It seemed like a good idea at the time: When Sunni Muslim extremists entered the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in early June, they told locals who had been members of the city’s security forces – whether army or police – that they would be forgiven for being on the opposition side. If they wished to, members of the security forces could hand over their weapons and sign a piece of paper saying they were repentant and they would be allowed to live in Mosul unmolested.
After they took control of the city of Mosul, Sunni Muslim extremists from the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, now just known as the Islamic State, or IS, demolished or blew up many of the homes belonging to army or police officers. The IS fighters also held the families of police or military personnel inside Mosul, until their sons returned to the city and surrendered, and repented.
When the IS group entered the city many of the local security personnel fled, staying on the outskirts of the city or going all the way into the relative safety of the nearby semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. When the IS group announced an amnesty – on condition that the men give up their weapons and repent – many returned to the city and their families, partially because it was difficult and expensive to stay away from their homes for longer.
Those who returned before the end of June found themselves in long queues outside the Sabireen mosque in Mosul's eastern Wahda neighbourhood or in front of the Omar al-Aswad mosque in the Farouq neighbourhood.
There they took turns to repent. They did this by signing a piece of paper entitled the “Certificate of Repentance”, stamped with the seal of Ninawa province, now part of the IS group’s self-pronounced Caliphate. The certificate has a number of important details, including the full name of the person repenting, the date of repentance, date of birth and Iraqi ID number, his place of work, his last rank, the type of weapon he carries and its serial number, his current place of residency, his phone number and an up to date picture.
One of the conditions for an acceptable repentance was that the officer handed over their weapon. “But many police and military men had actually lost their weapons during battles or left them behind so they were forced to buy new guns on the black market at high prices, just so they could hand them over,” says one former Mosul police captain, Ahmad Ali.
At first security staffers were just asked to repeat a few lines in a local mosque and this was considered enough. But then the IS group started asking the men to sign the certificates and to hand over their weapons because they were well aware that these people could prove a threat to their authority eventually, Ali explains.
The IS group’s suspicions were confirmed when, toward the end of June and at the beginning of August, members of the group were shot by unknown assailants in different parts of the city.
“The Islamic State considers those in the security services apostates against their version of Islam,” Ali noted. “They believe it is their duty to kill them. And in fact the repentance certificate was just a trap, so that IS fighters could easily identify former security forces staff.”
The IS state’s paranoia about security staff was further confirmed when a leading Sunni Muslim politician, the former Speaker of Iraq’s Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, announced that a group of anti-IS fighters had been formed in Mosul. They would be called the Mosul Battalions, they were led by former army officers from Saddam Hussein’s regime and their goal was to liberate the city from the IS group. Almost immediately the assassinations of IS fighters around the city began.
“That’s when the IS started to persecute army and police officers who had already repented,” confirms Abdullah Amin, a political activist.
NIQASH was told the story of one penitent police officer, a former major in local police intelligence services named Faris Yunus. When the Iraqi army collapsed in Mosul on June 9, Yunus made his way out of town too. But on June 20, he was contacted by one of the leaders of the IS group who asked him to return to Mosul. If he handed over his government-issued vehicle and his gun as well as declared his repentance, then nobody would hurt him.
Yunus decided to do as he was asked. However the day after he repented, fighters from the IS group surrounded his house near the central city. When he refused to surrender, the fighters stormed his house, shot him in the leg and then arrested him. He was taken to a detention centre before going on trial at one of the four Islamic courts that the IS group has set up in Mosul.
The courts abide by IS’ version of Sharia, or Islamic, law and verdicts for flogging and beheading are given out by the judges that the IS has appointed. All other courts in Mosul, as well as the faculty of Law at Mosul University, have been suspended by the IS group.
Although many of his former colleagues in the security services were killed, Yunus was lucky; he was taken to the juvenile detention centre in the Shifa neighbourhood along with other former police and military men. Other former security staffers are also thought to be being held in either the former headquarters of the Iraqi army’s 2nd division, north of the city, or in the Tasfirat prison in the central city.
On August 9, Iraqi planes shelled the juvenile detention centre, killing an estimated 90 people. Apparently about half of the dead were members of the IS group and the other half were detainees; Yunus was among the latter.
The IS group itself has denied that it is violating Article 9 of the city charter that its leaders wrote themselves. This was distributed to locals when the extremists took over the city in early June. That article says that members of the army and police won’t be harmed if they repent. The IS group has told locals that the security officers who have been arrested are being detained because of complaints against them by ordinary citizens. They say that the security men have been abusing people.
That has hardly reassured those former members of the police and army who repented earlier and who are still at large in Mosul. They have heard about the arrest of their former colleagues and many are trying to leave the city or go into hiding at other addresses.
Interestingly though, this doesn’t seem to be an issue that overly concerns other locals in Mosul. They see this as something of a “trading places” situation. A short two months ago the former police and army officers were treating members of the IS group and their sympathizers the same way that the IS group is now treating the former police and army officers. “Why worry,” the locals say, when confronted with this turn around.
This attitude originates from the fatalistic culture that’s evolved in Mosul over the past ten or so years; most people just believe that extremists with guns and security forces with guns are two sides of the same coin. Both have made the lives of ordinary people, who lived through almost a decade of street warfare in this city, difficult and they don’t have much sympathy for either group.