The Islamic State (ISIS) ran an effective rebel government on the ground for over four years. ISIS’s rank and file consisted of violent actors, and the group’s reputation for violent coercion and brutality is well known. Yet, the group’s leadership was also capable of seizing and governing a vast territory, often called the ‘Sunni triangle’ in Iraq and large parts of North-Eastern Syria (a territory of 45,000 square kilometers), and gained support for its rule on the ground. ISIS projected extensive governmental structures and sophisticated administrative practices to rule the civil population in these areas.
One of the pressing questions that remains is how ISIS seemed to establish such a sophisticated form of administration and provide considerable public goods to civilians, which were supported or at least obeyed by large sections of the local population. This paper holds that ISIS employed a substantial, administratively cohesive, operable police organization that took care of ‘ordinary’ public order and law enforcement tasks. While the Departments of Public Security (emni) and Religious Compliance (hisba) have been at the center of most media coverage and popular literature on the Islamic State, ISIS’s policing capacities through its Islamic State Police (shurta) wing have evaded scrutiny so far. This paper moves beyond ISIS’ foreign fighters and high profile operations and attacks and focuses instead on the residents in the area and the way they interacted with the shurta.