Fairfax reporter Michael Bachelard and photographer Kate Geraghty flew to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and spent two weeks meeting people in Mosul, Kirkuk and Save the Children displaced person’s camps to find out how they had survived IS’s barbaric regime and the urban warfare that had freed them from it.
Fairfax reporter Michael Bachelard and photographer Kate Geraghty flew to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and spent two weeks meeting people in Mosul, Kirkuk and Save the Children displaced person’s camps to find out how they had survived IS’s barbaric regime and the urban warfare that had freed them from it. They were able to talk openly with Mosul’s people about what life was like under IS and developed a four part series focusing in on a few of these stories. Many had seen loved ones killed and houses destroyed. When you ask these people – man, woman or child – what they felt in the years under IS, they answer with one word: fear.
The men of Mosul in Iraq suffered terrible punishments for failing to observe the rules of Islamic State. For Ibrahim, being flogged in the street was the last straw.
Ibrahim Abdullah lives one-and-a-half kilometres on foot from his local mosque. One Friday, he was late leaving home – late to compulsory Friday mosque.
“Can you believe they took a man like me, 60 years old, and whipped him in front of all the neighbours, in public, on the street, disrespecting me?” he asks.
The humiliation remains fresh.
“After that I closed my front door and I didn’t go out at all.”
According to Ibrahim, he wasn’t missing much. The sermons at Friday services were all sourness and war: “‘May God help us to destroy America and its allies and the [Kurdish] Peshmerga [army] and the apostates and the infidel and the Shiites’,” he recalls.
“They made us hate religion. They made us hate Islam.”
When IS first arrived in Iraq's Sunni-majority north in 2014, some greeted them as saviours. Tired of the neglect and sometimes violence of the Shiite-dominated central government and its security services, and the ravages of political gangs that roamed Mosul, people believed IS might be an improvement.
Initially, prices went down, food was plentiful and public servants still received their government salaries from Baghdad. Things were looking good in the new Sunni state. Many joined the movement.
Months later, for reasons nobody there was entirely sure of, things changed.
First IS targeted those who had worked for the security forces, killing police and military officials. Then the recommendations for dress and deportment became hard rules with harsh enforcement. For men, long beards, long hair and short trousers – held with elastic above the ankle – became mandatory. Smoking, mobile phones and TVs were prohibited, though the militants themselves seemed exempt from these rules.
“They were all watching satellite TV,” says Mosul resident Jumaa Ali Ibrahim.
Teams of armed IS enforcers roamed the suburbs, watching out for transgressors.
They were particularly strict on satellite dishes. IS members would go door to door confiscating them and marking houses with green paint to show they were clear of them.
As people do, though, some found ways around this restriction. Jumaa was one. He gave the illiterate IS enforcer an old, broken satellite dish while keeping the working one hidden away. Then he helped spray the sign on his own wall declaring himself clear.
A serial offender, Jumaa also avoided punishment for the offence of not wearing his trousers long enough. Instead of giving IS his own identity card, he handed in the card of his father, who was on his deathbed. Jumaa never went to the punishment office to collect it and receive his whipping.
His neighbour, Ismail Ibrahim Abdullah, a school teacher with five children, spent the years of IS rule keeping his family nice: “We always tried to do things according to their rules so that we would be safe from danger or punishment,” he says.
“We used to feel like we were in jail.”
Living without TV, however – their link to the outside world – was a step too far. Abdullah hid a small dish in the corner of his courtyard garden and ran the wire under the grass and into the house. They moved the TV set to an inside room so it could be easily disguised when IS fighters came knocking, as they sometimes did.
Some months into the occupation, the central government in Baghdad stopped making payments to government workers in IS-controlled areas. Mosul’s economy tanked.
By the end of IS rule, according to roadside shawarma merchant Othman Naufal, “only 5 per cent of Mosul was working”. For two increasingly bleak years, he relied on the only people who had money – IS fighters themselves – to keep buying his sandwiches. Food shortages were constant.
“It was a famine,” says Maher, a former government worker. “It was a terrible feeling for the head of the family. I wouldn't sleep for 78 hours at a time.”
Trading in the black market offered a potential, though perilous, lifeline for some men. Saud* is a 17-year-old with a sharp haircut, shaved high up the sides (“you'd never get away with this under IS”) and the electrifying blue-green eyes you see often in this part of Iraq.
His cousin joined the terror group in their home town of Hawija and urged Saud to do the same. IS demanded three out of every four boys join them. But Saud went the other way. He sold cigarettes “to give me something to do”.
Five times he was arrested by IS and punished.
“They’d send you someone who smokes to ask for cigarettes, you’d fall for it,” Saud said from his tent on a snowy day in Daquq camp, south-west of Kirkuk. “The fifth time was the ugliest.”
They hit him with a plastic bar and jumped on him until his back hurt and he could barely move. Then IS sentenced Saud to death in a mass punishment to be carried out in the town’s football stadium. His own cousin urged the executioners on.
“Fifty of us were waiting for our fate,” Saud says. “I thought I was dead. I just gave up. There was a batch of people in front of us and we watched them getting their heads cut off. People were buried without giving their bodies back to their family.
“There was a 50-metre hole and everyone inside.”
Then, for some reason, someone in charge granted a last-minute amnesty.
Months later, Saud still has trouble sitting on the floor because of his damaged back. But he survived. “Once you belong to them, you are safe and treated well,” Saud says. “But if they see you as the opposition, they will hurt you.
“They do it to force you to give up and join them.”
As first seen on Fairfax Media (4th March 2017).