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Mosul is liberated. But there is no end to the suffering of its citizens, many of whom are now falling victim to collective punishment

In their tent in Khazir camp, about 40km east of Mosul, Khadija Muhammad Ismail and Fathaya Ibrahim Huadar are waiting for news. They haven’t heard from the man to whom they are both married in over a month. Their husband had got in with the wrong crowd.

“We cried and begged him not to do it,” says Khadija. Fathaya interrupts: “He believed in Islamic State, and said ‘if I don’t join I will go to hell and not to heaven. This is for God.’ We couldn’t do anything.” That was in 2014. Now the two women have heard he is dead. They won’t believe it, however, until they see a photograph of the body with their own eyes.


Fathaya is 37, softly spoken and neatly dressed. She married Salem Hajab Abdullah when she was 17 and he 22. After marriage, they set up home in Mosul, which sits on the banks of the Tigris, 400km north of Baghdad. It was then a city of two million, the third largest in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and religiously diverse, even though the majority of its inhabitants were, like Fathaya and Salem, Sunni Muslim.

Since the fall of Saddam in 2003, the Sunnis have gone from being the dominant sect to an oppressed minority nationwide. It was in their name that the militants of IS claimed to rule Mosul and other Sunni-majority regions. Between dictatorship and conflict, almost for as long as anyone can remember, families across Iraq have had to make ugly compromises in order to get by.

The brutal rule of IS is slowly and bloodily coming to an end after operations by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, which began in 2016 and were backed by an international coalition. Now, questions about truth and reconciliation rear their head. Although western leaders and media outlets make a point of referring to “so-called Islamic State,” IS really did function as a state, responsible for everything from education policy, social services and health to humdrum local-governance issues such as management of public parks and street cleaning.

The question of who should take the blame, and to what extent, is grimly complicated. And one sharp question presses for the likes of Salem’s family: is there a way to achieve justice for the appalling individual misdeeds that took place during the IS era, without descending into chaos and collective punishment? When they started out, Salem drove a taxi. He and Fathaya weren’t wealthy, but they had enough to be comfortable. “He was a very religious man, and he was peaceful and kind,” she said. But there was one problem: Fathaya could not get pregnant. In 2003, the year Saddam’s regime was torn down, Salem took a second wife, not uncommon in the region surrounding Mosul.

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In Prospect’s February 2018 issue: John Naughton, James Ball, Yuan Ren, Hannah Jane Parkinson and Houman Barekat outline the ways in which our lives are controlled by big tech giants. Naughton argues that Facebook and Google have created a new “surveillance capitalism” in which they battle to grow user engagement of their products and monetise our lives for their own gain as they do so. The cover package also explores how “bots,” fake social media accounts, influenced the US presidential vote and the Brexit referendum as well as the effects of removing net neutrality in the US. Elsewhere in the issue: Samira Shackle asks what happens to ordinary civilians affected by Islamic State as they attempt to move back to their homes and rebuild their lives; Shahidha Bari asks whether we can continue to appreciate the work of actors, filmmakers and writers who have been disgraced; and Christine Ockrent profiles Michel Barnier.