Case Study Cities

To measure the aggregate impact of ISIL on economic activity inside its territory, the RAND research team first built a roster of every city in Iraq and Syria with more than ten thousand inhabitants. Of these 167 cities, 51 experienced some period of contested or unilateral Islamic State control. We choose five of them — Mosul, Raqqah, Ramadi, Deir ez-Zor, and Tikrit — as representative of this larger subset, in order to capture variation in ISIL's control and potential impact on local economies.

In Mosul and Raqqah, ISIL has had largely uncontested control through mid-2016, and as such changes in economic activity in these cities should be more a result of ISIL's governance and less a result of other confounding factors. They also represented strategic strongholds for ISIL, with Raqqah as its primary capital and Mosul as its de facto second city and capital in Iraq.

In Deir ez-Zor and Ramadi, ISIL controlled portions of these cities at the same time as other regime or rebel elements, and fought violently to establish its footholds in each city. Particularly for Deir ez-Zor, we can uniquely measure how economic activity differs in certain areas of the city over time, based on differences in control on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. For Ramadi, ISIL contested control of the city for nearly a year and a half before it briefly held the city unilaterally at the end of 2015. As such, it represents a chance to measure the impact of ISIL control over an area where it invested significant resources but was unable to fully develop its governing apparatus. Additionally, measuring the economic recovery of Ramadi after the significant damage wrought by fighting to liberate the city helps to understand how local economies recover in the short run after ISIL leaves town.

Tikrit was similarly held by ISIL forces for a brief period of time from summer 2014 through March 2015. However, the city never represented a strategic priority for ISIL and its forces never fully developed governance structures or significantly intervened in the local economy beyond more coercive violence before their eventual withdrawal. The ensuing recovery and reconstruction of the city was the first litmus test for the ability of the government of Iraq to reassert control over an area liberated from the Islamic State. Tikrit represents the best example in this sample for understanding the ability of a city to fully recover from Islamic State rule.

Explore Case Studies

  • Mosul: ISIL’s Economic Engine

    Mosul was ISIL's de facto second city and capital in Iraq. ISIL had uncontested control over Mosul after capturing the city in 2014, until government of Iraq operations to retake the city began in October 2016.

  • Raqqah: Capital of the Caliphate

    Raqqah is the capital of ISIL's caliphate, and ISIL enjoyed uncontested control over the city between 2014 and mid-2017, when opposition forces began to liberate the city.

  • Ramadi: ISIL's Long Fight for Brief Control

    ISIL contested control of Ramadi for nearly a year and a half before it briefly held the city unilaterally at the end of 2015. Iraqi forces retook Ramadi in 2016.

  • Deir ez-Zor: Protracted Stalemate

    ISIL fought violently to take over Deir ez-Zor city from the Syrian regime in 2014, but has never fully taken control of the city.

  • Tikrit: ISIL Focuses on Punishment, Not Governance

    Tikrit was held by ISIL forces for a brief period of time from summer 2014 through March 2015.