Letta Tayler at Human Rights Watch writes: One morning in January, two armed men entered the shop of a Christian metalworker, Laith Hadi Bahnam, in the Karama industrial zone of Mosul, and demanded that he repair a silencer for one of their guns. When Bahnam refused, according to two of his friends, one of the gunmen threatened, “I’m going to kill you.”
Ten days later, on January 29, the two armed men returned. As Bahnam, 56, pleaded for his life, the gunmen shot him three times in the face and chest, killing him instantly. Local authorities attributed the killing to the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. But although there were many witnesses, the authorities did not investigate further and made no arrests.
This week, ISIS brazenly seized Mosul from Iraq’s U.S.-supported military, catching both Baghdad and Washington off guard. But the capture of Iraq’s second-largest city should not have come as a surprise. Long before the city’s dramatic fall, ISIS, which formed in April 2013, and its precursor, al Qaeda in Iraq, were operating openly for years in Mosul, killing civilians like Bahnam with impunity, manipulating the justice system, and even collecting so-called “jihad taxes” from local businesses. And yet Iraq’s extensive military and security apparatus did almost nothing.
I visited Iraq in May, in part to investigate recent ISIS abuses in Mosul. I met with and interviewed Mosul residents in the capital, Baghdad, and in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan (it was too dangerous for them to speak with me in their hometown). From their stories, I got a horrifying glimpse of what may be in store if the group achieves its goal of establishing a “caliphate” in the region. [Continue reading…]