“People are living this huge dilemma, and everyone’s eyes are on the bridges whith [sic] huge question in mind: what if the bridges are taken down, and we didn’t cross over to the othet side? How would we traverse? Shall we stay? Shall we move out??”
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The above was written on November 7 by an Iraqi blogger from inside Mosul, where fierce battles are raging between the Iraqi army and forces of the Islamic State organization (ISIL). The blog, Mosul Eye, is written in fluent English and for obvious reasons its author is not identified by name. The blog expresses one of the city’s most authentic voices, describing not the battles and the movement of forces but rather the great hardships of ordinary people who know they can be killed at any moment, either by the forces sent to liberate them or by the Islamic State.
Around 1.5 million people still live in Mosul, which is bisected by the Euphrates River. The river’s banks are linked by a small number of bridges. On the city’s eastern side, Mosul Eye writes in the same blog entry, “Water and power are cut for over a week from the area and people are stranded in their homes, they are afraid to stay and afraid to leave.”
In a preceding sentence he noted, almost casually, “A family of four, a couple with two children were killed today by a mortar shell dropped on their residence,” at Al-Khadraa apartments on the east bank. “Al-Khadraa apartments are also divided into two parts: one is under fire, and the other under ISIL’s control. ISIL is trying to confiscate as many apartments as possible to turn them into military bases. Yet, people are holding their ground and refuse to leave their apartments.”
In the western side of Mosul, Mosul Eye continues, “Life starts at 9:00 AM and ends at 1:00 PM. Very small number of people could be seen during those hours, and no store keep their doors open beyond 2:00 PM. Some families got divided into two halves – half of the family got stuck at the Eastern bank, and afraid to go back to the Western bank, and vice versa ... ISIL is moving lots of ammunition to homes belong to ISIL among innocent families. Those families live in horror. ISIL is forcing families surrounding those houses to stay in their homes and threatened to kill them if they try to flee.”
The forces dispatched to liberate the city from the Islamic State are also a matter of deep concern to residents. Last week Amnesty International called for the Iraqi authorities to investigate reports that in October up to six people in two subdistricts of Mosul were tortured and executed by fighters wearing Iraqi Federal Police uniforms who suspected them of cooperating with the Islamic State. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi responded angrily to the reports, calling them “false information” that endangered the security of Mosul’s residents and interfered with the liberation of the city.
Mosul Eye called on the liberating Iraqi forces to preserve civil records and documents that were looted and hidden by Islamic State forces. “Those records belong to Mosul and its people, and they must be preserved; Mosul’s modern history relies on those records,” he writes.
The Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat has reported on the difficulties experienced by Iraqi civilians living in Mosul neighborhoods that have been liberated by government forces. When the Islamic State conquered the city around three years ago, it ordered all personal-status documents issued by the Iraqi government destroyed and replaced them with its own birth certificates, marriage licenses and the like. The Islamic State established new marriage laws, eliminated the minimum-age requirements for marriage and required all marriages to be performed by its own clergy.
Residents of these neighbors related that Islamic State forced bridegrooms to delay their weddings until their beard reached an approved length. Couples who married in civil courts risked being accused of engaging in prostitution, the maximum punishment for which under the Islamic State is death by stoning. Some of these couples have since had children, who do not appear in government birth records. As a result, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are in danger, since the assumption is that anyone without Iraqi identity papers is affiliated with Islamic State. In addition, since the residents of the liberated areas of Mosul lost all their legal papers, they are ineligible for aid from the Iraqi government and cannot receive their salaries.
And so, even before the war for Mosul has begun in earnest, it turns out that “ordinary life” is good preparation for the shocks to follow. Mosul Eye, who posts entries every two days or so, shares the nature of that “ordinary life” with his readers.
“I saw a video where children were dragging along the ground ISIL dead corpses. I cried just for seeing this hideous scene ... Two years of training on savagery and brutality, and I am scared to death of what might unfold during the liberation. People who act with such cruelty and barbarity open the door to upcoming and deep problems in the future. There are hundreds of thousands of children who might have turned into future monsters. ISIL has deformed their minds ... Today they killed one of my closest friends. They decapitated his head. They ended his life in a blink of an eye. I have always loved his brain. Oh! How much that brain had argued with me! I just wish I can keep his head at least. I don’t know where his body now, nor his head. May be he still hears, learns, and goes on in discussions! I wonder with who he’s talking to now! ... Who will I lose next?”