Sun, Feb 04, 2018 - Page 7 News List

How the people of Mosul subverted Islamic State ‘apartheid’

Once the Islamic State had established its authority, it ran the city using a two-tier system — privileges for ‘brothers,’ hardship for everyone else — but locals resisted

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

The day that the Islamic State (IS) attacked Mosul, Wassan, an affable young doctor with a cherubic face, ran from the maternity ward to the emergency room at Jimhoriya hospital. Injured civilians had begun pouring in. Wassan had just graduated from medical school, and had no experience in treating trauma casualties. As the wounded continued to arrive, what she lacked in knowledge she tried to make up for with enthusiasm.

By the evening, the wards were overflowing, patients spilling into the corridors. Wassan slept overnight in the hospital, ignoring her father’s incessant cellphone calls to come home.

The next morning, when mortar shells started falling near the hospital, doctors and patients alike piled into ambulances and fled across the bridge to the east side of the city.

There, they heard the news. The governor and senior generals had fled.

Western Mosul had fallen.

Her father called again. He was taking the family to safety in Erbil, in the autonomous Kurdish region.

“Just leave my passport at home and go,” she replied. “I have sworn an oath to help the patients.”

She hung up. Soon she was back at the hospital.

Three days after the first clashes, men carrying machine guns, their faces wrapped in scarves, entered the wards. Wassan and the few other young doctors who had stayed behind had begun a new life.

Like many other diwans (“ministries”) that IS established in Mosul, as part of their broader effort to turn an insurgency into a fully functioning administrative state, the Diwan al-Siha (“Ministry of Health”) operated on a two-tier system.

There was one set of rules for “brothers” — those who gave allegiance to IS — and another for the awam, or “commoners.”

“We had two systems in the hospitals,” Wassan said. “IS members and their families were given the best treatment and complete access to medicine, while the normal people, the awam, were forced to buy their own medicine from the black market.”

“We started hating our work. As a doctor, I am supposed to treat all people equally, but they would force us to treat their own patients only,” Wassan said. “I felt disgusted with myself.”

For all their posturing, the IS version of a city-state was neither properly efficient nor concerned with justice. Notwithstanding the archaic names and terminologies, or the new stationery printed with departmental logos, Mosul was operated on a mix of systems, ranging from capitalist free-market to a totalitarian command economy.

Underneath it all, the same century-old rotten Iraqi bureaucracy prevailed.

State functionaries continued to file memos, write inventories in big ledgers and demand written orders from superiors before taking any action. People like Wassan lived in a surreal universe in which they remained employees of the Iraqi state, which continued to pay their salaries, while answering directly to IS bosses who took a cut.

“The brilliance of IS lay in its ability to bring together a world of contradictions, all for achieving the main goal,” one former administrator said. “The side issues were not important.”

Like their administrative system, he said, the new ruling elite were also a motley mix.

“They were an incoherent mix, a cocktail of different components with no common thread. There were two kinds: those who came to benefit, and those who came out of belief. But there were tribesmen from the countryside, and members of old families from the heart of the city; there were religious clerics and street thugs; foreign jihadis and former army officers,” he said.

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