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Mosul diaries: Poisoned by water

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Illness from drinking contaminated water is just the latest affliction affecting civilians in Mosul, months after the Iraqi city was taken over by Islamic State (IS) militants. IS took control of Mosul in June, introducing a strict regime in line with its radical interpretation of Islamic law.

In a series of diary entries, Mosul residents describe life under IS. Their names have been changed to protect their identities.

19 December 2014

From Mays

With the mobile phone network still out of action, it was with extreme difficulty that my sister let me know that she was extremely sick.

I rushed to her house on the other side of one of the city's bridges. Peering at the Tigris, I said to my husband: "Even this river is unclear! When will our situation clear up so that our water clears again?"

Eventually we reached my sister's house, but she was in extreme pain. We rushed her to the city's hospital, which was extremely overcrowded, with people with similar symptoms.

As soon as we inquired, we were told there was an outbreak of poisoning across the city. The only common factor was the water.

'Harder and harder'

It turned out my sister was suffering from water poisoning, mainly from the water that is pumped into the city from the eastern and western pumping stations.

With water purifiers scarce, the stations had been pumping water into the houses through the pipes, without purification or filtration.

I saw one of our relatives in the hospital - they were also suffering from water poisoning. It dawned on me that the state of the water in the Tigris that I saw crossing that bridge was the same as when it reached our homes.

This was all followed by a sharp rise in the price of bottled water. One of two water bottling factories in the city is closed due to the owner's absence, and the other is working with limited capacity - plus roads to Kurdistan, where you can buy bottled water, are all blocked.

As we returned home I was agitated thinking about my sister and the whole situation. I know that IS does not care whether our water is filtered or not, so I found myself trying to filter our own water at home mainly by boiling it.

This has become another chore to add to the list, as life under the Islamic State becomes harder and harder.

11 December 2014

From Mays

Our suffering due to the water shortage has turned into a state of fear that won't go away.

My husband goes on to the roof every day to see if the water tanks have been filled by the electrical pump from the main water supply.

On one unforgettably terrifying night, I decided to go on to the roof with my husband to help him.

We suddenly heard a loud explosion followed by loud voices from the nearby street.

We quietly and carefully shifted to peer at the road where we heard the explosion and the voices.

We saw a group of Islamic State fighters shooting in the air, and I feared for my husband because they were banging on doors searching for men in the area in order to question them.

Trembling with fear

It turned out that the explosion was caused by a bomb planted on one of the IS vehicles.

Within a few seconds the terrifying sound of fighter jets filled the sky, and they starting bombing IS fighters.

IS vehicles were full of ammunition and we kept hearing explosions for over three hours.

I was trembling with fear for my husband and my children and dreading the sound of the doorbell. But thankfully the aerial bombardment caused a great deal of confusion among IS fighters, and they didn't knock on our door.

When the sun rose we managed to see the extent of the damage to the houses and the street caused by the bombing.

We decided to leave our house and stay at a relative's place for a few days because I was afraid for my family.

5 December 2014

From Nizar

We have been shocked by the outage of the Asiacell mobile phone network, the main provider in the city. It has left me in a terrible state because, like everyone else, my business depends on communication. In fact, everyone in Mosul depends on it for that matter.

image copyrightother
image captionPeople gather on a hill in Mosul to try to get a mobile phone signal

A few hours after the network went down, others such as Korek, Zain and Fanous followed.

It's left the city in a complete void, like we've gone back to the dark ages.

We have to rely on people around us and local internet providers for communication.

'Not knowing'

Everybody was confused by what happened and we were all asking each other, trying to find out when the service would be back. Some blamed the blackout on the government in Baghdad and others on Islamic State - either way, the city is lost.

The worst part is there is no real alternative, so if you need to speak to someone you'd have to go to find them at their home or workplace, assuming they were there in the first place.

That happened to me as I was trying to locate a merchant I do business with, who in turn was looking for another person to settle some financial accounts, and I waited and waited, but without success.

I then returned home to take my sick father to the doctor's clinic, also not knowing whether the doctor would be there or not. I was, however, lucky and managed to sort out my family and work affairs - albeit with great difficulty.

We don't know how long this will last or whether we should start getting used to it as a way of life.

From Faisal

My mother called me asking me whether I could buy her a gas canister to replace the one at home as it had run out.

I took the empty canister and drove to a shop downtown, only to discover that the price for a replacement was more than 60 Iraqi dinars ($50).

I was in complete shock. Before IS took control, the price was barely $7, but with IS it just kept on rising.

I came back home thinking how would I ever be able to afford it given our tight financial situation. After debating with my mother, we decided it was better if I went back and bought one anyway as life at our home depends on such a necessary item, for cooking, for example.

