Isis gaining popular support in Mosul
Published 16/06/2014 | 02:30
Days after Iraq's second-largest city fell to al-Qa'ida-inspired fighters, some Iraqis are already returning to Mosul, lured back by insurgents offering cheap gas and food, restoring power and water and removing traffic barricades.
Many people appear excited to return, taking sectarian pride in extremist Sunni group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis). Some see them as liberators.
"I hope God supports them and makes them victorious over the oppression of al-Maliki," said 80-year-old Abu Thaer.
He spoke at the Khazer checkpoint on the northern frontier of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, 105km from Mosul. Five veiled women and six children were crammed into the back seat of his car.
They were among tens of thousands of people who fled their homes as Islamic State fighters and other Sunni militants seized much of northern Iraq, including Mosul and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
Many Sunni Arab men and women said they left, not because they feared the insurgents, but because of the risk of retaliatory airstrikes by Iraqi government forces.
Their return underscores the profound sectarianism cleaving Iraq and the depth of anger that many Sunnis harbour toward al-Maliki's government, which they accuse of discrimination, harassment and pushing Sunnis to the political margins.
"We see that they have made Mosul better," said Abu Mohammed, a 34-year-old taxi driver who is ferrying returnees back to the city. "The water is back. The electricity is back. The prices are lower."
In a move that immediately improved their popularity, insurgents also emptied out prisons, said Abu Sulaf (22). The young man said mostly Shiite forces had harassed and unfairly detained many Sunnis.
The efforts by fighters to win over hearts and minds may appear odd for a group whose tactics include beheading their rivals, chopping off the hands of thieves and jailing local activists.
But the fighters conducted similar goodwill campaigns after seizing areas of neighbouring Syria. It was only later that the darkest side of their rule emerged.