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Violence Spikes Anew In Iraq, As Islamic State Looks To Expand


Thanks for joining us. It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt. Iraq is dealing with its worst crisis since American forces withdrew in 2011. Extremist Sunnis now calling themselves the Islamic State have taken much of the North and West of the country. They vowed to march on Baghdad and the violence in the capital has spiked again over the last week. And one place where they have most influence the city of Mosul in the North of Iraq. NPR's Alice Fordham is in Erbil outside of Mosul and she joins us now. Welcome Alice.


WESTERVELT: What's going on where you are? What's the latest?

FORDHAM: Well, I'm hearing that this weekend those Sunni extremist who control the city of Mosul announced they would enforce the compulsory veiling of women. And they confiscated the keys of shops selling cigarettes, which of course they see as un-Islamic. A number of people have also said that they've introduced a kind of forced conscription. They've been going to the heads of families and sometimes the heads of tribes and saying, you have to give us one son from every family. And those young men are then taken to training camps. One of my friends has seen these places. Where they wear uniforms and they train together. And so a lot of people have been fleeing the prospect of that.

WESTERVELT: Force conscription. What's been the response on the ground by civilians? Some are fleeing, are some complying as well?

FORDHAM: Some are fleeing. I think that probably some are complying. Some have already been encouraged to sign up, to join the group with the prospect of money. And also there have been acts of peaceful resistance inside Mosul. So, you probably heard last week there was this destruction of a historic shrine and there were concerns among the people in Mosul that they were going to - that the Islamic State that these Sunni extremist, were going to do the same thing again to another historic shrine. So, what they actually did is they held a sit in, in front of it, about three or four dozen people. They ignored the Islamic state when they took over the loudspeakers of the mosque and told them to go away. And eventually the extremists did leave and the shrine is still standing up to this point.

WESTERVELT: So, in that instance peaceful resistance to ISIS seems to have worked?

FORDHAM: Right. Exactly. And we are also hearing stories that there are pockets of armed resistance that are starting to form. Now people are facing a really formidable enemy in the Islamic State. And so as far as I understand it these groups that are staging some armed resistance, are small organizations. Even people who support them can see that they're weak. But they've started doing some guerrilla operations against them. It's representative I think of the fact that there really is strong obstructions to what this extremist group is doing.

WESTERVELT: And what about Iraqi Christians? We've heard that many have fled or are fleeing Mosul.

FORDHAM: Right, yeah. I've just come from a church actually where they were praying for Mosul. This part of Iraq, Erbil, which is relatively safe has long been a sanctuary for Christians fleeing parts of Iraq where it's become too dangerous for them. But recently there really has been a huge influx of them coming from Mosul, afraid of these extremists. And it's powerful to see, you know, the Nineveh plain is where Mosul is, which is familiar to lots of us from Scripture. A lot of these people speak Aramaic, a version of the language spoken by Christ. And it's a powerfully symbolic thing to see hundreds of families, you know, pouring out of this area.

WESTERVELT: NPR's Alice Fordham in Northern Iraq. Thank you.

FORDHAM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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