Forced to shut

I went back the next morning to discover that its price had gone up to $100 - and there were no canisters for sale in sight!

I rushed back home in a panic, but decided I'd better buy some lunch from a restaurant on the way because we didn't have fuel to cook.

The restaurant was shut. When I asked why, I was told the owner couldn't afford the ever-increasing cost of new gas canisters - so he had to shut the whole place down!

Thirteen restaurant employees were laid off - that's 13 families who can no longer earn bread, all because of the price of a gas canister. In fact, most restaurants have had to shut, apart from a few which have a stock of gas.

Others have resorted to burning wood, using very expensive electric heaters, or stoves that run on oil.

We are tired of this situation - there is no clean water, fuel or gas to cook our food.

How can we continue living under this caliphate?

Mosul profile

  • Iraq's second biggest city
  • Overrun by Islamic State in June 2014
  • Home to about 1.8 million people before IS takeover, when some 500,000 fled
  • Majority Sunni Arab population, with Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian minorities

Interactive: Who are Islamic State?

28 November 2014

From Faisal

I washed and got ready to go to Friday prayers, and to hear the imam address the congregation.

In his Friday sermon, the imam spoke about the value of the gold dinar in the ancient eras of Islam and about how trade and economy flourished at the time.

He said that a group of pious and highly religious men from IS had decided to mint a new gold coin and new coins made of silver and copper in addition to new paper notes which will be used in the markets in the near future.

He also said that another group of pious IS youth organised an advertising campaign to announce the use of the new currency.

The aim was to make the new Islamic dinar a force to be reckoned with against the US dollar used by the infidels, as the imam said, in what turned out to be the same sermon forced by IS on all the mosques.


I went home feeling worried and confused. I have business and bank accounts and bank dealings with other countries. How can I use this new currency which is only recognised in IS territory?!

The IS dinar was going to replace the official Iraqi currency and use of the dollar was going to be banned. I didn't know what to do, and I sat with a group of friends to discuss what would happen to our money and to our business.

Everybody agreed they would exchange the existing Iraqi currency for US dollars or for gold jewellery.

We all agreed that the IS plan was not religious or ideological as they said, but merely a scheme to rob us of our money and savings.

The next morning a state of chaos gripped the market as everybody was trying to get rid of the Iraqi dinar and to buy dollars or gold.

21 November 2014

From Faisal

Once upon a time in our land, which is rich with water and oil, we used to have a big supply of water and electricity. However, now in the time of the IS caliphate, we lead the most difficult life imaginable.

We don't have water because the supply station does not work most of the time due to a power shortage.

We collect rainwater in the garden, and my mum tries to save the rain falling on the roof through the gutter in order to use it for the laundry and cleaning.

Winter came early, and the cold is really harsh. Hot water is one of the most basic requirements of winter in Iraq, but how can we have hot water? We haven't had any electricity supply from our national provider for a month or more!

We totally rely on private generators. Life would have been impossible in my beloved city without them.

My neighbours tried to find a solution to the water shortage, so we dug a well to find enough water for our needs during the continuous shortage of water supply.

Digging water wells became very prevalent in Mosul, and everybody is digging for water in my country that boasts two major rivers.

We now try to save kerosene for heating, although it's very scarce and expensive. The price of a barrel is about $250, although its price on the international markets is no more than $100.

But this is not surprising because we live in Iraq, the land of miracles.

14 November 2014

From Mays

School began in Nineveh [Mosul's province], but this year is not like any other year.

IS has issued very strict instructions to the students and the school administrations.

Dulqarnain is a name new to the people of my city. It's the name of the IS person in charge of education in Nineveh. His name, as the highest authority for education, is signed on our books.

He is Egyptian, and his main focus was separating girls from boys in primary schools. According to his instructions, girls go to one building and boys to another. He gave his instructions that girls who look a bit mature for their age should wear loose-fitting garments and a face veil.

Male teachers are not allowed to teach girls and women teachers are not allowed to teach boys. This decision is very difficult to be implemented by public schools and more so for the private ones.

Public schools are funded by the education authority and the ministry of education, and they have a large supply of teachers - male and female - and a lot of buildings.

Private schools, on the other hand, are educational and commercial projects owned by private individuals who do not have the resources to supply the teachers and the buildings.

This means that the demand for private schools will decrease in a time when job opportunities are very scarce and money is hard to come by.

'They cancelled art'

School syllabuses have been changes by IS. There are no physical education classes anymore. Instead there is "jihadi education", which is a subject in which students are taught to love jihad [an Islamic concept meaning "struggle"] and how to do so.

IS cancelled both geography and history lessons, but then they changed their mind. They cancelled art classes, and instead teach Arabic calligraphy. They completely banned the use of colours and coloured pens in schools.

