What Explains Taxation by Resource-Rich Rebels? Evidence from the Islamic State in Syria
Greed-based theories of civil war predict that rebel groups will only engage in taxation and other state-building activities in areas where they lack exploitable resources. However, this prediction is contradicted by the Islamic State’s pattern of taxation across time and space. A new data set mapping seven types of revenue-extracting policies imposed by the Islamic State, a jihadist rebel group, in the 19 Syrian districts that it governed between 2013 and 2017 indicates that these policies were just as prevalent in resource-rich as in resource-poor districts. I propose a new theory that better explains this pattern—a rebel group’s pattern of taxation is codetermined by (1) ideology and (2) the costs of warfare—and establish the plausibility of this theory through a case study of al-Mayadin, the most oil-rich district governed by the Islamic State and therefore an ideal site in which to investigate the puzzle of taxation by resource-rich rebels.