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What it’s like to live in Mosul one year after Iraq’s second largest city fell to ISIS
ISIS MosulAPIn this June 23, 2014, file photo, fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq.

Islamic State militants conquered Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in a lightning advance in June 2014.

Here, residents of the city share their experiences of life under the militant group.

Dr Firas Ghalib
Neurologist, 45, father of two children

Mosul was on a volcano’s edge a couple of months before Islamic State’s militants crawled into the city. The Shia government in Baghdad always viewed Mosul as a hub of Ba’athists, undoubtedly because most senior army officers in the time of Saddam were from Mosul.

When Isis took control of Mosul, they treated locals decently, clearing out all checkpoints imposed by the army and opening roads. People could not believe their eyes that there was no Shia army in the city, no more detainees and bribes.

I was in a mosque attending Friday prayers when the Isis imam said: “After prayers you all have to pledge your allegiance to Caliph al-Baghdadi, your emir.” I and many men wanted to flee to avoid pledging allegiance but we were stopped by militants who were guarding the mosque. The imam started to recite the pledge and we had to repeat after him: “We pledge our allegiance to the emir, that we would obey him and not rise up against him.”

The second Friday, the imam said: “Caliph al-Baghdadi has set a deadline for Christians in Mosul to withdraw by Saturday afternoon. We asked their priests to come and discuss the tax they should pay to us, and they declined.” One of my Christian friends was a doctor and churchgoer.

Iraq ISIS Mosul MapScreenshot/

I asked him: “Why did your priests not go to the meeting with Isis?” He replied: “Our priests had a terrible experience with Isis in Syria. Two priests went to negotiate with them in Aleppo and they never came back. Quite simply, there is no trust.”

Christians were given three choices: either convert to Islam or flee Mosul or get killed. My Christian friend told me that many Christian families in Hay al-Baker in Mosul converted to Islam because they were poor and could not afford to flee to Irbil.

The hospitals began to bleed doctors who were not able to cope with the unusual situation, especially female doctors and nurses who had to wear a veil all the time. My hospital was also full of Isis militants who were monitoring all the wards and medical staff.

The hospital began to run out of anaesthetics, which we were using primarily for Isis militants who get wounded during the battles. Some of the cleaners in the hospitals engaged with Isis to gain some authority, warning doctors who were not obeying the rules.

mosulAri Jalal/ReutersVolunteers from Mosul, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against Islamic State militants, gather on the outskirts of Dohuk province January 24, 2015.

One would shout that he would “smash your head with my shoes” if a doctor was late. All female dentists were prohibited from treating men and vice versa. I used to receive both sexes in hospital and my private clinic, but I was haunted by the nightmares of being lashed in public. I wrote a note and hung it on the door saying: “I examine men only.”

Isis monitors in the hospital told me that being the only neurologist in the hospital, I was allowed to examine both sexes. I refused and insisted on getting a fatwa that guaranteed I would not be lashed. I was told there was no such fatwa. A few of my old female patients were begging me to examine them, but I apologised.

I can’t forget when the only female anaesthetist in the hospital quit her job and we had women who needed caesarean operations, and we asked for the help of another hospital who sent us one of their male anaesthetists to save the lives of the patients. When the male anesthetist reached the hospital, the Isis monitor denied him access for being male. Two women died that night.

I know a professor at Mosul University who was caught by the Isis hisbah (religious police) in a room with his female colleague correcting students’ final exams notes. The penalty was that he had to marry his female colleague or get 30 lashes. The professor refused as he already had a wife and children, and he accepted the lashes.

mosul air strikes isisStringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesAir attacks are staged by coalition forces to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Vane 30 kilometers north of Mosul, Iraq on January 20, 2015.

I was with my wife in the car driving towards my parents house, and my wife had to take off her veil to breastfeed our little baby. The veil was keeping the blowing air off the baby, who was also terrified of her mother’s face being covered. Not that long after, an Isis hisbah patrol saw me and maintained that my wife should wear the veil under whatever circumstances, otherwise I would be in trouble.

I left Mosul with my wife and two children recently and went to Irbil.

