In an exclusive interview with 5Pillarz, a resident of Mosul describes life under ISIS and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s first public Khutbah.
Abu Abdullah is a Sunni born and bred in Mosul. 5Pillarz made contact with him via a third party who was also his relative. He offers a first-hand account of the situation with ISIS in Iraq’s second largest city, including details of the Jummah Khutbah given by the leader of the “Islamic State.”
On Sunday 29th June, ISIS declared the territory under its control from Diyala in eastern Iraq to Aleppo in northern Syria as a Caliphate (Khilafah in Arabic). This announcement caused controversy around the Muslim world, resulting in wholesale rejection from veteran Islamic groups and scholars that have been working and fighting for the restoration of the Caliphate for decades.
Questions were raised by Muslims worldwide regarding the validity of Al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate, and whether it was truly a state with control over the security and resources of the land, or if ISIS were acting merely as a militia that has military control over a city without the necessary resources or capabilities of a state.
Speaking via one of the few functioning telephone lines in Mosul, Abu Abdullah speaks of both good and bad that has come from the presence of ISIS. He said: “The presence of Al-Maliki’s forces in the city was an oppressive presence hated by everyone in the city. It felt more like an occupation than anything else.
“ISIS has proven itself to be less oppressive than Nuri al-Maliki’s government, and most people agree. Although the people dislike the presence of ISIS, they disliked the presence of al-Maliki’s forces more.
“Additionally, the ISIS has removed barriers around the city that hindered movement within the city and travel out of the city, which has improved life.”
Whilst Abu Abdullah admits that life for ordinary Sunnis has improved in comparison to when Mosul was under the control of the predominantly Shi’a Iraqi government, he notes that these good things have come at a cost.
He added that, “After the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Mosul, the government cut all power, water, gasoline, and public-sector wages from the city. Most phone lines were also cut a few days later and have not yet been restored.”
According to Abu Abdullah, local residents (including him) have been told by ISIS to go home and not to work, as there are no wages to be paid. “The people are struggling to survive now,” he added. He told us that the people have no power, they are running out of water, they have no gasoline, which prevents them from travel, and people are not being paid for their work in the public sector. He indicated that ISIS had not announced any plans or shown any capability of restoring any of the services.
These findings have cast doubt on the capability of ISIS in their own “capital” and the surrounding region. Are they truly an independent state, or are they simply occupying parts of Iraq? External political analysts would argue that one of the basic requirements of a state is to have physical control over its resources. According to Abu Abdullah, ISIS’ inability to prevent the disconnection of electricity and water by a neighbouring state, leaving their citizens without any services or utilities, indicates that it is anything but a viable independent state.
Abu Abdullah also relayed the frustration of his family members, friends and neighbours about the armed presence of ISIS. “They [ISIS] have little to no presence in the outskirts, and mainly exist in the centre of the city. People are frightened and do not feel secure.”
He also informed 5Pillarz that the majority of people of Mosul are not loyal to ISIS, but are tolerant of them for the time being because “they’re better than the oppressive sectarian army of Al-Maliki.”
We are told: “Many have a strong dislike for their behaviour towards local residents. People have complained about excessive religious policing, where people are threatened with 50 lashes if they do not attend the five daily prayers at the mosque.” He reminds us that the Muslims of Mosul are renowned for their religiousness, and that such threats are unnecessary.
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s First Khutbah
The emir of ISIS led the Jummah prayers on Friday, the 4th July, at Jami’ Al-Nuri (Al-Nuri Mosque) in Mosul, the city’s largest mosque.
According to numerous media reports, the people of Mosul were not informed of al-Baghdadi leading the congregation, and Abu Abdullah confirmed this. The emir of ISIS’ appearance was “sudden and last minute.”
A curious piece of information that Abu Abdullah informed 5Pillarz of was that this was the day that phone lines were cut off throughout the city, that morning, hours before the Khutbah.
Regarding the Khutbah itself, we are told: “The Imam of Jami’ Al-Nuri was approached by ISIS officials just minutes prior to the Jummah prayer and was told to allow al-Baghdadi to give the Khutbah in his place. The front line was taken over by al-Baghdadi’s entourage,” which may explain why, in the video, the faces of the worshipers in the front row were blurred, whereas the remaining worshippers’ faces were left showing.
Media outlets stated that after the sermon and prayer, he left quickly, and the mosque was put on lock-down for fifteen minutes afterwards, preventing anyone from leaving for the duration, possibly as a security measure to allow al-Baghdadi to reach a safe distance before allowing the worshipers to exit.
This raises the question of why so much security was required to attend a Jummah prayer in his own state.
Abu Abdullah was afraid of discussing these details over the phone. We were told that “The people of Mosul are frightened to discuss what ISIS is doing in the area, and especially frightened to discuss the details of last Friday’s Jummah Khutbah.”
5Pillarz will be keeping in contact with Abu Abdullah and will try to establish more contacts on the ground in Mosul and other areas under the control of ISIS for updates in Iraq and Syria.