With every day that passes, it seems more certain, more inevitable, that the terror group ISIS’ two years of lording it over a fraction of northern Iraq will soon come to an end. Their last major urban stronghold, the city of Mosul, is under siege even as their original capital at Raqqa in neighboring Syria is similarly pressed by a motley coalition of militaries, resistance cells and mercenaries hell-bent on destroying the Islamic militants’ self-proclaimed global Caliphate. The battles are quote over, ISIS is fighting back viciously hard; but in the outlying towns and villages around still-occupied Mosul, the aftermath of liberation from one of the most brutally repressive regimes in history has made for some remarkable changes.
CNN tells the story of these free and jubilant Iraqi settlements around Mosul, through the eyes and words of residents from one such town, Al Fazliya. When ISIS fighters took over the town way back in 2014, they were subjected to the most extremist interpretation of Islamic law that characterized the terror group’s “Caliphate”. Men were forbidden to smoke, to have their hair cut in any style other than ISIS regulation, or to shave at all. Women were saddled with full-covering dress along with veils and gloves, and were prohibited from doing anything, even step outside their homes without being accompanied by either a husband or other male relative. Western clothing, culture and habits were stomped out, mass media silenced, and all forms of electronic communication disabled. Even the lightest infraction mandated a beating; anything heavier would be grounds for imprisonment or execution. The people of Al Fazliya were, in their own words, dead during ISIS rule.
Then in October 26 towards the end of 2016, the world changed for them again. With the Mosul campaign in full swing, Iraqi Defense Force Army units and Kurdish Peshmerga militia worked to eject the ISIS presence in all neighboring population centers of Iraq’s second largest city. With reports of the Pershmerga approaching, the ISIS garrison on Al Fazliya and nearby environs – there was an armed base a mere five kilometers from town – decided to fall back towards Mosul, some 20km to the North.
When the reality of their new situation began to settle in, the people of Al Fazliya underwent a stark metamorphosis. Barbershops found themselves making a killing with plenty of men going in for more trendy haircuts and an overdue shave. Branded sports athletic wear with bright colors have re- emerged. And cigarette vendors have regained their market.
Yet there was also a somber mood in some parts of the village. A middle-aged woman stands with her daughter-in- law and her children by the old lady’s son, a Peshmerga major seized by ISIS in 2014, never to be seen again. While she is relieved that the nightmare has ended, she worries for her son who might never return to his family alive.
Still, the liberation of Al Fazliya and many towns like it was cause for celebration at the impending collapse of ISIS, and all look forward to the day when Mosul too is free and the terror group is routed once and for all.
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