After Sunni Muslim extremists took control of the provincial capital Mosul, the head of Ninawa’s district council, Iraqi Kurdish politician Bashar al-Kiki, left for the nearby town of Qosh. A few days ago the council started meeting again in Qosh because, as they point out, about half of Ninawa’s districts are not under the control of the extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
NIQASH met Al-Kiki in Qosh where he spoke about which groups were at most risk from ISIS in Mosul, how ISIS appeared to have sleeper cells inside the city when they first arrived and when and how he thinks this crisis might end.
NIQASH: Why is your council holding meetings again, here in Qosh?
Bashar Al-Kiki: Because out of 31 administrative districts in Ninawa, only 16 are actually under ISIS’ control. We are in touch with the government in Baghdad and we support it. And we have asked the federal government not to launch any military action here without consulting with the council first, so that no innocent civilians are hurt.
NIQASH: What can you tell us about what conditions are like inside Mosul after ISIS took over the running of the city?
Al-Kiki: The whole of Mosul is under ISIS’ control. ISIS has also allocated one mosque in the city for tawba [Note: Repentance, or a kind of confession]. People are expected to go this mosque to repent past acts and to show their loyalty to ISIS.
NIQASH: Can you tell us anything about the large sums of money that ISIS was apparently able to seize in Mosul? Did they really manage to take US$420million?
Al-Kiki: I don’t have reliable information on the total amount in Mosul but I wouldn’t rule it out.
NIQASH: How are you getting your information about Mosul?
Al-Kiki: We are depending on the employees who used to work for us. They tell us about conditions, services and security inside Mosul.
NIQASH: We know that ISIS gunmen are trying to win the hearts and minds of the local people in Mosul. But there are also reports that ISIS is killing Yazidis and Christians and other minorities and doing things like burning churches.
Al-Kiki: Our information says that this is wrong: No members of any minority have been killed and no churches burned. But that is not to say that conditions in Mosul are not dangerous – especially for the city’s minorities. All the Christians in the city have left it. Others are living in fear. According to the information we received, ISIS is not actually hostile to Christians because they consider them the people of the dhimma [Non-Muslim citizens living under the protection of an Islamic state]. However they are hostile toward the Shabak minority because they are Shiites and also to the Yazidis because they consider that they are not proper Muslims. So Yazidis, Shabaks and any Shiites in the city are in grave danger.
NIQASH: What about these rumours about rape? Apparently ISIS has also asked for a list of the unmarried women in Mosul.
Al-Kiki: I don’t have any accurate information on this subject.
NIQASH: Which other armed groups are present in Mosul along with ISIS, as far as you know?
Al-Kiki: We think there are about five different factions, including the Naqshbandi Army [associated with Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party]. But ISIS doesn’t allow these groups any control. One of the other groups tried to appoint one of their members as the new governor but ISIS refused to let them. ISIS has also said that there can be no other flag than their own flying in Mosul. And there have already been disagreements between ISIS and the Baathists.
NIQASH: How many ISIS fighters do you believe there are in Mosul today?
Al-Kiki: Our best guess is that the number of ISIS fighters who originally entered the city didn’t number more than 200. But after they came in, a lot of locals who had previously been recruited by the organisation, joined it. And there are more people joining ISIS every day – some of them because they are afraid and others, for different reasons.
NIQASH: Is it true that ISIS reinforcements flew into Mosul airport from Syria?
Al-Kiki: Mosul airport was not used until now. The Iraqi military haven’t detected any flights. However, the land borders are open and that road is controlled by ISIS; Mosul is right next to Syria.
NIQASH: And what do you know about how quickly the Iraqi army withdrew? There are a lot of rumours flying around: Do you think this is some kind of conspiracy?
Al-Kiki: We were all surprised by how quickly the city fell to ISIS. The day before Mosul was taken over we were just working, as on any other ordinary day. I am very confused; I can’t understand how such a big city could fall so quickly and easily. We want the federal government to investigate this matter and to bring those responsible to account.
NIQASH: What can you tell us about all of the people who left Mosul?
Al-Kiki: Some of the people who left Mosul have returned although there are still a lot of displaced people living in villages and cities near Mosul; and of course, many have also sought shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan. We have asked the federal government to declare Ninawa a disaster zone so that we can seek international assistance.
NIQASH: Do you think that Mosul’s people might eventually turn against ISIS, in the same way they did with Al Qaeda in the past, because they will get tired of the religious oppression?
Al-Kiki: If things go on as they are now, Mosul’s citizens may become desperate but mostly because of the absence of services. Life in the city has been paralyzed and the people of Mosul are not used to being homeless. Last week they thought that things would calm down after the departure of the Iraqi army and the removal of barriers from the streets. They thought that ISIS’ capture of the city would serve their own interests. But I think now people are starting to feel that things are not going quite as they had hoped – and especially if the crisis doesn’t end soon.
NIQASH: And do you expect this crisis to end soon?
Al-Kiki: I don’t – especially now that ISIS is in charge of the administration of the city. Military and political intervention will be needed to end this crisis.
NIQASH: Could you explain that a little more?
Al-Kiki: I believe that the government should coordinate with the heads of the tribes and the people of Mosul and open the door for dialogue. They should do that after driving ISIS out of the city, but they’ll need the support of the tribes to carry out a plan like that.