1) First of all: How are you? How do you feel?
I don’t think the question “How are you and how are you feeling” is easy to answer as life here is very difficult to describe as a “life”. How would the status of someone who cannot spend a day without music be under the control of groups which claim that they are the official sponsor for Heaven’s way? And how would be the status of a liberal who believes in pluralism, social justice and personal liberty under their control? I think that anyone could realize my state by only feeling this big prison we are living in the absence of law and the loudness of arms and violence.
2) How is the situation in Mosul? How are the people dealing with the current situation?
The city lives in a state of continuous, renewable and ever-lasting anxiety. The markets are suspended, the official offices are suspended. There is fear of what ISIS can do if they could settle in the city. Indeed, they have started founding for their Shariaa and change began to show to how they were on their first days of presence in Mosul. Blindfolded bodies started showing in the city. A state of unconsciousness prevails in the city, a feeling that the elected government and parliament members have abandoned Mosul and left it to the wolves. The biggest hit to Mosul’s people was when the parliament members could not agree and postponed their hearing for a whole week, they don’t know the meaning of another week passing by on this city under the control of ISIS and authority of arms, they don’t know that every day passing by means that there is hunger, anxiety, fear, destruction of social system, collapse of peaceful values and a rise in violence voice.
3) Was the takeover of Mosul by ISIS troops surprising? Did you have any time to prepare yourself?
No one was surprised by ISIS control of Mosul, this is not the first time they take over Mosul. Even without their complete presence, ISIS was in control of some areas in the city and the explosions they used to do are known for people. The army’s military surveillance’s towers used to be bombed following warning the people that an explosion is going to happen. They used to demand money compulsory and whoever refused to pay used to be killed, and many have been killed for this. Prior to their full control of Mosul, there was many shops shut as a result of threats following the refusal of their owners to pay money to ISIS. ISIS used to aggregate money, monthly, from traders and shops’ owners. And all of this was within the government’s knowledge. Car bombs used to enter the most protected areas. ISIS used to control complete areas that the army could never enter, before their final complete control of Mosul, such as “Msheerfa” area. The government, with all of its army, could not enter this area. Following the entrance of ISIS, the fear remains the same fear but ISIS officially holds the land now, nothing more. Majority of people had a prior knowledge that a big operation will happen in Mosul but no one knew when. The only surprise was in the timing of the entrance. We would not have left our houses if we were not under random airstrikes by the Iraqi army. The clashes ISIS used to do were between the houses and residential areas. When we left, we left everything behind us and we were not able to take anything with us.
4) How do the people in Mosul feel about ISIS?
The talk regarding people’s feelings towards ISIS and the way they welcomed them in the first days as “warm welcome” because ISIS liberated them from the cruelty of the government, army and police which used to be too harsh towards the citizens; however, this was not the only reason they warmly welcomed them as Mosul has a conservative religious legacy and they tend to stick to Islamic Law. Here I am talking about those who entered the city from outside its administrative borders and I mean “the villagers” as they comprise the biggest burden on the city and changing its demographic identity for a long time. They contributed to changing the city dramatically and they were the people’s column on which ISIS leaned. As a result of the great diversity of Mosul’s demographics, it’s difficult to understand the reaction accurately, but I can say that a big proportion of Mosul’s people do not have “real problem” with ISIS presence or forcing Islamic Law governance in the city. True that many non-religious manifestations were spread in the city, and they still are; however, the general feeling of the city is “acceptance” of Islamic governance. They won’t have a big problem with ISIS if they provided living standards such as general services, good jobs’ salaries, and this is a true problem. I met groups of people to understand their reaction, the majority of them were telling a similar message: “Those –ISIS- are Muslims and we’re Muslims too, where is the problem in their presence and forcing Islamic law”. Even people’s movements and peaceful demonstrations, which were initiated a year ago, were led by clerics and their slogans were purely religious. However, alongside all of this support and acceptance, there is a great fear. This is what I call “contradiction in consciousness” as they support their [ISIS] governance on one hand and reject their violent and harsh rules on the other hand.
5) What is life like under the control of ISIS? Do they control the whole city? How is the situation for Christians in Mosul like?
