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Mosul 'Like A Prison,' One Year After Capture By IS Militants

An Islamic State banner is seen on the top of the Hotel Nineveh in the city of Mosul in June 2014.

An Islamic State banner is seen on the top of the Hotel Nineveh in the city of Mosul in June 2014.

Resistors punished. Movement restricted. A small boy beaten for uttering the word "Daesh."

The streets are clean, the power is on, and one resident described security and safety as "outstanding." But one year after Islamic State gunmen overran Mosul, life in the northern Iraqi city is "like a prison," people whose relatives still live there say.

Ahmad, who lives in Baghdad, says he talks to his two brothers and two sisters in IS-controlled Mosul every week.

"They say their situation is alright, but there is no work. It is safe there; my brothers come and go and stay out late at night," Ahmad -- whose name has been changed for security reasons -- told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in a telephone interview on June 4.

But Ahmad says his brothers "feel confined, like in a prison within Mosul."

If they want to leave the city, Ahmad's brothers have to undergo a lengthy bureaucratic process of obtaining approvals.

Those who are allowed to leave Mosul cannot stay away permanently: IS has developed a system that ensures residents who travel outside Mosul come home.

Anyone who leaves the city is required to put up material collateral, such as a home or a car, which would be confiscated if the person did not return.

Mosul residents also have to appoint someone inside the city who would guarantee their return.

"If one of my brothers wants to travel, my other brother would have to be his guarantor," Ahmad says.

Ahmad has been unable to visit his family in Mosul. He could travel there, he says, but he would not be able to go back to Baghdad.

"You can enter [Mosul] but you cannot leave," he says.

Women Must Stay Home

While men are allowed to go out and about within Mosul, it's a different story for the city's female residents.

Women are not allowed to set foot outside without a "mahram," or male chaperone, and must wear a garment that covers them from head to toe, according to Nadia, whose mother, brothers, sisters, and aunts live in Mosul.

Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in Mosul attend a Mass in Irbil on May 31.

Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in Mosul attend a Mass in Irbil on May 31.

But under a new regulation that will come into force during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on June 17, women will not be able to go out at all before the iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.

"A man seeing a woman might have his fast tainted," Nadia says, explaining the reasoning behind IS's strict Ramadan measure. Her name has also been changed for security reasons.

Closed Town

Nadia, who moved to Baghdad after she got married, says that she has not been able to visit her family in Mosul since IS captured the city a year ago.

IS has also made it harder for Mosul residents to use cell phones to contact people living outside the city, Nadia says.

When the gunmen took down Mosul's cell-phone towers, some of the city's residents went to areas outside the city limits where cell-phone reception is still available, including on the road that heads northward toward Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan.

But those who try to communicate with the outside world that way run risks.

"If they were to be seen by an IS gunman, he would snatch the phone out of their hands and threaten them, accusing them of plotting against IS," Nadia told Radio Free Iraq.

There are reports that IS militants have confiscated and destroyed the cell phones of Mosul residents who tried to call from the area north of the city.

IS gunmen smashed a phone belonging to one of her relatives in Mosul as he used it to talk to his son in Irbil.

Nadia and her family do not know what happened to their relative. Maybe IS took him away. Maybe they beat him.

And Nadia says that she has had no contact with her mother, who has been unable to travel north toward Dohuk to find cell-phone reception to call her.

Don't Say 'Daesh'

When IS first took over Mosul, people kept their children indoors, fearing they could be hurt or killed by explosions if they played outside.

People are still scared for their children. But it's no longer about explosions.

"Now there is a fear of talking," says Nadia.

The 5-year-old son of one of Nadia's relatives was with his father in their store when he uttered the word "Daesh" -- the Arabic acronym for IS, considered an insult by the militants.

People walk through the rubble of the Prophet Younis Mosque after it was destroyed in a bomb attack by Islamic State in Mosul on July 24, 2014.

People walk through the rubble of the Prophet Younis Mosque after it was destroyed in a bomb attack by Islamic State in Mosul on July 24, 2014.

The single word angered the IS gunmen in the store. One militant beat the small boy "to an extent that would have been hard to bear by a grown man," says Nadia.

Terrified that the gunmen would hurt his son even more, the child's father took over the beating and apologized to the gunmen.

The father was afraid that the militants would take the child away to be lashed or that IS would even cut off the boy's finger or his whole hand, Nadia explains.

Resistance Quashed

Although some Mosul residents resisted IS rule when the extremist group first took over the city, that dissent has been quashed, Iraqis with relatives living in Mosul say.

"In the beginning, the people of Mosul resisted, but they were quickly punished and subjugated," says Ahmad. "They still yearn to resist, but they do not have the wherewithal."

Nadia says that any remaining resistance movements have gone undercover after IS identified and killed those who tried to fight back.

When IS first entered Mosul, some residents supported the group, believing that the gunmen would "save them from the government that was destroying them," says Nadia.

And some of Mosul's residents still support IS, according to Nadia, even if they complain about things like the lack of employment in the city.

No Work

While women in Mosul must stay at home and cannot go out to work, Iraqis with relatives in the IS-controlled city say that there is little employment available for men.

"My brother says there is no work even for a taxi driver," says Ahmad. "University teachers, former military men, engineers, and employees are all without work."

Ahmad says he has helped his brother by sending him money via contacts in Irbil.

But this has become very difficult, he admits.

The Lights Are On

Despite the lack of employment for Mosul residents, IS has ensured that public services in the city operate well, according to Iraqis with family inside the city.

Ahmad's brother told him that street lighting in Mosul is "better than it ever used to be, the streets are all clean; security and safety is outstanding, and even the electricity supply is excellent."

IS is also ensuring that food products are available in Mosul, and that even meat is cheap, according to Ahmad, who says produce is entering the city from the areas around Duhok.

But Nadia says that while foodstuffs are still available in Mosul, things are not like they were before IS took over the city a year ago.

While goods used to come into Mosul from Turkey and Baghdad, those supply routes are no longer available.

As a result, IS is bringing in goods such as cooking oil, rice, and dried beans from IS-controlled territories in Syria, Nadia says.


The IS gunmen in Mosul are mostly foreigners, Iraqis with relatives in the city say.

"They are from all over the world: Russians, Syrians, Pakistanis, Afghans, French, etc.," Nadia told Radio Free Iraq. "They are here with their wives and even their children are armed."

IS has recruited Mosul residents to assist them in stealing and looting the city's precious antiquities, says Ahmad.

"They would come and demand help to carry their looted pieces; how can you refuse?" Ahmad asks. "Our own national government had confiscated our personal weapons and we had nothing with which to defend ourselves."

Ahmad says IS is also recruiting young boys in their early teens to undergo military training to fight.


Both Nadia and Ahmad say that IS had help from collaborators inside Mosul when it first took over the city.

"One day everything was normal; on the very next day they were in charge and moving across the river," Ahmad says of IS's takeover of Mosul.

"They had support from those living in the outlying areas around Mosul," he adds.

Nadia says that collaborators inside Mosul acted as informants who showed IS which houses belonged to the Christian and Yazidi minorities.

"People coming in from outside cannot know that a particular house belongs to a Christian or to a Yazidi, so who showed them?" said Nadia. "They were shown by those here, some of whom actually joined them."

-- Written by Joanna Paraszczuk, based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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