Turning the lights off on the Islamic State
But almost entirely unnoticed is how the Iraqi government has responded. Central to the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraq’s Sunnis is the supply of electricity. The United Nations released satellite imagery this summer comparing a large swath of northern Iraq between May and June showing significant reductions in night lights (and, therefore, electricity) between those dates. Since then, Iraq’s central government has provided me with province-level electricity statistics for the months before and after the Islamic State’s spread through Iraq.
The data are striking: within the three provinces most affected by the Islamic State – Anbar, Ninewa and Salah Al Din – the organization’s arrival has been marked by massive reductions in electricity supply. In Ninewa, which was hardest hit, mean monthly electricity load fell from more than 866 megawatts in May to 186 megawatts in August. Meanwhile, electricity levels throughout the rest of Iraq have remained stable.