Weeks after the militants seized the city, as fighters roamed the streets and religious extremists rewrote the laws, an order rang out from the loudspeakers of local mosques.
Public servants, the speakers blared, were to report to their former offices.
To make sure every government worker got the message, the militants followed up with phone calls to supervisors. When one tried to beg off, citing a back injury, he was told: “If you don’t show up, we’ll come and break your back ourselves.”
The phone call reached Muhammad Nasser Hamoud, a 19-year veteran of the Iraqi Directorate of Agriculture, behind the locked gate of his home, where he was hiding with his family. Terrified but unsure what else to do, he and his colleagues trudged back to their six-story office complex decorated with posters of seed hybrids.
They arrived to find chairs lined up in neat rows, as if for a lecture.
The commander who strode in sat facing the room, his leg splayed out so that everyone could see the pistol holstered to his thigh. For a moment, the only sounds were the hurried prayers of the civil servants mumbling under their breath.
Their fears proved unfounded. Though he spoke in a menacing tone, the commander had a surprisingly tame request: Resume your jobs immediately, he told them. A sign-in sheet would be placed at the entrance to each department. Those who failed to show up would be punished.
Meetings like this one occurred throughout the territory controlled by the Islamic State in 2014. Soon municipal employees were back fixing potholes, painting crosswalks, repairing power lines and overseeing payroll. [Continue reading…]