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City in Focus: Mosul, Iraq

It has been a little over a year since ISIS overtook the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Mosul is considered one of the most beautiful and important cities in the Middle East. Called Al-Faiha, which means paradise, it stands near the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh—as described in Jonah—and has been occupied since the reign of the Assyrians. However, with the recent arrival of ISIS, Mosul is anything but a paradise.

Life in Mosul under the ruthless rule of ISIS is difficult for outsiders to fully understand. The militants have tried to cut off communication with the outside world by enacting laws that forbid the use of cellular phones or Internet communication. It has also been reported that escaping Mosul is extremely difficult, as one must obtain a permit from ISIS, leave all personal belongings in Mosul, and not take any family members with him/her.1

These strategies are employed to ensure the person will return or make it too hard to leave. If a permit cannot be obtained then it forces one to turn to human smugglers who often provide extremely dangerous means of escape for very high prices. Even with limited communication and difficulty leaving, stories from those trapped in the tightly controlled city have trickled out. The reports have been grim, as ISIS has proven to be the most brutal terrorist group the Middle East has had to endure.

“Theft is punished by amputating a hand, adultery by men by throwing the offender from a high building, and adultery by women by stoning to death,” one resident told the BBC.

ISIS is responsible for a widespread harsh implementation of strict Islamic Shariah law, under which women are forced to cover up head-to-toe (including gloves), and which includes floggings for small infractions like smoking cigarettes. An impoverished, widowed mother of four told The Guardian that her hand was chopped off for stealing.

ISIS has been engaging in widespread sex trafficking of women and girls.

Along with torture and extreme punishments for petty “crimes,” there are constant mass beheadings and crucifixions for those who are considered to be lawbreakers or “infidels”—those who do not convert or adhere to ISIS’ preferred version of Islam. On top of all this, ISIS has been engaging in widespread sex trafficking of women and girls.2

The Plight of the Kurds

Mosul is in Northern Iraq, and is home to thousands of people belonging to the largest ethnic minority in Iraq—the Kurds. The Kurds comprise between 15-20%3 of Iraq’s population and have a long history of being persecuted—even enduring what some have called campaigns of genocide.4

Before the days of ISIS, the campaigns against the Kurds during 1987–1989 were characterized by mass summary executions and mass disappearances of tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children.

Sometimes the entire population of villages were destroyed through the widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB, or Sarin, which killed many thousands of people—mainly women and children. Some 2,000 villages were completely destroyed, later described in government documents as having been “burned,” “destroyed,” “demolished,” and “purified.”5

As of 1970, the Kurds have been able to acquire the only autonomous region of Iraq—called “Iraqi Kurdistan”—which is governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The new Iraqi constitution defines Iraqi Kurdistan as a federal entity of Iraq, and although this is progress toward independence, there is still a strong desire amongst the Kurds to secure their own state.

The Kurds consist of many minority religious groups, including Yazidis, Christians, and other forms of Islam, that ISIS considers to be in rebellion to their version of “true Islam.”

These religious minority groups are now specifically targeted by ISIS for capture or annihilation.

Many of these Kurds from minority religious groups tried to flee Mosul during the initial ISIS takeover. Some fled to the mountains where hundreds died from harsh conditions or murder, or were taken captive. While many attempted to flee the city, women and young girls were captured and forced into marrying ISIS militants.

The targeted Kurdish women and girls are now being sold or offered as “rewards” for ISIS fighters and have become a significant tool in the recruitment of new jihadists.6 Hundreds of others are being held in a prison in Mosul, where they are systematically raped and tortured before being sold as sex slaves.

Some of the imprisoned women have been forced by militants to contact their families by phone and disclose the nature of their abuse.7

One woman reported that she was raped 30 times in just a few hours.

Sources shared the woman’s desperate plea, “If you know where we are, please bomb us. There is no life after this. I’m going to kill myself anyway.”8 Tragically, ISIS’s invasive web of slavery and brutality is expanding. Reports indicate that between 1,500 and 4,000 women and girls have already been abducted.9

While many Muslims around the world are condemning the trafficking practices, ISIS is insisting that, according to Islamic theology, it is legitimate to capture and enslave women. In a new digital publication released by ISIS, an author states, “One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffa—the infidels—and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law.”10

The trafficking situation in Mosul—and throughout the territory controlled by ISIS—is one unlike many others that exist. In Mosul we are seeing the confluence of multiple injustices at once: Islamic terrorism, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, and sex trafficking combine to produce one of the most oppressive and exploitative environments imaginable.

In order to fully understand how to pray for the people facing injustice in Mosul and throughout the region of Iraqi Kurdistan, it is important to learn the history and plight of the Kurdish people in Northern Iraq. The Kurds are a stateless people without a homeland who are subjects of the Iraqi Government or the forces controlling Iraq.

At this moment ISIS is continuing to fortify Mosul in preparation for a potential military campaign by the Iraqi armed forces, who have vowed to retake the city from the militant group in cooperation with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the U.S.-led Coalition.

There is hope for the possibility of this coalition taking the city back from ISIS.

On September 30, Kurdish forces said they drove Islamic State militants out of villages near the oil city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq in an offensive backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. That victory got them one step closer to Mosul.

For the next three months we will be praying about the many atrocities that are taking place in Mosul, Iraq. These women and girls deserve to be treated with dignity. They deserve a life free from the injustice of forced marriages, repeated rapes, and being sold for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Please join us as we ask God to set the captives free from the grips of ISIS.

Specifically pray for:

  1. The protection of Kurdish minorities
  2. The release and complete restoration of the women and girls being held captive by ISIS
  3. The success of the Peshmerga Kurds and U.S.-led Coalition and/or Russian forces in
    releasing Mosul from the grip of ISIS
  4. Peace, stability, and safety for the residents of Mosul and the entire Kurdistan region

To learn more about this region, the following documentaries are recommended:

  • Better Friends Than Mountains
  • Losing Iraq
  • The Rise of ISIS
  • Escaping ISIS
  • Footnotes

    • 1.
    • 2. Russell, Catherine. “ISIL’s Abuse of Women and Girls Must Be Stopped,” DIPNOTE, Web, 12 September 2014,
    • 3. CIA World Factbook
    • 4. Gunter, Michael (2008). The Kurds Ascending. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
    • 5. Human Rights Watch
    • 6. Nickolay Mladenov and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, “Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Iraq: 6 July – 10 September 2014”, Web, 26 September 2014,
    • 7. Ford Sypher, “Rape and Sexual Slavery Inside an ISIS Prison,” The Daily Beast, Web, 28 August 2014,
    • 8. John Hall, “Desperate Plight of Yazidi Woman,” MailOnline, Web, 21 October 2014,
    • 9. Russell, Catherine. Salma Abdelaziz, ”ISIS States Its Justification for the Enslavement of Women,” CNN World, Web, 13 October 2014,
    • 10. Salma Abdelaziz,”ISIS States Its Justification for the Enslavement of Women,” CNN World, Web, 13 October 2014,