What is the situation in Mosul?

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi

By : Jamal Khashoggi

How can the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) be expelled from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and home to around 2 million Iraqis? Ask this question to the best political analysts and they will be confused.

Perhaps it’s fortunate for Mosul that it’s not under the mercy of a sectarian regime like the one which “isolated” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or its fate would have been similar to the fate of Aleppo, Homs and Hama under Bashar al-Assad, Maliki’s sectarian ally.

In this case, Maliki would have blindly shelled Mosul and destroyed it with barrel bombs and Scud missiles.

Mosul falls under the mercy of the international coalition, which has devised a long-term plan. We, and perhaps the coalition itself, don’t know the details of this plan but we do know that one of its most important pillars is to take into consideration the Sunnis of Iraq for they could be potential partners in destroying ISIS.

Some suburbs in Mosul were shelled by the international coalition as its jets targeted ISIS positions. The most recent of these strikes was last Monday at Bawbat al-Sham, west of the city, and six civilians and one ISIS fighter were killed. It’s painful when innocent civilians die but this cannot be compared to Bashar al-Assad’s actions in Aleppo. This is one of the many contradictions regarding the war on ISIS.

ISIS wants us to believe that its “citizens” in Mosul are safe or perhaps it believes that they are satisfied after the blessings, security and dignity of the “caliphate” dawned upon them.

What’s certain is that the people of Mosul are safe as long as they don’t come near ISIS and as long as they are willing to pledge allegiance to “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Jamal Khashoggi

They’ve tried to show us this via the video recordings of Eid al-Adha celebrations in Mosul but is this really the case? What’s certain is that the people of Mosul are safe as long as they don’t come near ISIS and as long as they are willing to pledge allegiance to “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi following every Eid and Friday prayer and as long as they promise loyalty and obedience at all times, unless they are ordered to do something contrary to God’s wish. This is the text of the religious oath which is worthy of an imam the nation chose but the ISIS doctrine is nothing like that as Baghdadi is the prevailing master and obeying him is a must.

ISIS has abandoned the mentality of hiding in caves and living in secrecy and is now in cities and metropolises practicing governance, collecting fees, distributing zakat (alms), selling oil and dealing openly with its neighboring enemies.

Jamal Khashoggi

I got in touch with more than one source residing in Mosul and in the areas surrounding it and they all provided a bleak description of the situation in the city. Their accounts contradicted the content of ISIS’ videos.

However, they did say that the citizens are safe and that they prefer their current situation to what they suffered under Maliki’s governance when violations were committed against them and when their dignity was humiliated by the armed forces or sectarian militias. However, they also said that citizens feel as if there is no hope for the future as they are living in a besieged city which they cannot leave without permission and unless ISIS guarantees their return.

Information from inside Mosul is scarce and it’s clear that ISIS wants it this way. It arrests independent journalists and sometimes executes them on charges of treason and espionage if they work without its permission. No foreign television channels are allowed to enter Mosul or any other ISIS-controlled city. However, VICE media, the American non-traditional news site, gained entry. The question remains as to why this particular channel was allowed in. Meanwhile, applications from those requesting to enter “the land of the caliphate” are probably piling up on the desk of ISIS’ “information ministry.” But it seems this is the exception and not the rule as ISIS clearly wants to impose an iron curtain on its state and to adopt the old Soviet approach of controlling people.

Another surprising point is that ISIS has not launched a radio station or television channel to address its “citizens.” This is despite the notion that it describes the media as a second army which achieves stability and guarantees its longevity via propaganda.

ISIS has settled with verbally distributing its laws, via speakers at markets and mosques and via written material. It has done so even though al-Rashed radio station in the city is well-equipped and even after the group seized the Sana television channel studio and detained some of its employees last Monday. Mosul journalist Ziad al-Sinjari, who has contacts in the channel, confirmed this news to me. He and other sources provided plenty of the information I have used in this article.

The Internet remains accessible in Mosul and this is also surprising. It may only still be available because ISIS sees it as a communications means available to the citizens of Mosul and of other cities it controls in Iraq and Syria. But if we analyze the videos the group releases, we notice that it addresses three social categories. The first category is comprised of the residents of Mosul. ISIS informs them of the new realities imposed on them, shows them their victories and threatens whoever dares oppose them with execution videos. The second targeted category are ISIS members themselves as the group needs to lift its fighters’ morale and to advertise the apparent benefits of the “caliphate.” This is a traditional form of propaganda practiced by all totalitarian governments. The last category is comprised of hesitant supporters across the world. The videos targeting the latter category have increased in their frequency. These high-quality videos call on these supporters to go ahead and carry out their duty of joining the group as “the caliphate has been established and as God’s will has reigned so they must immigrate to support the Islamic State and the caliphate now that honor has been restored.” It’s clear that ISIS wants people it can keep and that it needs new soldiers for its future plans.

ISIS has abandoned the mentality of hiding in caves and living in secrecy and is now in cities and metropolises practicing governance, collecting fees, distributing zakat (alms), selling oil and dealing openly with its neighboring enemies. They have thus allowed the central government to transfer the employees’ salaries over (except for judges). ISIS also allowed its citizens to pay phone bills. Iraqi and Kurdish phone companies owned by the sons of three leaders, Barzani, Talabani and al-Hakim, thus make sure they keep these companies operating out of both fear and greed. ISIS has thus ratcheted up its recruitment drive and is signing up youths and even children. It’s clear that ISIS has a long-term plan and the same applies to the anti-ISIS coalition so who will beat the other?

Perhaps time will show us this. ISIS lives with its followers and supporters in the atmosphere of an Islamic camp where there’s “brotherhood and love” among believers and where there’s cruelty toward those it views as infidels and hypocrites. But will it be able to tolerate the realities of governing over around 5 million people who live in the area that stretches from Mosul to east Aleppo? This is an especially pertinent question considering the international coalition’s actions against it and considering that it is no longer making any gains in Iraq or Syria.


Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.



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