Inside the Largest ISIS Stronghold in Iraq, Resistance Grows

Anti-ISIS graffiti in Mosul

As the extremist group known as ISIS looks increasingly unsteady inside Iraq, there are a growing number of acts of resistance against the group inside the northern city of Mosul, which has been it's stronghold in Iraq for over two years.

Evidence includes the number of times one sees the letter "M" written on the walls of schools, mosques, and other buildings in the city. This letter was not a casual choice. It is the first letter of the Arabic word muqawama, which means "resistance."

It is an important symbol for those living in the city who oppose the extremist group and all it stands for. Acts of physical resistance are still rare, mainly because the city is full of ISIS fighters, many of whom are armed and who will not hesitate to punish those who oppose them.

Of course, the extremists do not stand idly by when this graffiti appears. They clean it from the walls and try to find those responsible.

Local media has also responded to the graffiti, publishing stories about it, mostly gleaned from Iraqi social media users, who post pictures of the graffiti and boast about how the people of Mosul are trying to resist ISIS.

The "M" is not the only way locals are resisting ISIS. Locals in the Dubbat neighborhood in Mosul—an area where many army officers used to live—woke to find somebody had placed an Iraqi flag atop an electricity pole during the night. The only flag allowed in Mosul is the black one belonging to ISIS. Extremists removed the flag immediately and burned it; they also arrested a number of locals, including some younger people and some retired army officers, and took them away, blindfolded, for questioning.

The letter "M" is not a casual choice. It is the first letter of the Arabic word muqawama, which means "resistance."

Everyone in Mosul knows the price of resistance—certain, and most likely cruel, death.

On July 21, ISIS released a 7-minute video that showed two extremists holding knives, as well as two young Iraqi men in front of them. The extremists spoke in French and threatened France again, as well as the other countries belonging to the international coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They also congratulated the man who killed over 80 in Nice, France, on July 14. Then they proceeded to decapitate the young men with their knives. The whole gruesome spectacle was filmed in Mosul.

The cruelty did not surprise Iraqis. But what is surprising about the video is the fact that it contains an admission from ISIS that there is resistance to them inside Mosul. The two young men who were killed confessed to having drawn the "M" graffiti, and also to having given information to the international coalition.

ISIS has been trying to isolate the people of Mosul from the rest of the world for some time now. In November 2014, the group banned communication by mobile phones (with varying degrees of success); and in February, they began to stop locals from leaving the city. Today, there is no way of getting out of Mosul without using risky smuggling routes.

About a month ago, ISIS fighters started to collect satellite television receivers. Members of the group drive around the city with loudspeakers, calling out to households to hand over their satellite dishes. The receivers will be taken to the outskirts of the city and destroyed, ISIS members say.

ISIS fighters remove satellite dishes from homes in Mosul

Locals say they will need around another month to collect all of the receivers in the city. As one local man told Niqash, "I asked them if I could keep the satellite receiver because my kids like the cartoons but they said to me, 'Aren't you ashamed of yourself? The satellite is forbidden. Why would you keep a demon in your house?'"

As of July 24, ISIS has issued a decree saying the Internet is also to be banned in Mosul. Again, it's hard to say how successful they will be with this ban.

Although the extremist group say they are banning contact with the outside world for religious reasons, it seems clear that it has more to do with preventing contact with external organizations that might attack the city—and to prevent locals or their own fighters from hearing about any battlefield successes against ISIS. For example, Iraqi pro-government forces have recently advanced in the nearby Qayyarah district, just under 70 kilometers out of Mosul.

Additionally, Iraqi politicians often comment publicly about resistance against ISIS group from within Mosul. In particular, they talk about the so-called Mosul Brigades, a secret resistance network that puts out statements threatening the ISIS with death and promising revenge. The former governor of the province, Atheel al-Nujaifi, has talked at length about how he thinks that the people of Mosul will liberate the city themselves as soon as they have the opportunity.

However, as one resident of the city, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, told Niqash in a phone call, the resistance in Mosul is mostly psychological at the moment, involving such things as the "M" graffiti and social media. Actual physical attacks on the ISIS and its members remain limited and don’t pose a major threat to the extremist organization, which still has the city under tight control.

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Inside the Last ISIS Stronghold in Iraq, Resistance Grows
Inside the Largest ISIS Stronghold in Iraq, Resistance Grows
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