Chaos is the master of the situation here. The deterrent to people’s movement is fear of what ISIS could do or what rules they could implement. There is a silent chaos, a whole city is completely suspended, market movement is suspended, the markets which used to be overcrowded with people is now empty from passer-by’s. A city of ghosts. To live under the authority of ISIS means to abandon all of our dreams of liberty and democracy. It does not differ that much to what it was during the prior government presence in the city, we used to be between two choices: we either live in dignity and hunger; or live without dignity and eat. I mentioned earlier the control of ISIS over Mosul and I’ll repeat it here: ISIS tried, since the beginning of their presence in Mosul, to show that they have a big “numerical” force despite their few numbers because their distribution is limited to few central points in the city: their main center is located on the road connecting Al-Sham’s Gate (towards Badoosh) and Mosul, in the military base which was abandoned by the Iraqi army following their withdrawal (alsoknown as “the electricity area”); another main center is in “Msheerfa” area which gathers military barracks that belong to them and a number of “Iraqi” leads within ISIS organization; and ex-counter terrorism center base in addition to other ex-SWAT forces’ bases. Meaning that their localisation is in the western side of Mosul. Their spread, however, in the street is limited to the border points of Mosul’s city: Erbil’s border point (Gogcheli area) where the distance between them [ISIS] and Peshmerga [Kurdish forces] does not exceed 3 km; Duhok point (Al-Qousiyat area) which is parallel to the entrance of Telkeef area (Christian area under the control of Peshmerga); and from southern Mosul’s side, their distribution is an extension to their presence all the way towards Tikrit. As for their presence inside the city and residence neighborhoods, the presence is for the other factions such as: Al-Neqshebendi Way Men Army (Ba’athists); National Movement Militants (their spread started after 5 days of Mosul’s fall); volunteers (who volunteered at the centers opened by ISIS, majority of them are teenagers whose ages are between 17 and 20 years old); Islamic Army (ISIS’ bitter opponent); Ansar [meaning supporters] Al-Sunnah (legitimate [Shariah] board); Ansar Al-Islam [meaning Islam Supporters] (Kurdish majority); Arab and Turkmen Tribes’ Militants; and Al-Taa’fariyoon (known as “Al-a’far in Mosul; they are the militants from Telaa’far who had many operations against the army and police inside Mosul before the crisis). All of these factions are followers to ISIS whether they declared Al-Baya’a [meaning loyalty and obedience] to ISIS or not, as they are all under the rule, governance and authority of ISIS. As for Christians, ISIS has not issue any decisions regarding them since the beginning. “The City’s Code/Constitution” and “Our syllabus, our belief” brochures, which were spread by ISIS, had no signs or indications to Christians. However, the majority of Christians left the city since the first days, some stayed. Three days ago, ISIS took over the biggest Orthodox Archbishopric in “police neighbourhood” area, then they took over “Chaldean Archbishopric” in the same area too. The have also declared a decision regarding offices to remove all Christian names from payrolls and cancel all the job positions that used to be occupied by Christians in the city.
6) How does your day look like?
I start everyday by going to the city’s streets and monitor people’s movements and what’s going on in the city and I feel that everything is here except hope and security. True that I walk in the streets, but I have fear that I get stopped by an ISIS member and he asks me or searches my phone to find my updates. Therefore, I started leaving my phone at home every time I leave, fearing them. Few days ago, they stopped me and one of them had a laptop which contained names. I was afraid that my name is with them because of the articles I used to publish previously regarding religious violence and terrorism. One of them asked me about my name, I hesitated then decided to give him my name, he typed it in his device then told me to go. When I went back home, I felt that it’s not the time for my death yet and there is something that blinded their eyesight off me. But I do not fear death anymore, yet I want life, I love life. I want to continue my research projects, as everything has been suspended. When I walk into my room and look at my library to see my books in there and I am unable to write anything or search into anything, I feel unable and defeated as this is nothing but a big prison. Then I hold my pen and start writing down and documenting this fatal and dangerous period of the city.
7) Many people fled from ISIS. Do you know how many fled from Mosul? And why did you stay?
Many people had left Mosul, estimated to be in100,000s since the first days. I still remember the first moment when I was walking with my family for long distance under the burning sun and I look at the faces of those around me. I did not stay in Mosul, I left with my family in the beginning. We stayed in Mosul away from our home in the first days, then we moved to Erbil. I was intending to travel to Turkey but my family would be left alone and I cannot leave them. So, I decided to stay with them. Following the harsh difficulties we faced in Erbil and the difficulty in obtaining security approvals from the Kurdish Security in addition to the assurances we received from Mosul, we decided to return to our home and we still live there
8) ISIS declared a caliphate on the territory they are controlling now. Did you notice any changes since then?
