Sat, Feb 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The bureaucracy of evil: How Islamic State ran a city

Alongside the murders and mass terror in Mosul ran a functioning bureaucracy, with streamlined rubbish collections and smart electricity meters

By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad  /  The Guardian, MOSUL, Iraq

Illustration: Lance liu

Every day, early in the morning, the former missile scientist would leave his house in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Riding buses, or on foot — he could no longer afford gasoline — he would call on friends, check on his mother or visit his sister’s family. Sometimes he would hunt for cheap kerosene, or try to score contraband books or cigarettes. Most often, he would meander aimlessly — a traveler in his own city.

In the evening, he would sit at his old wooden desk, bent over his notebook, recording the day. Most of what he wrote was banal: the price of tomatoes, a quarrel with his wife — but he also wrote his observations of the remarkable events unfolding in Mosul.

“I must live this moment and record it,” one entry reads, from August 2014, two months after the fall of the city. “We live like prisoners serving long jail sentences. Some of us will come out having finished reading dozens of books. Others will be devastated and destroyed.”

By the time he stopped writing, he had filled five volumes. They are the handwritten diaries of a city under occupation and a chart of how the Islamic State group tried to live up to its name — by running a city.

In the early days of June 2014, the new gunmen were broadly welcomed in Mosul. Unlike the brutal and corrupt Iraqi army, they were polite. They guarded public buildings, prevented looting and dismantled the concrete barricades that choked the city.

“There were no more car bombs, no clashes and no IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” the scientist wrote. “Mosul is at peace finally. They control the streets and people are awestruck. They allow people to leave Mosul, and schools are teaching government curriculums.”

There was some confusion regarding their identity. Were they Sunni tribal revolutionaries? Baathist officers from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s old army? Jihadist militants like al-Qaeda? These different groups had been a fact of life ever since the US-led invasion in 2003. For years, the factions had vied for power in Mosul, seeking legitimacy by waging a ruthless urban guerrilla war — first against the US occupiers, then subsequent Iraqi governments.

Indeed, some were already acting as a kind of shadow government — “taxing” businesses and extorting a percentage from every municipal contract. Those who failed to comply were often kidnapped and shot.

“We paid them a percentage of every contract for a decade,” said Azzam, an electrical engineer at the department of energy. “Eight percent. The head of our directorate would get a phone call from them before every bidding process. They chose who would win and who got appointed to what job. A third of all new vacant positions were set them. No one dared to disobey. Those who didn’t pay were kidnapped. Every government institution was infiltrated, even the police.

“When Mosul fell, they appeared on the surface,” Azzam said.

Two days after the fall of the city, one of Azzam’s colleagues came to work dressed in an Afghan shalwar-kameez, and introduced himself as the new supervisor for the Islamic State.

All of the Islamic State group’s previous victories paled in comparison to the capture of Mosul, one of the biggest defeats in the history of Iraq: the fall of its second city, the rout of 50,000 soldiers and policemen, and the capture of hundreds of tonnes of weapons, equipment and armored vehicles.

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