All these matter make the running of schools very difficult, even impossible, especially banning students from activities, such as sports and painting, that mean the world to them.

5 November 2014

From Nizar

[Editor's note: Before Islamic State overran Mosul, the city was home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Most fled with the arrival of IS, who ordered the city's remaining Christians to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face being killed.]

Not one house owned by a Christian in Mosul was not taken over and looted by IS members, and all their belongings stolen, down to the last broomstick.

Some IS fighters have even moved into the Christians' homes themselves, using everything in those houses as if they were their own.

They've inhabited all the areas and consider them as spoils of war, as if the Christians and the Yazidis [minority religious group] were the enemy, and by doing so, the IS has become a burden on our areas.

We feel ashamed to call our Christian and Yazidi friends, and I feel I cannot even phone them any more, as if it was me or one of my family or friends that committed those heinous crimes against them.

I decided not to talk or salute any IS member who occupies a Christian house near me, and I cannot bear to look at their evil faces.

Fleeing air strikes

I've taken notice of their behaviour during coalition air strikes. They immediately switch off the lights in the homes they occupy, and some drive off in their stolen cars in some unknown direction.

Then they return as soon as the air strikes cease. A friend of mine had the nerve to ask one of them: "Why do you run away during the air strikes?"

The IS member answered that they fear the strikes will target the houses of Christians that they've occupied because the Christians would have told the coalition their location.

Another friend of mine tried to get close to a house occupied by an IS member and his family to see what was happening there, but he was unable to as they never leave the door open, and don't even talk in the garden.

My friends and I vowed that once this is over, and our city is cleared of the dirt and nastiness, that we would rehabilitate a Christian house to show the world, or at least our Christian friends, that those who did this to them abide by no religion at all.

24 October 2014

From Faisal

Four months have passed since Islamic State took over, and a friend of mine is still in hiding here.

He worked as a bodyguard for some judges in Mosul, but after the city fell all the judges left and my friend went into hiding. He moved home so no-one would know where to find him.

My friend doesn't move around in the streets much, because IS fighters are almost everywhere in the city.

Sometimes they set up impromptu checkpoints and go through people's IDs, looking for people wanted by IS: former security personnel or judiciary, or anyone suspected of arresting IS members before IS captured the city, or anyone who worked for the governorate or in politics.

Most of them have left, fearing execution by IS. These kinds of actions have pushed people away from supporting IS. Their criminal acts have terrorised peaceful citizens.

IS members can be seen executing activists in front of everyone in the streets. They wear black fighter outfits, have let their hair and beards grow - some look as if they haven't seen a shower in ages!

Every day they increase in number, hold new positions and consolidate their presence, undeterred by the air strikes from coalition forces which do nothing to change things on the ground. It it is actually our reality which has changed and become even more horrific.

From Mays

I teach at a school in my beloved city, Mosul. Like other Iraqi mothers I work to provide some sort of financial assistance to my husband, albeit negligible, to help fend off the hardships of life through such hard times and in such an expensive country.

This year, when the summer holidays began, I decided to go to Baghdad to visit some family and relatives there and attend a family ceremony.

After the party, when we were all still full of excitement and surrounded by our loved ones, I received news of a curfew back home, and the start of the fighting between government forces and Islamic State rebels.

From that moment I spoke to my husband in Mosul every day to find out the latest news.

'Horror and panic'

I spent the worst days of my life in Baghdad, the city of my childhood innocence, and where I lived my dreams as a woman in my 20s. I had always been thrilled to live in Baghdad until I got married and moved to Mosul.

And yet, for five days of fighting which followed in Mosul, I lived in horror, fear and pure panic, worrying about my husband. I was constantly wondering what was happening and whether I would ever be with him again.

After the arrival of the Sunni rebels and IS fighters in Mosul, my husband and I started plotting my return to the city, but all roads were still blocked because of the fighting taking place between Baghdad and Mosul.

Cities were falling in hours - not even days - after governmental forces fled or retreated, which left everybody puzzled.

After several attempts by my husband and thanks to some of his connections, we managed to book flights from Baghdad to the north.

But then another obstacle faced us - I had not brought my children's documentation as I was travelling by land. Yet as we were now flying, it was a must, or we wouldn't be able to leave.

Armed groups

Thanks to good thinking and God's will we received the documents via a friend who was leaving Mosul by car and who later flew to Baghdad and brought us the papers.

I finally got home to my family in Mosul, shortly after midnight on 20 June. I was shocked and frightened by what I saw in the streets, where armed groups were roaming around. I prayed and fasted for three days.

I stayed at home for a while, until I got used to the situation we are now living under, but those were moments I will never forget.

Related Topics

  • Iraq
  • Islamic State group
  • Mosul