ISIS in Mosul: separating fact from fiction


Conflicting reports have emerged in recent weeks about the demands that the militant Islamist group Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS, have imposed on all those living under their control in parts of Iraq and Syria.

This has ranged from the relatively minor charge that all female shop mannequins must wear headscarves, to forcing Christians to pay a tax, leave or die. Other reports have included demanding that all women wear headscarves and undergo female genital mutilation.

The claim that all women in Mosul, Iraq had to undergo FGM has now been largely disregarded, which raises questions about whether other commands reportedly imposed within the caliphate are also false.

"The jihadist group's well-deserved reputation for implementing its brand of medieval justice does admittedly make it hard to separate fact from fiction. But the next time you read a story and think that it's too spectacular to be true – you just may be right," wrote David Kenner for Foreign Policy magazine.

The FGM claim was widely reported because UN worker, Jaqueline Badcock, based in Iraq, mentioned it in a video interview with reporters. She said at the time that it was a divergence from normal IS practice.

IS refuted the claim, and a document that was said to be a copy of the fatwa, which was circulated on social media, was found to be a hoax dated July 2013.

Kenner also refers to the claim that IS were responsible for stealing $400 million from Mosul's central bank – an accusation made by the provincial governor, who has since retracted the statement.

But just because IS aren't asking women to undergo FGM and haven't raided the bank, doesn't undermine other reports of Sunni extremist teaching imposed on Christians, Shias and other minority groups.

It is true that there are now virtually no Christians left in Mosul, and that the 'tax or leave' ultimatum was imposed week. There are horrifying reports of women being raped in front of their husbands when they said they could not pay.

Those who fled have had to leave everything behind. One report from Christian charity Open Doors described a family stripped of their belongings at the checkpoint last week – their car, wedding rings, even their nine-year-old son's pocket money. They were left with only the clothes they were wearing.

For women remaining in the caliphate, a strict dress code has been imposed, calling women to cover their faces, hands and feet and wear loose-fitting clothing.

"The conditions imposed on her clothes and grooming was only to end the pretext of debauchery resulting from grooming and overdressing," IS said in a statement.

"This is not a restriction on her freedom but to prevent her from falling into humiliation and vulgarity or to be a theater for the eyes of those who are looking."

The reports of the modesty laws have so far not been refuted, but pale in comparison with indiscriminate killing and sexual violence.