Is­lamic State bru­tal­ity comes to light

‘Caliphate’ leaves Iraqis in ad­min­is­tra­tive limbo

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

From be­hind the cur­tains of his bed­room win­dow, 29year-old Riyad Ahmed would peer out at Is­lamic State fighters drag­ging civil­ians into a makeshift jail across the street and then send­ing them in the mid­dle of the night to be ex­e­cuted. The former English teacher from the town of Hammam alAlil, south of the ji­hadists’ Mo­sul strong­hold, re­calls hear­ing vic­tims’ cries of agony as he hid with dozens of neigh­bors in the shadow of one of the group’s de­ten­tion cen­ters.

“The devil him­self would be as­tounded by Daesh’s meth­ods of tor­ture. It is be­yond the imag­i­na­tion,” said Ahmed, us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State. Iraq’s army and fed­eral po­lice, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a US-backed of­fen­sive launched last month to re­cap­ture the largest pop­u­la­tion cen­tre un­der the ji­hadists’ con­trol, re­took this area over the week­end. As the forces ad­vance, de­tails of Is­lamic State’s bru­tal­ity and grow­ing des­per­a­tion, which have trick­led out of its self-pro­claimed caliphate over the past two years, are be­ing re­in­forced by first-hand ac­counts of res­i­dents.

Stand­ing on the road be­tween his house and the jail on Mon­day, Ahmed told Reuters that no part of Hammam alAlil had been spared from the ul­tra-hard­line Sunni Is­lamists’ vi­o­lence. In his street alone, he said six peo­ple he knew had been ex­e­cuted, in­clud­ing his fa­ther and a fam­ily of three that lived next door. Aid or­ga­ni­za­tions, lo­cal of­fi­cials and Mo­sul res­i­dents have cited re­ports that Is­lamic State ex­e­cuted dozens of peo­ple in Hammam Al-Alil and bar­racks nearby over the course of a week, on sus­pi­cion of plan­ning re­bel­lions in and around Mo­sul to aid the ad­vanc­ing troops.

Abdul Rahman Al-Wag­gaa, a mem­ber of the Nin­eveh pro­vin­cial coun­cil, told Reuters last month that most of the vic­tims were former po­lice and army mem­bers. Is­lamic State had used the town’s agri­cul­tural col­lege as “a killing field” for hun­dreds of peo­ple in the days be­fore the Iraqi gov­ern­ment ad­vance, Ahmed said. “They would tor­ture them in­side and then take them out of the neigh­bor­hood and ei­ther shoot them or slit their throats.” Po­lice backed up his ac­counts, but the road to the col­lege was still lined with im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IEDs) on Mon­day, pre­vent­ing Reuters from vis­it­ing. The mil­i­tary says its forces at the com­plex have dis­cov­ered the de­cap­i­tated corpses of at least 100 civil­ians.

The jail op­po­site Ahmed’s house was once the home of an army of­fi­cer who fled Is­lamic State’s blitz across a third of Iraq’s ter­ri­tory in 2014. Its walls are cov­ered in soot from a fire ap­par­ently set by flee­ing fighters, but metal cages only slightly larger than an adult male are still in­tact. Ahmed, who learned English when US forces oc­cu­pied Iraq for nine years af­ter top­pling Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003, was de­lighted to speak to a for­eign re­porter af­ter two years dur­ing which he feared he would be killed for us­ing English. “We have been liv­ing in hell, like zom­bies,” he said. Res­i­dents still in Hammam al-Alil on Mon­day told how they packed into homes with nearly 100 other peo­ple each for days to avoid be­ing forced to flee to Mo­sul as Is­lamic State re­treated. “They didn’t know we were here. We didn’t make a sound. No lights, no sound, no speak­ing at all,” said Ahmed. His fam­ily had stored food to avoid go­ing out­side but ev­ery­one lost weight, he said. Us­ing the bath­room was a chal­lenge.

As the town’s re­main­ing res­i­dents emerged from their homes on Mon­day, neigh­bours greeted each other for the first time in many days. An army lieu­tenant, back in Hammam Al-Alil af­ter tak­ing refuge on a moun­tain for more than a week fol­low­ing the es­ca­la­tion of ex­e­cu­tions of security per­son­nel, said he wit­nessed Is­lamic State kill peo­ple in a nearby field. Thou­sands of civil­ians, in­clud­ing many from vil­lages fur­ther south who had been forced to serve as hu­man shields for the ji­hadists, es­caped to gov­ern­ment camps over the week­end while oth­ers were forced deeper into Is­lamic State-held ter­ri­tory. “If the forces had come just a few days later, we would be in Mo­sul now. Daesh wanted to take us,” said Ahmed. Oth­ers were not so lucky. Tariq, an en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent, said he had bar­ri­caded him­self in­side his home with dozens of neigh­bors for four days be­fore Is­lamic State fled, re­fus­ing fighters’ de­mands to leave with them. At one point, he said, the fighters had donned army fa­tigues and man­aged to trick a few fam­i­lies into be­liev­ing they were ar­riv­ing Iraqi forces. When the civil­ians went out to greet them, Tariq said, they were ex­e­cuted. “Even a one-year-old baby, they put a bul­let in his head.”— Reuters

