In­side IS rule: Cre­at­ing a na­tion of fear

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

When the Is­lamic State fight­ers burst into the Iraqi vil­lage of Eski Mo­sul, Sheikh Ab­dul­lah Ibrahim knew his wife was in trou­ble.

Buthaina Ibrahim was an out­spo­ken hu­man rights ad­vo­cate who had once run for the pro­vin­cial coun­cil in Mo­sul. The IS fight­ers de­manded she ap­ply for a “re­pen­tance card.” Un­der the rule of the ex­trem­ist group, all for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers, sol­diers and peo­ple whose ac­tiv­i­ties are deemed “hereti­cal” must sign the card and carry it with them at all times.

“She said she’d never stoop so low,” her hus­band said.

Buthaina Ibrahim was an out­lier in her de­fi­ance of the Is­lamic State. It would cost her dearly.

The “caliphate,” de­clared a year ago, de­mands obe­di­ence. Un­told num­bers have been killed be­cause they were deemed dan­ger­ous to the IS, or in­suf­fi­ciently pi­ous; 5-8 mil­lion en­dure a regime that has swiftly turned their world up­side down, ex­tend­ing its con­trol into ev­ery cor­ner of life to en­force its own rad­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law, or Shariah.

The Is­lamic State is a place where men douse them­selves with cologne to hide the odor of for­bid­den cig­a­rettes; where taxi driv­ers or mo­torists usu­ally play the IS ra­dio sta­tion, since mu­sic can get a driver 10 lashes; where women must be en­tirely cov­ered, in black, and in flat­soled shoes; where shops must close dur­ing Mus­lim prayers, and ev­ery­one found out­doors must at­tend.

There is no safe way out. Peo­ple van­ish — their dis­ap­pear­ance some­times ex­plained by an un­in­for­ma­tive death cer­tifi­cate, or worse, a video of their be­head­ing.

“Peo­ple hate them, but they’ve de­spaired, and they don’t see any­one sup­port­ing them if they rise up,” said a 28-year-old Syr­ian who asked to be iden­ti­fied only by the nick­name he uses in po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, Ad­nan, in or­der to pro­tect his fam­ily, which still lives un­der IS rule. “Peo­ple feel that no­body is with them.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press in­ter­viewed more than 20 Iraqis and Syr­i­ans de­scrib­ing life un­der the group’s rule. One AP team trav­eled to Eski Mo­sul, a vil­lage on a bend in the Ti­gris River north of Mo­sul where res­i­dents emerged from nearly seven months un­der IS rule af­ter Kur­dish fight­ers drove the ex­trem­ists out in Jan­uary. IS forces re­main dug in only a few miles away, so close that smoke is vis­i­ble from fight­ing on the front lines.

Vi­o­lent Ex­trem­ist Dis­ci­pline

Another AP team trav­eled to the Turk­ish bor­der cities of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, refuges for Syr­i­ans who have fled IS ter­ri­tory.

The pic­ture they paint sug­gests the Is­lamic State’s “caliphate” has evolved into an en­trenched pseu­dostate, based on a bu­reau­cracy of terror. In­ter­vie­wees pro­vided AP with some doc­u­ments pro­duced by the IS rul­ing ma­chine — re­pen­tance cards, lists in­ven­to­ry­ing weapons held by lo­cal fight­ers, leaflets de­tail­ing rules of women’s dress, de­tailed forms for ap­ply­ing for per­mis­sion to travel out­side IS ter­ri­tory. All em­bla­zoned with the IS black ban­ner and logo “Caliphate in the path of the prophet.”

Ad­nan de­scribed the trans­for­ma­tion that the Syr­ian city of Raqqa un­der­went af­ter the Is­lamic State took it over in Jan­uary 2014. At the time, he fled, but af­ter a few months of miss­ing his fam­ily, the 28-year-old re­turned to see if he could en­dure life un­der the ex­trem­ists. He lasted for al­most a year in the city, now the IS de facto cap­i­tal. He spoke to AP in the Turk­ish bor­der town of Gaziantep.

The once col­or­ful, cos­mopoli­tan Syr­ian pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal has been trans­formed, he said. Now, women cov­ered head to toe in black scur­ried quickly to mar­kets be­fore rush­ing home. Fam­i­lies of­ten didn’t leave home to avoid any con­tact with the “Hisba” com­mit­tees, the dreaded en­forcers of the in­nu­mer­able IS reg­u­la­tions.

IS fight­ers turned a soc­cer sta­dium into a prison and in­ter­ro­ga­tion cen­ter, known as “Point 11.” The city’s cen­tral square was re­ferred to by res­i­dents as “Ja­heem” Square — Hell Square, an ex­e­cu­tion site where Ad­nan said he saw the corpses of three men left dan­gling for days as a warn­ing.

Armed mem­bers of the Hisba pa­trolled the streets, cruis­ing in SUVs and wear­ing Afghan-style baggy pants and long shirts. They sniffed peo­ple for the odor of cig­a­rettes, and chas­tised women they con­sid­ered im­prop­erly cov­ered or men who wore Western clothes or hair styles. Ad­nan said he once was dealt 10 lashes for play­ing mu­sic in his car.

In this world, the out­spo­ken Buthaina Ibrahim was clearly in dan­ger. The sheikh tried to save his wife, send­ing her away to safety, but she soon re­turned, miss­ing their three daugh­ters and two sons, he said. In early Oc­to­ber, the mil­i­tants sur­rounded the house and dragged her away.

Not long af­ter, Ibrahim re­ceived the death cer­tifi­cate. A sim­ple sheet of pa­per from an “Is­lamic court” with a judge’s sig­na­ture, it said only that Buthaina’s death was ver­i­fied, noth­ing more. He has no idea where her body is.

De­liv­ery from IS came to Eski Mo­sul at the hands of Kur­dish fight­ers. Amid the joy over lib­er­a­tion, many res­i­dents dis­carded doc­u­ments from the Is­lamic State.

But Ibrahim is keep­ing the death cer­tifi­cate as a con­nec­tion to his wife, “be­cause it has her name on it.”

A for­mer soldier in the vil­lage, Salim Ahmed, said he is keep­ing his re­pen­tance card. IS might be gone, but the fear it in­stilled in him is not.

“We live very close to their front line,” he said. “One day, they might come back and ask me for my re­pen­tance card again.”


In this photo re­leased on July 2, 2014 by a mil­i­tant web­site, which has been ver­i­fied and is con­sis­tent with other AP re­port­ing, Iraqi men gather around Is­lamic State group of­fi­cials to sign cards tes­ti­fy­ing that they have “re­pented” from their hereti­cal past, in Mo­sul, north­ern Iraq.

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