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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return to Iraq and Syria, where the brutal advance by the Islamic State has been at least partially
checked in both countries.
The nearly five-month-long U.S. and allied bombing campaign against the Islamic State group continued yesterday and today,
with 39 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The strikes came across a large swathe of territory held or under attack by the faction
also called ISIS or ISIL, two days after the group captured a Jordanian pilot whose fighter jet crashed in Islamic State-controlled
Today’s attacks went from Kobani, Syria, through the group’s makeshift capital in Raqqa, on to Sinjar, Iraq,
near Kirkuk, and in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and a prize the group took in June, forcing out the Iraqi army
while barely firing a shot.
On Wednesday, Gwen Ifill spoke with Jurgen Todenhofer, a German author and former lawmaker who’d recently spent 10
days within the Islamic State area of control.
GWEN IFILL: You spent time in Iraq and in Syria, in Raqqa and in Mosul. Was there a difference in what you saw in
those two places?
JURGEN TODENHOFER, Author: Here, I only can give an impression.
I had the impression that, in Mosul, their support is stronger, because in Mosul now, you have only Sunnis, because the
Shias, the Yazidis and the Christians have been killed or forced to flee, and that in Raqqa, Bashar al-Assad is still at least
as strong as I.S.
He is still playing — paying salaries to his people in Raqqa and it seems to work.
GWEN IFILL: So, what were your impressions about how strong ISIS is? There is some debate here and around the world
about the scope of the Islamic State forces, whether it functions as a government, whether it has a justice system and what
its ultimate goal is. What impressions did you take away?
JURGEN TODENHOFER: I got the impression that I.S. is much stronger than our Western politicians think.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The group’s military strength has been matched by an online media onslaught. Its now-infamous
films showing its grisly murders of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers are paired with videos
showcasing an idyllic life under its control, marketplaces flush with goods, children eating ice cream in parks.
But that idealized portrait is at odds with reality, according to an article in today’s Washington Post. It describes
failing infrastructure, power cuts, skyrocketing prices for sparse goods, and hunger.
And that article was written by Liz Sly. She’s The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Lebanon. She’s in
England right now, where I spoke to her just a short while ago via Skype.
And a note: The noise you hear during the interview was a small glitch with her computer.
Liz Sly, thank you for talking with us.
Your article describes collapsing government services, people living in miserable, even unsafe conditions. Fill out the
picture for us.
LIZ SLY, The Washington Post: Well, yes.
For a long time, I think the Islamic State has made it part of their reputation, not only are they a fearsome fighting
force, but they also deliver this great government.
So, I set out to find out how they do that. And what I actually found out from other people I spoke to is that they’re
not really delivering government, they’re not really delivering services, that services that are being delivered are
coming from government workers who are still receiving their salaries and doing what they can under very difficult circumstances.
But they’re being paid, and paid by the government, not by the Islamic State. And there’s a little bit of Western
aid getting in. But, otherwise, really, people are starting to suffer a lot from shortages of medicine, unsanitary water,
a lack of food, very high prices, and very, very little help reaching them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you describe victim rules that are being imposed? At one point, you wrote about hospital
workers at a meeting, and then they were detained because a couple of them were smoking?
LIZ SLY: It’s one thing to impose strict rules. It’s another thing to actually make society work.
They are continuing to impose very strict rules. People are being executed for cursing God. They are being detained for
smoking. But society, as we normally think of it, is not actually functioning.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We have just been talking about the reporting done by a German journalist, Jurgen Todenhofer, who
wrote, of all the insurgent groups he’s seen, he thinks Islamic State is the most determined, the most effective, the
strongest. This is a very different picture, isn’t it?
LIZ SLY: Well, I’m not sure it’s an entirely different picture.
I have seen his reporting. I have seen his conclusions. I don’t think this means they are going to be defeated militarily
soon. I wasn’t looking at them, the military aspect of their structure and organization. I was looking at their ability
to deliver on-the-ground government for the people who they claim to be ruling in the name of Islam.
They are not delivering that government. I still think they have a very formidable fighting force, that they are militarily
capable. There are no alternatives from the ground. So, I don’t — the fact that their governance is failing I
don’t think means that they are necessarily going to be defeated any more easily in the short-term under current circumstances.
But I think, in the long term, it calls into questions how sustainable the project that they have envisaged for themselves
is and whether, in the long run, people won’t start to turn against them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You do also write about the morale among some of the fighters. You said it’s starting to slide.
What did you find about that?
LIZ SLY: Well, yes, that’s another interesting aspect that I think we’re only starting to see right
now, which is that we’re starting to get these reports of fighters on the ground not being necessarily happy.
I have heard a number of anecdotes of fighters who are trying to leave. It’s very hard to leave because they confiscate
your passports and identity documents, whether you’re Syrian, Iraqi or a foreign fighter. It’s not easy to leave.
But I have heard of people trying to leave, people trying to swap documents with other Syrians, so that they can get out of
the country using those documents.
We have also heard of a new police force that has been set up to go around and detain fighters who are shirking their duties
and hiding at home. So, I also think that things might not be entirely good on the military side as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just finally, you feel confident about your sources for this?
LIZ SLY: Well, yes.
I — you can meet people who live there very easily. You can go to Turkey. People travel back and forth. People come
for medical treatment. They have relatives there. The only goods that are getting in and out of the Islamic State at the moment
are coming from places like Turkey.
So, you can meet people and talk to them face to face about this. And some of these are people who have direct experience
of delivering governance in those areas. They didn’t want their identities disclosed, because that’s very dangerous
for them. But I talked to a lot of people, and I built up a very clear picture of things not quite being as rosy in the Islamic
State as they themselves portray it to be.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Liz Sly, reporting for The Washington Post, we thank you.
LIZ SLY: Thank you.
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suffering and sliding morale in Islamic State territory appeared first on PBS