Under IS rule, Mosul descended into darkness, dread, pain

The first and second stones did not kill her. But the woman accused of adultery by Islamic State group extremists would not survive the third.

The woman's killing in a public square was, for those who witnessed it, the cruelest moment in the descent of this once proud city into fear, hunger and isolation under 2 ½ years of rule by the militants.

Iraq's second-largest city Mosul was once arguably the most multicultural place in Iraq, with a Sunni Muslim Arab majority but also thriving communities of Kurds, Shiites, Christians and Yazidis. Together, they had created Mosul's distinct identity, with its own cuisine, intellectual life and economy.

But the Islamic State group turned Mosul into a place of literal and spiritual darkness. It began with promises of order and a religious utopia that appealed to some, but over time, the militants turned crueler, the economy crumbled under the weight of war and shortages set in. Those who resisted watched neighbors who joined the extremists turn prosperous and vindictive. Parents feared for the brainwashing of their children. By the end, as Iraqi troops besieged Mosul, the militants hanged suspected spies from lampposts.

The Associated Press interviewed more than two dozen residents who have left Mosul since Iraqi troops began retaking outlying districts last month. They gave a glimpse into life in a place that has been virtually sealed off from the outside under the rule of the Islamic State group.

For many among Mosul's Sunni Arabs, IS rule started as a respite from what they considered the heavy hand of Iraq's Shiite-led central government in Baghdad.

Iraqi soldiers melted away, and in those first few weeks, people were happy to see hated security checkpoints pulled down and traffic moving smoothly.

But within a month, the homes of Mosul's Christians and other minorities were tagged with official stickers — for "statistical purposes," IS officials said, according to Mosul Eye. Christians and Shiites soon fled.

"If you turned in a Kurdish family, they gave you a car," said Hassan Ali Mustapha, a retired prison guard. He said he moved to a home deserted by a Kurdish family, after the family asked him through a mutual friend to keep the extremists from taking it over.

The group imposed the severe vision of Islamic law that they had introduced across their zone of control. Dress was strictly regulated, and clothes manufacturers were told the acceptable measurements by Islamic State offices. Women were required to hide their faces and don black down to their fingertips. The fine for violations — even as small as the wrong kind of stocking — was 25,000 dinars, around 20 dollars. Repeat offenders got lashes.

There was another, widely feared and loathed punishment as well: Female enforcers used a metal-toothed device to deliver vicious, infection-prone "bites" on women they deemed as dressing improperly, according to two women.

The group's propaganda insisted all was fine. John Cantlie, a British journalist held hostage by the Islamic State group for four years, has made periodic appearances in videos filmed in Mosul, showing a market, an efficient IS motorcycle police force and a city continuing to function.

Away from the cameras, however, the economy fell apart. The government in Baghdad cut off the salaries it had been paying civil servants, and airstrikes cut into Islamic State's oil revenue and cash reserves. Infrastructure and services initially provided by IS broke down. Electricity cuts forced people to rely on oil lamps. Communications cut off, although people still managed to make periodic, hushed calls to Alghan FM, a radio station founded by an exiled Mosul resident that has become a sounding board to those trapped in the city.

"Four months ago, satellite television went down. Six months ago, it was the internet," said the station's founder, who asked to identified only by his first name, Mohammed, for his safety. "ISIL wanted people to be isolated completely."

To further instill fearful obedience, IS forced people to watch as they hacked off hands and lashed, beheaded or stoned offenders. The fighters routinely herded people into squares and markets to watch, residents said.

The woman's killing in Mosul's Samah district shook to the core those in the crowd forced to watch as their neighbor was dragged before them. It was in August, after the militants had lost strongholds in other parts of Iraq and Syria, prompting them to heighten their repression.

Several witnesses described to The Associated Press how the woman and her alleged lover were paraded blindfolded through the streets. The militants summoned everyone they could find to watch.

"'Still not dead,'" Samira Hamid recalled the militant pronouncing after he checked the woman's pulse, before the lethal blow to her head. The man accused of being her lover was flogged 150 times and forced to go to Syria to fight in IS ranks.

Another witness, Sarmad Raad, found recalling the killing nearly unbearable.

"I shut down," the 26-year-old said, "I just lost my mind."

With the militants digging in as they lost territory elsewhere, Mosul's residents saw food supplies dwindle until onions and bread were all that was left. Prices began to spiral. With food and work in short supply, people started selling anything of value.

Khodr Ahmed sold his car for $400 dollars. But as that money ran out, he sent his young boys Bashir and Mushal out to hunt for scrap metal.

As they scrounged, 9-year-old Bashir picked up what turned out to be an abandoned IS explosive. It blew off his hand and gouged a hole in his 10-year-old brother's shin.

Ahmed blamed poverty and hunger caused by IS for the injuries.

"For them, they were living the good life. They had food to eat, but because we did not join, there was nothing for us."


Fay Abuelgasim, Mohammed Nouman, Mstislav Chernov and Rohlat Khaleel contributed.