Basheer Aziz

College graduate, 26, supports Isis

Mosul before Isis was like a grand, horrifying prison. It was a daily bet, who could make it to the first lecture in the morning, considering the long journey to the College of Sciences in Mosul, which was almost like travelling to another province.

The bus had to stop by countless army checkpoints where there were feverish hunts for men’s IDs. Often, the whole bus would wait for an hour or two while a soldier was engaged in beating a passenger who happened to be not holding his ID.

Islamic State is the dream and utmost desire of any Muslim. We longed to be governed by the holy Qur’an’s rules and the prophet Muhammad’s sunnah.

Now, with any call to prayer, all shops are shut down. Men have to grow their beards. Any act of adultery will be dealt with either by stones or lashes. The penalty of looting is a hand cut and men are imprisoned for publicly harassing women.

mosul dam isisTwitterA file photo of an ISIS militant in front of the Mosul Dam.

Then Isis diwans (departments for health, complaints, preaching and mosques, education, almsgiving, hisbah and services) were established. The almsgiving department is in charge of collecting taxes to divide among needy families. Each family receives $25 a month, an amount that will be raised to $50 with the harvest season, in addition to a good portion of wheat, rice, sugar, pickles, food oil and fuels.

The health department runs all hospitals in Mosul, Raqqa and Anbar and divides military medical staff and treatment among all fighting zones. Isis does not hire any doctor if he does not pledge his allegiance to Islamic State and never sends doctors to other provinces if they prefer to stay in their towns.

Recently, an exclusive market for women was opened in Mosul to allow them to do their shopping at ease. There is no ban on women driving. The Isis municipality is doing its best to keep roads clean and paved, setting up lampposts, providing water and power and repairing the damage from coalition air strikes.

I feel so proud being part of Isis, it granted me freedom. We live in glory now except for the coalition air strikes that spread panic and fear among the civilians.

I disagree with Isis practices against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in Mosul. I’m still in touch with our Christian neighbours and wish they would come back shortly. All people in Mosul are in disagreement with the demolition of ancient sites in Mosul, and some Isis militants are not happy either.

Iraq ISIS Fighter MosulScreenshot/

I discussed that with some of the young men of Mosul who joined Isis, and they said: “We did not know where these orders were coming from, the sharia court in Mosul was in astonishment too.” Amazingly enough, they told me that Isis is on its way to set up an archaeology department to excavate ancient sites in Mosul.

There is an acute financial crisis in Mosul now due to lack of jobs. Only those who receive monthly salaries from the government in Baghdad are surviving in Mosul. People do not know if Isis will last forever, or if another military organisation will come and exact revenge on those who were working for Isis. Depression is widespread among people of Mosul now.

At the same time, most of the people are against the return of the corrupt politicians or Shia militias who will destroy the city, not liberate it as they claim. Isis with all its brutality is more honest and merciful than the Shia government in Baghdad and its militias.

Shaima Yousif

Widow and mother of four, 33, whose hand was chopped off for stealing

I did not have that much freedom to determine the pattern of my own life, coming from a middle-class family in one of the oldest districts in Mosul that is packed with people living in shabby little houses. My father, who had a grocery store in the neighbourhood where we used to live, thought school was good for my brother, Yasser, but not for me or my two sisters.

“It is a waste of time and money,” my father told me once. I was hardly permitted to complete my primary school education, as my father was impatient to have me at home helping my mother with housework.

A relative who used to work in a store for car repairs in Mosul city came to ask for my hand. The moment my eyes fell on him, I felt I could not live with such a man who looked almost like my father, being 10 years older than me. He seemed tough, rigid and uneducated. Simply speaking, he was not the man of my dreams. I told my father: “Sorry, I’m not in a hurry to get married.” My father’s response was: “I’m in a hurry, you are 18 now. I prefer you marry a man I get to know with a good income.”

ISIS Mosul IraqAPIn this file photo taken Wednesday, June 25, 2014, fleeing Iraqi citizens from Mosul and other northern towns carry their belongings as they walk towards to a Kurdish security forces checkpoint in the Khazer area.

