McClatchy reports: There are few signs of life in central Ramadi, the Islamic State’s latest prize in the vast western badlands of Iraq.
Photos and videos posted on the Internet show battle-scarred streets littered with rubble and blood-stained clothing, but devoid of inhabitants. Many once-vibrant commercial districts are shuttered or in ruins from airstrikes. The black flag of the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, flutters atop what’s left of public buildings.
But the images of Ramadi that have emerged since it fell to the Islamic State don’t tell the whole story. Quietly, quickly, the jihadists also are working to provide fuel for heavy generators, ordered shopkeepers to reopen, and have begun demolishing old checkpoints to make it easier to get around the city, according to telephone interviews with residents.
The Sunni Muslim extremist group appears to be following the same blueprint as it has in other conquered parts of Anbar province: seize territory, execute “apostates” and “traitors” in a bloodbath, and then reassure terrified civilians by producing goods and services that surpass those provided by the Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad.
Even the photos the Islamic State approved for release served that goal – displaced homeowners rejoiced when they spotted their houses intact, waiting for them if they’d only return and submit to the medieval rules of the self-proclaimed caliphate.
For many, that’s hardly an inviting option, and not just because of the group’s totalitarian control over virtually every aspect of life. There are also U.S. planes overhead and a counteroffensive promised by the fearsome Shiite militias that have stepped in for the overwhelmed Iraqi military.
But other options aren’t much more appealing. Anbar residents can gamble on fleeing to contested towns that are under the fragile hold of anti-Islamic State tribes. Or they can strike out for Baghdad, which might as well be the capital of another country, because Shiite authorities have instituted heavy restrictions on Sunni families wanting to enter the capital. [Continue reading…]