Fam­i­lies flee­ing Mo­sul as Iraqi forces move in are tak­ing their “of­fi­cial” doc­u­ments with them but also won­der­ing who will rec­og­nize the stamp of the Is­lamic State group. From the out­side, the “caliphate” IS pro­claimed in June 2014 could look like a law­less land run by ma­ni­a­cal ji­hadists on a per­ma­nent mur­der­ous ram­page. But two years later, sur­viv­ing civil­ians were also emerg­ing from a par­al­lel state where peo­ple were born, mar­ried and buried and where an army of reg­is­trars pro­duced “of­fi­cial” doc­u­ments.

In Mo­sul’s freshly re­taken east­ern neigh­bor­hood of In­ti­sar, Umm Ahmed, wear­ing a veil that shows only her eyes, waved her hus­band’s death cer­tifi­cate. She stayed two years with­out any news of him and it was only when the ji­hadists re­cently gave her this pa­per that she knew he had prob­a­bly been ex­e­cuted.

The cer­tifi­cate had “Is­lamic State Caliphate” let­ter­head un­der the group’s black flag and was pro­duced by the “Di­wan of Jus­tice”. Since IS leader Abu Bakr alBagh­dadi de­clared him­self the caliph in Mo­sul more than two years ago, res­i­dents have had to adapt their vo­cab­u­lary to the new regime, said Umm Ibrahim. “There were no min­istries, there was a ‘di­wan’ of health and a ‘di­wan’ of jus­tice,” she ex­plained, us­ing the term IS bor­rowed from the early Mus­lim caliphates for its gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. The 49-year-old had to deal with the “di­wan of jus­tice” when her son was mar­ried. “We had to go to the Is­lamic court and an Is­lamic State sheikh of­fi­ci­ated the mar­riage,” she re­counted. “No­body spoke Mo­sul Ara­bic there, they all spoke Ara­bic but ac­cents were from all over,” said Umm Ibrahim. Mo­sul, with a pre2014 pop­u­la­tion of close to two mil­lion by some es­ti­mates, was the largest city in the caliphate when Bagh­dadi pro­claimed it in June 2014. With Raqa, the Syr­ian city which is also un­der at­tack from anti-IS forces, Mo­sul be­came the de facto cap­i­tal of the ji­hadist group’s ex­per­i­ment in state­hood.

‘Ev­ery­thing is for­bid­den’

The group di­vided ter­ri­tory it held into “wilayat” or states that in some cases do not fol­low ei­ther coun­try’s ex­ist­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive map. They ran hos­pi­tals, schools, levied taxes and dis­trib­uted ben­e­fits, fol­low­ing prin­ci­ples they claimed to be faith­ful to the early days of Is­lam. But to most Iraqis, that regime was sim­ply ex­tor­tion un­der the guise of re­li­gion. They had cre­ated “a state within the state, with laws, con­tracts and reg­u­la­tions with which you had to com­ply,” said Umm Ibrahim.

Af­ter sev­eral fines, Mo­hammed had to close down his cafe, which used to be filled with cig­a­rette smoke, mu­sic and lo­cals play­ing pool and domi­nos ev­ery night. “For the Is­lamic State, I have ev­ery­thing that is (re­li­giously) for­bid­den: pool is for­bid­den, cig­a­rettes are for­bid­den, cafes are for­bid­den,” he said, laugh­ing. — AFP

HAMAM AL-ALIL: Iraqi forces pull a body out from a mass grave they dis­cov­ered in the Hamam Al-Alil area af­ter they re­cap­tured the area from Is­lamic State (IS) group ji­hadists dur­ing the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul, the last IS-held Iraqi city.- AFP

HAMAM AL-ALIL: Iraqi sol­diers dis­play a cap­tured flag of the Is­lamic State in the Hamam al-Alil area, about 14 kilo­me­ters from the south­ern out­skirts of Mo­sul af­ter re­cap­tur­ing it from Is­lamic State (IS) group ji­hadists. — AFP

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