EXCLUSIVE: 10 home truths from ISIS controlled Al Hawija

ISIS fighters in Iraq

In this exclusive feature for 5Pillarz, Abu Hind Mohanned Al-Obaydi explains some realities on the ground that were conveyed to him by a relative currently residing in the ISIS controlled disctrict of Al Hawija, Iraq.  

Since ISIS took over a third of Iraq, I have maintained a position of neutrality with regards to them. Mainly because I am all too aware that our only source of information comes from the enemies of ISIS and things are not always black and white.

Therefore, in keeping with the commands of Allah (swt) when He orders: “O you who believe! If a fasiq (liar-evil person) comes to you with any news, verify it, lest you should harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful for what you have done.” [TMQ 46:9]

Al Hawija

I had a long phone conversation with a member of my family in Hawija.

Hawija is the centre of Al Hawija district in the province of Kirkurk
Hawija is the centre of Al Hawija district in the province of Kirkuk

Hawija is a small town near the northern province of Kirkuk in Iraq, however most of the surrounding agricultural area is also known by the same name.

It is populated by, mainly the Al-Obaydi clan, which is one of the largest settled Bedouin tribes in Iraq, although there are other smaller tribes and families living there.

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In fact, it is locally known as “Hawija Al Obayd”, translated as “The Al-Obaydi enclosure”. It is a Sunni area that is currently controlled by ISIS.


ISIS: Foreign fighters, Ba’athists and corruption

When I asked my relative about the situation there, this is the information they gave about the reality of ISIS on the ground:

1. The ISIS leadership is no longer in control of the Iraqi recruits. The organisation has turned into a franchise, with un-vetted individuals being given franchises to operate with very loose links to the main leadership. The result of which is widespread confiscation of properties and meting out revenge for old vendettas. It has also led to these franchises being controlled by people who have little or no knowledge in even the basics of Islam, let alone Shariah.

2. ISIS is extremely well funded and well supplied, beyond mere war booty. The average wage for a fighter is $1500 a month, and even more for commanders. They also have brand new cars and the latest weaponry. As a result they have managed to bribe most of the other groups into joining them. This has led to them absorbing most of the other groups. However, due their lack of local knowledge and contacts, the money has led to an organic amalgamation of the Islamist and Ba’athist elements that have far more experience in controlling the Iraqi population. In short the ISIS that is controlling Al Hawija, Bayji and Fallujah, which is near to Al Hawija and is populated by a large number of Al-Obaydi’s, are nothing more than ex low ranking Ba’athists.

3. As there is a lot of money to be made and ISIS pays generous bonuses to those who recruit people, bay’ah (oath of alliance) is being forced. They are adopting the Ba’athist methodology of “If you are not with us you are against us”.

Sheikh Anwar Al Asi Al-Obeydi, the most senior tribal elder of the Al-Obeydi clan
Sheikh Anwar Al Asi Al-Obeydi, the most senior tribal elder of the Al-Obeydi clan

4. The main Sunni scholars from places like Fallujah, Haditha and Al Hawija have fled to Kurdistan as they do not support the Shia regime in Baghdad and they have been threatened with beheadings in the event of failure to give bay’ah. The Al-Obaydi clan with its various tribes and families have born the brunt of the localisation of the ISIS franchise as old resentments have been brought forward in the guise of ISIS. The traditional leaders of the clan have been forced to leave their homes and meeting places to the safety of Kirkuk, Erbil and Sulaimania, in Kurdistan. With their houses being used a barracks for ISIS fighters, who are local anyway, but prefer to play out old resentments towards the sheikhs by living in the confiscated houses and brewing coffee in the meeting houses.

5. The new local leaders are living flamboyantly which is causing resentment towards them. For example, most of them, who are ex Ba’athists, have become overnight millionaires flaunting their newly acquired wealth with multiple marriages, vehicles and bodyguards. Punishing people for smoking with a punishment of a broken finger, while smoking shisha themselves.

6. There have been some executions among the ISIS members as they accuse each other of embezzlement, looting and corruption. This has not changed the way the area is run as the executions were carried out with pretence of cleaning up corruption. In reality they were nothing more than manoeuvres for power where certain leaders eliminate others – Ba’athist style.

7. The foreign fighters are being exploited and put on the front line for any fighting or carrying out of executions as the Iraqis are more experienced in population control and have the local knowledge. Therefore they have manipulated the situation to make sure that the foreign fighters bear the brunt of combat and local blame. Those foreign fighters who have expressed disapproval of the Ba’athist method of recruitment, confiscation and corporal punishment without due process, have quickly disappeared, their bodies found later.

Sheikh Anwar Al Asi Al-Obeydi's guest house was destroyed after refusing to give bayah to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Sheikh Anwar Al Asi Al-Obeydi’s guest house was destroyed after refusing to give bayah to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

8. Even the Naqshabandi Army, who were the strongest and most numerous of the Islamic groups, have merged with ISIS, the lower ranking for the wages, the middle ranking have gone into hiding and the higher ranks, who are also ex Ba’athists, are content with the situation as they believe that the job can get done under the ISIS banner.

9. There is no truth to media allegations of there being a trade in slaves in the Iraqi side of the ISIS controlled territories.

10. Although many of the Sunnis in Al Hawija, Fallujah and the surrounding areas are unhappy with ISIS, there is a consensus that the alternative .i.e. Iranian backed Shia rule would be catastrophic. Therefore they are tolerating the lesser of two evils.

Fact and fiction

These are the facts from the ground, and I trust my family more than the BBC, NBC or FOX News. And I certainly trust them more than ISIS supporters who are either sitting comfortably in the West behind a laptop, or on the ground being manipulated by old hands in local politics who have lived an entire life of violence and brutality, either as victims, perpetrators or both.

Dividing Iraq along sectarian/ethnic lines was George.W.Bush's exit strategy
Dividing Iraq along sectarian/ethnic lines was George.W.Bush’s exit strategy

Having asked for the facts, I then asked about the speculation. The overwhelming consensus among the people I talk to almost daily is that, and I quote a person with a PhD in Politics: “It feels like a play, a bit like a wrestling show. Both sides are in the same boat. The Sunni ex Ba’athists manipulating ISIS here and the Shia ex Ba’athists manipulating the other side, with the foolish and the poor getting killed. Division is the goal, why don’t they just get on with it? Instead of this play?”

Geopolitics and natural resources has a tendency to mix in with religion. ISIS in my opinion started off with sincere intentions but quickly transformed to another puppet for the puppet masters to manipulate either through actual conspiracy or just clever manipulation.

ISIS are defiantly, in practice, more Newtonian than Islamic.

Abu Hind Mohanned Al-Obaydi was born In London and taken by his family to Iraq in the late 1960s. He was brought up in Al Hawija, went to school in Kirkuk and completed his Linguistics degree at the University of Baghdad. He settled in the UK in 1993 after he predicted the end of Iraq, as he knew it. Abu Hind Mohanned Al-Obaydi is a professional translator currently in the last stages of reading for a degree in religious studies.

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