Conflict & Justice

‘Scary? No. They seem to be good people’ – How one Mosul resident sees life under ISIS

Mosul street.jpg

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REUTERS/Stringer

People walk past a banner belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the city of Mosul. The banner reads, "There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his messenger."

Across Iraq, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people are now living in territory controlled by ISIS militants.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

The group has a well established reputation for brutality, extremism and sectarian violence, and getting reliable reports of everyday life in these areas can be extremely difficult. For many in the Shia community, their progress across the country has brought fear and dismay.

But not everyone has such a negative view of ISIS and their campaign.

The World spoke to one Sunni resident of Mosul about the changes he has seen since government forces abandoned the town.

Even speaking to Ahmed (we changed his name for safety purposes) was complex. Through contacts at the BBC and with Iraqi human rights workers, we were able to verify his identity as a genuine Mosul resident and not an ISIS plant.

So far, Ahmed’s experience of ISIS rule has been surprisingly positive. "Are they scary? No," he said. "They seem to be good people, and they use very good behavior. They always say ‘don’t be scared- we came here to protect you and get oppression out of Iraq.’”

For Ahmed, the overwhelming impression since the takeover has been order and stability in the city.

“We don’t support them," he said. "But they promised us that we will not hear a single bullet sound in Mosul. And this is what happened. We haven’t heard a single bullet since the military forces went out of Mosul. They have given peace to Mosul.”

Part of this tolerance comes from the fact that some of the militants are believed to be local fighters, rather than outsiders from Syria. Ahmed told us that it was difficult to be certain because of the ISIS uniform of face masks, but some Mosul residents believed they had recognized individual fighters.

More importantly for people like Ahmed, ISIS’ arrival was welcome because it freed Mosul’s Sunni community from what he called a campaign of violence and discrimination by the government in Baghdad.

"[Prime Minister] Maliki has oppressed us to a degree you and the world do not know," he explained. "You see some pictures on the TV - but you don’t know the reality. Here in Iraq, since 2003, we have experienced a murder every day, a bomb attack and every day friends and relatives get killed."

Ahmed was at pains to say that he is not prejudiced against Shia Iraqis himself, "they are our brothers," he said. Nevertheless, he said that many people in Mosul now believed the country would have to be split along religious lines to "stop the bleeding."

For Ahmed this is the most important goal. "We the people - the normal people - we don’t need more murder. We want a peaceful life here. Everyday crying, every day blood in the streets - we’ve got bored of this."

As for the West’s role in solving Iraq’s crisis, Ahmed said that what was needed was intervention from Washington, to force Prime Minister Maliki to negotiate.

"Please Mr. Obama - you always have the solution," he said. "We want to solve this is issue with negotations. And we don’t want more bleeding."

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