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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Islamic State: Diary of life in Mosul - 3 Touching Stories

The northern Iraqi city of Mosul fell to Islamic State (IS) in June, bringing the population under the harsh rule of the jihadists. The militants swiftly introduced a regime in accordance with their radical version of Islam, including brutal punishments, strict rules for women and intolerance of any dissent.

In an exclusive series of diary instalments, residents describe what life is like in Mosul since IS took over. The diarists' names have been changed to protect their identities.

From Nizar

[Editor's note: Before Islamic State over-ran Mosul, the city was home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Most fled with the arrival of IS, who ordered the city's remaining Christians to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face being killed]

Not one house owned by a Christian in Mosul was not taken over and looted by IS members, and all their belongings stolen, down to the last broomstick.

Some IS fighters have even moved into the Christians' homes themselves, using everything in those houses as if they were their own.

They've inhabited all the areas and consider them as spoils of war, as if the Christians and the Yazidis [minority religious group] were the enemy, and by doing so, the IS has become a burden on our areas.

We feel ashamed to call our Christian and Yazidi friends, and I feel I cannot even phone them any more, as if it was me or one of my family or friends that committed those heinous crimes against them.

I decided not to talk or salute any IS member who occupies a Christian house near me, and I cannot bear to look at their evil faces.

Fleeing air strikes
I've taken notice of their behaviour during coalition air strikes. They immediately switch off the lights in the homes they occupy, and some drive off in their stolen cars in some unknown direction.

Then they return as soon as the air strikes cease. A friend of mine had the nerve to ask one of them, "Why do you run away during the air strikes?"

The IS member answered that they fear the strikes will target the houses of Christians that they've occupied because the Christians would have told the coalition their location.

Another friend of mine tried to get close to a house occupied by an IS member and his family to see what was happening there, but he was unable to as they never leave the door open, and don't even talk in the garden.

My friends and I vowed that once this is over, and our city is cleared of the dirt and nastiness, that we would rehabilitate a Christian house to show the world, or at least our Christian friends, that those who did this to them abide by no religion at all.

From Faisal

Four months have passed since Islamic State took over, and a friend of mine is still in hiding here.

He worked as a bodyguard for some judges in Mosul, but after the city fell all the judges left and my friend went into hiding. He moved home so no-one would know where to find him.

My friend doesn't move around in the streets much, because IS fighters are almost everywhere in the city.

Sometimes they set up impromptu checkpoints and go through people's IDs, looking for people wanted by IS: former security personnel or judiciary, or anyone suspected of arresting IS members before IS captured the city, or anyone who worked for the governorate or in politics.

Most of them have left, fearing execution by IS. These kinds of actions have pushed people away from supporting IS. Their criminal acts have terrorised peaceful citizens.

IS members can be seen executing activists in front of everyone in the streets. They wear black fighter outfits, have let their hair and beards grow - some look as if they haven't seen a shower in ages!

Every day they increase in number, hold new positions and consolidate their presence, undeterred by the air strikes from coalition forces which do nothing to change things on the ground. It it is actually our reality which has changed and become even more horrific.

From Mays

I teach at a school in my beloved city, Mosul. Like other Iraqi mothers I work to provide some sort of financial assistance to my husband, albeit negligible, to help fend off the hardships of life through such hard times and in such an expensive country.

This year, when the summer holidays began, I decided to go to Baghdad to visit some family and relatives there and attend a family ceremony.

After the party, when we were all still full of excitement and surrounded by our loved ones, I received news of a curfew back home, and the start of the fighting between government forces and Islamic State rebels.

From that moment I spoke to my husband in Mosul every day to find out the latest news.

'Horror and panic'
I spent the worst days of my life in Baghdad, the city of my childhood innocence, and where I lived my dreams as a woman in my 20s. I had always been thrilled to live in Baghdad until I got married and moved to Mosul.

And yet, for five days of fighting which followed in Mosul, I lived in horror, fear and pure panic, worrying about my husband. I was constantly wondering what was happening and whether I would ever be with him again.

After the arrival of the Sunni rebels and IS fighters in Mosul, my husband and I started plotting my return to the city, but all roads were still blocked because of the fighting taking place between Baghdad and Mosul.

Cities were falling in hours - not even days - after governmental forces fled or retreated, which left everybody puzzled.

After several attempts by my husband and thanks to some of his connections, we managed to book flights from Baghdad to the north.

But then another obstacle faced us - I had not brought my children's documentation as I was travelling by land. Yet as we were now flying, it was a must, or we wouldn't be able to leave.

Armed groups
Thanks to good thinking and God's will we received the documents via a friend who was leaving Mosul by car and who later flew to Baghdad and brought us the papers.

I finally got home to my family in Mosul, shortly after midnight on 20 June. I was shocked and frightened by what I saw in the streets, where armed groups were roaming around. I prayed and fasted for three days.

I stayed at home for a while, until I got used to the situation we are now living under, but those were moments I will never forget.