What is it like to live under Islamic State rule?

The flag of IS flutters on the 'dome' of a Syrian Christian Church

Militants behead and rape victims, yet stage 'fun days' for residents of their self-declared caliphate

LAST UPDATED AT 10:38 ON Fri 22 Aug 2014

Reports of executions, rape and intimidation have streamed out of Iraq since Islamic State militants took over swathes of territory in the north. More than 4,100 Iraqis were killed and nearly 4,300 injured in acts of terrorism and violence in June and July alone, while more than a million people have been displaced since the beginning of the year, according to United Nations. Militants now face the challenge of seizing more land, while also taking on the day-to-day governance of the towns and cities they control. 

Strict Islamic rules

Days after militants took over the northern city of Mosul they began distributing leaflets, declaring a particularly strict version of Sharia law. They banned alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, threatened to amputate the limbs of thieves and warned that anyone who rejected Islam would be executed, reports the Washington Post. There was a crackdown on casinos and piles of cigarettes were burned, but residents say not all of the rules have been enforced.

Violence and intimidation

Islamic State's violent tactics are so extreme that even al-Qaeda has disavowed them. Brute force has been used to scare former government forces and non-Sunni groups into compliance. As militants advanced from Mosul to Tikrit they published photographs of themselves posing over the bloodied and mutilated corpses of slain Iraqi soldiers. They have since demolished homes, religious buildings and shrines belonging to their opponents, and executed those who refuse to pledge allegiance to their cause. Executions have included beheadings, shootings and crucifixions.

Persecution of minorities

Militants initially ordered Christians in Mosul to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face execution, resulting in a max exodus of Christians from the city. In July Christian homes were marked with the letter N, denoting "Nazarene", a derogatory Arabic word for Christian. Militants also called for the destruction of the entire Yazidi community, which Barack Obama said would constitute genocide. Tens of thousands of Yazidis were under siege on Mount Sinjar earlier this month, with militants threatening to murder them if they came down. At least 500 Yazidi prisoners, including children, were subsequently said to be killed by "death squads", while others were buried alive.


Slavery and rape are being used as "weapons of war" by Islamic State militants, reports The Guardian. More than 1,000 Yazidi women were captured by militants earlier this month with the younger women told they would be forcibly married to Islamic State fighters. "Some are taken away and raped and a few have even been sold at Mosul's main market," reports the Daily Beast. Some reports claimed that a group of Yazidi girls raped by Muslim fighters committed suicide shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, women in Mosul have been told not to go outside unless necessary and to cover themselves up in full Islamic dress. In the Syrian Islamic State stronghold city of Raqqa, reports emerged that women were even banned from sitting on chairs.


Now that Islamic State has taken over towns and cities in the north of Iraq it is saddled with the task of actually running them.  The New York Times says Islamic State leaders are adopting methods first pioneered by Hezbollah and are "devoting considerable human and financial resources toward keeping essential services like electricity, water and sewage functioning in their territory". They have opened a police department in Mosul, known as the Islamic Police, as well as two Sharia courts. In Raqqa, religious police officers patrol the street to make sure shops close during Muslim prayers.

Hearts and minds

According to Jenna Lefler at the Institute for the Study of War, the militants appear to be following similar tactics of governance in Mosul as they did in Raqqa. One method is to win over the "hearts and minds" of residents with relief aid, such as food and water, and a form of rent control to reduce household costs. According to Foreign Policy magazine, the group even held a "fun day" in Mosul where the militants gave out footballs and held Quran memorisation and recitation contests. Lefler says that while minorities have faced persecution, some residents actually feel the militants have implemented a semblance of security that was lacking in Mosul under the Iraq security forces, although electricity and fuel shortages continue. She adds: "It is evident that the more time that [Islamic State] has to consolidate its governance and military gains in places like Mosul, the more unlikely it becomes that they can be dislodged from their territories."

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