Mosul comes alive with the sound of music

 23 Mar 2017 - 15:22

AFP

Mosul, Iraq:  When the Islamic State group controlled eastern Mosul, playing music was a crime punishable by lashes. Today, music stall owner Mohammed Mohsin is making up for lost time.

The jihadists' religious police confiscated and burned his CDs after taking over the city in a lightning 2014 offensive.

But Iraqi forces regained control of eastern Mosul in January and Mohsin set up his stall again on a pavement in a busy shopping district.

He plays pop songs from a small set of speakers connected to a computer as he lays out CDs by famous Arab artists.

Iraq's best known pop star Kadhim al-Sahir and Iraqi-Saudi singer Majid al-Muhandis take pride of place.

Music is "a pleasure that people were deprived of under IS," Mohsin says.

Wearing a sweater and a grey jacket, he remembers the day the IS religious police ordered him to shut down his stall.

"They told me: 'You have to close. All this, music, songs, dance, it's forbidden. Forbidden in the name of religion,'" he says.

"They took my stuff, my CDs and other things... they burned them in the street."

Anyone listening to music risked being summoned by the religious police and whipped, he says.

"Now, thank God, Daesh is gone and the shops are re-opening," he adds, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Piles of rubble

As he talks, muffled explosions rumble across the Tigris River dividing the city. Iraqi forces are still locked in fierce clashes to oust IS from the city's west.

Here in the east, life is returning despite the destruction left by months of fighting.

Across the street from Mohsin's stall sits Mosul University, or what remains of it. Formerly one of Iraq's main academic institutions, today it is little more than a pile of ruins.

Residents have begun the titanic task of clearing away rubble left by the fighting.

Iraqi flags have replaced the black flags of IS, and Iraq's federal police patrol streets where the jihadists' feared religious police roamed until just weeks ago.

Women now go out in public without the all-covering black veil imposed by the jihadists.

"We had to hide our faces," says Um Yousef, her prominent cheekbones framed by a cream-coloured shawl. "We couldn't walk around without being accompanied by a man."

Nearby, women's clothing stores display a collection of items forbidden by IS: fine lingerie, elegant skirts, flowery trousers.

One even displays a long tunic adorned with the inscription in English: "Paris is always a good idea".

In a cafe along the street, men sit drinking sweet black tea out of small glasses and enjoying pleasures denied to them under IS. They smoke cigarettes and watch American TV on a screen hung on the wall.

Men joke, have vigorous debates and briefly forget the drama still playing out on the other side of the city.

"Here it's ok now... even if the city needs cleaning up," says Mohammad Mahmoud, a 28-year-old father.

"But there, in west Mosul, it's still war."