Last June, Isis took over Mosul and dominated the scene in the city. I advised Kareem, my husband, to leave his job and for us to flee together to Turkey. He was nearly convinced, but learned that he would be murdered soon if he did not assist Isis in repairing damaged vehicles left by the Iraqi army to use in their military operations.

I will never forget the day when my husband rushed out early in the morning to a deserted military camp in the suburbs of Mosul to fix damaged military equipment belonging to Isis. He was killed by an air strike.

Isis men kept coming to my husband’s parents’ house during the funeral in a pickup loaded with food for us and for the mourners. They also brought $300 in cash for the kids with a promise to keep sending $100 a month as a pension.

I struggled to cope with my children’s daily demands. I sold my daughter’s bracelets at the jewellery shop, and went back the next day and slipped on a ring and walked out, hoping the owner would not recognise me with all the women wearing the veil. I walked out of the shop but the owner stopped me, and a woman from the Isis female security forces took me to their centre.

“Why did you steal the ring?” an Isis interrogator asked me. I answered in tears, “I’m a widow of an Isis martyr with four children. I needed money to feed my children and pay the rent. Please forgive me.”

Iraq ISIS Mosul ProtestScreenshot/

I was questioned by two judges. The second day after my last hearing, I was taken from my room by three Isis women to another room where an old man was standing. He said: “Tie her to the table.”

I was tied firmly, and another man came with a sword in his hand. When I saw him, I began to shout, “Mercy, have mercy on me.” I screamed and begged him to leave me alone. He looked so determined. I wanted to run away but couldn’t. I couldn’t believe the whole scene, and thought it was a nightmare.

The man did not hesitate before chopping my left hand at the wrist. The whole world turned into black in my eyes and my legs were numb. No words in humanity’s dictionary can describe my pain and feeling at that horrifying moment. I fainted immediately.

My eldest daughter wept all the time whenever her eyes met mine in the hospital. I was discharged and went home. I tried to commit suicide a few times by strangling myself but the image of my little children kept stopping me. I live now for them and have vowed to make sure they all finish their education and marry only the men they love.

Ghazwan Abdul Rahman

High school graduate, 19, supports Isis

I was chatting with my friend about college when all of a sudden I received a hell of a push on my back. A towering man in Isis clothing was pushing aside any man obstructing his way towards the owner of the bakery. “I want some bread now, I can’t wait and need to go back to my other fighter brothers,” he said.

But the owner told him to join the queue like the others. The argument heated up and the Isis fighter lost his patience, and directed a kick to the face of the owner, filled his bag with bread and dashed away after leaving some money on the table.

We were all in an absolute silence watching without being able to say a word or do anything. The owner was bleeding from his nose. Two or three men ran to help and stop the bleeding while the owner vowed that he would complain to the sharia court.

islamic state kobaniAP Photo/Mehmet ShakirKurdish boys flash victory signs as they stand on the top of a tank that was destroyed during the battle between the U.S. backed Kurdish forces and the Islamic State fighters.

After two days, Isis police from the sharia court were in the bakery asking witnesses if the fighter or the owner provoked the situation and attacked first. All the men in the bakery confirmed that the fighter was the offender and the owner was merely trying to be fair and keep customers in queue. The sharia court verdict was in favour of the bakery owner and the Isis fighter had to apologise to him publicly. Then he was kicked out of the caliphate for his uncivilised behaviour.

Isis succeeded in winning people’s hearts in Mosul from the first day they liberated the city for being modest, unprejudiced and cooperative. They restored the dignity and pride of the Sunni man in Mosul after enduring a great deal of humiliation and revenge under successive Shia governments since the US occupation of Iraq.

Corruption was widespread and eroding all the city facilities, which were like a huge military barracks suffocating people. The city did not witness any reconstruction for the entire last 10 years despite all the billions that were poured into the city council.

Mosul now lives in a golden era. Though world media is in an effortless campaign to mar the image of Isis fighters, show them as brutal terrorists and monsters, on the contrary they are most welcomed in Mosul for the great sacrifices they have offered to protect Sunni people from the Shia army’s inhuman practices in Mosul and other Sunni provinces in Iraq.

