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Islamic State: One year on, a brutish regime maintains grip on Mosul (+video)

Iraq's largest northern city was invaded a year ago by Islamic State militants. Today, its repressive rule is intact, and the group is pushing outwards from its territory in Iraq and Syria. 

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One year after the Islamic State invaded the Iraqi city of Mosul, its hold on Iraq and neighboring Syria has spread, despite a US-led military campaign to halt the group. Secretly filmed footage of life in Mosul, released by the BBC today, shows the power and control the Sunni Muslim militant group holds over everyday life in the largest city in its self-declared caliphate. 

Since the fall of Mosul, IS has taken over much of Anbar Province, the largest in Iraq, and the Syrian city of Palmyra and most of northeast Deir el Zour, an oil-producing province. And the group continues to push outwards while consolidating its grip on urban centers. 

Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, has long been an ethnically and religiously diverse city made up of “Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, Christians, and Muslims,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. It’s the capital of northern Nineveh Province, which shares a 300-mile border with Syria.

Mosul’s diversity was one of the many aspects that IS has targeted, according to the exclusive video footage taped by local activists and obtained by BBC reporter Ghadi Sary. The videos reveal the targeting and persecution of minorities, such as marking homes of Christians for destruction, and strict rules on how women dress in public.

“I don’t mind wearing the full cover,” one woman, whose eyes are barely visible through a black veil, says on tape. “But it’s the way they enforce it that is really harsh,” she says, according to the BBC translation.

“Life for the city's residents has changed beyond recognition,” reports the BBC. Mosques and shrines have been destroyed; citizens are punished brutally for crimes deemed big or small by the militants' interpretation of Islamic Law; and basic needs like fuel and clean drinking water are in short supply. 

The US announced recently that it had killed at least 10,000 IS fighters and that the group controls about a quarter less territory in Iraq than it did when the US-led coalition began its air campaign last August. That claim has met with some skepticism, given the difficulty of counting enemy combatant deaths in territory where the US has so few assets on the ground. 

Meanwhile, “at best, the Islamic State is a far larger organization than American officials initially imagined,” reports McClatchy News.

[The Islamic State] is having no difficulty recruiting new members from across the world. Pledges made last year that Iraqi forces would soon mount an offensive to take back Mosul are now considered to have been unrealistic.

President Barack Obama on Monday acknowledged that the Islamic State’s recent gains show a shift in strategy is needed. “They’re nimble and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic,” he said of the group, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

Indeed, the militant group, which has its roots in Al Qaeda's anti-US insurgency following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, continues to recruit from across the globe, using social media and other modern tools. Its ranks include about 3,000 fighters from Tunisia alone, according to data released by King's College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in January. 

An infographic by The Telegraph shows France is sending the most fighters in Europe, in absolute terms, to join IS. The flow of foreign fighters “has alarmed governments around the world, raising fears that returnees ... may plot attacks in their home nations,” the Telegraph reports.

Obama said this week at the G7 summit in Germany that the US doesn’t yet have a “complete strategy” for helping Iraq to regain its territory lost to IS.

According to a man in Mosul identified by the BBC as Zaid, IS is preparing for that day.

IS knows the army will try to retake Mosul, so they're taking precautions. They've destroyed the city by digging tunnels, building barricades, planting mines and bombs, and filling the city with snipers, which will make it very difficult for the army.

Despite this, if the government manages to take Nineveh Plains and Mosul back I will be very happy. I hope that the internally displaced people and refugees will be able to return so that we can work together to build a safe and united Iraq.

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