ISIS announcement of caliphate is a “funny matter”. Until now, there has not been a big change since announcing caliphate. However, what I noticed is closing the parks in the woods area where the youth have “shisha”. In addition, a day after announcing the caliphate, the Orthodox and Chaldean Archbishoprics were taken over and the names of Christians were removed from payrolls. However, I expect that some major events are going to happen soon.
9) How do the troops of ISIS behave? And who are the troops of ISIS? In one of your blog posts you mentioned children…
Their behaviour was “nice” from the beginning. They did not expose to anyone, did not hit or insult anyone. They travel in their cars and don’t mix with people much. However, I remember a conversation with an “American from Chinese background”. He was eating a piece of bread, I asked him, wondering, how did you become with ISIS? He said “I am Muslim and I was fighting in Syria and answered Islam’s call”. I smiled to him. The second was an Arab from Tunisia; one guy offered him a piece of hot bread but he refused to eat it justifying his refusal by that he prefers to eat stiff bread as the days he spent in desert had taught him “asceticism”. The fighters in ISIS are, in big proportions, Iraqis from Mosul specifically from the outskirts of Mosul. Some ISIS fighters are Arabs and some are foreigners. I have seen many children who do not exceed the age of 15 volunteering to join ISIS, and for many of them, their rifles were taller than them.
10) In the region around Mosul live different Tribes. Can you explain a little who they are, how important they are and where do they stand?
The backbone tribes of Mosul’s city consists from many tribes, their biggest is Al-Juboor, then Alabo Mityoot, Al-Hamdoon, Al-Obaid, Tay tribe and Al-Farhat Turkmen tribe. Al-Juboor tribe is split between ISIS and the government. Before the crisis, this tribe formed a key column in Al-Qaeda in Al-Shirqat and Al-Qiyara areas. There used to be villages under the control of Al-Qaeda organisation completely such as Al-Shura village, Al-Namrood, Al-a’abid grave and Sadeera. As for Alabo Mityoot tribe, they form the majority of Sinjar area outside Mosul and they are a tribe known for their religious extremism and support to Al-Qaeda from an early time, they are now forming a key column of ISIS in “Agrarian Reform” area. For years, the legitimate judge in Mosul was an Al-Qaeda member, from Alabo Mityoot tribe. Alabo Mityoot’s role in terrorist organisations is very prominent. As for Al-Obaid tribe and their branches, they have less role in the organisation. Tay tribe forms an important financial resource to the organisation and Al-Farhat tribe constitute a human resource to them. In 2013, Al-Farhat tribe announced the formation of combat battalions all under the authority of ISIS. Al-Farhat tribe are those who arrived from Tela’afar and are known in Mosul by the name “Al-a’afar”. As for Al-Hamdoon tribe, that is spread in “Msheerfa” area which never allowed the government to enter, almost all of carried weapons and joined ISIS. There are other tribes which remained neutral such as Alabo Hamad tribe and some other tribes which their loyalty was divided between ISIS and the government such as Al-Naa’eem tribe. In conclusion, the power obtained by ISIS comes from tribes.
11) What do you think the future will look like? Will the Iraq go back to how it has been?
It is very difficult to understand the future in this quick movement of events here; however, I believe that ISIS will not continue in Mosul. Perhaps things are moving towards division and declaration of states and everything is related to what the political leaders in Baghdad are going to agree on. Also, what Kurds could decide on regarding declaring their independence or not. Syria and what’s happening inside it holds the biggest impact in changing events in Iraq. I believe this matter is going to take a while before a real change happens or law and stability returns to Iraq. I am afraid that my fear become a reality, which is the entrance of the militias to Baghdad, although I exclude it very much. What’s more scary is that a disaster could happen if ISIS goes towards lighting a sectarian war in Iraq, if it happens, the whole region will be lighted with a fire that won’t be put down. I have been warning, for a long time, that Iraq is moving towards this state. I knew well that this is going to happen but no one listened and they all knew it pretty well but no one took any decisions to end the crisis before it happens. If it happens and ISIS governs Mosul for long time –which is excluded-, Mosul would change and no one will be able to bring it back to its identity for many long years. I wish that Iraq moves towards an agreement that ends the crisis.