In ISIS-ruled Mosul, resentment of militants grows

The Wall Street Journal reports: In Islamist-held Mosul this week, a local doctor watched insurgents berate and arrest a man in a public market, accusing him of adultery.

When Islamic State militants then stoned the man to death in public, the doctor chose not to watch. But many others did, and not by choice. The fighters repeatedly screened a video recording of the killing on several large digital monitors they erected in the city center.

More than two months after the Sunni extremist group took over on June 10, such displays of public brutality and humiliation have become part of a constant drumbeat of indignity endured by the population of Iraq’s second-largest city, according to about half a dozen residents interviewed by phone.

A United Nations report published Wednesday said Islamic State militants, who have captured large swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq, hold executions, amputations and lashings in public squares regularly on Fridays in territory they control in northern Syria. They urge civilians, including children, to watch, according to the report.

Initially, many in the Sunni-majority city of Mosul were pleased to see Islamic State fighters send the mostly Shiite Iraqi army fleeing after sectarian tensions in the country worsened under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But that enthusiasm faded fast.

“People aren’t sympathizing with them anymore,” said the doctor. “People wanted to get rid of the Iraqi army. But after the Islamic State turned against Mosul, the people of Mosul started turning against them.”

Residents say the rising resentment has come alongside rumors that homegrown militias are mustering troops in secret to overthrow the militants. Two such groups in particular, the Prophet of Jonah Brigades and the Free Mosul Brigades, have formed in the past few weeks, residents said.

But few people in Mosul expect the city’s residents to succeed where the Iraqi army has failed, unless they have outside help. Unlike most Iraqis, the people of Mosul were left largely unarmed after the Iraqi army went house to house a few years ago and confiscated weapons in a bid to reduce violence in the city.

With pressure mounting, the insurgents appear to be bracing for the worst. They have been spotted placing improvised explosive devices around the center of the city so they can detonate them in case of a ground attack, said Atheel Al Nujaifi, the former governor of Nineveh province in northern Iraq, where Mosul is located.

On Tuesday, Mr. Nujaifi said the insurgents rigged bridges connecting the city’s two opposing banks with plastic C4 explosives, though that couldn’t be independently verified.

The planting of land mines and other explosives in an effort to stave off counteroffensives is part of the Islamic State’s unfolding battlefield strategy. They used the tactic at the Mosul Dam, but failed to hold the strategic site in the face of Kurdish ground offensive backed by Iraqi special forces and U.S. airstrikes. They have employed it with more success in the city of Tikrit, where repeated Iraqi counteroffensives have failed so far.

A local civilian uprising against Islamic State wouldn’t be unprecedented. In January, civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo who were disgusted by the group’s cruelty helped more moderate fighters expel the group that was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.

Many in Mosul are afraid to complain publicly. But those who do describe a blighted city that is now almost entirely void of the black-clad, masked militants—many of whom were clearly foreign. They once paraded through the streets, boasting about their victories over the Iraqi military while passing out religious literature.

“Before, they were proud and they were telling people about their victories. ‘We’re fighting here, we’re fighting there,’ ” said another Mosul resident. “But now they don’t talk about their victories and how proud they are that they’re fighting. In terms of morale, they are not like before.”

Some estimate that there are fewer than 500 militants now policing the city of 1.7 million. Most of those who remain are local collaborators who are securing the streets while hard-bitten insurgents repel increasingly fierce attacks from the Kurdish regional forces known as Peshmerga and elite Iraqi units further east. [Continue reading…]

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