Life Under The Islamic State: Sharia Law And Few Services

Aug 29, 2014
Originally published on August 29, 2014 8:40 pm

Ever since the Islamic State seized Mosul more than two months ago, it's been difficult to get a detailed picture of life inside Iraq's second largest city.

But glimpses have emerged. This week, the United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, presented details of a massacre that took place at the city's Badoush prison in June. Islamic State fighters seized more than 1,000 inmates. The group spared the lives of their fellow Sunni Muslims, but gunned down some 670 people.

It's been too dangerous for Western journalists to go to Mosul. But NPR contacted several Mosul residents by phone, including a 46-year-old shop owner, reached through intermediaries, who gave his name as Mohammed Ali. He says he has no doubt that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, committed the massacre.

"I have a friend who works in the Badoush jail. He told me, 'I saw many bodies in the valley near the prison. It was full of bodies,' " says Ali. "I asked him who it was. He said, 'ISIS killed so many people.' "

As for the Sunni prisoners from Badoush, Ali says the Islamic State had other plans for them.

"Some of our relatives, they're Sunnis, they were in Badoush jail, they are aligned with al-Qaida," he says. "Most of them were set free when ISIS took over, and now they're working with the ISIS people."

The Mosul residents NPR spoke with were reluctant to give their full names, for fear of retribution against their families.

Sermat, 29, a civil servant who declined to give his full name, says the makeup of the Islamic State force has changed noticeably since June, with those patrolling the streets now recognizable as local Arabs.

"In the beginning, when [the Islamic State] came there were many foreigners, from Syria and elsewhere," he says. "Then local people from the city, either sympathizers or just those who needed money, joined in, and now it seems most of the fighters are local."

An American At A Cafe

Seif, a 34-year-old civil engineer, lives in the Temmuz neighborhood, a Sunni stronghold where Islamic State fighters first appeared in June. He says the number of fighters in Mosul now is fewer than most people outside the city think. But there are still some foreigners among them, including an American he met at an Internet cafe.

"He said he was from America and he was trying to call his family. He said he was Muslim, but his parents were not," says Seif. "He had lost part of one leg below the knee, and he had a gun over his shoulder."

Seif did not get the American's name or hometown, and his account cannot be verified. U.S. officials say more than 140 Americans are believed to have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join the fighting.

When asked if people in Mosul support the Islamists or want them to leave, these residents say the only ones supporting the occupation are a few extremists and poor Sunnis who were disenfranchised under Iraq's Shiite-led government.

Sermat, the government worker, says people are getting fed up with the deteriorating living conditions.

"There are no services — the electricity is on for only a couple hours every two or three days," he says. "The garbage collectors aren't working. They get no salary and they have no gas for their trucks. There isn't very much food, no refrigeration, many stores are closed."

These Mosul residents say they want their jobs back, and they want to live in a legal state again where the government provides services. They have no idea, however, when that might be. So far, the Iraqi government has not given any indication of an imminent operation to retake Mosul.

Peter Kenyon reported from Irbil, Iraq. You can follow him @pkenyonnpr.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We start this hour with a glimpse of life in Mosul. The Iraqi city has been under the control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State for more than two months. Residents who didn't flee along with the Iraqi Army back in June say conditions are miserable. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, the city's direction was cast by an attack on its prison when the militants first arrived.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: News of life inside Mosul has only trickled out since Islamic State fighters seized it in June. Just this week, the U.N. reported details of a massacre that signaled a painful new reality for residents of this city of some 2 million people. Human rights chief Navi Pillay said Islamist fighters seized over 1,000 inmates from Badoush prison in June, sorted out the Sunnis and gunned down up to 670 people. NPR reached several Mosul residents by phone, including a 46-year-old shop owner reached through intermediaries who gives his name as Mohammed Ali. He says he has no doubt that ISIS - another name for the Islamist group - committed the massacre.

MOHAMMED ALI: (Through translator) I have a friend who works in Badoush jail. He told me, I saw many bodies in the valley near the prison. It was full of bodies. I asked him who it was. He said ISIS killed so many people.

KENYON: As for the Sunni prisoners from Badoush, Ali says the fighters had other plans for them.

ALI: (Through translators) Some of our relatives, they are Sunnis. They were in Badoush jail. They are aligned with al-Qaida. Most of them were set free when ISIS took over, and now they're working with the ISIS people.

KENYON: The Mosul residents NPR spoke with were reluctant to give their full names for fear of retribution against their families. A 29-year-old civil servant who gives his name as Sermat says the makeup of the occupying force has changed noticeably since June, with those patrolling the streets now recognizable as local Arabs.

SERMAT: (Through translator) In the beginning, when they came there were many foreigners from Syria and elsewhere. Then, local people from the city, either sympathizes or just those who needed money, joined in. And now it seems most of the fighters are local.

KENYON: Seif, a 34-year-old civil engineer, lives in the Temmuz neighborhood, a Sunni stronghold where Islamic State fighters first appeared in Mosul. He says the number of fighters in Mosul is fewer than people outside the city think. But there are still some foreigners among them, including an American he met in an Internet cafe.

SEIF: (Through translator) He said he was from America, and he was trying to call his family. He said he was Muslim, but his parents weren't. He had lost part of one leg below the knee, and he had a gun over his shoulder.

KENYON: Seif did not get the American's name or hometown, and his account cannot be verified. U.S. officials say more than 140 Americans are believed to have joined the conflict in Syria and Iraq. When asked if people in Mosul support the Islamists or want them to leave, these residents say the only ones supporting the occupation are a few extremists and poor Sunnis who were disfranchised under Iraq's Shiite-led government. Sermat, the government worker, says people are getting fed up with the deteriorating living conditions.

SERMAT: (Through translator) There are no services. The electricity is on for only a couple of hours every two to three days. The garbage collectors aren't working. They get no salary, and they have no gas for the trucks. There isn't even very much food, no refrigeration, many stores are closed.

KENYON: These Mosul residents say they want their jobs back. They want to live in a legal state again where rights are protected and the government provides services. But they have no idea when that will once again be possible. So far, Iraqi officials are not giving an indication of any imminent operation to retake Mosul city. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Erbil. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.