As the crisis in Iraq deepens, the residents of Mosul under occupation by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces appear to be waiting patiently for events to unfold in the south. Many fear to leave the relative safety of their homes. Water and fuel are running scarce. Electricity lights up for only two hours a day. There is no Internet. Correspondents who have visited the city report a tension. Residents are fearful to resume their daily lives. There is little traffic. The once bustling market places are barely attended. Roads are open everywhere. There are scattered guards and gunmen riding the occasional SUV flying a black flag. For a city once boasting over three million people in its hub and suburbs, life appears to be at a stand still.
Essential services like electricity, water and fuel are deteriorating at a rapid pace. No international aid agencies have been reported to be working in the city. Fuel prices have skyrocketed in neighboring Kurdistan where residents have been forced to travel to purchase what they can and return. No supply trucks come to the city. Workers at hospitals and health clinics do not know whether the government of Iraq will pay them or their new ISIS overlords who have reportedly emptied the coffers of Mosul banks. With modern medical aid and electricity scarce, residents have chosen to stay indoors to brave the storm.
ISIS has setup a make-shift government of former Baathists, disgruntled Sunni tribal leaders and opportunists but no steps appear to have been taken to address the critical shortages. The city has reportedly been divided into administration zones policed by a local militia boss, an emir, who reports directly to the new governor. There is a clear feeling among the frightened residents that ISIS militants and their new allies would respond to any provocation with violence. The make-shift government has outlawed guns in the city, except with their own members, and has offered amnesty to former police officers and security guards if they hand over their weapons and swear an oath to the new regime. Many have done so in the hopes of calming the militants’ paranoia.
So far in the crisis, ISIS has restrained violence against other religious groups in the city but symbols and monuments of traditional medieval Islam have been destroyed, an indication of militants’ modern extremist Islamic ideology. A statue dedicated to the medieval poet Abu Tamman and the tomb of the medieval Kurdish historian Ibn al-Athir have reportedly been destroyed, as well as a statue of the 19th century composer Othman al-Mosuli. On Thursday, the militants destroyed a local religious site in the Qabr al-Bint area of western Mosul and the Catholic church built by Dominicans in the 19th century has been set afire and guards posted outside.
Mosul is home to the largest Assyrian Christian community in Iraq. When the city was threatened by insurgents, 160 Christian families were among the refugees fleeing east and south into Iraqi Kurdistan and elsewhere. Many Assyrian Christians still hide in the city.
There is a small sense of relief among Mosul residents that the daily terror of bombings and the central government’s response of roadblocks and checkpoints that existed before the occupation are gone. Now the terrorists are the governors. The animosity and mistrust that existed between government security forces and Mosul residents before the occupation contributed to the government’s precipitous flight from the city. For the moment, the streets are free and clear and seemingly safe in the calm. Most residents of Mosul recognize this brief interlude of peace to be only transitory, however. They are waiting for the possibility that the government in Baghdad will win in the south and push ISIS back.
Whatever happens in the south, the future looks grim for the city. Mosul will either be exposed to government attack should ISIS choose to make a stand there, or the residents will have to endure the continued occupation of violent extremists who have shown no interest in governing the city except with force. Iraq is in crisis, and another crisis looms for three million people in Mosul under occupation.
By Steve Killings