Fuel shortages and power outages are putting pressure on the Islamist insurgents who last week seized control of Iraq’s second-largest city.
After initially welcoming the insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) and other armed Sunni groups that drove the Iraqi army and police from the city, many in Mosul have grown uncertain about their administration and uncomfortable with the proliferation and power of the array of armed groups dominating the city.
“The armed groups control everything,” said Assad-Eddin, a 50-year-old manager of a Mosul hardware store reached by telephone. “Markets are not working so well. Traffic and work are not the same either. No one knows what will happen in the coming days.”
Journalists have been unable to get access to the city since it was taken over by Isis, but telephone conversations with residents who have remained, and others who recently fled, paint a picture of a city on edge.
While some residents celebrated the ousting of forces and officials loyal to the government of Nouri al-Maliki, more than half a million people appear to have fled the city after the June 10 takeover, either fearful of Isis, or worried about government reprisals or the deprivations of a city under siege.
After swarming into the city, Isis issued orders enforcing regular prayer, outlawing smoking and drinking, and demanding that women respect stringent dress codes and leave home only when required. Except for the sacking of alcohol shops, those rules have not been enforced, said residents reached by phone.
“The only thing they did was to storm alcohol stores and set them ablaze,” said Abu Ahmed, the 52-year-old owner of an insurance company in Mosul. “Cigarettes are still available and people smoke out in the streets normally. Women walk around streets, as well.”
The reports suggest Isis is either keeping a loose grip to maintain public goodwill or, as several residents described, has handed over control of the city, at least temporarily, to nationalist Sunni insurgent groups with a different social vision while the hardline group fights for control of other cities and the crucial nearby oil refinery at Baiji.
“There is no Isis in Mosul. The ones controlling city are now the clans” or tribal armed groups, said a 58-year-old Mosul travel agency employee. “There are 12 different armed groups, but the power is with the tribes.”
While personal freedoms remain mostly intact, the mood in the once freewheeling commercial hub is subdued. Fewer women are out in public, a church under construction has been torn down and new clerics have taken over the mosques, Mosul residents said.
“The tone of the preaching has become more hardline,” said one resident. “Some of the imams have been changed, or rather disappeared.”
Food is available and prices have not increased in part because insurgents have forbidden price gouging. “They monitor the sellers and they try to keep food and goods flowing into the city,” said Mr Hamed.
Under areas controlled by Isis in neighbouring Syria, the group imposes its own system of religious courts and a strict interpretation of Islamic law that punishes theft with limb amputation and adultery with death.
Since June 10 all courts in Mosul have ceased working, said Raad, 51, a lawyer who left Mosul for Kirkuk.
“Most judges have left Mosul,” he said, “There are no judges there to run courts. On the other hand, I heard about no limbs cut, neither did I hear about special courts.”
But the biggest problems in the city are the fuel shortages that in effect stifled movement in the city and caused power cuts that sometimes stretch to half the day. “Baghdad has cut off the power,” said the travel agency employee. “We spend days without electricity.” He added that internet services were also cut off.
Mosul residents said they were cheering for Isis to capture the Baiji refinery as a way to solve the energy crunch.
Leaders of armed factions in the city and a number of clerics met earlier this week to discuss the city’s fate as government forces thrown into disarray by the Isis advance appeared to be regrouping.
“They met to regulate the affairs of the city because it is going to face siege and a retreat in services, such as water, electricity, and sanitation workers,” the daily newspaper al-Hayat quoted a leader of one of the armed groups in the city as saying.
But in a measure of just how deeply Mosul residents had grown to despise the Baghdad government, many of those interviewed said they preferred life now in the besieged city to the time under the rule of Iraqi military forces accused of arbitrary detention and abuse of the city’s largely Sunni Arab population. Many of those who fled Mosul appear to be considering heading back, including the lawyer, who is in regular touch with his friends and relatives in the city.
“To be honest, they all say the situation is now at its best since 2011,” he said.
“We are just fine and we're content,” said Abdullah, a 42-year-old car mechanic. “We have no problems, no blasts, no assassinations. We now feel the freedom. We are now in safe hands.”
But many interviewed were more sceptical. Assad-Eddin, the hardware store manager, wondered whether the armed factions would begin fighting each other. “Security depends very much on how long the various armed groups will stay in harmony,” he said.
Another Mosul resident said most civilians in the city were terrified, struggling to survive as men with guns jostled for power.
“We are poor, miserable, scared people who don't know who to trust,” said an Iraqi man near a checkpoint on the road between Mosul and the Kurdish city of Erbil. “Don't believe anyone who says something too supportive of either side – it’s just fear. All you'll learn is who they think has more power over them."
Additional reporting by Lobna Monieb in Cairo
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