Last week the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was taken over by Sunni Muslim extremists. The militias now controlling the city have set up a city council and asked everyone to go back to work. But they cannot provide
Since June 18, the provincial capital of Mosul has had no power from outside of the city itself. Many of the city’s inhabitants – Mosul is home to an estimated 1.5 to 1.8 million and around half of these are said to have fled the city – say that the government in Baghdad is punishing them for welcoming militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. In reply, the Ministry of Electricity in Baghdad says that the line carrying power in Baiji, which lies between Mosul and Baghdad, was cut during fighting.
The lack of electricity and the fact that oil-powered generators are not enough to keep all houses and offices supplied means that many families have lost all the food they had stored in their refrigerators. Currently early summer temperatures in Mosul are hovering between 39C (102F) and 42C (108F) on average. Additionally water purification plants have stopped working and drinking water is no longer being pumped into the city.
A lot of other electrical equipment is no longer working in Mosul either but possibly the most serious lack is being felt in hospitals, where some medical devices cannot be used and where cooling equipment is failing.
Most of the doctors and hospitals in Mosul are still operating but stocks of medicines and other equipment are diminishing; additionally many of the medical specialists have left the city.
All of Mosul’s schools are currently closed; just as this security crisis began, students were supposed to be finishing their school year and doing exams.
People are still going to work – this is something that ISIS told them to do, announcing the order over mosque loudspeakers. So employees of the government and the provincial authorities are going to work in their various departments – but of course, they have no idea whether they will be paid. Their salaries come from the central government in Baghdad.
Most affected though are those Mosul locals who do daily work – that is, they earn a wage every day they work but would otherwise not get paid. Many of these individuals haven’t made any money since the crisis began on June 11.
Agricultural work has also slowed. Local farmers had only just finished harvesting wheat and barley in Ninawa but they are now in a quandary: They have nowhere to store the grain because the grain silos have stopped accepting crops. Additionally there are also large tracts of planted land that have not been able to be harvested because of the lack of fuel to drive to outlying fields.
Another problem for Mosul is the shortage of fuel for vehicles and generators. Basic food items are also running low.
Mosul is suffering under a crippling blockade, a local political activist, Ammar Assad, told NIQASH. It’s extremely difficult to bring goods into the city and most of the merchants have left for fear of being blackmailed by the extremists. Mosul has long been an economic hub for Sunni Muslim extremists, a base for mafia-style extortion with which they extract funds for their campaigns from local professionals and businessmen.
Additionally the road that connects Mosul and Tal Afar with Rabia cannot be used because of ongoing clashes between ISIS and the Iraqi army on one side, and clashes with Iraqi Kurdish forces on the other.
“Even Dohuk and Erbil [in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan] are having problems with supplies of food and fuel because they need more, because of all the displaced people coming from Mosul,” Assad said.
Over the past three days there has been no Internet in Mosul either, Assad noted. The Internet has been blocked by the Iraqi government in a number of provinces and cities. People had been going online to communicate with friends and relatives outside the city, and particularly via social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as through messaging services like Viber and Tango. But some of the communications towers have been targeted and now getting online is much more difficult.
In terms of information, Mosul feels isolated. Most journalists and media producers have left – in the past, ISIS has targeted them - and the news that’s coming via satellite stations is far from neutral. Much of what is being called “news” on Iraqi channels at the moment is mere speculation and it is often biased, depending on the allegiances of the media producers.
At the same that all this has been happening, Ninawa’s provincial council has set up “in exile”, so to speak, in the nearby town of Qosh north of Mosul. This area is being protected by the Iraqi Kurdish military and is presently safe. Ninawa’s provincial council is continuing its business in a building there and held its first meeting this week.
Ninawa’s provincial council says it doesn’t recognize the alternative administration that ISIS has set up in central Mosul and that it wants to declare a state of emergency in the province. The council also sent messages to the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan asking for cooperation in the return of council vehicles, that some Mosul locals had used to flee the city and which had ended up in the semi-autonomous province. The provincial council-in-exile also sent messages to the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad asking that operational payments be transferred to other banks in areas protected by the Iraqi Kurdish so that the work of the local authorities and service providers could continue.
Back in Mosul, ISIS has also appointed a new city administration that is supposed to be taking care of services in the city and other ISIS-controlled parts of Ninawa. Among the members of this newly appointed body are former army officers who served under Saddam Hussein. The council is also holding meetings with Ninawa’s tribal leaders, asking them to support it. It is acting as though a relationship between Baghdad and Ninawa never even existed; the same applies to the legitimately elected council, now in Qosh. Neither body appears to have much relevance to Mosul’s new administrators.
The council in Mosul appears to consider itself the only legitimate custodian of the city, having been born out of what many of its members see as a popular revolution by Iraq’s Sunni Muslims – and not as the result of an extremist invasion.