an email, a DM or a Tweet, asking me why I don't investigate how Country X is financing ISIS. (The value of X has ranged from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the United States and the CIA). I'm including Exhibit A from yesterday:

3. ISIS has been described as the world's richest terrorist group & people assume the funds are coming from outside the caliphate. Numerous reports, including the one below by @JcBrisard, has shown that ISIS is self-financed. Our documents confirm this. 

4. Another misperception about ISIS is that it was dependent on exotic forms of financing - chief among them, black market oil sales. Our records show that it was something much more mundane that made ISIS rich. It was the people they controlled and the dirt under their feet.

5. When people ask me how ISIS made money, I turn the question around and ask them, how does the United States, or France, or Germany, or the UK make money? Yes. ISIS made money the same way - by taxing the people under their rule and the commerce they generated. Example 1:

6. This is one of 100s of revenue intake forms that I recovered from ISIS' Ministry of Agriculture. It shows that on a single day in late 2016, an ISIS accountant received $70,000 from one trader for the sale of grain and over $80,000 at today's exchange rate from a second:

7. I want you to notice the date on this revenue sheet. The money changed hands on Nov. 24, 2016. That's over a month after the start of the military operation to take Mosul. Meaning even as tanks were rolling into one neighborhood of the city, ISIS continued to make $ in another

8. Here's another example, this one dated 28 Muharram 1438, which means Oct. 29, 2016. Again this is *after* the start of the military operation. Here we see over 55 million IQD entering ISIS' coffer - or around $46,000 at today's exchange rate:

9. We have 100+ of such forms dated after the start of the military operation. How's that possible? It comes down to the fact that under international norms, you can't exactly bomb a barley field. Or a flock of sheep. See how ISIS got $7,500 on the sale of sheep's milk in 2015:

10. During my research, I leaned heavily on the brilliant @MaraRevkin, who has done some of the best work on ISIS governance. She came to my hotel room in Iraq to study the documents and later to New York. What I learned in Iraq, she'd already learned studying ISIS in Syria:

11. You could argue the Nineveh Plains upon which Mosul sits are Iraq's most fertile. So surely the receipts from ag will be higher there. But documents retrieved by @ajaltamimi in the oil-rich district in Syria show that even there the ratio of income from taxes vs oil was 6:1.

12. The emphasis ISIS put on agriculture is evidenced in the byzantine rules they instituted, designed to squeeze every last penny out of the dirt. First, ISIS took over the leasing of farmland. The Iraqi government did this too, but ISIS expanded it, as shown in this manual:

13. This 27-page handbook explains how ISIS expects its bureaucrats to handle the property of the religious groups they chased out - and without any shame, they state that everything belonging to Shias, Christians, Alawites and Yazidis will be confiscated. Translation below:

14. Next, they explain that the property will first be allocated to their "brothers" (meaning ISIS fighters) and the rest will be rented out to civilians. They even enclose a sample lease. Notice the contract conditions - ppl leasing property from ISIS cannot sublet it (!)

15. The manual instructs ISIS administrators to create an inventory, where each house or property is given a specific number. This is to be stored in an online archive (did they upload this to a cloud somewhere?). I love the how-to tone of the section below:

16. Did ISIS bureaucrats actually follow these instructions? I can assure you they did because we picked up 100s of their leases for stolen land. We also found their spreadsheets detailing their inventory. Fourth column from right states "rafidhi" - a derogatory term for the Shia

17. The spreadsheet shows houses seized in the locality of al-Sallamiya. Each property was given a number. Its use is listed in another column. "Used as a garage" for one, "Used as office" for another. My favorite is No. 55. Apparently it was occupied by the "Poet of the State"

18. The confiscated property acted as ISIS' seed capital. They began raking in cash from the rent being paid. Civilians described how ISIS bill collectors came knocking on their door every month. In return for payment, they got a numbered receipt like the ones below:

19. The receipts I just posted were issued to shopkeeper Ahmed Ramzi Salim in the town of Tal Keif, whom I met last year. He was entrusted with the shop and a villa by a Christian friend, who fled. ISIS found out about it & came and issued him a lease. Translation of one receipt:

20. He struggled to articulate the injustice of it all. The property he was living in had been entrusted to him by a friend. The money ISIS was taking was theft. But the paperwork he received created a veneer of legitimacy. And that points to why the paperwork is important.

21. For agricultural land, rent was paid before a single seed was sewn. Then ISIS took 10% of the harvest. To make sure no one cheated, the harvest was tightly controlled. You needed to have one of these "Permission to Harvest" slips before you could thresh your field.

22. Farmers explained to me that they didn't own harvesting combines. ISIS called a meeting of the owners of combines and announced they now reported to ISIS. Their combines would be confiscated if they threshed a field without ISIS' knowledge.

23. When a farmer wanted to thresh his field, he contacted the combine driver and presented him with this "Permission to Harvest" slip. The combine driver alerted ISIS. The harvesting took place in the presence of an ISIS minder. And the "zakat" tax was collected on the spot.

24. (Sorry for the long break - went to the gym & dinner!) So farmers explained to me that ISIS took 1/10th of their harvest at the moment that the crop is cut. In return they got another receipt which allowed them to get this little book proving they had paid their tax:

25. That little book acted as a passport to commerce in the caliphate. Farmers say that when they approached checkpoints & ISIS saw they were hauling grain to market, they asked to see the blue book proving they had paid their “zakat” tax. No booklet? Truck is turned around

26. ISIS placed chokeholds throughout the economy to catch anyone who avoided paying. Cattle herders told me that ISIS made them show the zakat book before they could buy animal feed. No proof of payment? Your animal starved

You can follow @rcallimachi.


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