ISIS ISIL Islamic State Flag Iraq Truck SecurityREUTERS/Thaier Al-SudaniIraqi security forces ride a vehicle past a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, near former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s palace in Tikrit April 1, 2015.

Isis locals and foreign fighters deserve all the love and respect by people in Mosul. Why is it all right for Shia militias in Iraq to have Lebanese, Iranian and Afghan fighters while it is unacceptable for us to have foreign fighters to defend us?

Foreign fighters have integrated excellently within the Mosul community now, and have become a fundamental part of some families in Mosul. Lots of tribes in Mosul whose men joined the Isis army last year have accepted marriage offers by some foreign fighters as they prove to be most reliable and courageous. They are utterly untrue, all these stories about forced marriage by Isis foreign fighters to women in Mosul.

None of the people in Mosul who pledged their allegiance to Caliph al-Baghdadi want Shia militias to get close to Mosul. I would be the first to fight these militias who come to sow destruction and killing among Sunnis. We have seen their atrocities in Tikrit and Jurf al-Sakher against isolated civilians.

Mosul is more stable and safe now, my father can leave his shop open and go for prayers, and no one dares to steal a straw from the shop. Civil services are better now, like power and water, and roads are more clean. I spend most of my free time praying in mosques and attending courses in Islamic sharia and hadith.

Hashim Zakei

33, heavy smoker whose hand was cut off for stealing cigarettes

The unavoidable three-year military service was the inevitable future for any confused student like me. I became more interested in learning cooking skills than military fitness and training. Serving officers and soldiers at least three meals a day, I was in the kitchen section all the time. Furthermore, I picked up a really dreadful habit, smoking heavily.

After serving in the army, I purchased a wooden cart to sell hummus and bread. I was busy selling sandwiches to students after an extended school day when a hisbah patrol parked by my cart, checking everyone in the street including me.

RTX1ERRNReutersShi’ite paramilitaries riding military vehicles travel from Lake Tharthar toward Ramadi to fight against Islamic state militants, west of Samarra, Iraq May 27, 2015.

“Sir, I have nothing to hide, why are you searching me?” I asked. The man held the cigarette packet in his hand, and asked, “What about this?” I replied, “I’m sorry, I bought it for my old dad. As you know he is old, trying his best to quit.” On another day, I was busy setting up my cart with 10 cigarettes in my pocket, when a hisbah patrol came again to check the area.

Tobacco smuggling in the city never stopped after the Isis takeover. One morning, I saw a vendor selling men socks on the floor, hiding cigarette packs underneath. The vendor began to run as soon as he saw a hisbah patrol coming towards him. Some of the men picked cigarettes out of the socks, others were firing in the direction of the fleeing vendor.

I looked at the cigarette packs dispersed on the floor. I could not restrain myself from picking up five of them to put in my pockets. Within five minutes, hisbah militants were rounding me up as the intelligence man who spotted me was briefing them that I had stolen some of the cigarettes from the vendors.

I was taken to sharia court. After a few questions, the judge said to me: “You are a thief, the court decided to cut your right hand by the wrist.”

ISIS Islamic StateScreenshot/CNNGerman journalist Juergen Todenhoefer travels to ISIS territory in the Middle East.

Before the judge would complete his words, I felt like being hit by an electric shock all over my body. I began to cry out with terror, begging the judge for mercy, that I have a family. The judge said: “Islamic sharia rules are beyond any discussion.”

After three days I was taken by hisbah militants to a public park. My feet were tied to a wooden table as well as my left hand. An Isis man who was in a white Afghan dress holding a big sword said to me: “Do you want anything?” I said: “Mercy.” He said: “Anything else?” I said: “I’m the only breadwinner for my kids, please forgive me.” His answer was: “You shut up.”

Immediately afterwards he turned fast to cut my hand and severed it off my arm. I was bleeding heavily. Once my eye fell on my chopped hand, I fainted.

When I regained consciousness, I found myself in an Isis hospital with Iraqi doctors. When I got home, my father received me weeping and said: “Thank God, it was only your hand.”

All names of interviewees are pseudonyms. Additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen

This article originally appeared on

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