‘War Spoils Department’: Islamic State Bureaucracy Revealed


The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has established “war spoils” departments that dictate how the jihadist group is to handle matters such as slaves and pillaged natural resources, showing signs of a government apparatus that allows it to manage the large swaths of territory it controls in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, according to seized documents reviewed by Reuters.

Documents seized by U.S. Special Operations Forces in a May raid in Syria detail “the hierarchical bureaucracy, including petty rivalries between officials, and legal codes in the form of religious fatwas,” notes the report.

Top ISIS financial officer Abu Sayyaf was killed in the raid.

U.S. officials say the documents have helped deepen their understanding of a militant group whose skill in controlling the territory it has seized has surprised many,” reports Reuters. “They provide insight into how a once small insurgent group has developed a complex bureaucracy to manage revenue streams – from pillaged oil to stolen antiquities – and oversee subjugated populations.”

“This really kind of brings it out. The level of bureaucratization, organization, the diwans, the committees,” Brett McGurk, President Obama’s special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, told Reuters.

ISIS has reportedly set up institutions, roughly equivalent to government ministries, called “diwans” that handle the exploitation of antiquities from ancient empires and processes “war spoils,” including slaves.

The seized documents also show the “meticulous and data-oriented” manner in which ISIS is managing the oil and gas sector.

Nevertheless, Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s top official for energy affairs, said it is not a sophisticated operation.

The documents have allowed the anti-ISIS coalition to identify the group’s vulnerabilities, U.S. officials reportedly said.

ISIS’ oil infrastructure and key members have been targeted by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

“The documents show the Islamic State is not immune to the rivalries and personality clashes that typify bureaucracies everywhere,” points out Reuters. “A Nov. 21, 2014 letter from the Diwan of Natural Resources emphasizes that Abu Sayyaf is in charge of handling antiquities.”

“The reason being is that he is very knowledgeable in this field and that Abu Jihad al-Tunisi is a simpleton who can’t manage the division,” says the letter.

“Islamic State is invested in the statehood and Caliphate image more so than any other jihadist enterprise. So a formal organization, besides being practical when you control so much contiguous territory and major cities, also reinforces the statehood image,” Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum think tank and an expert on ISIS’ structure, told Reuters.

Reuters acknowledged that it could not independently verify the authenticity of the seized documents, which it notes only represent a portion of the material obtained in the Syria raid.

“U.S. forces captured a huge amount of data in the form of computer hard drives, thumb drives, CDs, DVDs and papers,” it reports.

“Many of the seized documents are fatwas, or religious rulings, covering issues from rape of female prisoners and the treatment of slaves with minor children to when it is permissible for a son to steal from his father to fund travel to fight jihad, or holy war,” it adds.

The rules, which cover mundane issues, reportedly apply to ISIS’s territory in Iraq, Syria, Africa, and South Asia

“In the documents, there is a ruling on proper procedure for filling out the personal details of prospective fighters: name, gender, and communications method – telephone, telegram, Skype or the mobile messaging service WhatsApp,” reports Reuters.

However, among the huge trove of documents captured by U.S. Special Operations Forces during the raid, Reuters discovered an “extremely detailed ruling on when ‘owners’ of women enslaved by the extremist group can have sex with them, in an apparent bid to curb what they called violations in the treatment of captured females.”


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