In early 2013, Money Jihad came across informative research by Danielle Jung and Jacob Shapiro at Princeton University (hat tip to University College London lecturer Paul Gill) into wages paid to members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—the group that eventually became the Islamic State. Money Jihad drafted some bullet points on some of the findings from the research, but didn’t publish them in a blog post at the time. But better late than never—details about AQI’s wage structure have been lost in the shuffle amidst bigger commentary on ISIS’s money from oil, ransoms, and looted antiquities. Yet the expenditure side of the ledger is just as important:
- AQI paid insurgents using a flat wage structure with additional compensation based on the size of the fighter’s family, not based on the fighter’s seniority in the organization.
- No correlation was found between wages to terrorists to the amount of risk they took. In other words, jihadists engaged in riskier operations were not rewarded more than those engaged in lower risk activities.
- 53 percent of compensation to fighters consisted of non-wage payments such as ad hoc payments for equipment, food, living expenses, etc.
- Payroll records varied among AQI cells with some cells using handwritten ledgers and while others used Microsoft Excel.
- One AQI document indicated that wages for a single Iraq insurgent with no children were set at $41 a month with $20 extra per dependent.
- Payments to families of suicide bombers continued after the fighter’s martyrdom.
- The level of compensation was fairly low even by Iraqi standards; about equal to that of an administrative assistant.
- The low wages may have helped AQI screen for true believers, but they also noted that there was a large supply of willing fighters.
- The guaranteed pension to martyr’s families may have been an incentive that offset the downsides of low wages, basically serving as a life insurance benefit to jihadists.
Jung and Shapiro’s original paper appears to be unavailable at this time, or was subsequently combined with Rand Company analysis, or else we would include a link to it.