The resistance of Mosul residents to ISIS has helped smooth the path to victory

Long before Iraqi forces entered Mosul, residents had formed their own resistance movement against the terrorists. Driving through the city’s streets, the letter M would appear sprayed on to walls. It was M for Muqawama – or resistance.

Anybody caught in the act with their spray can could expect torture or death. Who was responsible? Step forward the so-called Mosul Battalions, a secretive movement operating in cells. For a year or so, they have been unnerving ISIS with a simple message – we are here in this city opposing you at every turn. Their activities go beyond graffiti. One group of Mosul Battlions fighters opened fire on a pick-up truck with a mounted machine gun and five ISIS terrorists inside. All the ISIS personnel were either killed or injured.

One Mosul Battalions member, an engineer, described how they identify ISIS targets:

“Everyone gives us intelligence from their area. We conduct surveillance, we know when a guy has moved to a new place, when they are coming and going, we wait for the right time and carry it out.”

The resistance to Mosul may have been small scale before the Iraqi government forces moved in but it evidenced a simmering discontent against being ruled by armed jihadis, many of whom came from overseas. One Iraqi, who calls himself Abu Jameel, articulated the grim mindset of many within the city:

“We will mimic them. They kill us in our beds, and we will do the same. They have strong security and so do we. There is blood between them and us, and that needs to be settled.”

The template for insurrection against a jihadi invasion force was established in Anbar province in 2007 when Sunni tribes turned on the terrorists who had imposed themselves on their communities. Thirty tribes took on Al Qaeda in what was described as the Iraqi “awakening”. This evidenced that many Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria do not automatically buy into the AQ and ISIS narratives and have opposing tribal and national loyalties.

When ISIS invaded Mosul they tried to convince the population they could create a functioning state. This meant taking over tax collection. But what they added were draconian punishments like whipping for those who could not pay on time. And the level of taxation rose to fund ISIS military activities. To the local population, it seemed that ISIS was engaged in extortion backed up by terrorist muscle.

One Mosul resident said they feared leaving their homes because a beard trimmed too short could cost a man 10,000 Iraqi dinar while a kandura that reached too far to the ground might result in a fine of 25,000 dinar. Cash strapped Mosul residents can ill afford to hand over this kind of money. In addition, as oil revenues have dried up, ISIS has plundered local banks and taxed salaries to raise millions of dollars each month. Consequently, a simmering anger among Mosul’s population has been present under the surface of everyday life.

Having endured the daily barbarity of ISIS rule, it’s hardly surprising that those in Mosul opposing the terrorists use strong language online and urge the ultimate measures against the terrorists. Anybody found dissenting from ISIS or planning an uprising can expect to be executed in a gruesome manner as an example to others. One group who were discovered plotting to overthrow their terrorist overlords were drowned in a public square. It’s hard to imagine the level of bravery required to even consider speaking out against ISIS let alone attempting military action from within the city.

In 2016, women in Mosul were being urged to rebel on various online forums. Being very aware how ISIS fighters can treat women, it urged supporters to “find the raping, murderous ISIS jihadist pigs in Mosul” and finish them off first. A message on one website carried a stark warning to ISIS from a female insurgent:

Msg to #ISIS in #Mosul: You will be overcome and gathered together to Hell and wretched is the resting place.

This website was set up by nurses who had worked in the city’s hospitals and saw patients maltreated by the ISIS emirs put in charge of healthcare. They continue to put out an uncompromising message of resistance to ISIS rule. The existence of this dissent has made the terrorists increasingly paranoid, according to locals. There are constant house to house searches and confiscations of mobile phones, SIM cards and even televisions.

To successfully take back Mosul and rebuild it after ISIS is defeated, the support of the civilian population is essential. Their heroic low-level struggle indicates a willingness to move on from terrorist tyranny. Locals have shown incredible courage, painting the letter M for example on the Great Mosque of al-Nuri where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his infamous speech declaring his so-called caliphate.

Even before the Iraqis moved in, locals flew an Iraqi flag from an electricity pole. The consequence of that small act was the arrest of young people and some retired army officers taken away for questioning. In the months ahead, as Mosul is freed, there can be little doubt that more stories like this will emerge of those who selflessly stood against the murderous bullies of ISIS.