Lipstick and dresses are back in Mosul

People living in the Iraqi city of Mosul, overrun by so-called Islamic State (IS) three years ago, have described a life of terror, with children killed for minor misdemeanours, public floggings and regular disappearances.

Exclusive footage and testimony from the east of Iraq’s second city, recaptured in January, reveals how the extremist group persecuted women and religious minorities and tried to control all aspects of people’s lives.

However, the videos also show how schools and cafes are reopening and shops restocking with previously banned products.

Journalist Ghadi Sary captured the scenes after returning to the city three years after exposing the brutality of life under IS in secretly-filmed videos for the BBC.

While Iraqi security forces have reclaimed most of Mosul, part of the west remains under IS control.

1. Control of women

The videos, filmed in March on mobile phones, show how some aspects of women’s lives are returning to normal, with shops starting to sell clothes and cosmetics once again. However, women living in the city describe how the legacy of IS rule remains.

Maha, 36, Al Zuhour neighbourhood: I will never forget that awful day and what happened to a little seven-year-old on our street.

The girl had come down to the small neighbourhood shop to buy some sweets when IS militants approached her.

The girl, chatting innocently to the old shop owner, was asked by the militants where her home was. She pointed it out before running and hiding.

Her parents come to see what was going on and the IS fighters lectured them about how their daughter was violating Sharia law by being alone with the seller.

Even this innocent young girl was not allowed to enjoy her childhood and go and buy sweets.

After a long debate, the fighters decided the girl’s punishment was to be bitten or pinched in her face or on her hands by the women of the Hisba [the religious police], or the more adequately described “monsters of Hisba”.

The terrified mother begged them to punish her instead of her young daughter but there is no room for discussion with IS.

The child was punished in front of her screaming mother. The monsters aggressively and repeatedly beat her and pinched her.

The child was screaming until she passed out and her heart stopped.

The wailing mother completely lost her mind when she saw her child die in front of her.

The whole neighbourhood went mad in fear for our children after that day.

Reem, 27, Al-hadbaa neighbourhood: My father was quite protective of us growing up, and during the two-and-a-half years of IS rule, he worried about where we were, so we were homebound for most of the time.

It felt like living in prison all this time, and our outings we extremely rare.

Once, I was walking down the street when I started stumbling because of the way our faces were constantly covered by black fabric.

IS fighters saw me and started following me. This only made me run faster and stumble even more – like a prisoner escaping some death sentence.

I managed to make it home that day, but that feeling never left me.

I constantly have nightmares about being followed by those men, and I wake up completely terrified and exhausted.

Even after liberation I still have those nightmares.

Our lives under IS were empty and boring as we were locked in our homes. They shut down our universities and wrote on the front door: “A woman’s kingdom is her home”.

Unnamed female resident: Schools, universities and education in general were the biggest losers of the dark rule of IS. Most of those institutions were shut down, and education under IS was focused on teaching jihad and combat techniques. Women and men were separated and women were told to completely cover up.

Women suffered the most under IS as many had chosen to stay at home throughout all the years they had been controlling our city. The city itself was one large prison.

2. Destruction of everyday life

Life for the city’s residents was changed beyond recognition under IS. Footage reveals how the city’s closed university was badly damaged. However, residents are trying to restart classes.

Hussein, 30, Al-Andalus neighbourhood: A year-and-a-half into the control of IS, they decided to ban satellite dishes.

My father worried we would be severely punished if we were caught in possession of one at our home, so we had to remove it.

But after several weeks of staying at home under almost total lockdown – we were left jobless and without any university or other activity since IS had taken over – we eventually grew bored and decided to set it up again.

We did it in a way that was not obvious to those looking in from the street, by locating it on the roof behind some water tanks.

A few days later, we heard loud knocking and yelling on our street and we knew the Hisba [religious police] had come, so I ran upstairs to dismantle the dish.

As soon as I peeked my head out, I heard a voice shout, “Come down we saw you”, and I realised they had agents peering in from higher rooftops.

At that point some men knocked on our door and started dragging my father outside.

I ran quickly and pushed them off. As a result, I was taken away along with many men from my neighbourhood.

I was then locked up for nine sleepless nights. We rotated between standing and sitting in our overcrowded cell.

I was then put in front of a judge who was younger than I was and clearly couldn’t read or write. He sentenced me to be flogged 60 times.

They asked me which part of my body I would choose, but I didn’t understand the difference, so I said the upper part.

They tied me down and started flogging the upper part of my body.

Every time I screamed in pain they would start again from zero. It felt like an eternity until my ordeal ended. I felt my life was ending I was in so much pain.

