Film hints at life under ‘merciless’ militants

Ruins: IS fighters have wrecked the shrine to the Biblical prophet Jonah in eastern Mosul © PA

The BBC has obtained new, secretly-filmed footage of life inside the city of Mosul, a year after it was invaded by so-called ‘Islamic State’. How can such a brutal regime last this long?

School rooms stand empty while children play in the rubble of ancient mosques. Fuel-starved residents scavenge for wood in nearby forests. Men with sticks patrol the streets chastising women for disobeying the strict code of dress, yet thanks to the ever rising cost of fabric, many women struggle to afford full-body clothing at the city markets.

This is not a post-apocalyptic nightmare, but the everyday reality of life in Mosul, Iraq, as revealed in footage secretly filmed by residents and published this week by the BBC. The city has been occupied by militants from IS (so-called ‘Islamic State’) for over a year. But since its residents have virtually no contact with the outside world, insights into conditions in the city are rare.

The newly-obtained video shows a harsh and joyless life. In one shot, militants blow up an ancient and beloved shrine because they believe it to be idolatrous. Other sequences show houses abandoned by their Christian owners branded with an ‘N’ to mark them as the homes of infidels.

Accompanying accounts of the city tell of regular flogging, humiliation and the mass confiscation of property. ‘Everything is forbidden’, says one resident — even ‘simple leisure activities like picnics’. Yet one year after the city’s capitulation, IS shows no sign of losing its hold on Mosul. How has such a brutal organisation managed to maintain its standing?

Part of the answer is of course force: IS has a large, well-armed and well-organised army funded by oil which it sells on the black market. But fear of violence is not the only factor which prevents people from rebelling. IS also offers a level of stability absent from the parts of Syria and Iraq which are racked by anarchy and civil war. Many businessmen therefore prefer to operate in IS controlled territory even while despising everything the group stands for.

Finally, there is the pervasive propaganda, stretching from televisions on street corners pouring out praise for IS to militants ranting at strangers on buses. In the few schools that remain open, children are taught the songs, poems and extremist ideology of IS.

A bad state

One year ago, when IS first emerged, many doubted whether such a violent and destructive organisation could maintain control of cities and people. Some still hold to that view: IS offers little besides misery, brutality and judgement, they say; no regime can survive on violence alone.

But as the months go by and IS maintains its grip on cities like Mosul, some are starting to wonder whether its rule is here to stay. It’s comforting to believe that brutality doesn’t pay, they say, but history proves otherwise. ‘Islamic State’ will not disappear without a fight.

You Decide

  1. ‘It’s impossible to rule through fear and force alone.’ Do you agree?
  2. Will so-called ‘Islamic State’ still be a threat in one year’s time? What about ten, or one hundred?


  1. Go through the things you did yesterday and list as many things as you can think of which would have been banned if you had lived under IS’s barbaric regime.
  2. Write a diary entry from the perspective of a teenager in Mosul. How would you cope with the difficulties of life under IS?

Some People Say...

“Democracy doesn’t rule the world... this world is ruled by violence.”

Bob Dylan

What do you think?

Q & A

This sounds horrible. Thank God it’s happening such a long way away!
Perhaps. But so-called ‘Islamic State’ is not just a problem for the countries where it holds territory. It is increasingly present in countries as far away as Libya, and its militancy poses a threat far beyond its borders. IS also draws in fighters from all over the world —a number of British teenagers, boys and girls, have travelled to Syria and Iraq.
Does ‘Islamic State’ really represent Islam?
No — at least, nothing even slightly resembling the religion in which the vast majority of Muslims believe. In fact, many Muslims strongly object to the group even being referred to as ‘Islamic’. One French journalist who spent ten months as an IS hostage said that discussion of the Quran among the militants was minimal.

Word Watch

IS (so-called ‘Islamic State’)
Variously known as ISIS, ISIL or IS, the extremist ‘Islamic State’ group, it is often pointed out, is neither Islamic nor a state. But it is a very powerful force in the war-torn countries of Syria and Iraq, where it has claimed an area of territory roughly the size of Belgium. It is notorious for the inhuman way that it treats both its enemies and the people it rules.
Mosul, Iraq’s second city, is home to many ancient treasures, including a shrine said to be the tomb of Jonah, who features in both the Bible and the Quran.
Roughly 5% of Iraq’s population are Christian. But in the areas invaded by Islamic state, non-Muslims are persecuted and required either to pay a crippling tax or convert to Islam. Other minorities, such as the Yadzidi Kurds, have been massacred indiscriminately.
Poetry is very popular among supporters of ‘Islamic State’. These verses romanticise IS as representing a culture of chivalry and virtue.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.