Tamarra, 25, English literature graduate: My father works for Iraqi intelligence and the last two years have been spent in full-on psychological war with IS.

When we didn’t leave Mosul, we started hiding within the city and my father was arrested on nine separate occasions.

The first time they took him away for three days, which felt like three years.

He was told by a judge that he was going to be put before a “blood judge” [an IS executioner], but they subjected him to immense torture and then released him.

We were so happy when he was released. All was over, my dad was standing amongst us again.

But they [IS militants] were back within days, and the disappointment returned as we lived another three nights of horror.

At that time, we were all showing signs of depression.

Our house was looted by IS and then it was bombed by international coalition air strikes. We had to move to the top floor of my uncle’s neighbouring house.

A few days later the door bell rang again, and when my young cousin Ahmed went to open the door, IS fighters grabbed him and asked him about my father’s whereabouts.

Ahmed told them he wasn’t there, but they beat him up and climbed up the stairs to where we were.

They threw my dad on the ground. The female religious police were cursing at us, even at my poor old grandmother in her wheelchair.

One of the women in the religious police was being really violent to my grandmother. She strip-searched her and left her without clothes.

They then took my father away.

It has been months since I laid eyes on him. I have cried till my tears ran dry.

The day that my father was longing for has happened. We were liberated, but he wasn’t there to witness it.

Ahmad, 28, Al-Arabi neighbourhood: I stopped going out. I was sick of seeing people punished all the time by IS.

They made a point of rallying everyone whenever someone was punished, beaten or even beheaded.

People were accused of all sorts of crimes – adultery, conspiring with security forces and other excuses they used to subdue people.

I was already out of work by that point so I decided to stay at home.

But only two days later the power went off and the neighbourhood back-up generator failed to kick in.

I figured the guy in charge had forgotten to switch it on, so I decided to go and check it out.

As I was leaving, my eight-year-old nephew decided to come along. He was also stuck at home because his school was closed. We didn’t want him learning in the IS-controlled schools.

As we approached the generator, I noticed many people had gathered around it, but I quickly spotted the IS fighters there too.

They had forced the generator owner to shut it off, just so that people would come out and gather around and watch their heinous crimes.

I regretted coming out that day and I blame myself for allowing my nephew to be exposed to the awful scenes that I know he will never forget.

3. Economic control

IS imposed strict controls over economic activity during their three-year rule. One grocery shop owner describes how he had to cover up faces and flags on products while the militants were in charge. Residents say images on baby milk and nappies also had to be hidden.

Unnamed female resident: Trade was very difficult under their rule, as IS increasingly gave traders a hard time and set impossible rules for them to follow.

IS enforcers would set the type of goods traders were allowed to sell. The first thing they did was to ban the import of beef and chicken and forced everyone to rely on local produce.

They also forbid men from trading in women’s cosmetics and accessories. Those caught breaking that rule were flogged and fined.

They also ensured that any wrappers that featured a man or a woman’s face were covered. It was the same with pictures showing women’s hair or babies. Even baby milk and nappies had to be covered up because of that.

When news of the “battle of liberation” was announced, IS fighters were confused, and they intensified their harassment of people by raising prices and issuing tough rules.

They even banned satellite dishes and started publishing their own audiovisual publications through their own channels.

They were spreading rumours about their victories and their so called “conquest” of liberated cities. They were going door-to-door searching for mobile phones and having one was punishable by death.

4. Persecution of minorities

Churches and mosques have been destroyed by IS, as well as people’s homes. Residents have spoken about how empty houses were looted – especially those belonging to Christians.

Hamza, 32, Al-Jazaera street: After IS entered the city, they raided churches and some mosques and looted whatever they found in them.

They used the furniture from some of the churches at some of their so-called media points, where they disseminated their propaganda.

IS militants were looking all across town for empty houses to loot and where they could confiscate belongings, especially the houses of Christians who had fled the city.

They also looted the houses of Muslims who had fled calling them apostates and seized their property.

People tried to protect these houses by lodging members of their own family in them and pretending the houses were still occupied.

One of my neighbours was given the key to his Christian friend’s house before he fled town.

One day, armed men showed up to confiscate the house, so my neighbour told them that this house is under his protection and safekeeping, and that if they [IS] respected the Prophet, they should respect the concept of protection.

They let him be that day, but they kept coming back. Once they took him away to be flogged but he never yielded.

He eventually convinced them he had bought the house for his son, and he kept it until the liberation, when he handed the key back to his friend who came to check on his house.


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